All That Is Hidden

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Listen to “All That Is Hidden” by Fred Smith

 

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Over the years, I have returned to read the remarks of Alexander Solzhenitsyn given at Harvard University in 1978 and published later as “A World Split Apart” in which he plays the prophet by his indictment of the corruption of the West through a combination of the seduction of luxury, extreme individualism and the loss of courage. For my generation, Solzhenitsyn became a hero for an era that had seen the dethroning of many others. He “spoke truth to power” and made us feel, in spite of his harsh judgment of the West, his very presence here was a statement of his belief in us as an alternative to totalitarianism.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered his affection for and close relationship with Vladimir Putin in the years before his death in 2008. In fact, threads of Putin’s ideology and the revival of Russia as a global power can be traced to Solzhenitsyn’s influence. “Solzhenitsyn had long signaled in his writing and speeches that the Russia of his dreams was no clone of Western-style democracy. It was instead a place apart from and suspicious of the West, acutely aware of its destiny as a great power and unique culture and steeped in the values of the Russian Orthodox Church and Slavic nationalism.”

I’ve thought about Billy Graham’s visceral reaction to his first hearing of the Watergate tapes and how he was physically ill in discovering the hidden parts of Richard Nixon. Some have said the same when the secret life of Ayn Rand and her abuses of friends and lovers was exposed. Certainly, we know the shock of the widespread and long history of abuse by hundreds and likely thousands of Catholic priests and the entrenched cover-up to keep secrets and protecting the institution. It was not unlike reading Martin Luther’s scathing anti-Semitism when he proposed that Christians “set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom.”

We can slip easily from naive disappointment to disgust and then to cynicism. There are no heroes or men and women of virtue. All of it is spin and a well-crafted deceit while everything we thought true is propped up by a web of lies. In fact, anyone who aspires to be a leader is faced with unprecedented obstacles. As Solzhenitsyn said at Harvard, “An outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself. From the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus, mediocrity triumphs.”

But, cynicism is not an option in spite of the perpetual revelations about the deceptive and crooked nature of leaders and institutions. For me, it’s not an optimism that things will eventually get better. It is the realization that the inevitable result of mass cynicism is the self-destruction of a society. We have a responsibility to resist despair.

In 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and it could have been written for today.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true… Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness…The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.”

The resistance is not to a person or a party but the temptation to believe that nothing and no one is true. Yes, the line separating good and evil passes through every human heart but that is not the whole of the quote. He concluded with this: “This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

Holding that small bridgehead is our hope and our responsibility.

 

 

 

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 10 comments
  • Michele Elyachar
    Reply

    More More!

  • Mabry Rodney
    Reply

    The best yet. I may have missed your thesis writ large, but understand the “group think” possible in a people. Fortunately, in the US, we still have two nearly equal competing economic and governmental philosophies. The groups are organized into teams of thought, just like on the gridiron. However, with one group in control of major institutions—education, media, employees of federal institutions, and I would include the leadership of organized religious institutions—the end result of totalitarianism is just a matter of time.

    Only my belief in, and love for, the sensibilities of rank and file everyday people give me hope that a different outcome might be possible. I suspect the group think and totalitarianism would have to take place first, though, followed by revolution in the distant future. As we note from boundless examples from around the world, though, revolutions are very difficult, even very unlikely. Ours was successful because our master was headquartered so far away and we had important help from another large country at the time.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Rod. I had my own concerns about my thesis and thought I might be mixing two ideas in a clumsy way. I hope you are right about the “rank and file” but if people become accustomed to a constant diet of spin and outright lies then an oligarchy of one kind or another is bound to take control. Let’s hope there is not a revolution or a civil war. Isn’t that an odd term? “Civil war”

  • Charles Gordon
    Reply

    Thanks again Fred for your thought-provoking post!

    I’ve recently gone on a “news fast” because I was getting so depressed reading what now masquerades as news- your post helps explain how we got to this point.

    Thanks for your clear assessment

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      “We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.” Henry David Thoreau

  • Keith Sparzak
    Reply

    VERY thoughtful and insightful piece, Fred. We need as many good bridges as we can retain—and hopefully, build—in these schizoid days of political and social polarization.

    The carnival (that’s being gracious) on the opening day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings was shameful, or perhaps “sham-full”. What an embarrassment. I do HOPE his integrity holds and that those who WANT to believe the worst and most absurd about him are silenced.

    His context in the moment is a microcosm of what you shared above. Unfortunately.

    Can’t wait for the righteous reign of Jesus and the Kingdom to come!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Keith, yes “carnival” is gracious for sure! It’s certainly more like performance art – but with no surprises or even creativity.

  • Joe Wu
    Reply

    Hi Fred: Just returned to the U.S. from almost a week in Honduras with World Vision seeing communities thrive with access to clean water, former day laborers gaining an empowered world view with renewed confidence in their own skills after learning improved farming techniques, market access, forming co-ops, and receiving new hope for the children/grand children, and community-based efforts to protect and educate children (away from traditions of child labor and abuses, etc.). Most of all … nearly a week away from the non-stop, daily diet of cynicism, rhetoric, and divisiveness from the U.S. news media. As a Christian in the U.S., Jesus called us to care for the poor, the thirsty, the needy, and to testify and live out the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Let’s all look beyond ourselves to see the harvest field where Jesus is still actively engaged with the poor and the neglected in 2018 and to look less inward about what we have/don’t have as compared with our neighbors, we will not only retain but indeed advance from that small bridgehead of good that is not only our hope but our responsibility as disciples of Christ.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Joe. Well put. We are so caught up in big solutions and the immediate moment that we completely lose our perspective of what God is doing in places and with people invisible to us.

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