“Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”–John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams (21 June 1776)
American society has succumbed to a rampant materialism. And now it has passed down to our young people. In fact, studies show that a large percentage of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 don’t see any meaning or purpose to life at all. Another study in 2009 showed that 15% of teenagers in grades 7 through 12 don’t think they will live to the age of 35, which causes them to take part in adverse or risky behavior–drugs, wild parties, getting arrested by police, and even suicide.
As we have lost our sense of meaning, morality and spirituality, the erosion of our freedoms on virtually every front has accelerated. And, make no mistake about it, freedom in the true sense of the word is always undergirded by a common moral and religious system. As James Adams opined: “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Increasingly, we are headed toward a spiritually dead-end society as our schools and universities, reluctant to teach values, avoid religion as if it were a plague. As a result, in the words of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “men have forgotten God.” He knew of what he spoke. For a short time, Solzhenitsyn was exiled in the United States where he observed Western culture first hand. As a result, Solzhenitsyn tended to reject the Western emphasis on materialism based largely upon his belief in Christian values.
Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in Russian prisons and labor camps for criticizing Joseph Stalin. After his release in 1956, he began to write, producing some of the most intimate and detailed accounts of the inhumane treatment of the Russian people at the hands of the Communist government. His books have become classics: Cancer Ward (1968), August 1914 (1971), The Gulag Archipelago (1973),The Oak and the Calf (1980), among others.
In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, Solzhenitsyn won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In his London address upon accepting the prize, Solzhenitsyn summed up his belief that virtually every problem we face in the West can be reduced to a single premise: “men have forgotten God.” Broadly, Solzhenitsyn’s point was that in our secularistic age, we have overthrown spirituality for materialism but with far-reaching ramifications–including the loss of freedom. We might pause for a moment and consider Solzhenitsyn’s analysis of our state of being.
The following are some excerpts from his Templeton address:
Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness,” a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism.
Atheist teachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatred of their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (and Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degree of authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain “equality”–the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world. Indeed, the broader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or even of abundance–the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become. The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money.
Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.
With such global events looming over us like mountains, nay, like entire mountain ranges, it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to recall that the primary key to our being or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart’s preference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and it is, in fact, the most reliable key we have. The social theories that promised so much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us at a dead end. The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, 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.
Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.
To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.
Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks) is available in bookstores and online. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.