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Department: Sentry

Truth vs. State

It Takes Courage to Confront False Ideologies

by H. Lynn Gardner

Among the false ideologies of the West are secularism, feminism, and sexual libertinism. Speaking against them will not advance your career in government or education. But the witness of two men who lived under the lies of communism should inspire us to speak out. They had the courage and integrity to live and speak the truth about their societies despite the risk of prison, torture, and even death.

Vaclav Havel (1936–2011)

A Czech playwright, intellectual, and politician, co-founded the Charter 77 movement protesting communism. Its motto was "Truth prevails for those who live in truth." Havel faced opposition and imprisonment for what he called "living in truth."

In his 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless" (in Living in Truth, Faber and Faber, 1989), Havel illustrates "living in truth" with a story of a greengrocer. The grocer displays a placard with his groceries saying, "Workers of the world, unite!" The sign doesn't express his views, but it keeps him out of trouble with the secret police. He is saying, "I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace."

Havel then speculates on what would happen if the grocer refused to display the sign and spoke openly of his rejection of communism. "In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth."

At the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Czechs gathered in Prague's Wenceslas Square to demonstrate their opposition to the communist regime. On November 21, 1989, -Vaclav Havel exhorted the crowd to create a responsible republic that would honor truth and exercise justice. He contrasted the communists with the protesters. The crowd chanted, "We are not like them! They are people of lies and propaganda. We are people of truth." Rather than countering communism with -military might, they relied on truth-telling as the way to topple a regime based on lies. They prevailed, and Havel served as the tenth president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008)

A Russian writer, found a passion to tell the truth. He became a Marxist as a teenager but landed in prison after World War II because of a criticism he made of Stalin in a personal letter. Seeing the ruthlessness of the communists, he came to realize that their goal was not to improve society but to dominate. He acknowledged the sinfulness of the human heart and the futility of a selfish life based on materialism. He became a Christian while in prison. After prison, he was exiled.

Solzhenitsyn felt led by God to document the crimes of the Russian state, recording the sufferings of his fellow citizens. His Gulag Archipelago documents the horrors of communist prisons. He expressed his passion for truth in the essay "The Oak and the Calf": "For the writer intent on truth, life never was, never is (and never will be!) easy: his like have suffered every imaginable harassment. . . . I must write simply to ensure that it was not all forgotten, that posterity might someday come to know of it."

He continued, "All my life I had been tortured by the impossibility of speaking the truth aloud. My whole life had been spent hacking my way to an open space where I could tell the truth in public. . . . I believe that we shall repent, that we shall be spiritually cleansed, that the Russian nation will be reborn." Upon winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, he declared, "One word of truth outweighs the entire world."

Without truth and virtue, no nation has protection against deception, manipulation, domination, and tyranny. When a society abandons truth, it becomes a society where might makes right. As a Polish cardinal under Soviet oppression, later Pope John Paul II, stated, "There is no freedom without truth." This is true in the West as well. 

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