John Paul II and the Spiritual Conquest of Evil
John Paul II, the Polish Pope, is now a saint – a vital reminder that the key to victory over evil is spiritual goodness. The canonization of this good and holy man on April 27 ought to remind us of what conquers evil in this world. John Paul resisted Nazism during the six years of German occupation of his nation. He then resisted and finally conquered the great evil of Communism during the next forty-three years.
His Poland, the only part of the Warsaw Pact that held fast to Christianity, also proved indigestible to totalitarianism. Twenty-five years ago this spring, the first true democratic elections were held in a Communist nation, and overwhelmingly Catholic Poland rejected the government’s slate of candidates. This is a recurrent and vital theme in the history of totalitarian regimes: true Christian spirituality defies this evil, even when every other possible check is swallowed whole or destroyed.
Those writers in the West examining the unfolding dark wickedness of Nazi Germany uniformly reported – often with much surprise – that nearly every single part of German society fell in line with Nazism quickly and completely: labor unions, college professors, businessmen, cultural leaders, Marxists (many of whom joined the Nazi Party), and the whole field of medicine. Yet Christian clergy defied the Nazis.
The spiritual alone could resist the awful power of a state that dictated who had wealth and privileges and who was consigned to the concentration camp. Market forces, which many conservatives rightly believe to be a powerful and natural corrective to dreadful government policies, are limp when faced with party cadres who can steal with impunity and torture without mercy. The individual, crushed by an omnipresent government, can find no solace without faith.
John Paul II was hardly the only Christian who proved impossible for the Evil Empire to destroy. The greatest and most effective Jeremiah within the Soviet Union was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the atheist who found God in the Gulag, ignited a firestorm with the publication of his short story "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," and then chronicled, as no one has before or since, the full horror of the Soviet slave labor system with The Gulag Archipelago.
All his friends were harassed or arrested. Solzhenitsyn’s apartment was ransacked and his papers riled. He could not publish anything in Russia. He became an “unperson,” arrested and threatened with a return to the hell of the Gulag. His family was held hostage as well.
How did the Kremlin, long before Gorbachev or Perestroika, finally deal with his solitary man who defied the vast, grim apparatus of the planet’s greatest police state? The KGB put Solzhenitsyn on an airplane and sent him to the West. Later they sent his family as well.
The West, while Solzhenitsyn and John Paul II – along with other men and women whose names we will never know – defied the diabolical evil of Communism, sought to accommodate and restrain Moscow. Many in the West in fact sought profitable business arrangements with Moscow, guided by economic rather than spiritual rewards.
An arrangement with evil was seen as wise, practical, and safe by those in the West who rejected any values higher than this material world. These felt that they ruled our culture and our thinking until the ascendancy of another man, Ronald Reagan, whose own profound Christianity guided his whole life, as Paul Kengor makes clear in his 2004 book God and Ronald Reason: A Spiritual Life. Reagan’s lifelong and deep Christian faith was the vital factor in his decision not just to resist Communism, but to defeat the “Evil Empire” – a term Reagan used in a speech to Evangelicals, which outraged the whole secular left.
The courage as well as the faith of Reagan was shown to the whole world when, within a few months of taking office, Reagan was shot and almost killed. “Honey, I forgot to duck” was a famous quip, but more important was his comment to Cardinal Cooke on Good Friday of 1981 – “I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him” – and what Mother Teresa told President Reagan two months later: “This [the assassination attempt] has happened to you at this time because your country and the world need you.”
The conquest of evil – and Communism is as pure a form of evil as the world has seen – requires military, economic, and technological power. But most of all, as the newest saint in the Catholic church showed in his life, joined by other fearless and firm Christians like Solzhenitsyn and Reagan, the conquest of evil must be defeated at its very roots. The true conquest of evil is spiritual.