“When we lose God in the modern world, we lose meaning, purpose, accountability, and responsibility.”

We do come and go…. and now, so has Vaclav Havel. But now he knows what he only knew through a glass darkly.

A great hero to me, an important teacher to me, Havel has died. He was the most celebrated playwright in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 70s, so artfully and publicly protesting the totalitarianism of communism that he was imprisoned in the 1980s. Inexplicably, when the Soviet Union– what he called Absurdism –imploded, he was taken from prison and made president of his nation.

For the next decade he led the Czech people, but also the world, in thinking about the most important questions of human life, politically speaking. In speech after speech, throughout the globe, he pressed the question, “What are the conditions required for responsibility?” Knowing that seeing oneself as victim diminished, perhaps even destroyed, the possibility of responsibility for the future, he labored over this issue for his people, knowing that there was no future without a recovery of responsibility.

And strangely, surprisingly, he saw God as integral to the possibility of responsibility; so that when we lose God, we lose responsibility. (The words above are from a speech at the Library of Congress.)

In a thousand places I have quoted him, all over America but also in Slovakia and China, countries still wrestling with the cancer of communism. If there is a core to his vision it is this: “The secret of man is the secret of his responsibility.” As true a truth as there is. In most every way we resist that, echoing our inheritance from Father Adam, “It was that woman that you gave me….” And yet, to see ourselves as able to respond to life, to the world– as responsible –is the heart of our humanity. It is a truth with far-reaching implications, not only for persons but for polities.

I have long longed for a conversation with Havel. Reading that he was comforted at this death by women of faith is a grace. May it be so for him.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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