I’m currently reading Witness, an autobiographical account of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers’s flight from communism and the events that ensued thereafter.
This week at Values & Capitalism, I take a brief look at two extended quotes from the book’s introduction, each pertaining to the moral and spiritual backdrop of communism.
The first, on communism’s age-old resemblance:
Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die—to bear witness—for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.
It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision…The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.
The second, on how one might convert from such a noble, utopian approach:
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said,’ and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’
A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
Given that communism per se is not currently a prominent threat in the West, how might we think about Chambers’ critique of “rational faith” and his elevation of the “logic of the soul”?
In our discussions of economics, politics and theology, our ears should ever be turned toward the soul—what makes it ache, what makes it confused, and, above all, what makes it die. To focus only on the distribution of material wealth as the key to elevating the human spirit is to deny what makes that very same spirit live and breathe.
Until we tap into what Chambers calls the “logic of the soul”—which often requires little more than listening—and linking that soul to a higher source, our ideas and conclusions about human flourishing and empowerment will be limited by our own faulty perceptions.
Read the full piece here.