Source: Abilene Reporter News
Doug Mendenhall, Special to the Reporter-News
You’ve been so caught up in worrying about the Trump-Putin fiasco that now you’ve got just two weeks to plan a party. Looming ahead is the 10th anniversary of the death of one of the 10 most influential Christians of the 20th century.
Who is it?
I’ll give you a hint. Two. Half a dozen.
It’s not a pope. Not Mother Teresa. Not C.S. Lewis. Not Billy Graham. Not Martin Luther King Jr. All those folks are also on the Top 10 that Church History magazine compiled as the century ended.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died Aug. 3, 2008.
As a toddler, he was held aloft to get a better view of revolutionaries smashing the local Russian Orthodox cathedral. He grew into a thoughtful, honest writer, and became a sort of Jeremiah of Russia.
In that tradition, the Soviets threw him into a miserable prison. He eventually got out, then prophesied more, speaking truth to power.
The State exiled him, and he lived 20 years in the United States. He didn’t stop prophesying, though, because he considered American decadence just as dangerous to mankind’s spirituality as Soviet oppression.
Mother Russia received him back in 1994 amid cheering crowds. He died in Moscow almost 10 years ago, never fully finding his place in this world, but certain that mankind could do better.
He criticized the Russian Orthodox Church as it became entwined with post-Soviet government. Some of his thoughts about that:
- A church should retain a national personality, because that helps create the conditions for national renaissance of culture and spirituality.
- At the same time, the church must concern itself exclusively with spiritual matters, not be lured into political solutions as a way to change the hearts of the people.
- Freedom of religion in a consumer society may bring rising popularity for Christianity, but it also brings, simultaneously, a shallowness and complacency to the faith.
- Always, humanity is potentially evil. Evil is a consequence of humanity, not an independent force. Remember, he once said, that “Christ was not crucified by impersonal forces but by men.”
- It may be scary, but the church must adapt to changes in culture and society – meet it halfway. “I fear that if religion does not allow itself to change, it will be impossible to return the world to religion because the world is incapable on its own of rising.”
- Becoming legalistic, focusing on clear, airtight rules, leads to Christians feeling that they are somehow absolved from the higher moral plane that calls for a deeper spirituality.
Maybe that’s enough to get you started on thinking about whether to observe Solzhenitsyn’s anniversary. Maybe you’ll just ignore him and go back to that worrisome Putin-Trump relationship.
If so, let me point out that Putin’s not all bad for church folk – at least, the right church folk, because interlopers like the Mormons are restricted. The Russian Orthodox Church has official support these days, though, in exchange for which priests are speaking out against sins such as not paying your traffic fines. It’s very symbiotic, this partnership between church and state. In fact, the mansion that Putin helped build for Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, is not far from his own billion-dollar palace.
It’s very nice, if you like that sort of thing.
Solzhenitsyn didn’t, but he’s 10 years silent.
Dr. Doug Mendenhall teaches journalism at Abilene Christian University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.