I’m currently reading Witness, an autobiographical account of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers’s flight from communism and the events that ensued thereafter. The book’s forward, “A Letter to My Children,” has become somewhat of a classic in and of itself—for its prose, its timelessness and above all, its striking moral indictment of communism. As it relates to the issues discussed on this blog, two sections stuck out to me in particular. The first:
Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die—to bear witness—for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it. It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision…The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.Although we don’t currently see any movements toward Soviet-style communism (at least, not in the West), plenty of today’s prominent ideologies lend toward this same type of “rational faith.” Obvious variations include socialism and progressivism, each of which pushes in the same general direction of central control and launches itself from the same faulty foundation. But as Chambers himself noted in his infamous review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the humanistic Randians will be just as likely to lead us to a devoid moral outlook, albeit via a different political approach. As for how we discern this, we might begin by thinking about how our ideologies might “displace God as the creative intelligence of the world.” For example, although God has more than a few words to say about how we respond to social engagement and government (think Romans 13), does pursuing centralized control as an ideal fit well within a Biblical framework? When we push toward equalizing society through a human-selected authority, and when we proclaim the guiding light of that authority to be some kind of static economic equilibrium (calculated by yet another faulty human, no doubt), at what point have we overly subscribed to a “rational faith” in humanity and neglected to harness, channel or even recognize the “creative intelligence” of God? For many in the communist bloc, the Soviets made it easy:
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said,’ and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’ A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.For Chambers, there were plenty of rationalarguments to be made against communism as a political or economic approach, yet, also for Chambers, the more important area of focus was communism as a moral or spiritual approach. In our discussions of economics, politics and theology, our ears should ever be turned toward the soul—what makes it ache, what makes it confused, and, above all, what makes it die. To focus only on the distribution of material wealth as the key to elevating the human spirit is to deny what makes that very same spirit live and breathe. Until we tap into what Chambers calls the “logic of the soul”—which often requires little more than listening—and linking that soul to a higher source, our ideas and conclusions about human flourishing and empowerment will be limited by our own faulty perceptions.