The Enduring Revolution
Templeton Address Delivered by Charles W. Colson
at the University of Chicago
September 2, 1993
I speak as one transformed by Jesus Christ, the living God. He is the Way,
the Truth, and the Life. He has lived in me for 20 years. His presence is the
sole explanation for whatever is praiseworthy in my work, the only reason for
my receiving this award (the Templeton Prize).
That is more than a statement about myself. It is a claim to truth. It is a
claim that may contradict your own.
Yet on this, at least, we must agree: the right to do what I've just done--to
state my faith without fear--is the first human right. Religious liberty is
the essence of human dignity. We cannot build our temples on the ruins of
individual conscience. For faith does not come through the weight of power,
but through the hope of glory.
It is a sad fact that religious oppression is often practiced by religious
groups. Sad--and inexcusable. A believer may risk prison for his own religious
beliefs, but he may never build prisons for those of other beliefs.
It is our obligation--all of us here--to bring back a renewed passion for
religious liberty to every nation from which we came. It is our duty to create
a cultural environment where conscience can flourish. I say this for the sake
of every believer imprisoned for boldness or silenced by fear. I say this for
the sake of every society that has yet to learn the benefits of vital and
voluntary religious faith.
The beliefs that divide us should not be minimized. But neither should the
aspirations we share: for spiritual understanding; for justice and compassion;
for proper stewardship of God's creation; for religious influence--not
oppression--in the right ordering of society. And for truth against the
arrogant lies of our modern age.
For at the close of this century, every religious tradition finds common
ground in a common task--a struggle over the meaning and future of our world
and our own particular culture. Each of us has an obligation to expose the
deceptions that are incompatible with true faith. It is to this end I will
direct my remarks today.
The Four Horsemen
Four great myths define our times--the four horsemen of the present
The first myth is the goodness of man. The first horseman rails against heaven
with the presumptuous question: why do bad things happen to good people? He
multiplies evil by denying its existence.
This myth deludes people into thinking that they are always victims, never
villains; always deprived, never depraved. It dismisses responsibility as the
teaching of a darker age. It can excuse any crime, because it can always blame
something else--a sickness of society or a sickness of the mind.
One writer has called the modern age "the golden age of exoneration." When
guilt is dismissed as the illusion of narrow minds, then no one is finally
accountable, even to his conscience.
The irony is that this should come alive in this century, of all centuries,
with its gulags and death camps and killing fields. As G. K. Chesterton once
said, the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically
validated by the centuries of recorded human history.
It was a holocaust survivor who exposed this myth most eloquently. Yehiel
Dinur was a witness during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Dinur entered the
courtroom and stared at the man behind the bulletproof glass--the man who had
presided over the slaughter of millions. The court was hushed as a victim
confronted a butcher.
Then suddenly Dinur began to sob, and collapsed to the floor. Not out of anger
or bitterness. As he explained later in an interview, what struck him at that
instant was a terrifying realization. "I was afraid about myself," Dinur said.
"I saw that I am capable to do this . . . Exactly like he."
The reporter interviewing Dinur understood precisely. "How was it possible for
a man to act as Eichmann acted?" he asked. "Was he a monster? A madman? Or was
he perhaps something even more terrifying . . . Was he normal?"
Yehiel Dinur, in a moment of chilling clarity, saw the skull beneath the skin.
"Eichmann," he concluded, "is in all of us."
Jesus said it plainly: "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what
defiles the man" (Mark 7:20).
The second myth of modernity is the promise of coming utopia. The second
horseman arrives with sword and slaughter.
This is the myth that human nature can be perfected by government; that a new
Jerusalem can be built using the tools of politics.
From the birth of this century, ruthless ideologies claimed history as their
own. They moved swiftly from nation to nation on the strength of a promised
utopia. They pledged to move the world, but could only stain it with blood.
In communism and fascism we have seen rulers who bear the mark of Cain as a
badge of honor; who pursue a savage virtue, devoid of humility and humanity.
We have seen more people killed in this century by their own governments than
in all its wars combined. We have seen every utopian experiment fall exhausted
from the pace of its own brutality.
