Several years ago I wrote a blog about how nations rule over their people. It was a contrast between the Communist dictatorships of the day and the western world. I realized that this blog is very pertinent to the times we live in as we try to understand the senseless invasion of Ukraine by the Russians. However it also helps us understand nations that are governed by leaders with an atheistic worldview who rule with an iron fist.
I recently read about a conversation that Philip Yancey had with the editor-in-chief of Pravda, which was the largest newspaper in Russia, just as their communist state was collapsing back in 1991. He told Yancey that communism, though atheistic, has a great deal in common with Christianity. He said, “We oppose poverty, you oppose poverty. We fight injustice, you fight injustice.” Then he made this incredible admission, “Yet somehow we communists have created a monstrosity, killing and imprisoning millions of our citizens.”
I think this editor-in-chief saw some parallels between these two belief systems, though one was centered on a theistic view of life while the other was atheistic. Yancey then makes a great observation:
A primary difference between the two, however, lies in their use of power. Communism tends to enforce its beliefs from the top down, at the point of a gun – hence the excesses of Stalin’s purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Jesus described a movement that grows from the bottom up, with changes taking place internally rather than externally.
This is what separates Christianity from all other philosophies and religions of the world. Its emphasis is on our interior life. In his teaching, Jesus is very clear about this. Our inner life is the source from which our exterior life flows. His desire is to transform our inner life with His transforming power.
We see the power of God demonstrated in many communist countries. Daniel Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine estimates up to three thousand Western Christians work in China as English teachers, many of them vocal about their faith. Aikman says:
“This often annoys Public Security Bureau officials monitoring the foreign presence across Chinese campuses. But over the years, China’s higher education system has learned to appreciate the quality of the Christian teachers. They behave well, they don’t get drunk, they don’t flirt with the local girls, they don’t have romantic relationships even with other foreigners, they are diligent, and they don’t complain a lot.” Aikman adds, “The steady drip-drip-drip of one-on-one Christian evangelism by these earnest foreign teachers has had a deep impact among young Chinese intellectuals. Almost every urban young Christian I met in China had come to the Christian faith through a foreign, English-speaking teacher.”
These young people’s lives are changed from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down.
The problem governments have with this top down approach is that they give their people an arbitrary morality that is imposed from the top down. However it is not effective.
Philip Yancey says that these countries that indoctrinate their citizens with an atheistic worldview experience an incalculable cost to their people who live with a morality untethered from moral absolutes.
An example of this is described by Josif Ton, a Romanian pastor and teacher. Back when Romania was under a communist regime, his job was to teach Romanian students how to lead good, moral lives so they would grow up to be good citizens. The problem he ran into was that his students had been taught that they are the product of chance combinations of matter, and that life is governed by Darwinian laws. That the strong survive and flourish and the weak are relegated to the bottom of society. In their view of life, there was no afterlife, there was no God who they would have to give an account to. Ton tried to go in and teach them to be noble and honorable people and to seek to spend their energies on doing good for the Romanian people. However, they had no motivation for goodness. They saw life in a godless world where you grab and live totally for yourself. They couldn’t come up with any reason to live an unselfish, virtuous life.
This is why a nation needs a spiritual foundation, because it creates and strengthens the notion of duty. As the great English historian Lord Acton said, that having that spiritual underpinning “creates an invisible yoke of duty on every citizen. It gives a reason to deny self-interest, to obey the law, to sacrifice for others. “However, when we abandon our spiritual roots,” he says, “duty loses its hold on our hearts. Crime and lawlessness are then unleashed.”