His Greatest Speech
But Solzhenitsyn had an even more powerful and insightful speech he was yet to deliver. It came five years later in May of 1983 when he received the Templeton Prize. This is an award presented by the Templeton Foundation in Pennsylvania. It is an annual award given to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”23
Upon receiving the award at age 65, Solzhenitsyn delivered an address titled, “Godlessness: The First Step Toward the Gulag.”24
He began with a reminiscence from his childhood:25
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Then, picking up steam, like a black preacher who gets into a cadence and starts repeating a word or phrase, Solzhenitsyn began to emphasize his point over and over: 26
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our [Russian] revolution. In the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort to clear away the rubble left by that upheaval.
But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Nor did he leave it there. As if he wanted to make certain that his audience was getting the point, he repeated it again:27
What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principle trait of the entire 20th Century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
He then proceeded to warn that the Western World “is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness.”28 He said this was happening because “the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more than the ‘pursuit of happiness…'”29
Another problem he identified was the refusal of people to realize the evil that is in the individual human heart and the consequent unwillingness to declare anything as good or evil. The result, he declared, is that the West “is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss.”30
Solzhenitsyn emphasized that we in the West must come to the realization “that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money.” Rather, the aim should be “the quest of worthy spiritual growth.” He then asserted that Mankind’s hope can be found only by redirecting our consciousness “in repentance to the Creator of all; without this, no exit will be illumined, and we shall seek it in vain.”31
Putting the same thought in different words, Solzhenitsyn concluded his remarks by urging his listeners to engage in “a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned.”32
His Concluding Years
In 1990 Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet citizenship was restored, and in 1994 he and his wife returned to Russia where they settled near Moscow. He had been married twice and had fathered three sons by his second wife. He died in 2008 of heart failure at the age of 89. He was buried at a monastery in Moscow.
The Bible says that a prophet never finds honor in his own country (Mark 6:4). Nor did Solzhenitsyn in his or in his adopted country. His native country expelled him, and America shut its ears to his fervent warnings and his pleas to return to God. We are now suffering the consequences.
You have forgotten the God of your salvation
And have not remembered the Rock of your refuge.
23) NobelPrize.org, “Lists of Nobel Prizes and Laureates: 1970,” https://www.nobelprize.org/search/?query=1970.
24) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “‘Men Have Forgotten God’ — The Templeton Address,” May 1983, http://www.roca. org/OA/36/36h.htm.
25) Ibid., page 1.
28) Ibid., page 3.
31) Ibid., pages 3-4.
32) Ibid., page 4.