Yet utopian temptations persist, even in the world's democracies--stripped of
their terrors perhaps, but not of their risks. The political illusion still
deceives, whether it is called the great society, the new covenant, or the new
world order. In each case it promises government solutions to our deepest
needs for security, peace, and meaning.
The third myth is the relativity of moral values. The third horseman sows
chaos and confusion.
This myth hides the dividing line between good and evil, noble and base. It
has thus created a crisis in the realm of truth. When a society abandons its
transcendent values, each individual's moral vision becomes purely personal
and finally equal. Society becomes merely the sum total of individual
preferences, and since no preference is morally preferable, anything that can
be dared will be permitted.
This leaves the moral consensus for our laws and manners in tatters. Moral
neutrality slips into moral relativism. Tolerance substitutes for truth,
indifference for religious conviction. And in the end, confusion undercuts all
The fourth modern myth is radical individualism. The fourth horseman brings
excess and isolation.
This myth dismisses the importance of family, church, and community; denies
the value of sacrifice; and elevates individual rights and pleasures as the
ultimate sociaI value.
But with no higher principles to live by, men and women suffocate under their
own expanding pleasures. Consumerism becomes empty and leveling, leaving
society full of possessions but drained of ideals. This is what Vaclav Havel
calls "totalitarian consumerism."
A psychologist tells the story of a despairing young woman, spent in an
endless round of parties, exhausted by the pursuit of pleasure. When told she
should simply stop, she responded, "You mean I don't have to do what I want to
As author George Macdonald once wrote, "The one principle of hell is 'I am my
Modernity: a Case Study
I have seen firsthand the kind of society these deadly myths create. In 17
years I have been in more prisons than I can count, in more nations than I
can name. I have seen the face of the crisis of modernity in real human
The myth of human goodness tells men and women they are not responsible for
their actions, that everyone is a victim. "Poverty is the cause of crime,"
said a U.S. attorney general three decades ago. Looters are not to blame for
looting, said a U.S. president. Thus excused, millions refused accountability
for their behavior; crime soared--and is today the great plague on civilized
Utopianism, however, assures us that crime can be solved by government policy.
On the left, that means rehabilitation; on the right, more and tougher laws
to scare people straight. But our efforts prove futile. In the past 30 years,
the prison population in Amenca has increased five-fold. But violent crime has
increased just as fast.
For criminals are not made by sociological or environmental or economic
forces. They are created by their own moral choices. Institutions of cold
steel and bars are unable to reach the human heart, and so they can neither
deter nor rehabilitate.
A decade ago, social scientist James Q. Wilson searched for some correlation
between crime and social forces. He discovered that in the late nineteenth
century, when the nation was rapidly industrializing--conditions that should
have caused crime to increase--crime actually declined. The explanation? At
the time a powerful spiritual awakening was sweeping across America, inspiring
moral revival and social renewaI. By contrast, in the affluent 1920s, when
there should have been less economic incentive for lawlessness, crime
increased. Why? In the wake of Freud and Darwin, religion fell from favor. In
Wilson's words, "The educated classes began to repudiate moral uplift."
A similar study in England by Professor Christie Davies found that crime was
lowest a century ago when three out of four young Britons were enrolled in
Sunday school. Since then, Sunday school attendance has declined, and crime
has correspondingly increased.
Crime is a mirror of a community's moral state. A society cannot long survive
if the demands of human dignity are not written on our hearts. No number of
police can enforce order; no threat of punishment can create it. Crime and
violence frustrate every political answer, because there can be no solution
apart from character and creed.
But relativism and individualism have undermined the traditional beliefs that
once informed our character and defined our creed. There are no standards to
guide us. Dostoyevsky's diagnosis was correct: Without God, everything is
permissible; crime is inevitable.
These myths constitute a threat for all of us, regardless of our culture or
the faith communities we represent. The four horsemen of the present
apocalypse lead away from the cloud and fire of God's presence into a barren
wilderness. Modernity was once judged by the heights of its aspirations.
Today it must be judged by the depth of its decadence. That decadence has
marked the West most deeply; this makes it imperative that we understand the
struggle for the soul of western civilization.
The Paradox of Our Times
We stand at a pivotal moment in history, when nations around the world are
looking westward. In the past five years, the balance of world power shifted
dramatically. Suddenly, remarkably, almost inexplicably, one of history's most
sustained assaults on freedom collapsed before our eyes.
