Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain then. It was the summer of 1972, and I was travelling to that country with student colleagues. Our tertiary course involved Marxism, and we wanted to see something of its implications in practice.
Entering East Germany en route, I felt a certain sense of excitement; I had not penetrated the “Berlin Wall” before. “No-man’s Land” and the ugly prison defences separating East and West Germany were chilling.
Even more chilling was the concentration camp of Auschwitz in southern Poland. I saw hair, spectacles and teeth piled high, and the gas chambers where thousands of victims were mercilessly destroyed. It was summer, but the birds did not sing. There was death in the air. A Polish boy who acted as our guide whispered, “My grandparents died in this camp. It is my duty to let people know what happened.”
Three years later, my wife and I went to visit an East German pen-friend, Dorothea, who was not allowed to visit us. Once again, we traversed “No-man’s Land” and went beyond the Berlin Wall—this time feeling very vulnerable.
We have been many times since. On one occasion we asked our friend, “Do you ever see the situation changing?” The answer was a short “No”, but her resigned look of despair spoke more eloquently.
I trust you can imagine, therefore, the tears and the joy that flowed in November 1989 when the Wall came down. The prison doors had broken open, and our friends were free!
Yet lingering beneath the surface was a question that would not go away. I had seen the horrific impact of Nazism on the life of a nation. I had then experienced the similarly grim effect of a different ideology—Communism. Why had such enormous evil been unleashed upon so many people?
In those years since my first visit to Poland, I sought to understand Marxism and Nazism, and what shaped the worldviews that had justified the horrific actions that I had witnessed. I discovered a common denominator.
Marxism, so I learnt, sought to be scientific. It was anchored in a social and economic theory that was believed to mirror the true history of life. Central to that theory was the struggle between the class that owned the means of production (the capitalist “bourgeoisie”) and the working class (the “proletariat”) that did not.
Evil, in the socialist worldview, is the oppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie. Having been enlightened by Marx regarding the “true history of life”, men and women could now take control of that history. They could accelerate “nature” as it sped towards its goal of a world revolution that would banish such “evil” and produce a socialist utopia.
Hitler, I discovered, shared a similar worldview, as outlined in his book Mein Kampf (literally “my struggle”). He believed that people, like animals and plants, were engaged in a constant struggle for survival. The climax of history would be the survival of the fittest race—which he believed to be the “Aryan race”, as embodied in the German people.
Hitler and Stalin both applied their “scientific” logic with a ruthless, overwhelming determination. So did Mao Zedong in China, where countless millions also perished in the name of a utopian Marxist dream. And they not only convinced themselves, but millions of others—people just like you and me—that they were right to do so.
But where did these ideas come from? What was the “scientific” basis for such evil?
Hitler’s understanding of the history of life, and that of Marx, Stalin and Mao, was not devised by a German, Russian or Chinese. It was shaped by an Englishman named Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859), laid the groundwork for their worldviews. They each applied the principle of “survival of the fittest” to their own situation.
For Marx and Stalin it was class struggle; for Hitler it was racial struggle. And because Darwinism undermined the authority of the Bible on origins, it meant that, logically, there was no accountability to God for the mass murder they used to implement their ideas. In fact, such tactics could be justified by Darwinism. Without an absolute standard of right and wrong, those in power are not accountable to any standard. So “might” becomes “right”.
As Darwin’s evolutionary thinking became widely welcomed and absorbed by society, it not only convinced leaders like Marx and Hitler, but it became a “scientific” framework justifying the public acceptance of their actions for the “benefit” of all humanity.
Over the years, I have visited East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I have become accustomed to seeing crude and faceless residential slab blocks encircling towns and cities.
Recently, I visited Romania as well. I was not surprised to see the same thing in her capital city, Bucharest—which was at one time called “Little Paris”.
The sheer scale of the destruction was a shock, not only around Bucharest, but at its very heart. I listened to a Romanian woman whose family home had disappeared to make way for the Grand Avenue that leads to the People’s Palace of (now-deposed) communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
As I walked the length of this cultural wasteland, I found it difficult to articulate the depth of sadness I was feeling. I was seeing the impact of Darwin’s thinking, as interpreted through Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and then Romanian leader Ceausescu, on the life of yet another nation.
On the Sunday of my visit I shared these thoughts with a group of Christians in Bucharest. As an Englishman, I could only stand before them and express immense regret for what one of my countrymen had released into an unsuspecting world.
Hitler was wrong. Stalin was wrong. Ceausescu was wrong. Darwin’s theory, upon which those tyrants based their actions, was wrong, too. The evidence was before my eyes; its radical effect on the lives of everyone I was speaking to. For them it was not just an interesting theory, but a frightening practice.
At the same time, however, I was also able to point them to someone who was right, not just in theory but also in practice. He understood the true history of the world and the true nature of life, because He created it (John 1:1–3).
That person is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh (John 8:58). He came to Earth to verify and fulfil statements that He had made in earlier times concerning the beginning of life. And He added to it with inspired insight into what is yet to come. And He validated all this by rising from the dead.
On that Sunday, I referred to a passage from John’s Gospel, chapter 10, where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth … the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; but I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:1, 10).
That same Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) who has spoken into history from its very beginning. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth … God created man in His own image … God saw all that He had made, and it was very good … Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Genesis 1:1, 27, 31, 2:1).
We do not come from chaos, ascending via “survival of the fittest” to reach a utopia of our own making. We come from perfection, through failure into pain and death—which came into being when our first parents sought to exclude God; just as Darwin, and then Hitler, Stalin and Ceausescu had done these years since.
Each of these was wrong about the past; this is evident in the death and destruction their ideas wrought. But Jesus was right—as is equally evident in the good fruit of His own life.
They were also wrong about the future. The Utopian dream will not be fulfilled by man, but by God. History is heading towards “that day”—the promised new heavens and new earth, which follows the death of death and the destruction of the “old” (2 Peter 3:10).
All those who love Jesus can look forward to the heavenly Marriage Feast of the Lamb of God (Rev. 19)—of which all marriages and all positive relationships are but a foretaste. Those new heavens and that new earth will be the home of the people who love Jesus, living together with Him for eternity in a relationship that is rich, full and perfect. And every tear—even those from Auschwitz and Bucharest—will be wiped away.
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