A Prophet Without Honor

  All across the country this week, "Pomp and Circumstance" is being played on college campuses as graduates stream forward to take their degrees and head off into the world. Addressing them are statesman-like figures with graying temples, dispensing wisdom to the new graduates as they tuck their sheepskins under their arms.   Commencement is one time of year when students get to hear speakers say something profound. Newsweek, Time, and The New York Times all carried excerpts of some of them last week. I've read many of these speeches, and delivered some myself. But not many these days will make it into the history books. So in this commencement season, maybe it's appropriate to revisit a true classic, delivered twenty-two years ago today, June 8, 1978 -- a speech that I believe ranks as one of the most prophetic and eloquent ever given. And it was from an ex-prisoner, a man who is one of the twentieth century's most enduring heroes. The commencement was at Harvard. And how did that distinguished audience react? Shamefully, some booed him. The speaker, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, had endured years of imprisonment in the Soviet Gulags and lived to write about it. In 1970, his writings earned the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1974 he came here, to find refuge in America. Many in the audience that day no doubt assumed he would speak about the freedoms he now enjoyed, or the honor of speaking at Harvard. Surely he would express his gratitude to them. But the Russian prophet had more solemn business in mind: His concern was the spiritual decline of the West. In his speech, he wondered why "The Western world has lost its civil courage" -- a decline most noticeable among the intellectual elites. He said that Western leaders based their policies on "weakness" and "cowardice," and the evidence was their belief that "We cannot apply moral criteria to politics." Instead of congratulating the Ivy Leaguers, he warned about "destructive and irresponsible freedom" and "the abyss of human decadence." He deplored the "misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror." The audience grew even angrier when Solzhenitsyn identified America's real problem as spiritual sickness. And its root cause was our most prized possession -- our self-centeredness. We suffer from the delusion, he said, that we are "the center of everything that exists." We think we are not accountable to "any higher force...." "Is it true," he asked, "that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?" Founded by Puritans in 1636, Harvard once knew the answers to those questions. We are not the result of some biochemical accident. We didn't create ourselves. But we mouth the words, "one nation, under God" and leave God out of it altogether. Most of what is being said this year will soon be forgotten. But the words of that Russian prophet remain vivid, burning in our ears. They are a cry that should awaken the passion of every believing Christian. So if you know someone graduating this year, as an offset to the politically correct banality that they're being force-fed, why not give them a copy of Solzhenitsyn's classic address. Call us here at BreakPoint and we'll send you one. It's as timely today as it was on that beautiful June day 22 years ago.


Chuck Colson


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