Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The other thing Reagan said

On this twentieth anniversary of the momentous speech in Berlin in which Ronald Reagan famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", Terence Jeffrey at recalls something else that Ronald Reagan said that day.

Pondering what sustained Berliners, surrounded as they were by the Soviet menace, Reagan concluded: "Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront."

Reagan was referring to the demolition of churches and removal of crosses and Christian statuary that was longstanding policy of the old East German communist government.

His point is interesting because he's linking human creativity to public acknowledgment of God.

When I recall life during the Cold War, it seems to me that the Soviet bloc did very well at inventing and building weapons, and planning for war. But the creativity of their societies seemed stifled in every other way, except when a brave soul like Solzhenitsyn could smuggle something through the censorship. And this was true not only in art, but in more mundane pursuits. Consumer goods were shoddy, scarce, and derivative of Western styles. Soviet cars were a joke.


I think it's because everything true and beautiful comes from God. Cut yourself off from Him, study to forget Him, and after a while, all you can make are things that are temporarily useful. While the memory, the thought-habit, of God's primary creation is still present, as it is the West now, things of lesser good can still be made; but soon, all effort turns to things that can be used for domination. And not just domination of the State over individuals, but also the domination of the weak over the weaker (e.g., abortion on demand, and the killing of human embryos for potential disease therapies). This, after all, was what Lucifer chose when he rebelled: better to reign in Hell, as Milton so colorfully gave him to say -- where I can dominate everyone and everything around me with my own demi-god inventions, according to my own lights and rules -- than serve in Heaven. Than acknowledge that God is God, and I am not.

Lucifer's choice was the Soviet choice. They were great (though ultimately not great enough) at the tools of domination and control, but they gave up all else to get that. And still they failed.

Which is why there's a very practical side to preserving and even expanding the acknowledgment of God -- and specifically, God as Christian faith understands Him -- in public life here in our own country. If we too study to forget God, to drive all mention of Him out of public life, we too will have made that same choice. And we'll go down that same road that took Lucifer to Hell, and the Soviets to the ash heap of history.

We'll give up God, who is everything, to get something -- and we'll end up with nothing.