If there is no God….

I am currently reading the most dreadful book I have ever read in my entire life.

I do not mean that it is poorly written or dull. In fact, it is just the opposite.

The book is Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder published just a year ago. It is about a band of Central Europe running from the Baltic States ( Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), down through Poland,  western Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine to the Balkans. The author documents in horribly fascinating and readable detail the literally dreadful fact that in and from those lands, between the years from 1933 to 1945, about 14 million human beings, men, women, children, were done to death by deliberate government policy of either or both the Soviet Union and the Third Reich.

Stalin’s forced collectivization and subsequent starvation of Ukrainian farmers, his various “purges” started off the process. For almost two years he and Adolph Hitler together “decapitated” Polish society and then after June 1941 carried separate massive slaughters of their own and others’ peoples.

The title “Bloodlands” is coined by Snyder as it was in this swath of Europe that so much death was concentrated. It was to these lands that Hitler came, belatedly, to systematic mass slaughter with the death camps in Polish territory. Those 14 million does NOT include the battle deaths of 1939-1945 in that region that would also see well over 50% of all battlefield fatalities in all of World War Two.

Aptly named indeed.

It is also worth remembering that while Hitler’s contribution to this utterly horrific history ended in 1945, Stalin’s continued into the 1950’s.

The book is well-written, well-researched, fascinating, and heart-breaking.

It is also true.

Snyder describes an actual place, a former monastery, in western Russia, in which Soviet commissars were headquartered in their joint campaign with Hitler’s SS in 1940 to destroy all educated Polish society and to begin the extermination of “undesirables” and Jews. The place was also the setting in the great Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoievski where his character debates the existence of God with a monk. It was in this setting that the famous lines were spoken in the novel: If there is no God, then anything is possible.

This assertion, a rallying cry of the “brave new world” of nineteenth-century revolutionaries, bore horrible fruit in the twentieth century.

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

The denial of God by both the neo-paganistic ex-Catholic Adolph Hitler and the ex-Orthodox seminarian Joseph Stalin and their respective parties made them and their dreadful world possible.

Today the “bloodlands” are the regions where murderous religious fanatics following a false God shed literal blood, and in our own more sophisticated Western world in the sterile and hushed clinics and institutions that produce millions of aborted babies and euthanized sick and elderly every year; in the random “drive by shootings”; and the mental and moral deterioration of so many in a “modern” secular culture. 

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

October 23, 2013.


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