One of the religious leaders of our time who often makes news is the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He was born in 1935 and celebrated his 78th birthday the other day with a call for young people to create a “happier” century than the previous one.
This gives me an opportunity to reflect on what went so terribly wrong with the 20th century. What went wrong? Paul Johnson, the great British historian, writes in his short book, called “The Quest for God,” that men decidedly moved away from God; and that’s where we went wrong.
Johnson writes, “The evil done in our times is beyond computation and almost beyond the imagination of our forebears. There is nothing in the previous history of the world to compare with the scale and intensity of destruction of the two world wars, with the indiscriminate slaughter of the bombing of European and Japanese cities – even before the use of the A-bomb – and with the colossal cruelty of the Nazi death-camps and Soviet Gulag. More than 150 million people have been killed by state violence in our century.” (“The Quest for God,” 1996, p. 14)
Johnson adds, “… the two greatest institutional tyrannies of the century – indeed of all time – the Nazi Reich and the Soviet Union, were Godless constructs: modern paganism in the first case and openly proclaimed atheist materialism in the second. The death-camps and the slave-camps were products not of God but of anti-God.” (p. 15)
Though many today proclaim “religion” to be the problem – fallaciously failing to discern the difference between separate religious traditions – recent history shows us that it is the rejection of the notion of a personal, loving, law-giving God entering into a fallen creation to redeem it that has led to wholesale misery on unimaginable levels.
Such a rejection fails to consider the reality of sinful human nature, concentrating vast power in the hands of a few dictators. It also fails to recognize the inherent value of human life, resulting in murder on an epic scale.
God says, “Thou shalt not murder.” But the Communists and the Nazis said in effect, “If you interfere with our plans for utopia, we will murder you.”
God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But the Nazis and the Communists said, “You have no right to live if you’re the wrong race or you believe the wrong things.”
God says, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” But the Communists and the Nazis, i.e., the National Socialists, said, “We are God.” And they controlled with iron fists every detail of the lives of those under them.
If the 21st century is going to be a happier one, then we should pray for and work toward less concentrated power in the hands of the few. That is when we get in trouble.
Consider this reflection of a Christian worldview (which takes into consideration the sinfulness of man) from James Madison, who played a great role in the American constitutional convention. He said, “All men having power ought not to be trusted.”
Is that a cynical view? No, it’s a realistic one. Someone once said, I think it was the witty Christian writer G.K. Chesterton: We have 6,000 years of recorded history providing empirical proof of original sin. As both the psalmist and the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is no one good – no, not one.”
Chesterton once wrote a letter to the editor of his newspaper, “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”
The 19th century British philosopher, Winwood Reade, said, “The destruction of Christianity is essential to the interests of civilization.” But that is precisely where the 20th century went wrong – in its attempt to decimate Christianity. Perhaps the 21st century can indeed be a happier century, if people allow for more, not less, Christianity. A little more tolerance of the Christian voice in the public square would go a long way.
A “happier” century – something we should all desire – must start with a return to the worship of the Lord who designed creation and made human beings in his image, endowing them with an innate sanctity deserving of protection.
A “happier” century will require us to look to God’s design for social structures, limiting government’s infringement on the spheres of the family, of the church, of economics and of the community.
A “happier” century will demand that we recognize the reality of sinful human nature, just as the Bible describes it, so that we can form governments and societies based on reality rather than on false utopian dreams that result in the murder of millions.
As author James Russell Lowell once put it around 1900, when so many of the anti-Christian forces were beginning to be made known among the intelligentsia: “I challenge any skeptic to find a 10 square mile spot on this planet where they can live their lives in peace and safety and decency, where womanhood is honored, where infancy and old age are revered, where they can educate their children, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not gone first to prepare the way.”