AP Obit for Solzhenitsyn Ignores His Christian Faith

Alexander Solzhenitsyn via Christianity TodayDespite penning 38 paragraphs for his obituary, the closest AP's Douglas Birch came to mentioning the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Christian faith was by remarking how the bearded author and Soviet dissident looked like a religious icon:

In a 1978 speech at Harvard University, Solzhenitsyn - who with his beard and dour demeanor resembled a figure from an Orthodox icon - denounced the Western view that liberal democracy was fated to triumph in non-Western civilizations, which he called "worlds" unto themselves.

Yet it was in that speech -- "A World Split Apart" -- Baptist theologian Albert Mohler argues, that Solzhenitsyn famously diagnosed secularism as a disease corrupting the West and, what's more, he did so thoroughly anchored in his Orthodox Christian faith (emphasis mine):

Edward E. Erickson, who wrote two major works on Solzhenitsyn, argues that the key to understanding Solzhenitsyn is Christianity -- the Russian Orthodox faith that framed Solzhenitsyn's worldview. Erickson argued that "in a day when secular humanism flourishes among the cultural and intellectual elite, he holds fast to traditional Christian beliefs."

Indeed, Solzhenitsyn railed against the secularism and spiritual weakness of the West, even as he took refuge in Cavendish, Vermont for the years of his exile. In his famous 1978 Harvard University commencement address, "A World Split Apart," Solzhenitsyn pointed to the moral and spiritual crisis in the West. He declared that America's experiment with democracy was being undermined by secularism:

However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were -- State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.


He returned to Russia a prophet, but also a man who seemed strangely out of his times. In his case, a great life of the twentieth century lingered awkwardly into the twenty-first. Nevertheless, his great courage and his literary achievement remain a tribute to the human spirit. Even more, Solzhenitsyn's moral vision serves as a reminder that Christianity alone provides an adequate grounding for human dignity.

Photo via Christianity Today's Liveblog.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.