27th October 2003
And the TRUTH will make you freeAddress by Tunne Kelam MP
former Prime Minister of Estonia
I thank almighty God who has granted us freedom. I would like to express my admiration to the Lithuanian believers and their Church, actually many confessions, who persisted and retained their faith and religious values that were ruthlessly repressed by the totalitarian Communist regime.
Yesterday we heard a message from the head of the Lithuanian Bible Society who stated: 'the Bible contains all the answers'. While we still lag behind the affluent nations in economic and social development, in our regained conditions of freedom we have obtained affluence of the word of God. Mediating God's answers to all our problems, Bibles are available to all. This was not the case when the atheist Communist state severely restricted the individual's access to the Word of God, declaring its final goal to be the total elimination of belief in God.
Two weeks ago I attended the 85th birthday of a friend who was arrested immediately after the second invasion by the Red Army in 1944. Juhan experienced unimaginable torments in Soviet concentration camps. His health broken as a result of repeated beatings and inhuman working conditions in polar coalmines, he was lucky to be among the first group of cripples sent to a special camp for invalids. There he suddenly started to feel a spiritual hunger that was even more intense than his constant physical hunger. Finally he made a deal with a prison guard who agreed to 'lease' to him a New Testament that had been confiscated from another inmate. To appease his hunger for the truth of God, Juhan gave up one third of his daily bread ration to the guard. In return, he was allowed to read the Bible for a short period every day. And so he became free. Of course, he was still a prisoner, but his spiritual and moral freedom was real, because it was now inspired by the Bible, the cornerstone of liberty, as Thomas Jefferson put it.
While visiting Juhan, that remarkable man who has participated in the restoration of political as well as religious freedom in his homeland, I suddenly thought, can we be sure that the times of religious persecution and suppression of the word of God will not return? Or can we be sure that they will not come back in a different form?
As the three Baltic nations are proud to join the area of freedom and security created by the democratic states of Europe and North America we feel more confident than ever that our future will be peaceful and secure. However, it is appropriate to recall how Apostle Paul admonished the Thessalonians: 'When people say there is peace and security, then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape... for the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.' Therefore Paul exhorts his Christian brethren, 'not to sleep as others do, but to keep awake and be sober, to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for helmet the hope of salvation' (1.Thessalonians 5, 3-8).
All day yesterday we shared our concern about the appalling social problems of seemingly successful and prosperous free societies. On this background, Paul's admonition is clearly addressed to Christians of modern times: to be sober and not to lose from sight our real vocation to prepare ourselves for the transfer from the temporary dwelling houses of this world to the everlasting City of God. This world will remain shaky, unpredictable and transitory notwithstanding our dedicated efforts to boost welfare, strengthen stability and rule of law.
At the same time, the modern world sees its raison d'etre in continuous progress towards more affluence, more consumption and fun. Towards more equality and freedom of choice, including equality of different interpretations of truth and morality. Some modern thinkers have drawn parallels between this general trend (under Communism this was called 'the general line of the Party') and the final stages of the ancient Roman Empire whose original goals were perverted to selfish populist catchwords: 'bread and circus'. The Romans also developed a highly tolerant system of religious pluralism. Each bread-and-circus brand Roman had free choice about which idols to worship. All these options were generously permitted with one exception the choice of the one true living God. Citizens who adhered to the living God and refused to pay even formal tribute to the imaginary gods were refused tolerance. In fact, they were executed. Their crime was 'intolerance' toward false gods and their idolization. This is often the reverse side of a seemingly civilized and tolerant society.
In 1928 the German writer Berthold Brecht noted: 'How does a man live? By completely forgetting he is a human being'. The dark side of today's emphasis on affluence and entertainment are disintegrated families, unborn babies denied their right to life, desperate attempts on a massive scale to escape from the consumption society through the backdoor, using drugs, committing suicide and trampling on good habits. There is a terrible 'progress' of extreme forms of violence, fraud, cynicism, double standards and moral relativism. Is it even possible that a free responsible individual can be the final product of this kind of progress that has reduced the Son of the living God to an optional niche in a pluralistic society?
