Another whirlwind author-romance swept me off my feet on Tuesday. I was minding my own business, reading a book for class, when a quote jumped off the page: “[Writers and artists] can vanquish the lie…One word of truth outweighs the whole world. And on such a fantastic breach of the law of conservation of mass and energy are based my own activities and my appeal to the writers of the world.”*
Solzhenitsyn? I tried to remember his name coming up in conversation over the last few years, faintly recalling philosophy majors with bears. I headed to Google, referred to wikipedia, puzzled over an incomplete bibliography, and finally found myself in the basement of Goddard Library, stooped over a dusty periodical from 1985.
I quickly fell for the exiled, Russian Orthodox author and Nobel Laureate, reading about his family’s earnest simplicity and intensity. The biographer, Edward E. Ericson Jr., suggested Solzhenitsyn’s Templeton acceptance speech as a brief primer on his philosophy and vision for the world. I was arrested, as I hope you are, by the opening lines:
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-nigh 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.**
If you have time for a good read today, I recommend sitting down with the rest of the speech. In it, Solzhenitsyn grieves over 20th century Russia and berates the Western world for voluntarily choosing the same depravity that was forced on his countrymen.
“The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods,” he asserts, “and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily. 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.”
*Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Nobel Prize Speech, 1970. Quoted in: Stott, John R. W. (1994-01-01). Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (p. 105). Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
**Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Templeton Speech, 1983. Translator: A. Klimoff. Available at: http://www.roca.org/OA/36/36h.htm