In his 1983 Templeton address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn began by recounting a memory from his childhood. “I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why this has happened.’”
As a telegraphic summary of the source of Russian ills under communism, it would be hard to improve on those four initial words. Since Solzhenitsyn spoke them, they have served many Christian pundits in the West as a description of the disorders within liberal democratic regimes. But while this slogan boasts a certain scrappy punchiness, it doesn’t offer us much help in figuring out how the memory lapse in question was provoked.
The modern forgetting of God has many intertwined causes, some of them the result of well-intentioned efforts to sustain God’s “relevance” for people living in a culture that eclipses God’s identity. It is a forgetting induced by systemic forces, and so it will not be reversed through piecemeal efforts such as keeping God’s name on our coins or his laws memorialized in public places.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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