One of the religious leaders of our time who often makes news is the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He was born in 1935 and celebrated his 78th birthday the other day with a call for young people to create a “happier” century than the previous one.
This gives me an opportunity to reflect on what went so terribly wrong with the 20th century. What went wrong? Paul Johnson, the great British historian, writes in his short book, called The Quest for God, that men decidedly moved away from God; and that’s where we went wrong.
Johnson writes, “The evil done in our times is beyond computation and almost beyond the imagination of our forebears. There is nothing in the previous history of the world to compare with the scale and intensity of destruction of the two world wars, with the indiscriminate slaughter of the bombing of European and Japanese cities---even before the use of the A-bomb---and with the colossal cruelty of the Nazi death-camps and Soviet Gulag. More than 150 million people have been killed by state violence in our century.” (The Quest for God, 1996, p. 14).
Johnson adds, “…the two greatest institutional tyrannies of the century---indeed of all time---the Nazi Reich and the Soviet Union, were Godless constructs: modern paganism in the first case and openly proclaimed atheist materialism in the second. The death-camps and the slave-camps were products not of God but of anti-God.” (p. 15).
Though many today proclaim “religion” to be the problem---fallaciously failing to discern the difference between separate religious traditions---recent history shows us that it is the rejection of the notion of a personal, loving, law-giving God entering into a fallen creation to redeem it that has led to wholesale misery on unimaginable levels.
Such a rejection fails to consider the reality of sinful human nature, concentrating vast power in the hands of a few dictators. It also fails to recognize the inherent value of human life, resulting in murder on an epic scale.
God says, “Thou shalt not murder.” But the Communists and the Nazis said in effect, “If you interfere with our plans for utopia, we will murder you.”
God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But the Nazis and the Communists said, “You have no right to live if you’re the wrong race or you believe the wrong things.”
God says, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” But the Communists and the Nazis, i.e., the National Socialists, said, “We are God.” And they controlled every detail of the lives of those under them with iron fists.