Solzhenitsyn’s answer to America’s problems
"Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
With the 2019 Pew Research Poll showing the percentage of Christians in America dropping from 77 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2019, the religious transformation of Americans cannot be ignored. For many Americans, religion is seen as a personal matter that should be disconnected from public life. Many on the political left assert Christian values are a danger to public decision making. For example, Democratic senators grilled Amy Coney Barrett about the potentially dangerous role her religious beliefs might play during the 2018 appeals court confirmation hearings.
The reality is that the level of religion in a nation is of utmost importance to the future of the nation. The prophetic warning of the danger of national spiritual decline, by author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is what America desperately needs right now. Let me explain.
Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia in December 1918. Though baptized in a Russian Orthodox family, Solzhenitsyn experienced the anti-Christian fervor of the Soviet Union growing up and he became a militant atheist and a communist. During World War Two, Solzhenitsyn served as an artillery captain and was thrice decorated for bravery fighting Nazi Germany. Despite heroism in the Red Army, in 1945 Solzhenitsyn was given an eight-year sentence to a Soviet gulag due to private criticism of Stalin.
It was during that period the Solzhenitsyn experienced a religious conversion back to the Orthodox faith of his youth. He came to see the hatred of Christianity at the heart of communism and came to better understand the ultimate reason for the horror of 60 million dead in the Soviet Union. As Solzhenitsyn wrote, it took root due to the nation turning from God.
Solzhenitsyn was released from the Gulag in 1953 and attempted to publish works critical of the Gulag system and the Soviet Union. After persecution by the Soviet authorities, Solzhenitsyn was ultimately stripped of his Soviet citizenship and expelled from Russia. He lived in America from the 1976 until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when, after which he returned to his home country. While in America, due to his international acclaim as a writer and dissident, Solzhenitsyn was invited to give many speeches to various Western audiences. In 1978, Solzhenitsyn shocked liberal Harvard University by warning of the danger of the materialism and rising secularism he saw pervading and corroding the West. Solzhenitsyn compared the horrible consequences of state-enforced atheism in communist Soviet Union to the secularism and materialism he saw in America.
It was at his 1983 address when receiving the Templeton Award that Solzhenitsyn succinctly explained the reason for the Bolshevik Revolution and the barbarity and atrocities it wrought on the world: “Men have forgotten God and that’s why all this happened.” This was the ultimate explanation for the horrors of socialism. Solzhenitsyn was also providing warning that America could experience the same by “forgetting God.”
According to Solzhenitsyn, violent revolution followed godlessness and increased godlessness: “It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that ‘revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.’ That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling and this entails the destruction of faith and nationhood.”
Solzhenitsyn went on to explain the counter to the Marxism and secularism of his day. Prophetically, this provides the answer to the rising Marxism and anarchy we find growing in America today. As Solzhenitsyn explains, contrary to the group, racial and class divisions of Marxism, America must look to God, both as a nation and as individuals:
“All attempts to find a way out of the plight of today’s world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, in repentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined and we shall seek it in vain. The resources we have set aside for ourselves are too impoverished for the task. We must first recognize the horror perpetrated not by some outside force, not by class or national enemies, but within each of us individually and within every society. This is especially true of a free and highly developed society, for here in particular we have surely brought everything upon ourselves, of our own free will. We ourselves, in our daily unthinking selfishness, are pulling tight that noose.”
In America today, we see the increasing attacks on the foundations of our traditional Christian faith and our nation by groups like Antifa and BLM and ideas like Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, whether by destruction of statues and memorials to the nation and church, or by shaming national history through fraudulent alternative narratives of history. Solzhenitsyn’s answer to this is the unbeatable power of Christianity.
Solzhenitsyn wrote: “The centralized atheism [of the Soviet Union] before whose armed might the whole world trembles still hates and fears this unarmed faith [Christianity] as much today as it did 60 years ago. Yes! All the savage persecutions loosed upon our people by a murderous state atheism, coupled with the corroding effect of its lies and an avalanche of stultifying propaganda — all of these together have proven weaker than the thousand-year-old faith of our nation. This faith has not been destroyed; it remains the most sublime, the most cherished gift.”
After his reversion to Christianity in a Soviet gulag, Solzhenitsyn always foresaw the ultimate triumph of faith. Joseph Pearce put it best regarding Solzhenitsyn’s life and our hope in Christianity: “Little could Solzhenitsyn have known when he languished as one of the many millions in the Soviet prison system that he would outlive the Soviet system and, furthermore, that his own courage would play an important part in that very system’s collapse.”
Like Solzhenitsyn, let us put our faith in the power of Christianity to triumph over the modern darkness seeking to envelop our nation and let us never forget God.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel Graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.