Have you ever worked a puzzle, not being able to find the last piece and then, finally, it appeared? That is exactly how I felt when I discovered Whittaker Chambers, a true American Hero from our past. His life, his story and his deep faith were a missing piece in my efforts to connect my views of America with my religious faith.
I regret to say I had absolutely NO idea who Whittaker Chambers was, or why he was so important to America and the cause of Freedom. Not too long ago, I was listening, again, to one of my favorite speeches, Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech. Toward the end Reagan affectionately and emphatically quotes Chambers. I figured I better find out who he was. I was amazed. Here was the critical piece I had been missing. One interesting fact I discovered was that his book, Witness was one of Ronald Reagan's two favorite books and was critical in the dramatic sea change of his political ideology.
Whittaker Chambers was a major Soviet spy in the 1930's. After years as a dedicated revolutionary he had a profound encounter with God and, as a result, realized the utter depravity of Communism. His defection was an extremely difficult decision even though he knew it was right. Obviously, his life and those of his family would be at risk. He contemplated suicide and logically determined it was the best solution. But, one day, coming down the stairs of his home, he found himself stopped and quieted. All of a sudden he felt a distinct voice say to him, "If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you." Chambers continues, "On one side of that moment were nearly forty years of human waste on all the paths and goat paths of 20th-century error and action. On the other side was humility and liberation, the sense that the strength would be given me to do whatever I must do, go wherever I must go."
Chambers did, ultimately, take the courageous step out of Communism. In the first sentence of his book he compares his return to Freedom (he grew up in America) to be "like Lazarus, the impossible return". His escape was carefully orchestrated in a life-and-death attempt to keep the Communist underground from knowing his whereabouts. But, after a time of seclusion he decided to boldly act. He went to the United States authorities and began telling what he knew about the vast and active Soviet system of spies in America. It culminated with the arrest of Alger Hiss. As the result of a dramatic trial that captured the imagination of a nation, it appeared that Hiss had operated as a Soviet spy, but because of the statute of limitations could only be charged with perjury. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
As evidenced by his 9 years of employment with Time Magazine (includng 6 years as Senior Editor), Chambers had a superb intellect and was an accomplished author. This, along with his harrowing life experiences, made his deeply thoughtful assertions very compelling. Interestingly, he came to a very different conclusion than many of today's theoreticians for the reason Western civilization is superior to Communism. Most point to the vast chasm between the economic systems of socialism and capitalism. Mr. Chambers flatly states that, "Economics is not the central problem of this century." Ronald Reagan, in his Evil Empire speech, pinpoints Mr. Chambers simple but profound answer:
Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism's attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, "for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second-oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, "Ye shall be as gods." The Western world can answer this challenge, he wrote, "but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism's faith in Man.
Currently, America is in the midst of important discussions on critical concepts and ideas. On the surface, it is played out in the political arena, but it goes much deeper than politics. For me, Whittaker Chambers'thoughtful and principled reasoning is being enormously instrumental in helping transform my opinions into convictions. I use the term in the active voice simply because I am still in process, but my willingness to stand up for certain ideals has been significantly strengthened.
Ironically, Chambers thought a God-centered society together with its shining fruit of Freedom would eventually lose and Communism would prevail. Even so, he felt it his duty to do whatever he could to stem the tide. Whittaker Chambers, a true American Hero, is a valuable piece in America's puzzle, not only of where she has been, but of the direction of where she should go. His life, story and faith are screaming to be heard now, in our generation for truth is timeless.