Say the name “Aleksander Solzhenitsyn” and immediately the image of a strong, forceful, Russian bear of a man springs to mind. Indeed, the great writer and social philosopher, who endured several years in the Soviet system as a political prisoner, developed enormous strength with God’s help -- just to make it through to his release.
Then to publicly defy the KGB and other Soviet authorities when no one else dared? That took genuine moral courage.
But our guest in this week’s “Discourse,” author and professor Joseph Pearce, got to see another side of Solzhenitsyn in a rare interview near Moscow after the Nobel Prize-winning author had returned from exile in the United States.
“Contrary to the images one had of him in the Western press, I found Solzhenitsyn to be very warm, even a bit mischievous," Pearce said. "One of his sons served as a translator for us, though I could tell that Solzhenitsyn’s command of English was rather good already. But he wanted to make sure that he got the precise meaning of his thoughts across to me.”
Pearce, now a writer-in-residence and professor at Ave Maria University in Florida, had told Solzhenitsyn in a letter that he thought previous biographies of him had not taken into account the centrality of his Christian faith in his works. Certainly, Solzhenitsyn’s literary efforts, as well as his life experiences in general, have great spiritual depths of meaning. For example, Solzhenitsyn’s discovery that one can profit from loss in prison -- finding out that the core of one’s being goes far beyond one’s material possessions -- has a death and resurrection theme.
Once Solzhenitsyn could get to the point where he actually thanked God for his prison experience and all that it taught him, he was remarkably free, as compared to others who were cowed by the Soviet authorities. Upon release he kept critiquing publicly the Soviet system that had put him in prison on the flimsiest of charges -- a relatively mild criticism of Josef Stalin.
Solzhenitsyn’s writing and activism, his singlehanded defiance of a horrific political system, took courage developed by God during the writer’s time in prison. But like any prophet seized with a vision he is convinced is true, Solzhenitsyn soon realized that the truths and Christian worldview he espoused were worth far more than any suffering he had to endure.
For a truly excellent read, go to our online bookstore and purchase a copy of Joseph Pearce’s insightful book about one of the most influential men in modern times. Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile is an exceptional book for a high school or college graduate, as well as a Bible study. Only when we realize how much some people have been willing to sacrifice for the freedoms we take for granted daily can we more fully appreciate what we have here in the United States.
“Discourse,” an occasional podcast on BreakPoint, applies a Christian worldview lens to a broad range of issues related to contemporary culture. Stephen Reed, a Centurion in the class of 2008, is a former talk radio host and serves as Web content editor for the Colson Center. If you see any cultural issues out there you would like to see us address in a future podcast, e-mail Stephen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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