Militant atheism and the Soviet Union
The persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union was the result of the violently atheist Soviet government. In the first five years after the October Revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were murdered, many on the orders of Leon Trotsky. When Joseph Stalin came to power in 1927, he ordered his secret police, under Genrikh Yagoda to intensify persecution of Christians. In the next few years, 50,000 clergy were murdered, many were tortured, including crucifixion. "Russia turned red with the blood of martyrs", said Father Gleb Yakunin of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox Church sources, as many as fifty million Orthodox believers may have died in the twentieth century, mainly from persecution by Communists.
In addition, in the atheistic and communist Soviet Union, 44 anti-religious museums were opened and the largest was the 'The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism' in Leningrad’s Kazan cathedral. Despite intense effort by the atheistic leaders of the Soviet Union, their efforts were not effective in converting the masses to atheism.
Advancing on the already atheist doctrine of Karl Marx, the power hungry atheist Soviet Union leaders brutally suppressed practiced religion in communist society and engaged in forced atheist indoctrination in the USSR which the people often rejected. The atheism in communist regimes has been and continues to be militant atheism and various acts of repression including the razing of thousands of religious buildings and the killing, imprisoning, and oppression of religious leaders and believers.
In the atheistic and communist Soviet Union, 44 anti religious museums were opened and the largest was the 'The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism' in Leningrad’s Kazan cathedral. Despite intense effort by the atheistic leaders of the Soviet Union, their efforts were not effective in converting the masses to atheism.
By forcing atheism upon its people, the Soviet Union further promoted its brutal policies. It provided a way to implement "social darwinism" on the people of the USSR.
Soviet atheism still stands as a vivid example of how harmful an explicit rejection of religion and God can be to a society.
Collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union
According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power." Vitalij Lazarʹevič Ginzburg, a Soviet physicist, wrote that the "Bolshevik communists were not merely atheists but, according to Lenin's terminology, militant atheists." However, prior to this, the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution established an atheist state, with the official ideology being the Cult of Reason; during this time thousands of believers were suppressed and executed by the guillotine.
In 2003, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard published a paper by Assaf Moghadam entitled A Global Resurgence of Religion? which declared:
|“|| As the indications leave little doubt, Russia is showing clear signs of a religious resurgence. In fact, all seven criteria by which change in religious behavior and values are measured here confirmed that Russia is experiencing what could be called a religious revival. Since 1970, the nonreligious/atheist population has been on steady decline, from 52% in 1970 to 33% in 2000. Further, the percentage of this population is projected to decrease even further, possibly reaching the 20% mark in 2025. Between 1990 and 1997, belief in God has risen from 35% to a whopping 60%, while belief in the importance of God has climbed to 43% in 1997, up from 25% in 1990. More people have been raised religious in Russia in 1997 (20%) than at the beginning of the decade (18%), and 8.39% more Russians believed religion to be important toward the end of the 1990s, when compared to 1990. “Comfort in Religion” has also sharply increased within this time period, from less than 27% to over 46%. Finally, more and more Russians attend church services more regularly in 1997 than they did in 1990.
In the three Eastern European countries that were included in the WVS survey on belief in God, a drastic rise could be witnessed of respondents who answered this question in the affirmative. In Hungary, the percentage of believers in God jumped from 44% to 58% from 1981 to 1990, even prior to the collapse of the former Soviet Union. In Belarus, the number of people who believe in God nearly doubled over the course of the 1990s, from 36% to 68%, while in Latvia this figure almost quadrupled, from 18% to 67% in the same time period. Similar trends held true when it came to the importance of God, where there was a sharp rise in all three countries.
Christianity Today indicated in 2017:
|“|| “The comeback of religion in a region once dominated by atheist regimes is striking,” states Pew in its latest report. Today, only 14 percent of the region’s population identify as atheists, agnostics, or “nones.” By comparison, 57 percent identify as Orthodox, and another 18 percent as Catholics.
In a massive study based on face-to-face interviews with 25,000 adults in 18 countries, Pew examined how national and religious identities have converged over the decades in Central and Eastern Europe. The result is one of the most thorough accountings of what Orthodox Christians (and their neighbors) believe and do.
Pew Research indicated in a 2017 article entitled Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe:
|“|| In many Central and Eastern European countries, religion and national identity are closely entwined. This is true in former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, where majorities say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish.” It is also the case in Greece, where the church played a central role in Greece’s successful struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire and where today three-quarters of the public (76%) says that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek.”
