'Soviet Memorandum' The challenge nearer home

Ronald Reagan assumes the presidency at a time of profound concern in the West about the growing armed might of the Soviet Union. The challenge of how to deal with the Russians is not a new one. It has been central to the foreign policy of Western governments ever since the end of World War II, when the victorious USSR expanded its empire and began to assert its power abroad in more overt ways. The challenge, moreover, is not only or even primarily a physical one, as most headlines would suggest. It is a metaphysical one. As Monitor correspondent David Willis, finishing up a tour of duty in Moscow, writes in the valedictory series "Soviet memorandum" concluding today:

"That challenge is materialism -- the constant claim that material force is what counts in the world; that Soviet armor can support Soviet ideology in a way that is superior to the ideals and ideas of the West, the worth of the individual, man's right to live and pray unoppressed by the state."

To meet the physical threat is simple. The West need only be alert to keeping up its military strength -- to making sure it can always protect its vital interests, not giving the Soviet leaders the smallest reason to believe they can engage in aggressive actions with impunity. But the harder, deeper question for the West is: how do free societies meet the moral and spiritual demands posed by an aggressively materialistic doctrine that undergirds and helps sustain an oppressive, secretive, often brutal society?

Clearly the answer must lie in bolstering and living those moral and spiritual ideals which have given rise to the politically freest, most enlightened societies in the world. Yet it is a disturbing fact that these values today are all too idly ignored and often in danger of being undermined.Materialism, after all, is not an invention of the Russians, or even of Marx. The view that matter is dominant and self-existent, that man is a material being, that life is limited and temporary has existed throughout the history of humankind. Marx merely refined and synthesized these material theories into a so-called science. The Russians appropriated this "science" and today pursue their policies under the imprimatur of dialectic materialism and its supposed inexorable laws. How deeply most Russians believe what is officially preached is open to question, however, as is the extent to which Soviet behavior is ideologically motivated rather than in large part driven by Russian nationalism and imperial ambitions.

In any case, it is in spirited rebellion against the limiting concepts of materialism that humanity has striven to find the eternal truths of being, to define a creator who makes man in His image and is infinite good. But this does not mean humanity is very readily giving up its own belief and faith in materialism. On the contrary. If a visitor were to drop in on Earth from outer space, he might easily conclude that the people of the advanced industrial nations are gripped by materiality, by a conviction in and love of matter. He could find, alongside all the good, forms of materialism no less debilitating to human freedom than the autocratic tyranny of Soviet communism. The obsession with material things, the pursuit of sensual pleasures, the pornography, the gambling, the drugs -- are these not signs of moral decay? And what of the vestiges of racism and discrimination, the poverty, violence, crime -- do these not spring from selfish and greedy thinking? They should warn the Judeo-Christian nations especially of the need to repair their moral and spiritual armor, to reinforce those deep values that have liberated the individual and made possible such unprecented progress in the political, technological, economic, and social fields.

We have sounded this theme before, but we would reiterate it as the United States awaits a new leadership. America's real strength lies not in its tanks, its bombers, its missiles, however needed and formidable these are. It lies in the qualities of its life -- its political freedoms, its sense of social justice , its capacity for self-examination and renewal, its charitableness toward others, its respect for individual rights. Yes, in its economic affluence and prowess as long as these are kept servant to right purposes.The task for Americans is to see that these qualities are enhanced and grow and help nourish a world longing for a higher sense of life and achievement.

We do not see the battle as merely a military or even economic contest between East and West. The competition is essentially one of ideas and ideals, a centuries-old struggle between the forces of materialism rooted in concepts of God's nonexistence and man's mortal, fragile nature and the forces of spirituality grounded in concepts of the creator's allness and man's perfectibility.

The competition is global and the struggle goes on within the Western world no less than within the communist nations. Surely the courageous impulses of religious and political dissent, breaking through the darkness, tell us that an inner spirit of freedom beats in the heart of the great Russian people, though it may take decades to emerge. And if the Western nations can take pride in achieving a large measure of liberation from human limits, they cannot rest on their oars. For the West is confronted as never before by the pull of materialism and the problems it spawns.

This newspaper's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, foresaw the conflict which would characterize our times when she wrote: "The broadcast powers of evil so conspicuous today show themselves in the materialism and sensualism of the age, struggling against the advancing spiritual era." And she defined the challenge to makind in these words: "Spirituality lays open siege to materialism. On which side are we fighting?"

That is the quest ion men and women everywhere must ask -- and answer.

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