Have We Forgotten God?
By John W. Whitehead
November 23, 2009
“Statesmenmay plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone,which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securelystand.”—John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams (21 June 1776)
Americansociety has succumbed to a rampant materialism. And now it has passed down toour young people. In fact, studies show that a large percentage of young peoplebetween 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’tthink they will live to the age of 35, which causes them to take part inadverse or risky behavior—drugs, wild parties, getting arrested by police, andeven suicide.
As we have lostour sense of meaning, morality and spirituality, the erosion of our freedoms onvirtually every front has accelerated. And, make no mistake about it, freedomin the true sense of the word is always undergirded by a common moral andreligious system. As John Adams opined: “Our Constitution was madeonly for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for thegovernment of any other.”
Increasingly,we are headed toward a spiritually dead-end society as our schools anduniversities, reluctant to teach values, avoid religion as if it were a plague.As a result, in the words of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “menhave forgotten God.” He knew of what he spoke. For a short time,Solzhenitsyn was exiled in the United States where he observed Western culturefirst hand. As a result, Solzhenitsyn tended to reject the Western emphasis onmaterialism based largely upon his belief in Christian values.
Solzhenitsynspent 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 mostintimate and detailed accounts of the inhumane treatment of the Russian peopleat the hands of the Communist government. His books have become classics: CancerWard (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, Solzhenitsynwon the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In his London address upon acceptingthe prize, Solzhenitsyn summed up his belief that virtually every problem weface in the West can be reduced to a single premise: “men have forgottenGod.” Broadly, Solzhenitsyn’s point was that in our secularistic age, wehave overthrown spirituality for materialism but with far-reachingramifications—including the loss of freedom. We might pause for a moment andconsider Solzhenitsyn’s analysis of our state of being.
The followingare some excerpts from his Templeton address:
Imperceptibly,through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceasedto be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness,” agoal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts ofgood and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from commonuse, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of shortlived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home inthe individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is notconsidered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging bythe continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very owngeneration, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Westernsocieties are losing more and more of their religious essence as theythoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism.
Atheistteachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatredof their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects ofcapitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedomtogether with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (andCommunism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, whichare unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degreeof authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain”equality”—the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning ofthe flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world. Indeed, thebroader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or evenof abundance—the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become.The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that humansalvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merelymaking money.
Here again wewitness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yieldingthe same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.
With suchglobal events looming over us like mountains, nay, like entire mountain ranges,it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to recall that the primary key to ourbeing or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart’spreference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and itis, in fact, the most reliable key we have. The social theories that promisedso much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us at a dead end. The freepeople of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they arebeset by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, and not to allow lies to befoisted upon them so easily. All attempts to find a way out of the plight oftoday’s world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, inrepentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined, andwe shall seek it in vain.
Our lifeconsists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthyspiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage inthe movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, normust we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone donot explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiologywill never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, dayin and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting usthe energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in thelife of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force:this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.
To theill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us toinsignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, wecan propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have sorashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened tothe errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed tosetting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: thecombined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.
Our fivecontinents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as thesethat the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish andlose this world, the fault will be ours alone.
Re-printed from a commentary of John Whitehead,constitutional lawyer and founder of the Rutheford Institute. This commentary is available online atwww.rutherford.org