The world was changed, not through the militant dialectic of Communism, but
through the power of unarmed truth. It found revolution in the highest hopes
of common men. Love of liberty steeled under the weight of tyranny; the path
of the future was charted in prison cells.
This revolution's symbolic moment was May Day 1990. Protesters followed the
tanks, missiles, and troops rumbling across Red Square. One, a bearded
Orthodox monk, darted under the reviewing stand where Gorbachev and other
Soviet leaders stood. He thrust a huge crucifix into the air, shouting above
the crowd, "Mikhail Sergeyevich! Christ is risen!"
Gorbachev turned and walked off the platform.
Across a continent the signal went. In defiant hope a spell was broken. The
lies of decades were exposed. Fear and terror fled. And millions awoke as from
a long nightmare.
Their waking dream is a world revolution. Almost overnight the western model
of economic, political, and social liberty has captured the imagination of
reformers and given hope to the oppressed. We saw it at Tiananmen Square,
where a replica of the Statue of Liberty, an icon of western freedom, became
a symbol of Chinese hope. We saw it in Czechoslovakia when a worker stood
before a desolate factory and read to a crowd, with tears in his eyes, the
American Declaration of Independence.
This is one of history's defining moments. The faults of the West are
evident--but equally evident are the extraordinary gifts it has to offer the
world. The gift of markets that increase living standards and choices. The
gift of political institutions where power flows from the consent of the
governed, not the barrel of a gun. The gift of social beliefs that encourage
tolerance and individual autonomy.
Free markets. Free governments. Free minds.
But just at this moment, after the struggle of this century . . . just as this
moment, with a new era of liberty our realistic hope . . . just at this
moment, the culture that fashioned this freedom is being overrun by the four
horsemen. It has embraced the destructive myths of modernity, which are
poisoning its wellspring of justice and virtue and stripping away its most
essential humanizing, civilizing influence.
Roots of the Western Ideal
Make no mistake: This humanizing, civilizing influence is the Judeo-Christian
heritage. It is a heritage brought to life anew in each generation by men and
women whose lives are transformed by the living God and filled with holy
Despite the failures of some of its followers--the crusades and inquisitions--
this heritage has laid the foundations of freedom in the West. It has
established a standard of justice over both men and nations. It has proclaimed
a higher law that exposes the pretensions of tyrants. It has taught that every
human soul is on a path of immortality, that every man and woman is to be
treated as the child of a King.
This muscular faith has motivated excellence in art and discovery in science.
It has undergirded an ethic of work and an ethic of service. It has tempered
freedom with internal restraint, so our laws could be perrnissive while our
society was not.
Christian conviction inspires public virtue, the moral impulse to do good. It
has sent legions into battle against disease, oppression, and bigotry. It
ended the slave trade, built hospitals and orphanages, tamed the brutality of
mental wards and prisons.
In every age it has given divine mercy a human face in the lives of those who
follow Christ--from Francis of Assisi to the great social reformers
Wilberforce and Shaftesbury to Mother Teresa to the tens of thousands of
Prison Fellowship volunteers who take hope to the captives--and who are the
true recipients of this award.
Christian conviction also shapes personal virtue, the moral imperative to be
good. It subdues an obstinate will. It ties a tether to self-interest and
Finally, Christian conviction provides a principled belief in human freedom.
As Lord Acton explained, "Liberty is the highest political end of man . . .
[But] no country can be free without religion. It creates and strengthens the
notion of duty. If men are not kept straight by duty, they must be by fear.
The more they are kept by fear, the less they are free. The greater the
strength of duty, the greater the liberty."
The kind of duty to which Acton refers is driven by the most compelling
motivation. I and every other Christian have experienced it. It is the duty
that flows from gratitude to God that He would send His only Son to die so we
The Four Horsemen in the West
This is the lesson of centuries: that ordered liberty is one of faith's
triumphs. And yet, western cultural and political elites seem blinded by
modernity's myths to the historic civilizing role of Christian faith. And so,
in the guise of pluralism and tolerance, they have set about to exile religion
from our common life. They use the power of the media and the law like steel
wool to scrub public debates and public places bare of religious ideas and
symbols. But what is left is sterile and featureless and cold.
