Revolution by Candlelight: The Real Story Behind the Changes in Eastern Europe, by Bud Bultman (Multnomah, 305pp.; $13.95, hardcover);Revolutions in Eastern Europe: The Religious Roots, by Niels Nielsen (Orbis, 175 pp.; $16.95, paper);The Fall of Tyrants, by Laszlo Tokes (Crossway, 240 pp.; $9.95, paper). Reviewed by Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Beyond Good Intentions (Crossway).

It has been two years since the communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe collapsed. Although the transition from totalitarianism to freedom has not been easy, the events of 1989 still seem like a fairy tale. How could unarmed crowds topple Stalinist systems that had lasted for more than four decades?

This is the incredible story that Bud Bultman and Niels Nielsen tell in their respective books. What makes both accounts important for Christians is their emphasis on the religious dimension of these upheavals.

Though about the same subject, the two books are very different. Bultman’s Revolution by Candlelight is largely a narrative centering on a handful of religious activists in each of the formerly communist nations. Nielsen’s Revolutions in Eastern Europe, in contrast, focuses on the larger social forces that brought about change.

Heroes And Heroines

Bultman opens with a thumbnail sketch of how Joseph Stalin’s USSR extended its control throughout Eastern Europe. “As the Communist party consolidated power,” Bultman relates, “it began clamping down on institutions and ideas not in keeping with [Marxist] tenets.… Chief among these were the church and the Christian faith.”

The book then moves to individual countries, profiling some heretofore unnoticed heroes and heroines who helped destroy communism. Bultman moves rapidly from country to country, returning repeatedly to each nation to continue his story. The technique is distracting at times, but it helps demonstrate how, unbeknownst to each other, scores of people spent years laboring for freedom.

Among those Bultman profiles is Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest stripped of his clerical duties by the Czechoslovak government. While working at a variety of manual jobs, including stoking a furnace at a Prague hotel, Maly was hounded by the secret police, beaten, and imprisoned. But he helped found Civic Forum, the dissident group that led the final struggle against the communist regime.

A previously unsung heroine was Brigitta Treetz, a participant in an East German church that served as a forum for political agitation as well as evangelism. She was a quiet activist, helping to organize a discussion group that, Bultman explains, “struggled together over how to apply the Christian faith to life in East Germany.” She participated in peace prayers, handed out fliers, and finally joined the Leipzig demonstrations that triggered the toppling of the East German dictatorship.

Perhaps the most dramatic story involves Romanian pastor Laszlo Tokes, whose struggle ignited the revolt that overthrew the murderous Ceausescu regime. But Tokes’s tale is best told in his own words in a new book, The Fall of Tyrants. His story of courage should embolden those of us who have never faced the threat of death as we face challenges in our walks of faith.

Salting The Revolution

More ambitious than Revolution byCandlelight is Niels Nielsen’s Revolutions in Eastern Europe. He looks not at individual personalities, but at the broader impact of religion—Christianity’s spiritual challenge and the organized church’s activities—on totalitarian societies. Although this approach lacks some of the personal drama of Bultman’s book, it yields a fuller understanding as to why 1989 happened and what role religion played.

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Nielsen offers an honest, not triumphalist, account. “This book,” he writes, “does not argue that faith in God was the only factor or that it always had positive consequences—only that it often was crucial in opening the way to freedom without violence.”

Communism was vulnerable to overthrow for two major reasons, in Nielsen’s view. First, it failed to satisfy people’s spiritual needs. “Materialism simply proved an inadequate philosophy of life, unable to account for either moral value or human freedom.” Second, communism failed practically (an admission made more significant by the fact that Nielsen’s publisher, Orbis Books, is no friend of capitalism). Observes Nielsen: “The revolutions—in both their political and economic aspects—did not arise out of abstract ideas alone but from concrete circumstances: lack of food, lack of consumer goods, political repression, and the prolonged attempt to destroy religion.”

The role of the institutional church, Nielsen finds, varied greatly by country: The Catholic church was the bulwark of anticommunism in Poland; Protestant churches played a major part in East Germany’s revolution. In contrast, says Nielsen, the institutional church was “impotent” in Romania. In between the two extremes was Czechoslovakia, where the churches were not prominent, “although they were very much present and active.”

