The quote you see in the title above comes from a speech by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Before I give you the fuller quote, however, I want to give you some context.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Templeton Prize on May 10, 1983 when he was 64 years old. (He died in 2008.) “The Templeton Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” (more on the prize, its purpose, and its history). It was on the occasion of this award, that Solzhenitsyn gave the speech from which the quote above came. Here’s the brief bio clip provided by the Templeton Foundation (taken from this list of honorees):
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s struggle for open expression made him one of the world’s most respected men. Under the repressive Soviet regime, he held firm in his beliefs and shared his worldview through powerful writings and devastating critiques of Russian Communism. His works renewed vitality in the Orthodox tradition and evidenced a profound spirituality.
Solzhenitsyn’s lecture that day was alternately titled “Men Have Forgotten God” or “Godless: The First Step to the Gulag.” He began his address thusly:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, 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 all this has happened.”
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
Solzhenitsyn was one of the most courageous and amazing men of the 20th Century. I think it was in the early 1970’s that he first came to widespread attention in America. (I was in my 20’s and not yet a committed Christian, and knew of him – so his fame was by no means limited to religious circles.) In the midst of the Cold War, you could hardly believe that a Russian was saying the things he was saying…and getting away with it!
He had been imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp for years, yet you can read the entire speech from which this quote came and never know about his personal trials. He was not self-absorbed, which is a trait which is even less typical of leaders now than it was then. Though he spoke out against the evils of communism, he also pointed out the decadence of Western culture. Americans celebrated his criticisms of Russia but, sad to say, never took to heart what he warned about America.
When the world ignores men like this, they leave themselves hardly anyone else worth listening to.
The links below will take you to the full speech.
(10 min read; 2,604 words)