Revolution '89: The Spiritual Dimension

THE spectacular events of 1989 truly make that year one of the most memorable in recent history. Communist governments collapsed in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania, and only in Romania was bloodshed a major factor in the revolts. Like houses of cards, the communist governments throughout Eastern Europe simply collapsed in the face of massive popular demonstrations. Within the Soviet Union, dramatic changes are also occurring with blinding speed. Soviet republics are declaring their own sovereignty and demanding independence in decisionmaking from Moscow, major leaders are withdrawing their membership from the Communist Party, and Mikhail Gorbachev is sounding like a European Social Democrat, rather than a hard-line Marxist. These remarkable events have moved Western observers to various stages of euphoria. Some commentators have engaged in debates about ``the end of history'' - an end in the sense that political liberalism has won the great ideological struggle with communism. Secretary of State James Baker has eloquently described the ``new breeze blowing for freedom,'' a breeze that has become a ``gale-force wind.''

Others, such as syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, envision a unipolar world whose center is the confederated West. They argue that the failure of Marxian socialism and the victory of democratic capitalism means that the governments of North America and Asia have the potential of joining with the newly integrated nations of Europe and forming a new mega-superpower. The rest of the nations of the world would gather in concentric circles around this unipole. The point is this: The ``West'' has won and can now claim ``universal dominion.''

While those of us who support democratic capitalism as the best of all political systems have much to celebrate because of the events of 1989, one of the most important lessons of 1989 has been overlooked. What collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was not just a flawed political system and a bankrupt approach to economics. Although these facets of the revolution have received most of the commentary, there is a deeper, more important revolution going on in the world that has not been addressed by the Western press.

Peter Kuzmic, president of the Biblical Theological Institute in Yugoslavia, described Marxism as an ``all-encompassing, comprehensive world view which claims to answer all human questions and longings and interpret all reality in supposedly scientific terms.'' It is a materialistic philosophy that leaves no room for religion. In fact, Marxists believe that religion, an outdated form of superstition and an ``opiate of the masses,'' will ``wither away.''

Marxism is indeed in retreat - not just as a political system or an economic system, but more fundamentally as a world view. All over Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union there is a recognition that these Marxist countries are facing a moral and spiritual crisis. The political and economic aspects of this crisis are only part of the story. The more important story is the realization that materialism, which denies any meaning beyond the world of matter, is untrue. Soviets and Eastern Europeans are realizing that their attempt to build a secular society was a mistake. Salvation was not to be found in the new ``Soviet man'' or woman. The secularization produced by 70 years of Marxist rule left an empty spiritual void, a void which they are desperately trying to fill.

Religion is not an outmoded practice suitable only for people who live in pre-modern societies. All of us have been created as spiritual beings. The collapse of Marxism has shown the fallacy of modern secular thought with its materialistic bias, a bias which places hope in economic prosperity, modernization, and technology as our ``savior.'' The revitalized churches and synagogues throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union bear testimony to the vibrancy of religious faith and the bankruptcy of materialism.

For observers in the West, this is an important lesson that we dare not miss. If we do, we may need to learn to deal with perestroika and glasnost in our own country.

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