Today “China a communist nation also realizes what the West is rapidly forgetting, that a civilization is as strong as its faith.” Writes Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, towards the end of his recent book, Civilization, the historian Niall Ferguson quotes a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, part of a team tasked with the challenge of discovering why it was that Europe, having lagged behind China until the 17th century, overtook it, rising to prominence and dominance.
At first, he said, we thought it was your guns. You had better weapons than we did. Then we delved deeper and thought it was your political system. Then we searched deeper still, and concluded that it was your economic system. But for the past 20 years we have realized that it was in fact your religion, Christianity. It was the Christian foundation of social and cultural life in Europe that made possible the emergence first of capitalism, then of democratic politics.
Judaism and Christianity share an astonishing capacity for self renewal. That is what happened in Judaism after every tragedy from the Babylonian exile to the Holocaust. That is what is happening now to Christianity in many parts of the world, and it can happen here too.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been considered by some as one of the most brilliant and heroic men of the twentieth century. His determination to tell the truth about the oppressiveness of the Soviet regime was, in part, responsible for its collapse. While many cheered the collapse of the Soviet empire, few have appreciated the main weapon that brought it down: “Truth-one word of truth outweighs the whole world, and The Book is mightier than a Bullet” Solzhenitsyn would say.
He was heralded as a hero in the West for his courageous and gifted writings from prison that exposed the horrors and tyranny of Soviet Communism. But the reaction in the West was more subdued, at times even hostile, when he began to speak with equal candor about the sins and spiritual poverty of the West, most notably in a commencement address given at Havard University on June 8 1978. Among his comments which are recorded in the documentary that this writer has watched, he said:
But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system and state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.
He said that the Russian people lost their freedom in 1917 because “they forgot God.” It might happen in the Western nations. After decades of uninterrupted prosperity, the Western world has turned away from God. We’ve not certainly honored and acknowledged the Creator Who gave us all these blessings. It is very tempting to forget the horrors and inhuman acts of past twentieth century. World War II alone killed more than fifty million human beings. Here is an excerpt from the Templeon Address that Solzhenitsyn gave which reminds us that forgetting God has very grave consequences:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened. Since then I have spent well-night fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval.
But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.