Fatalism, pessimism, and escapism have paralysed many cultures. The key to the West’s amazing progress was optimism. Where did it come from?
Thomas Hobbes, an atheist philosopher, described life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Gautam Buddha, India’s most influential sage, believed that “Life is suffering.” The only way to escape suffering is to escape life into the Nothingness of Nirvana.
The West became different because something enabled it to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” What was the secret of that optimism?
2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Russia. Hardly anyone is celebrating it even though that revolution was immensely influential. Its aftershocks continue until today, creating havoc in many nations.
Before Communism came the French Revolution. Its ideals were high: Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. It replaced God with the goddess of human reason – but degenerated into a Reign of Terror before ending in the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Russian and French Revolutions were the outcome of the Enlightenment’s faith in man. They taught us that when man tries to become the messiah, he becomes a monster.
A decade before the French Revolution, Americans began their Revolutionary War in 1776. They succeeded in building one of history’s greatest and freest nations. Prior to the American Revolution, the English Civil War had also succeeded in changing Britain. Historian Jacques Barzun pointed out that the English and American Revolutions were ripple effects of the German Reformation.
He wrote that the Sixteenth Century Reformation was the most influential revolution of the last millennium. It reformed nations and created the modern world of freedoms and progress.
The German, English, and American Revolutions succeeded because they began as spiritual movements. The reformers sought the purity of their own hearts before seeking the reform of their nations. They did not fight for power and positions for themselves. They fought for principles, for truth.
Communists call religion “the opium of the masses”. The historical fact is that the Christian hope of Heaven was not just consolation for hardship in this life; it enabled Christians to endure hardship now. Because Christ had given them eternal life, they were not afraid to die. They stood up to tyrants. Eleven of Jesus’ twelve Apostles were martyred for what the Reformation saw as the “freedom of belief”. Christians continue to brave death for their faith in many countries today.
Ideologies such as Communism, Fascism and Socialism put their hope in man. They were disappointed. The Reformers put their hope in Jesus, because he conquered sin and death. Reformers did not fight because they wanted to rule this world. They fought because they prayed, “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
God’s will was to be done in the hearts of believers, as well as bring healing to every sphere of life. One of the Reformation’s chief legacies is that corrupt, cruel and poor nations can be reformed. They can be freed from intolerance, superstition, and oppression.
The Reformers would have agreed that religion is the opium of the masses. But faith in a living God results in hope.