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Revolutions in Eastern Europe: The Religious Roots.

Professor Niels Nielsen has assembled important testimony and documentation in this valuable book. His data is drawn from many sources and is based on his own travels during the late spring and summer of 1990 in Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, as well as in what we used to call the USSR. My own travels during the same period of time, and a variety of additional Protestant and Orthodox sources, essentially confirm his research.

Another authority, writing in the New York Times on March 9, 1992, affirmed: "the Pope . . . played a role in what we came to call the new political thinking. I am prepared to acknowledge that his speeches included many ideas that were in harmony with ours. The closeness between us of which I have just spoken was not only personal, but intellectual." The author of those lines is Mikhail S. Gorbachev. As this book shows, faithful Christians were ready to walk through the door that Gorbachev opened.

I particularly appreciate the scholarship that Nielsen brings to this subject. The subtitle of his book is to be taken literally. As a professor of philosophy and religious thought, the Rice University scholar not only traces the origins of the velvet revolution in Central and Eastern Europe but places these in the perspectives of the long tradition of the church, which provided a center of national identity and a model for dissent. If Nielsen's brief book is at all shortsighted it is in his failure to describe how the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the churches (not only Orthodox and Roman Catholic but also Lutheran!) contributed to the rise of totalitarian Communism.

It is particularly interesting to read this book eighteen months after it was written. In those months the face of Europe changed dramatically and is still changing. Nielsen's observations and predictions have held up remarkably well. For example, he is absolutely correct in saying that in post-Communist Europe, a key test of the integrity of religion (I would institutionalize this concept by saying the integrity of the church) will be in the area of Jewish-Christian relations. He hints, as well, of the need for significant dialogue with Hinduism, Buddhism, and especially Islam. In the wake of the militant atheism with which the Communist broom swept Eastern Europe, modern Christians also must interact with self-conscious secularists.

As I read this book, I was haunted by a proposition that Pope John Paul II made to a group of American Protestants who went to Rome just prior to the demise of Communism. Speaking from his own Slavic perspective about the emergence in 1992 of the new united Europe, the Holy Father predicted that only the Christian church can bring unity in the midst of rampant nationalism and ethnocentric factionalism. He proposed a strategy of collaboration among the Orthodox in Eastern Europe, Roman Catholics in Southern and Central Europe, and Protestants in Northern and Western Europe.

The pope's analysis and his offer continue to haunt me as I follow developments each day in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland--to say nothing of Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, and Yugoslavia. In such a time, Professor Nielsen's book provides a Baedeker for anyone who wishes to explore the changing face of Europe.

J. Martin Bailey is Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches for Education, Communication, and Discipleship. His most recent book is The Spring of Nations: Churches in the Rebirth of Central and Eastern Europe (Friendship Press, 1991).
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Author:Bailey, J. Martin
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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