Crying out

"Crying out" Continued...

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

A Michigan law school student led campus Communist activities. He argued that the Communist Party should be above bourgeois law. He regaled me with tales of how to settle disputes by using brass knuckles, or at least a roll of nickels firmly clenched. He drove me to a meeting in an affluent Detroit-area home where the aged Communist Party chairman, Henry Winston, spoke. Winston, who was blind, spoke to the group of perhaps 30 as if he were orating before a convention of thousands.

The common denominator of our activities was hatred. We read Left-Wing Communism, in which Lenin called hatred "the basis of every socialist and Communist movement and of its success." We read in the World Marxist Review that "Lenin hated the enemies of the working class, for struggle was impossible without hatred." Hate, hate, hate, and pay dues of 25 cents per month for students and the unemployed: Where hatred costs so little. Hatred is an equal opportunity virus, but proud hatred was a Communist characteristic.

I wasn't dissatisfied with Communism. On Nov. 1 I stuck another monthly-dues Lenin stamp onto my Communist Party card. (Yes, there were still card-carrying Communists.) That afternoon I sat in a chair in my room reading Lenin's famous essay, "Socialism and Religion," in which he wrote: "We must combat religion-this is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently Marxism." Lenin's hatred for the "figment of man's imagination" called God was not new to me-but some surprising thoughts began battering my brain: What if Lenin was wrong? What if God does exist?

Other questions flitted by. Is America really Amerikkka? If not, why am I turning my back on it? Why was capitalist desire for money and power worse than Communist desire? I had embraced treasonous ideas: Why? But the central question concerned God. Why was I heading down a dark corridor and refusing even to open a door to a room that could be filled with light?

I pondered this hour after hour, suddenly thinking that I had done something very wrong by hugging Marx and Lenin. When I sat down in that chair at 3 p.m. I was an atheist and a Communist. When I got up at 11 p.m. I was not. I was not doing drugs. I was not sleeping. I remember hour after hour looking at the clock, amazed that I was still in that chair. I had no new data. I had, through a process I did not understand, a new way of processing data.

At 11 p.m. I got up and spent the next two hours wandering around the cold and dark University of Michigan campus, crying out to . . . Someone. During the next three weeks I stopped doing my coursework and read works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, and other Russians, along with Whittaker Chambers' Witness and essays of ex-Communists in The God That Failed. Part way through this process I still didn't know what I was, but I knew I was not a Communist. Visiting the law school tough guy, I told him my thinking had changed and tore up my CP card.

On Nov. 22 it was time to get to work. I slept little and wrote my term papers over the next three weeks, still from a leftist point of view, and received perfect grades-but my writing was false, and it now felt false.

The logical step for me would have been to pursue the question of God's existence, but instead I tried to escape from all-encompassing questions by joining the board of the Cinema Guild, a student movie-showing group, and plunging into film studies. Board membership gave me free tickets to any of the four or five movies shown on campus each night, and I averaged two a night.

In novelist Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (the 1962 National Book Award winner), the main character is more comfortable sitting in movie theater darkness than attempting to find authentic existence in the light outside. I was a moviegoer for two years, combining that with dating in Ann Arbor's promiscuous college culture. I also played APBA and Strat-O-Matic baseball simulation games that presented each major league player on a card reflecting his real-life statistics, with dice rolls representing "chance." All were escapes, or what Percy calls "external rotations" that did not provide a lot of inner satisfaction.

But while I was running from reality, God was pursuing, in a process described by Francis Thompson's powerful poem "The Hound of Heaven": "I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways." The good news is that God came after me "with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace." He turned every attempt to escape into a new encounter.


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