There’s not much else to be said about Independence Day. It’s a great day commemorating when we took a major step in establishing our independence from Great Britain. It’s a day when many will gather with their families and friends to eat, celebrate, and watch fireworks. It is also a day of remembrance. We will be reminded of the men and women who have put their lives on the line, or even lost their lives, for our freedom. We will be reminded of our Founding Fathers– leaders from a bygone era– and yearning for men like Washington to take the helm of our nation that is far off course. We will be told about how much we don’t fully appreciate or recognize how blessed we are to be living in a country like the United States. This later point was especially true for me when I visited the Victims of Communism Museum in Washington D.C.
On the ground floor of the Victims of Communism Museum, you will be treated to a small set of exhibits– about three rooms. Despite the smaller nature of this museum, the power of its message is quite immense. You will find relics of gulags and their victims, videos detailing the rise of communism around the globe, and even an interactive part of the exhibit where you are “put in the shoes” of someone living under a Communist regime.
However, I’m not writing this article to provide a detailed description of the exhibits this museum has to offer, and I’m not writing it to explain to you why I fervently loathe Communism with a burning passion. No, I am writing this article because of something I saw on the second floor of the museum.
After walking through the exhibits on the first floor, I went to the second floor for a lecture on Communism. On the second floor, there is a lecture room, paintings on the wall detailing the experiences in gulags and prison camps, a fairly large selection of books, and a case with various memorabilia, notes, and pictures. While waiting for the lecture to begin, I decided to take a look at the previously mentioned case. Given my recent conversion to Catholicism, I was naturally and immediately drawn to the Catholic-related imagery and items. There, I saw a picture of a man named Stefan Wyszyński.
Wyszyński was a priest, Primate of Poland, and staunch anti-Nazi and anti-Communist. He is considered a leading figure in Polish history and served an important role during the Communist takeover of Poland. When the Soviets took over Poland, they attempted to dismantle Polish culture and religion. They further attempted to deprive the Church of its autonomy by imprisoning priests and bishops. In 1953, when the Communist government tried to interfere in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church, Wyszyński and the Polish episcopate proclaimed they could no longer compromise in a letter titled “Non possumus,” or “we cannot agree.” Wyszyński was then given a show trial, sentenced to be interned in a monastery, and deported from Warsaw. He was released three years later when “Poland came to a boiling point,” and he made public appeals to the Polish people to prevent bloodshed.
There is much more to Stefan Wyszyński’s story, but I don’t bring up Wyszyński to give you a detailed biography of the man. Instead, I bring up his story to expand upon a common theme I noticed at the Victims of Communism Museum that, I believe, is relevant to this nation of ours and our independence.
When the communist governments took over a country or a people, one of the first moves they would make was to attack the church– whether that be by confiscating church property, imprisoning preachers and members of the clergy, or limiting worshiping practices. As Marx described it, religion is “the opium of the people.” In his view, it is a means by which the ruling class oppresses the lower classes. Lenin actively sought to destroy religion by attacking it as an institution and pushing religion out of public life. The Soviet government also removed much religious imagery from public spaces, used propaganda to attack the Orthodox Church, and used education programs to dismantle religious customs and beliefs. To the communists, religion gets in the way of their plan. How can people put their faith in the state, or the communist utopia, if they put their faith in a higher power– God? In these places, the state becomes the religion. The state becomes the god the masses worship. The state, including the politicians and bureaucracy that make up the state, becomes the opium to “treat” the ills and pain of the people.
But what does this have to do with America?
Some studies suggest America is facing a decline in its religious community. According to a Pew Research study, if current trends continue, the number of Americans identifying as having “no” religious affiliation will become the majority in 2070. Along with this, church membership in the US has been decreasing for quite some time. At the same time, the government has also swelled to gigantic proportions. Government spending and the federal debt are at numbers that are, arguably, incomprehensible to most people– and it keeps growing. Another troubling statistic is that the United States has the highest rate of children living in single-parent households. This is coupled with the fact that 1 in 4 kids also grow up without a father in the home. Kids who grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to live in poverty, abuse drugs and alcohol, and even continue the cycle of fatherlessness.
Is this evidence religion is being circumvented by the government?
Is the U.S. state, much like the Soviet state, seeking to supplant the Church through its growing scope and involvement in public life– in many areas that would traditionally be the responsibility of churches and religion?
In many ways, the government has fueled these troubling trends, such as the growing fatherlessness rate, through a growing welfare and bureaucratic state. Another troubling trend is the growing anti-Christian sentiment brewing in the culture, with vandalism of churches on the rise. Even the government has targeted certain Christians as “extremists.”
This is troubling to me. In several ways, the government has taken over the role of churches. In other ways, it has outright been antagonistic to religion. Is this definitive proof we are on the verge of living in an atheist state? I don’t know. But I do know we need to take more active roles in our churches, myself included. So, my message to you all this Independence Day is that regardless of what the future may hold for us, the Church, or our faith, we must not let the state become the god we worship. Like Wyszyński, we must stand firm in our defense of the Lord and the faith. We must defend our faith from any weaponization of the government. We must not become slaves to our vices. We must not worship men. We must break away from the temptations of evil and fall into the security of the arms of the Lord.