A chat with world-renowned journalist David Aikman.
Tiananmen square: the name conjures up vivid memories of the massacre in 1989, when Communist Chinese tanks crushed a popular uprising in the heart of Beijing.
One of the journalists who, as a firsthand eyewitness to the terror, helped the rest of the world know what was happening, was David Aikman. Dr Aikman (his Ph.D in history was from Oxford) became a household word in international journalism through his many years with Time magazine, covering events in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and the Middle East.
Not as many people know that David Aikman is a convinced Christian. He has written a book on the real hope to be found in the truth of Christianity (Hope: The Heart’s Great Quest). We had the chance to speak to him when he visited Brisbane, Australia, to act as narrator for some video documentaries on creation/evolution.
David Aikman’s specialized knowledge of the history of Russia was immensely valuable in covering events for Time while that country was under communist domination.
Asked what were the events which were most memorable in his career, he said that it was observing the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. Particularly in Czechoslovakia where he had already met Vaclav Havel, the leading dissident who is now president of the Czech Republic. ‘Watching a nation rise up and turn against a false system of beliefs, almost as one person, was a remarkable thing.’
Being able to meet people who have shaped history has been one of the privileges of his profession. David is currently working on a book which features history-making individuals (many of them Nobel prize winners) such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Elie Wiesel (the Jewish death camp survivor). He says that getting close to the lives of remarkable individuals like these is a profound experience.
Nowhere near as significant, however, as becoming a Christian. David told us that, as an undergraduate at Oxford, he was a militant atheist. He says, ‘I believed at that time that love guided by reason was the most admirable dictum of human conduct. Except I found that people who advocated this seldom reflected it in their own lives.’
David was greatly influenced at university by the example of a patient, non-argumentative evangelical Anglican clergyman. He says that the Lord also arranged ‘that the person whose rooms were next to mine was one of the most active Christians at Oxford. So when I would go and borrow sugar and coffee for my rowdy friends after dinner, I’d sometimes barge in upon these devout folk kneeling on the floor, no doubt praying for the lost state of my soul’.
‘After graduation’, he says, ‘something seemed to be missing in my supposedly scientific view of life.’ He just had to go back and see his clergyman friend, thinking, ‘This is terrible, I may be getting an attack of religion.’ He says, ‘ I certainly didn’t want to be a Christian. I thought he would come at me with Heaven and Hell and conversion and all that stuff. But he didn’t—he simply read passages of Scripture that I had heard numerous times in the past, in one ear and out the other. When he was reading the words of Jesus where the Lord is speaking intimately to his disciples—like “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me”?, it seemed to me as though Jesus was actually in the room speaking to me through him. I didn’t believe in God at the time, but all of a sudden I just knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and it was just stunning.’
After his conversion, David Aikman was still an evolutionist. ‘I was comfortable with those who said we all came from the slime, but God was in charge of the process.’ It was realizing what he calls the ‘disturbing connection between evolutionary thinking and social behaviour’, as well as some of the implications of evolution to a consistent view of death and the Gospel, which has caused him to step back and rethink these issues.
As a one-time Englishman now living in America, David says he has noticed how much farther England has gone down the road of secularization. He regards England, which embraced Darwin far more quickly and completely than the U.S., as a post-Christian society. Asked how this came about, he said that in the mid-19th century, the belief arose that all problems could be solved by finding the scientific laws for everything (even human behaviour) without reference to God. ‘The ultimate in that idea was Marxism—so-called scientific socialism. Then there was the other end of the same spectrum, the rise of European fascism in the thirties. Following Nietzsche, with his ideas that “God is dead” and about the evolution of the “superman”.
‘Evolutionary thinking—a belief in the materialist, non-supernatural source of human life (which is what Darwinism is really all about) went hand-in-hand with all this. In Russia today, because of the stranglehold upon education of Darwinian thought, via so-called scientific atheism, it is very hard for well-educated people to accept a theistic view of life, and thence Christianity.’
We couldn’t resist asking him about media bias. Dr Aikman confirmed that all reporting is ‘coloured by a viewpoint—even if it’s one you agree with.’ In Western countries, which have been most influenced by evolutionary thinking, this viewpoint is predictably highly secular, one which denies any absolute standards for value and lifestyle. ‘However,’ he said, ‘despite these biases, serious reporters generally do try to adhere to certain standards of professionalism.’
We asked him how he thought the undermining of Genesis had affected Christianity. He said, ‘Probably no other single critique of the Bible has been more destructive of the authority of Scripture than the ridiculing of the Genesis account of six-day Creation. People just laugh and say, well, that’s just a myth. They are not encouraged to look for a consistent scientific understanding of the biblical view of Creation. You guys are obviously doing a lot of encouraging work.’
Dr Aikman is concerned to encourage the highest standards within the body of Christ, in all areas of life and work. ‘My view,’ he said, ‘is that Christians should excel, they shouldn’t be merely average and certainly not mediocre. They should be as good as secular people or better, because their motivation should be to do everything to the glory of God. So wherever I go I try to encourage Christians to really plunge into the heart of society and to be brilliant if that’s possible.’
David Aikman, for one, certainly seems to have lived up to that advice.