Recently, His Grace Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune. He was responding to a story that ran on June 17 entitled “Secularists spreading the word to skip church.” He very correctly calls into question their declared motivation to spark a public conversation because they, as His Grace states, “resort to tactics that preclude debate and insult the very people they seek to engage.”
This letter reminded me of my history professor in college. His specialty was Russian history and he had done doctoral work at Moscow State University at the height of the Cold War. One of the stories he told us continues to amaze me to this day and stands as a cautionary tale. Soviet Russia was famous for erasing history. People were removed from photos, news stories and history books the moment they no longer toed the party-line or disagreed with those in power. In such an environment, studying history is not possible, because history does not really exist. All that matters is the propaganda of the moment; however, the USSR also had a need to attract Western scholars with their hard currency. Thus, locked away under armed guards were the unaltered documents that chronicled the history of Soviet Russia. My professor would study in this room with an armed Soviet soldier on the other side of the door.
These armed guards were necessary because the information gathered behind those locked and guarded doors was dangerous. When compared to history, to actual events and the truth, communism had and has no answers. In any real debate, given an honest examination of history and not a bunch of showy propaganda, communism had no chance of winning the argument. Thus, it shut the opposition up through the threat of imprisonment and death. They were more than happy to carry out such threats. Indeed, we probably will never know the true number of victims, but conservative estimates range in the tens of millions.
Thus, whenever someone or some group resorts “to tactics that preclude debate and insult the very people they seek to engage,” I think of my history professor. I find myself questioning whether or not these people actually want a debate. My gut feeling is that they actually don’t. I say this because I was once one of those secularists who happily spoke out against Christianity and lamented friends “lost” to the clutches of the Church; however, whenever I would honestly engage the historical record, I found that the arguments I so desperately held onto fell away like so much chaff in the wind. A major turning point in my life was when I sought out the Gnostics in order to prove that they were the real expression of Christianity suppressed by a power-hungry Church authority. I necessarily found St. Ireneus, one of our primary witnesses to Gnosticism in the early Church. In the end, I was forced to acknowledge that this great Christian apologist spoke the Truth.
Thus, I challenge those secularists who think they want to engage in a real conversation about Christianity to actually read the words of Christians throughout the ages. I dare them to seek those documents that proclaim our point of view. I invite them to understand history from a Christian perspective. If they are truly interested in engaging the Church, these are the things secularists would do, instead of “spreading the word to skip church.” Instead, they should point to the historical record and show all of us how Christianity has not made the world a better place. Otherwise, they are no better than the Soviets who cowardly hid the truth behind the barrel of a gun.