June 8th marked the 40th anniversary of “A World Split Apart,” the commencement address delivered by Aleksandr Solzhentisyn at Harvard University. Chuck Colson considered it “one of the most prophetic and eloquent” commencement addresses ever given. As a young pastor (37), I remember how I admired Solzhentisyn for his courage and candor. It was a reminder of Ezk. 2:5 “Whether they listen or refuse to listen – for they are a rebellious house – they will know that a prophet has been been among them.” He warned his audience of a “disaster in the calamity of a despirtualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness” in the West.
He began by accusing the West of evading the truth. “Truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on it’s pursuit… the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings….truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.” He warned against “destructive and irresponsible freedom” and what he called “the abyss of human decadence.” He wonder what would “redeem the 20th century’s moral poverty.”
Solzhenitsyn did not view the West as a model for the rest of the world, but rather saw us in a “state of spiritual exhaustion.” The decline in courage was the most striking feature of the West. “Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of courage by the entire society.” Our policies were based on “weakness” and “cowardice.”
He faults the West for the abandonment of its moral and spiritual ideals. The West was spiritually sick. Our moral decline was the result of forgetting God. People worship themselves, deifying their own desires, while falling into an idolatry of the self, because they had forgotten there is someone higher than themselves.” We suffer from the delusion of thinking we are “the center of everything that exists,” believing we are not accountable to “any higher force.”
Speaking like an Old Testament prophet, Solzhenitsyn visualized a fight of cosmic proportions that had already begun. “The forces of evil have begun their offensive; you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses.” No weapons will be useful since we have lost our willpower. “To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die.” The alternative is concession and “attempts to gain time.”
Our turning away from the Spirit caused a blindness to “the existence of intrinsic evil in man.” “Turning our backs upon the Spirit, with life not having an superior sense, provided an access to evil” of which there was a free and constant flow. We have placed too much hope in “political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.” “Man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.”
As Solzhentisyn closes his remarks he gives this warning, “If the world has not come it its end, it has approached a major turn in history….it will exact from us a spiritual upsurge….This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but – upward.”
Men, these are the words of a prophet. Forty years later, our cultural crisis confirms his prophetic words. He describes our culture as spiritual sick and exhausted, living in moral poverty. He warned of a fight that would be of cosmic proportions with the constant and free flow of evil. His advice was to look upward, that is, to the Lord. Prophets have a shock and awe affect when they speak. Go read the prophet’s speech for yourself. It is readily available on line.