These elites seek freedom without self-restraint, liberty without standards.
But they find instead the revenge of offended absolutes.
Courts strike down even perfunctory prayers, and we are surprised that
schools, bristling with barbed wire, look more like prisons than prisons do.
Universities reject the very idea of truth, and we are shocked when the best
and the brightest of their graduates loot and betray.
Celebrities mock the traditional family, even revile it as a form of slavery,
and we are appalled at the human tragedy of broken homes and millions of unwed
The media celebrate sex without responsibility, and we are horrified by
Our lawmakers justify the taking of innocent life in sterile clinics, and we
are terrorized by the disregard for life in blood-soaked streets.
C. S. Lewis described this irony a generation ago. "We laugh at honor," he
said, "and are shocked to find traitors in our midst . . . We castrate and
bid the geldings be fruitful."
A generation of cultural leaders wants to live off the spiritual capital of
its inheritance, while denigrating the ideals of its ancestors. It squanders
a treasure it no longer values. It celebrates its liberation when it should
be trembling for its future.
The Path to Tyranny
Where does the stampede of the four horsemen lead us? Only one place: tyranny.
A new kind of cultural tyranny that finds minds, uninformed by traditions and
standards, easy to shape.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt described totalitarianism as a process where lonely,
rootless individuals, deprived of meaning and community, welcome the captivity
of ideology. To escape their inner emptiness, they seek out new forms of
servitude. Trading independence for security, they blend into faceless
The lonely crowd always finds a leader. It submits to the party line and calls
it freedom. America is filled with willing recruits to follow a new Grand
This coming cultural tyranny already casts its shadow across university
campuses where repressive speech codes stifle free debate; across courthouses
and legislatures where officials hunt down and purge every religious symbol;
across network newsrooms and board rooms where nothing is censored except
traditional belief. Our modern elites speak of enlightened tolerance while
preparing shackles for those who disagree. This is what Chesterton defined as
true bigotry: "the anger of men who have no convictions."
Disdaining the past and its values, we flee the judgment of the dead. We tear
down memory's monuments--removing every guidepost and landmark--and wander in
unfamiliar country. But it is a sterile wasteland in which men and women are
left with carefully furnished lives and utterly barren souls.
And so, paradoxically, at the very moment much of the rest of the world seems
to be reaching out for western liberal ideas, the West itself, beguiled by
myths of modernity, is undermining the very foundation of those ideals.
This is irony without humor--farce without joy. Western elites are carefully
separating the wheat from the chaff and keeping the chaff. They are performing
a modern miracle of turning wine into water.
This crisis is not only alarming, it is also urgent. In earlier times, social
patterns were formed over centuries by tradition and intellectual debate, then
gradually filtered to the masses. Now, through technology, a social revolution
can be wired directly to the brain. It comes through satellites and videos,
through pleasing images and catchy tunes. Refugees on a boat from Southern
China were recently intercepted by the U. S. Coast Guard: their entire
knowledge of the English language consisted of one acronym, "MTV."
The world's newly developing nations are in a revolution of rising
expectations that may become a trap of misplaced hope. Nations that import a
western ideaI stripped of its soul will find only what we have found:
pleasures as shallow as the moment, emptiness as deep as eternity.
The Contemporary Challenge
I say to you assembled here today from every part of the globe that this is a
challenge facing all of us. At this extraordinary moment in world history,
many nations once enslaved to ruthless ideologies have now been set free--only
to face a momentous decision: Each must decide whether to embrace the myths of
modernity or turn to a deeper, older tradition, the half-forgotten teachings
of saints and sages.
I say to my compatriots in the West that we bear a particular responsibility--
for modernity's myths have found fertile soil in our lands, and we have o
ffered haven to the four horsemen who trample the dreams and hopes of men and
women everywhere. As the world looks to us, let us summon the courage to
challenge our comfortable assumptions, to scrutinize the effect we have on our
global neighbors . . . and then to recover that which has been the very soul
and conscience of our own civilization.
For the West today is like Janus, with a two-sided face--one offering
futility, empty secularism and death; the other offering freedom, rich,
biblically rooted spiritually, and life. Commentators have described the
internal conflict between these two as a culture war. Some have even declared
the war over. The four horsemen, they tell us, are the victors at this chapter
in our history.