As stunning as were the events in 1989, they offer more a beginning than an end, especially for Christianity. But, warns Nielsen, “Eastern Europe will not become as uniformly Christian as it was Communist,” for “citizens now live in a situation in which there is a diversity of conflicting cultural and religious options.” As the church competes for influence, it should not forget how it succeeded in 1989: “It was Christians’ willingness to be salt, a light on the hill, that gave them a revolutionary role,” writes Nielsen. The same willingness will yield converts in years to come.

The Warped World Of Scientology

A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed, by John Atack (Lyle Stuart/Carol, 428 pp.; $21.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Julia Duin, former religion writer for The Houston Chronicle, now earning a master’s degree in religion.

Why does Scientology attract the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise, dismay the editors of Time magazine, and bring on investigations by the IRS and the FBI?

The beginning of an answer lies in its enigmatic identity: it is part church, part psychotherapy, part business technique, part educational philosophy, part drug-rehabilitation program. Although it claims to be a religion, it does not talk about God. Less confusing is the fact that Scientology is a multinational business with marketing, public relations, legal, and intelligence departments centered on the teachings of one man, L. Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard, a pulp science-fiction writer who died in 1986, founded a religion of sorts that, after his demise, seems to be prospering more than ever. Scientology claims to have 700 centers in 65 countries, despite a wave of U.S. jail sentences for its top officials in the early eighties. In Atack’s recent book on the group, he estimates its international membership to be 100,000 and that it actually has 200 centers. Scientology would like that number to grow and has hired a reputable public-relations company, Hill and Knowlton, to boost its image.

This upset the editors of Time, which published a May 6, 1991, expose on Scientology, calling it “a cult of greed.” Adds Time, “In reality, the church is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.” Atack, a former Scientologist, calls Scientology “a slim pretense at scientific method [that] is blended with a strange amalgam of psychotherapy, mysticism and pure science fiction, mainly the latter.”

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Profitable Enlightenment

Granted, Hubbard did write science fiction in the thirties, forties, and fifties. But in 1950, he published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. This book, which became (and remains) a best seller, claimed that Dianetic counseling could “clear” people of irrational behavior, compulsions, repressions, and psychosomatic illnesses. A “clear” person would have total control over his or her imagination and a near-perfect memory.

Dianetics, the daughter philosophy of Scientology, has a patient remember and then act out memories of a traumatic incident. Such painful memories are called “engrams.” Dianetic counseling attempts to find the earliest engram in a person’s life and have the person re-experience that painful memory in order for it—and subsequent painful memories—to disappear. Afterward, through extensive and expensive counseling, a person is “clear.”

These courses—eight levels in all—cost hundreds of dollars per hour. The higher the level of enlightenment, the more money they require. During one of the levels, trainees get a taste of Hubbard’s science-fiction talents when they are informed about Scientology’s version of Earth’s past: how a galactic ruler named Xenu ruled Earth, along with 75 other planets, 70 million years ago. Although billed as self-improvement courses, they employ subtle hypnosis and quasi-psychological techniques, Atack says.

Atack, who is British, begins the book by recording his nine years in the sect and his subsequent disenchantment. The main body of the book recounts Hubbard’s personal history and how Scientology and Dianetics came into being. Atack then chronicles its increasing troubles with various governments and lawsuits against detractors. Most interesting is Atack’s detailed allegations of Hubbard’s black-magic involvements, including his ties in 1946 to notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley. Hubbard, says Atack, had a guiding spirit, a red-haired woman named Hathor, who doubled as an ancient Egyptian goddess. This entity, says Atack, dictated Dianetics in three weeks through Hubbard.

The Benevolent Dictator

Other than through its cult-watching groups, the evangelical world has not devoted itself to battling Scientology. Time magazine and Atack have the same message: Scientology needs to be combated because it thrives on an atmosphere of ignorance and indifference. Its critics say it is a dangerous group. Furthermore, Scientology is anti-Christian, Atack says, and he documents how Hubbard has attacked Christianity as an “implant” and Christ as a fiction. Anyone passing through the early levels of Scientology must accept a belief in reincarnation.

