When I became a university dropout, at age eighteen, I rambled around for a couple of years wondering what to do about my life, and life in general. During that time, I hopped a plane from Montreal to Halifax, stuck out my thumb, and hitchhiked all over the Atlantic provinces of Canada – alone. (!)
I eventually got as far as St. John’s, Newfoundland, and ended up staying with some students I met from Memorial University. It was through one of them that I discovered Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Soviet dissident, recently published in the West.
And that was the beginning of a lifelong interest in that period of Russian history, in Communism and communalism, in totalitarianism, and in tyranny, generally – how human evil works itself out when combined with great power.
I thought I would just string together a few incidents I have kept in mind over the years, from my reading, in which the connecting link is atheism – both Communist and garden-variety. Some are things I have had stored away in my mind for many years. Others are more recent.
The first person who impacted me with the implications of atheism as public policy was, as I said, Solzhenitsyn. I remember so vividly his stories of arrests based on what can only be called blasphemy against Stalin – the Great Leader. (If God is not God, man will be, or a man will be) Encapsulating this was the man who ended up in a prison camp because he had used a newspaper to swat flies, and had inadvertently besmirched a photo of Stalin!
Solzhenitsyn said that, as a small child, he had heard the older people of his town discussing the societal evils that had befallen them with the Bolshevik triumphs. And they concluded, “Men have forgotten God. That’s why this has all happened.” And fifty years later, after much reading, studying and suffering, he had no other conclusion than that original one.
And in the years of later Communism, there was Prime Minister Nikita Khruschev having to, somehow, convey utmost Soviet sincerity to a skeptical world. And what did he do? Offer to swear on the Bible to prove his veracity! He always insisted, I believe, that Communists were implementing the high ideals of Christ…
But Schaeffer always insisted that Communism was a Christian heresy. He said they ‘stole’ the notion that humans have value in the first place from the Bible. And the shedding of blood (through a violent tearing down of the social fabric) was the only way of achieving ‘salvation’ from societal sin.
Switching to more recent days, do you know that the first wife of Stephen Hawking (the extremely handicapped, atheist – physicist) was a committed member of the Church of England? She has said that it was ironic, but true, that it was her faith that gave her the strength to physically support her husband, the profound atheist. She also said that her chief aim after he achieved great fame was to try to convince him (unsuccessfully, from her point of view) that he was “not God.”
But are men really atheists? Of course not, We know, biblically, they are anti-God. And that is a whole different issue. I will close with the two theses of a professor from Southern Baptist that my friend, Will, a former student, shared with me. Here is his thumbnail sketch of ‘atheism’.
One: God is not there.
Two: I hate him.