The Enduring Revolution
Admittedly the signs are not auspicious, as I have been at pains to show, and
it is easy to become discouraged. But a Christian has neither the reason nor
the right, for history's cadence is called with a confident voice. The God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reigns. His plan and purpose rob the future of its
By the Cross He offers hope, by the Resurrection He assures His triumph. This
cannot be resisted or delayed. Mankind's only choice is to recognize Him now
or in the moment of ultimate judgment. Our only decision is to welcome His
rule or to fear it.
But this gives every one of us hope. For this is a vision beyond a vain utopia
or a timid new world order. It is the vision of an Enduring Revolution. One
that breaks more than the chains of tyranny; it breaks the chains of sin and
death. And it proclaims a liberation that the cruelest prison cannot contain.
The Templeton Prize is awarded for progress in religion. In a technological
age, we often equate progress with breaking through barriers in science and
knowledge. But progress does not always mean discovering something new.
Sometimes it means rediscovering wisdom that is ancient and eternal.
Sometimes, in our search for advancement, we find it only where we begin. The
greatest progress in religion today is to meet every nation's most urgent
need: A revolution that begins in the human heart. It is the Enduring
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Waco, Texas, and terrorist bombings in
New York, we heard dire warnings, even from the president of the United
States, of religious extremism. But that, with due respect, is not the
world's gravest threat. Far more dangerous is the decline of true religion
and of its humanizing values in our daily lives. No ideology--not even
liberal democracy--is sufficient. Every noble hope is empty apart from the
This revolution reaches across centuries and beyond politics. It confounds the
ambitions of kings, and rewards the faith of a child. It clothes itself in the
rags of common lives, then emerges with sudden splendor. It violates every
jaded expectation with the paradox of its power.
The evidence of its power is humility. The evidence of its conquest is peace.
The evidence of its triumph is service. But that still, small voice of
humility, of peace, of service becomes a thundering judgment that shakes every
human institution to its foundation.
The Enduring Revolution teaches that freedom is found in submission to a moral
law. It says that duty is our sharpest weapon against fear and tyranny. This
revolution raises an unchanging and eternal moral standard--and offers hope to
everyone who fails to reach it. This revolution sets the content of justice--
and transforms the will to achieve it. It builds communities of character--and
On occasion, God provides glimpses of this glory. I witnessed one in an
unlikely place--a prison in Brazil like none I've ever seen.
Twenty years ago in the city of San Jose dos Campos, a prison was turned over
to two Christian laymen. They called it Humaita, and their plan was to run it
on Christian principles.
The prison has only two full-time staff; the rest of the work is done by
inmates. Every prisoner is assigned another inmate to whom he is accountable.
In addition, every prisoner is assigned a volunteer family from the outside
that works with him during his term and after his release. Every prisoner
joins a chapel program, or else takes a course in character development.
When I visited Humaita, I found the inmates smiling--particularly the murderer
who held the keys, opened the gates, and let me in. Wherever I walked I saw
men at peace. I saw clean living areas. I saw people working industriously.
The walls were decorated with biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs.
Humaita has an astonishing record. Its recidivism rate is 4 percent compared
to 75 percent in the rest of Brazil and the United States. How is that
I saw the answer when my inmate guide escorted me to the notorious punishment
cell once used for torture. Today, he told me, that block houses only a single
inmate. As we reached the end of the long concrete corridor and he put the key
into the lock, he paused and asked, "Are you sure you want to go in?"
"Of course," I replied impatiently. "I've been in isolation cells all over the
world." Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that
punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates--the
prisoner Jesus, hanging on the cross.
"He's doing time for all the rest of us," my guide said softly.
In that cross carved by loving hands is a holy subversion. It heralds change
more radical than mankind's most fevered dreams. Its followers expand the
boundaries of a kingdom that can never fail. A shining kingdom that reaches
into the darkest corners of every community, into the darkest corners of every
mind. A kingdom of deathless hope, of restless virtue, of endless peace.
This work proceeds, this hope remains, this fire will not be quenched:
The Enduring Revolution of the cross of Christ.
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