In his chilling utopia 'Brave New World' which shocked readers some 70 years ago, the British visionary author Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963) presents one scenario of the God-neglecting progress. The result of breath-taking technical progress is a highly organized, affluent, painless civilization that has solved even the tricky problem of equality by producing just four categories of babies out of genetic incubators. Everybody is expected to feel happy and free from troubles due not only to material wealth and a 'feel good' drug, but also due to the elimination of natural births and putting that unruly emotion called 'love' under control. 'Mother' is a dirty word, natural birth a social shame, and sexual promiscuity is practically a duty. The cost of this carefree, easygoing, comfortable society is self-imposed suppression of independent thinking and all genuine emotions. A savage, born from a natural mother, is discovered on a reservation and becomes an overnight sensation. Everybody is eager to initiate him to the seductions of the Brave New World. However, the savage has retained his natural ability to discern genuine from fake. He is not able to enjoy artificial unremitting happiness and insists upon his right to feel unhappy. In a burst of genuine anguish he hangs himself in the midst of opulence.
Huxley's vision sounds more probable today than George Orwell's famous '1984', published 17 years later. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that in addition to a variety of generally recognized human rights there are some basic rights which have not been specified. First of all, the right of every human being to God the right to know our Creator. Next the right to a healthy, loving and lasting family. And finally our right to the Truth - to the truth about the origins of man and the meaning of our lives.
It is said that in today's world that there is not one truth that cannot be doubted and no absurdities which people are not ready to believe. This is because our understanding of truth has become relative and individually selective, regulated by innumerable self-styled opinion gurus, but not by a Supreme Authority. At best, people are ready to respect the rule of law, but not the supremacy of Truth. Apostle John presents the difference: 'For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ' (John 1: 17). And Jesus Christ declares: 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life' (John 14:6).
'And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you' (John, 14:16-17).
How is it possible to know the truth? How to be a truthful and good citizen? As citizens, we are used to dealing with and expecting almost everything from the Government. The author James M. Gilbert enumerates four types of Government: State, Church, family (including the third sector or NGO-s) and rather unexpectedly - the self-governing individual. The Bible, too, teaches us to place primary responsibility not on the State or Church, but in the family and on the individual. Revealingly, the fundamental pillar of a normal society is the self-governing individual, who has authority and control over his own body, mind and behavior.
In 1682, William Penn wrote: 'If men are good, then the government cannot be bad; if it is ill, the good citizens can cure it. But if men are bad, then the government cannot be good, for they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their own benefit.' The truth is that individual citizens make the state, the state does not make citizens. Good people make good governments, evil people make evil governments. The fundamental dilemma is: how can people be made good and truthful? Jesus teaches us that no man is good in himself, but that God can, and does, make men good when they trust in the truth revealed to them in Jesus Christ. Therefore, goodness is not defined as the absence of evil, but as the presence of God. Freedom is not the absence of totalitarianism, but the liberating presence of God. Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of Jesus Christ in each of us. Goodness, freedom, peace all these basic principles are defined in terms of God.
The truth is that there is a misery that can be even more depressing than the misery of being hungry, homeless or unemployed. This is spiritual misery - being blinded to your true origin and vocation, being imprisoned in the narrow cell of your own ego, being cut off from the God's love and joyous openness to the similar creatures of God - to your fellow men. The solution is to know the truth about ourselves. 'If you continue in my word ... you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free' (John, 8:31-32).
We also need to know the truth about our every-day life. Democracy is based on having the citizens decide. This brings us back to the idea about self-governing citizens. To really decide, to discern, we need to know all the facts about our society, about ourselves. However, if government or media decide that they do have wisdom or power to manage the truth then the ability of self-governing citizens to decide will be seriously endangered. We must admit that information in modern society is being mostly served in the form of entertainment or artificial hysteria, mixing true and fake, deforming proportions of different events, distracting attention from real problems and human challenges. As a result, tiny but assertive minorities often force their agenda upon the confused majority who have lost their orientation of truth.
Last but not least, we can't escape the dilemma of historic truth. Especially the truth about our recent past here in the Baltic States and the rest of the former Soviet Union. Having survived the most inhuman and cruel system of terror and lies we need to be sure that this can never happen again. We, the millions of victims of Communist totalitarianism are entitled to this certainty 'never again!' In case of the post-Nazi Germany, European nations got that certainty. This is because the Nazi regime was condemned and uprooted, its leaders punished and Germans forced to make a new start. As a result nobody doubts that today's Germany is a reliable, peaceful and democratic country.
