whittaker-chambers

Witness - the autobiography of Whittaker Chambers’ - is the dramatic story of a Dostoevskian “lesser man” seeking redemption through suffering and rigorous moral integrity. It is a verbose but remarkable book, centering on his personal pendulum-swing from a tortured, austere, and passionately felt Communism - towards an equally tortured, austere, and passionately felt Christianity.

His journey is interesting on various levels, one being the way it contributes to the argument over whether 20th Century atrocities constitute an argument against atheism. A counter argument, for example, claims that the eschatological nature of a Communist utopia - as humanity's ultimate destiny - is in fact a genre of metaphysical paradise - a "heaven on earth". Equally, the Final Solution of the Nazis.

In other words, the 20th Century ideologies that led to these appalling atrocities, in important respects, are faiths.

Whether or not this is a coherent argument, it's something else to hear it from the horse's mouth - from someone who was both a devout Communist (who gave himself to the Soviet underground in pre-war America, to espionage and a life in the shadows), then later a devout Christian (who after a spell at Time magazine gave himself to redemptive toil, farming the land as a pious and quasi-mystical Quaker).

In both the "Evil" then the "Good" chapters of his life, his deepest sentiment is identical - a desperate concern for mankind's salvation in dark times. In both cases, this leads to an avowed leap of faith regarding man's ultimate perfectibility - his final "goodness". Chambers, throughout the book, characterizes his entire pilgrimage as a struggle between two faiths.