THE HISTORY OF Eastern Europe shares similarities with that of Western Europe, but there are also significant differences. Currently, people in Eastern Europe generally have lower incomes, which restricts their access to goods and opportunities that are more readily available in the West. If you’re struggling to make ends meet and you see that others have very much more than you, it can be a cause of frustration. It can be difficult to be grateful for what you have. When the Bible says ‘I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me’ (Psalm 13:6), the sentiment may not come easily.
During much of the 20th Century, Socialism was the dominant political philosophy in Eastern Europe. Socialism is the belief that the economy should be controlled by society as a whole. Capitalism—the belief that the economy is best controlled by individuals—prevailed in the West. East and West followed paths which took them in very different directions. The ideological divide widened after the Second World War.
Religion was seen as undesirable and dangerous to the socialist authorities. Initially they forcibly suppressed it, but in time more subtle and sophisticated tactics emerged. They extolled science as the key to progress. They emphasized the importance of repeatable experiments and measurable facts. Such miracles as the resurrection of Jesus Christ are not repeatable or measurable, therefore they were dismissed as mythology.
Another tactic was to blackmail prominent church leaders. They were investigated and their personal weaknesses were exposed, and they were obliged to submit to the state in order to retain their positions.
A third tactic was to discredit the churches. Orthodox priests were mocked for their long beards, and Catholic priests for their outlandish clothing and their celibacy. Mockery of religious leaders extended to mockery of their religion. The authorities declared that only the feeble-minded could believe that water could be turned into wine (John 2), or that a man could ascend into the clouds (Acts 1). Miracles were dismissed as fantasy, and people who believed in them should not be taken seriously. In many countries publication of the Bible was banned.
The large established churches were permitted to operate, on condition their services were purely ceremonial and did not involve teaching, and they did not speak out against the state. The state monitored their activities closely. If a priest had an idea to increase the church’s popularity, such as installing a table tennis table, the state might put pressure on the church hierarchy to have him removed. Western Protestant churches were not welcome, and their activities were discouraged.
The fall of Eastern European state socialism occurred between 1989 and 1991.
By this time, generations had grown up who had been taught to regard religion as foolishness. The Croats and Poles clung to the Catholic Church for nationalistic reasons, but elsewhere in Eastern Europe religion was generally seen as the preserve of the elderly—who were nostalgic for the old days but had little idea what they believed—and young children, who were baptized as a formality and sent to religious education because it was customary, although it had little meaning.
Meanwhile, in the West secular thinking had largely displaced religion from public life. Those in Eastern Europe who emerged from state repression of religion and looked to the West for a religious revival were possibly disappointed.
Yet religion is not incompatible with secular life. Jesus himself said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). The Bible clearly instructs Christians to live as good citizens in whatever country they find themselves (Romans 13:1–7).
The view of science that insists that anything that cannot be proven by experiment is therefore not possible—a view that was largely inherited from anti- religious communism—is still held by many people throughout the world. But there are some sincere people—scientists and others—who do not agree. They observe the universe in its complexity and they accept that it requires a Creator.
In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul acknowledged that this is a logical attitude. ‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made’ (Romans 1:19–20).
Science and Faith
The natural sciences depend on proof. This is logical. If you want to know about something you will perform measurements and experiments, and they will enable you to form a theory. If you repeat those measurements and experiments and the results are consistent, the evidence for your theory becomes stronger. Eventually it will be regarded as proven.
When direct measurements and experiments are not possible, scientists may use calculations and mathematical methods. Then we come to the social sciences, which deal with the actions of people. Measurement and experiment is very difficult, especially when studying historical events. There is a huge amount of evidence for the truth of the Bible, but it does not amount to absolute proof.
This is not a problem. God does not provide scientific proof of everything the Bible says. He provides plentiful evidence that the Bible is His word, but ultimately He requires faith: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6).
Christianity is not a science. It is not difficult to understand. Jesus himself distilled the Gospel very simply, when he was asked the question: ’“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Matthew 22:36–39).
Followers of Jesus Christ do not attempt to present scientific proof for what they believe. They preach the simple glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ who died and rose again, as did the Apostle Paul: ‘For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:22–24).
And of course they do not only preach by words. True followers of Christ are also known by their actions:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:12–14).