We’ve heard much from atheists about why they don’t believe. Here's an interesting item about the spiritual journey of one of the world’s best known disbelievers–Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev’s visit to the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy this month has rekindled those questions about Gorbachev’s faith. Was he denouncing atheism and affirming his faith in God? Was he a closet believer even during Soviet times?
Several European media outlets were quick to size up Gorbachev’s half hour of silence at St. Francis’ tomb as proof that the 77-year-old former leader of an atheistic superpower was, in fact, a Christian.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa called his visit a “spiritual perestroika.” A story in the London Daily Telegraph’s March 19 edition concluded Gorbachev “has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time.”
The paper quoted the former Soviet leader as saying that the saint's “story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life.” But Gorbachev subsequently told the Russian news agency Interfax, “Let me say that I have been and remain an atheist.”
Wherever the truth lies, the discussion reminds me of a passage in Paul Kengor’s book, God and Ronald Reagan, describing the beginning of Reagan’s May-June 1988 mission to Moscow:
[Reagan] finished his remarks by pausing, looking up, and delivering this direct, closing salutation to the general secretary and his comrades: “Thank you and God bless you.” As the words left his lips and were translated into Russian, the hardened Kremlin atheists visibly blanched. Gorbachev’s translator said that Reagan’s words rang like blasphemy to the Soviet officials present, and they reacted with wry expressions. “The heretofore impregnable edifice of Communist atheism was being assaulted before their very eyes by [Reagan].” the translator recorded in his notes.
Much has happened in the two decades that separate us from that simple, yet defiant statement asking for God’s blessing on the Soviet leaders. Mr. Gorbachev was friendlier than his predecessors to the role of religion in society. Perhaps that’s all this flap over his visit to the tomb of Saint Francis signifies. I’m an optimist, however, and will be looking for more.
God, bless Mikhail Gorbachev.