Nobel Laureate in Literature Alexander Solzhenitsyn On Atheism

Author/Compiler: Tihomir Dimitrov (; also see


Nobel Prize: Alexander Solzhenitsyn (born 1918) won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.” In 1983 he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Nationality: Russian; later American citizen

Education: He studied mathematics and physics at Rostov University (USSR), graduating in 1941.

Occupation: Physics teacher, writer, and historian


1. “How easy it is for me to live with Thee Lord! How easy to believe in Thee! When my thoughts pull back in puzzlement or go soft, when the brightest people see no further than this evening and know not what to do tomorrow, Thou sendest down to me clear confidence that Thou art, and will make sure that not all the ways of the good are closed.” (Solzhenitsyn, as cited in Burg and Feifer 1972, 189).

2. In his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (Buckingham Palace, London, May 10, 1983), Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:

“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.’

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our 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 of clearing 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 of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ ” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36; see also Solzhenitsyn 1983, 874).

3. In his Templeton address (May 10, 1983), Solzhenitsyn stated: “It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seething hatred of the Church the lesson that ‘revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.’ That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

4. “What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘Men have forgotten God.’

The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

5. “The 1920s in the USSR witnessed an uninterrupted procession of victims and martyrs amongst the Orthodox clergy.

Scores of archbishops and bishops perished. Tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, pressured by the Chekists to renounce the Word of God, were tortured, shot in cellars, sent to camps, exiled to the desolate tundra of the far North, or turned out into the streets in their old age without food or shelter. All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith; instances of apostasy were few and far between. For tens of millions of laymen access to the Church was blocked, and they were forbidden to bring up their children in the Faith: religious parents were wrenched from their children and thrown into prison, while the children were turned from the faith by threats and lies.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

6. “It is true that millions of our countrymen have been corrupted and spiritually devastated by an officially imposed atheism, yet there remain many millions of believers: it is only external pressures that keep them from speaking out, but, as is always the case in times of persecution and suffering, the awareness of God in my country has attained great acuteness and profundity.

It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

7. “Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the ‘pursuit of happiness’, a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short lived value.

The West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism. If a blasphemous film about Jesus is shown throughout the United States, reputedly one of the most religious countries in the world, or a major newspaper publishes a shameless caricature of the Virgin Mary, what further evidence of godlessness does one need?” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

8. “To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our hands – be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.

Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).

9. Solzhenitsyn’s attitude towards contemporary Western media was expressed in his Harvard Commencement Address (1978): “Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.” He also referred to “TV stupor” and “intolerable music” (Solzhenitsyn 1978). Solzhenitsyn claimed that media consumers were having “their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, and vain talk.” (Solzhenitsyn 1978).

“Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: by what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible?” (Solzhenitsyn 1978).

10. In his article “Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The high school physics-teacher-turned-novelist whose writings shook an empire” (Christian History Magazine, 2000), Prof. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. wrote:

“As a boy, Alexander Solzhenitsyn planned to find fame through commemorating the glories of the Bolshevik Revolution. But as an artillery captain, he privately criticized Stalin and got packed off to eight years in the prison camps. There, the loyal Leninist encountered luminous religious believers and moved from the Marx of his schoolteachers to the Jesus of his Russian Orthodox forefathers: ‘God of the Universe!’ he wrote, ‘I believe again! Though I renounced You, You were with me!’ ” (Ericson 2000, 32).

In his autobiography Solzhenitsyn wrote that while he was in one of the Gulag’s prison camps, a Jewish doctor Boris Kornfeld (who was a Christian) won him to Jesus Christ.

11. “Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.” (Solzhenitsyn 1984, Issue 36).