The Communist totalitarianism has never had even a moral and political verdict. It is precisely here that the understanding of historic truth has been dramatically skewed. The last generation of Communist leaders has been greeted as prodigal sons by their Western counterparts. At the same time, the victims of their predecessors are viewed as an inconvenient and obsolete part of the Communist past threatening to complicate post-totalitarian progress toward a tolerant and benevolent society. Often, these victims are merely dismissed or advised to overcome their sufferings and to forgive. True, Christians are committed to forgive even the gravest trespasses. But true forgiving means first knowing and recognizing the full truth. The truth needs to be recognized by both sides of the human tragedy. Finally, true forgiving presumes an act of repentance which may be as simple as just saying 'I am sorry'. Sadly, in the post-Communist societies, even these elementary expressions of regret are strikingly missing.
Recently, a former Communist activist, a 'hero of the Soviet Union', Arnold Meri was officially charged with crimes against humanity. On behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party he had supervised carrying out the deportation of several hundred ordinary inhabitants of the island of Hiiumaa from their homes to Siberia in 1949. When Arnold Meri was asked how he would assess his conduct today he declared that he does not find himself guilty of anything and has no need to repent. He remembered the deportation as a tragic and 'personally unpleasant experience' but explained that his role was to enforce the law (sic!) and to see that no violation of the rules (sic!) would take place. In any case, to allow the people in question to remain in their homes would have meant even a bigger threat for their lives, Arnold Meri elaborated. According to him the forced collectivization which followed the 1949 deportations would have engaged the farm-owners into a desperate resistance to the Soviet regime which then would have had to react in a much harsher way than just taking them out of their homes
Here Western democracies share co-responsibility, because they have for a long time practiced moral double standards. While commendably maintaining for half a century an uncompromising stance toward Nazi crimes against humanity and reacting vigorously to any manifestation of Nazi ideology, their attitude toward Communist crimes remains ambiguous, to put it mildly. Assessment of these crimes is regarded as an internal problem of each post-Communist state and, in fact, more concern is shown for safeguarding the human rights of the perpetrators of these crimes. However, we have to remember that the heritage of the Third Reich was overcome only as a result of the determination of the Allied Powers to pass an internationally committing verdict on the criminal Nazi system as such. One could not expect that in 1945 the German nation would have had the will power or the ability to have clarity about its horrifying co-responsibility in Hitler's crimes and consequently simply to make a fresh start. The purification was forced upon them leaving absolutely no options.
This difference was explained by the well-known Russian human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov in his speech in Tallinn (June 2000): 'But until Germans, regular people, who did not belong to the SS, and who in no way participated in any crimes, understood that they carry part of the blame for Auschwitz, Nazism was not completely defeated. And until we, Russians, acknowledge loudly and clearly our national, I repeat, national guilt for the crimes of Communism, including the occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, deportations and shootings, and the cruel suppression of the national fight for freedom in the post-war years, until then communism is not completely defeated. By this I mean Communist ideology.'
One has only to take a look at the direction of events in Russia under president Putin to agree with this as well as with Alexander Yakovlev, former member of the Soviet Politbureau and father of perestroika who concludes his book 'A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia' (2002) with the summation: 'We crawl pitifully along, bogged down in mire. The main source of our troubles has yet to dawn on us: without the de-Bolshevization of Russia there can be no question of the nation's recovery, its renascence and its resumption of its place in world civilization. Only when it has shaken free of Bolshevism can Russia hope to be healed.'
The Christian perception of basic and unalterable truth about human life provides us with guidance through the hazards and confusion of modern life: to keep awake and be sober knowing that nothing, not even our democratic achievements, can be taken for granted in this world. According to one theory the progress of nations has passed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance where many of us live today. But from then on, progress could take the following course: from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back into bondage The essential and irreplaceable element of meaningful progress seems to be spiritual faith. The key element having the potential to spoil the achievements of liberty is selfishness. This is the crucial divide for every self-governing individual. This is the divide for every society.
Luckily, Jesus Christ provides us with spiritual courage and the resolve to address these challenges. Jesus teaches us that every single person is important in building His Kingdom and that every man can make a difference, can, indeed, become a living beacon of hope even in the most adverse circumstances. Where political or social
perspectives seem to be non-existent, there is an international language that opens doors anywhere and everywhere. This is kindness. Kindness has been described as the capacity to instantly and effortlessly connect with someone on the deepest possible level - and kindness is truly the single most powerful resource we possess. Power is not necessarily the result of landslide election victories. Real power rises out of all the acts of kindness and compassion we bring into the world. Real power is also the capacity to alter someone's life for the better with just a smile or a helping hand. We have assembled here to share this capacity and tune ourselves to further acts of kindness while trusting ourselves to the mercy of Almighty God, the source of truth and love.