Many people in the region embrace religion as an element of national belonging even though they are not highly observant. Relatively few Orthodox or Catholic adults in Central and Eastern Europe say they regularly attend worship services, pray often or consider religion central to their lives. For example, a median of just 10% of Orthodox Christians across the region say they go to church on a weekly basis.
Indeed, compared with many populations Pew Research Center previously has surveyed – from the United States to Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa to Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa – Central and Eastern Europeans display relatively low levels of religious observance.
Nonetheless, the comeback of religion in a region once dominated by atheist regimes is striking – particularly in some historically Orthodox countries, where levels of religious affiliation have risen substantially in recent decades.
Persistence of religion in the atheistic Soviet Union
Gene Zubovich wrote at the online academic journal Religion & Politics concerning the former Soviet Union:
|“||Despite the public spectacle and the very real repression of the Orthodox Church, however, religious belief and practice remained a part of everyday life and officials often tolerated religious practices, especially in the countryside. As Smolkin shows, even rank-and-file communists struggled with managing religious questions in family life. “What should a Leninist do if his family is still religious, does not permit taking down the icons, takes children to church, and so on,” a party member asked a Soviet newspaper’s advice column. The response “suggested a softer and more gradual approach to family disagreements over religion,” Smolkin writes. “Rather than break with his family, a Leninist should strive to enlighten.” It was common for male party members to marry religious women, the columnist noted, and they should be patient with their families.||”|
- Dimitry Pospielovsky, (December, 1987), A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312381328
- Dimitry Pospielovsky, (November, 1987), Soviet Antireligious Campaigns and Persecutions (History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 2), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312009054
- Dimitry Pospielovsky, (August, 1988), Soviet Studies on the Church and the Believer's Response to Atheism: A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 3, Palgrave Macmillan, hardcover: ISBN 0312012918, paperback edition: ISBN 0312012926
- Ostling, Richard N. (December 4, 1989). "Cross meets Kremlin: Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II". Time. Time magazine website.
- Moore, Rev. Fr. Raphael (October 1999). "In memory of the 50 million victims of the Orthodox Christian Holocaust", Spiritual Nourishment for the Soul, Serfes, Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios, compiler.
- Humphrey (December 16, 2008). "Merry Anti-Christmas!" Quodlibeta.
- Multiple references:
- Humphrey (December 16, 2008). "Merry Anti-Christmas!" Quodlibeta.
- Froese, Paul (March 2004). "Forced secularization in Soviet Russia: why an atheistic monopoly failed" [abstract]. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 43, 1, pp. 35-50. Abstract: Ingentaconnect
- Underground Christians fear China crackdown
- A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia
- On Compromise in the Hierarchy During the Communist Yoke
- Korean Reds Targeting Christians
- North Korean and Chinese Atrocities Against Christians Worsen
- China sends Bible owners to labor camp
- China: Christians Tortured While Under Arrest
- Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
- Vitalij Lazarʹevič Ginzburg (2009). On Superconductivity and Superfluidity: A Scientific Autobiography. Springer Science+Business Media, 161. Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The Bolshevik communists were not merely atheists but, according to Lenin's terminology, militant atheists.”
- Multiple references:
"It is wonderful that, amid the horrors of this dismal period, while 'the death dance of democratic revolution' was still in rapid movement, among the tears of affliction, and the cries of despair, 'the masque, the song, the theatric scene, the buffoon laughter, went on as regularly as in the gay hour of festive peace.'”
"It's this second Enlightenment tradition that Cardinal Ratzinger referred to when he wrote, 'The radical detachment of the Enlightenment philosophy from its roots ultimately leads it to dispense with man.' Actually this transition happened not 'ultimately' but almost immediately. The first instance occurred when Enlightenment worship of abstract 'reason' and 'liberty' degenerated quickly into the mass murders committed during the antireligious Reign of Terror in France. 'Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name', said Madam Rolande as she faced the statue of Liberty in the Place de la Revolution movements before her death at the guillotine. She was one of the early victims of a succession of secular systems based on rootless notions of 'liberty', 'equality', and 'reason'.
"As many historians have pointed out, the atheist regimes of modern times are guilty of far more crimes than any committed in the name of religion. Communist governments alone were guilty of more than one hundred million murders, most of them committed against their own people.”
- A Global Resurgence of Religion? by Assaf Moghadam, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University
- Pew: Here’s How Badly Soviet Atheism Failed in Europe. Christianity Today, 2017
- Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe, Pew Research, 2017
- Russia’s Journey from Orthodoxy to Atheism, and Back Again by Gene Zubovich, Religion & Politics, 2018