A few factors weigh the book down. Atack might have explained more about why Scientology attracts celebrities like jazzman Chick Corea, Palm Springs mayor Sonny Bono, and others to its ranks. Atack takes pains to be accurate—no doubt to ward off one of the hundreds of lawsuits Scientology is famous for—but some of the details are numbing. One would have to have a serious interest in Scientology to get through the middle third of the book.

As bizarre as it may sound, Scientology aims toward world domination, Atack says. Time tells of raids against the church in France, Italy, and Spain, and how Scientology was accused by German politicians this past April of trying to infiltrate a major party. The group is presently headed by David Mascavige, whose obsession is to obtain credibility for Scientology in the 1990s. “Ron Hubbard would have liked to rule the world,” Atack wrote. “He believed, and said, that benevolent dictatorship is the best political system, and saw himself as the only natural candidate. His successors possibly suffer from the same conceit.”

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Reformed Hedonism

The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, by John Piper (Multnomah, 328 pp.; $14.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Mark Galli, associate editor of LEADERSHIP Journal.

Recently a guest preacher in the church I attend announced as his closing statement, “Let us follow Jesus, for he will lead us to discover ourselves.” The problem with this sermon is exactly the subject addressed in The Pleasures of God. In it John Piper, a former professor of theology and now pastor, laments the self-fulfillment theologies that litter the Christian scene and presents an intriguing plan for recycling old orthodoxy.

Piper’s plan is to undermine our various and sundry theologies of fulfillment by talking about “pleasure.” In a previous book, Desiring God, he argued that people find their greatest pleasure in God. In this volume, Piper extends the argument: “We will be most satisfied in God when we know why God himself is most satisfied in God.”

Thus Piper exegetes the idea of pleasure in the Bible, seeking to demonstrate “the unimaginably good news that God delights fully in being God.” He discusses the pleasure God takes in his Son, in his creation, in his fame, in election, in all that he does—in short, in “his abundant self-sufficiency.” It is not that God is egocentric; it is just that God takes pleasure in that which has ultimate worth—namely, himself.

More than a theological nicety, this point has powerful implications: “The foundation of our justification … is not a flimsy sentimentality in God, nor is it a shallow claim of human worth. It is the massive rock of God’s unswerving commitment to uphold the worth of his own glory, to promote the praise of his holy name and to vindicate his righteousness. The God-centeredness of God is the foundation of his grace to the ungodly.”

Once this foundation has been laid, Piper talks about the pleasure God takes in us: in our prayers, in our obedience, especially in our pursuit of evangelism and public justice.

But Piper continues to insist that God takes pleasure in us not because we have somehow become worthy. When our prayers and obedience are done aright, they lead to our and others’ glorifying God—which is what the all-sufficient God takes pleasure in!

Prayer, for instance, “is [God’s] delight because prayer shows the reaches of our poverty and the riches of his grace. Prayer is that wonderful transaction where the wealth of God’s glory is magnified and the wants of our soul are satisfied.”

Ironically, then, “the way to please God is to come to him to get and not to give, to drink and not to water. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” In other words, we are not simply satisfied, not self-fulfilled, but we are fulfilled in God.

The theology that undergirds this exegesis, of course, is Calvinism.

Piper saves Calvinism from bloodless, emotionless austerity. Actually, Calvin himself, especially in his Institutes, comes across as pastoral, but many of his followers have seemed more passionate about logic than compassionate for their people.

Piper manages to do both. And his joy, like his logic, is invigorating: “The gospel is the good news that God is the all-satisfying end of all our longings, and that, even though he does not need us … he has, in the great love with which he loved us, made a way for sinners to drink at the river of his delights through Jesus Christ.… He was not coerced or constrained by our value. He is the center of the gospel. The exaltation of his glory is the driving force of the gospel. The gospel is a gospel of grace!

I have to admit I am no longer sympathetic to all things Reformed. But in Piper we have a joyous Calvinism that speaks forcibly for a God-centered gospel. And that’s enough to make a non-Calvinist thankful.

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