In the early 1970s, Malcolm Muggeridge was surprised to hear that members of the intellectual elite in the Soviet Union were experiencing a spiritual revival. Anatoli Kuznetsov, living in exile in England, told him there was scarcely a single writer or artist or musician in the USSR who was not exploring spiritual issues. Against all government policy, the most favored children of the regime were abandoning hope in a kingdom on earth and turning instead toward belief in transcendence.

Muggeridge writes, "I asked [Kuznetsov] how this could have happened, given the enormous anti-religious brainwashing job done on the citizenry, and the absence of all Christian literature, including the Gospels. His reply was memorable; the authorities, he said, forgot to suppress the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith of modern times."

At a crucial time in my Christian pilgrimage, these two Russian novelists became for me, too, spiritual directors. They helped me come to terms with a problem that vexes every thoughtful Christian, namely, the huge gap between life as it should be and life as it is. New Testament passages, most notably the Sermon on the Mount, spell out lofty ethical ideals: Give to everyone who asks you, Love your enemies, Welcome persecution. But these ideals inevitably shatter against the grim reality of actual human behavior.

In my profession, I experience a constant, unresolvable tension over this issue. As a journalist, I observe up close the spectacular and petty failures of Christian leaders. And when I turn to more personal concerns, I find that I write about the spiritual disciplines far better than I practice them. What Christian has not felt a similar twang of dissonance? ...

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