Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rod Dreher: Solzhenitsyn and Wojtyla, tragic prophets

A nice piece by Rod Dreher, the Crunchy Con, on JPII & the Russian prophet.
I think Dreher's a little too gloomy. The messages of prophets take many years to sink in, and I dare say that the people who needed to listen to the two men have: Orthodox and Catholics.

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is

Two men stood astride the 20th century as prophets without peer: Pope John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Their experience and testimony contained and transcended the terrible truths of the bloodiest epoch in human history. And they died tragically – tragic, in the Greek sense: They were admired and even beloved. But largely ignored.

Totalitarianism, the new form of government made possible by the mass ideology, bureaucratic forms and advanced technology, forged the consciences of these men, Slavic Christians both. Karol Wojtyla lived under the Nazis in Poland; Alexander Solzhenitsyn fought them with the Red Army. As a priest, Mr. Wojtyla suffered under the communist puppet government the Soviets installed in Warsaw. The Soviet government sentenced Mr. Solzhenitsyn to labor camp for vaguely criticizing Stalin in a letter.

In the 1970s, both emerged as deadly threats to the Soviet empire. Moscow expelled Mr. Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel laureate who became the world's most famous dissident. In 1974, upon leaving Russia for the West, he issued an impassioned plea for his countrymen to "live not by lies!"

Individuals who choose to live in truth, no matter its cost, could bring down the rotting, stinking corpse of communism.

Four years later, providence gave the Roman Catholic Church something it had never seen, a Polish pope. The new pontiff, who took the name John Paul, returned to his homeland triumphally and became the focus of spiritual resistance to communism. How did he do it? By demolishing official lies with simple truths, spoken plainly.

A year later, Solidarity was born. Eleven years later, the Soviet empire was dead.

The heroic John Paul and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, slayers of the communist dragon – that's how we like to remember them. But neither fits into the West's triumphalist liberal democratic vision.

In fact, as much as they loathed the atheistic, materialistic barbarism of the East, both warned in uncompromising terms of the spiritual and moral decay at the heart of the liberal capitalist democracies.

In his most famous address in exile, Mr. Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard's 1978 graduation, delivering an apocalyptic vision of Western civilization as spiritually decrepit, given over to pleasure and material gain instead of virtue and higher values – and no model for post-communist Russia to follow.

Many liberals who had admired the dissident novelist thenceforth considered him a reactionary crank. Conservatives who championed his anti-communism struggled with the Russian Orthodox believer's harsh criticism of capitalist democracy.

It was the same with John Paul. Though far more accepting of modernity, the pontiff chastised the West not to think itself so smug in its victory over Marxism. In his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, the pope condemned the West's "culture of death," in which technology, freedom and moral relativism combined to pose dire threats to human life and dignity.

Read the rest here.

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