An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I've been reading the book I mentioned earlier "A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policy" which is a detailed exploration of Soviet attempts at engineering Russian society toward secularization. The first chapter deals with, in fantastic detail, the philosophical development and lineage of Marxist thought and I must confess a fair degree of ignorance in that I always thought - in my nuanced liberal enlightenment - that the derogatory term "godless communist" was simply a biased and deliberately misleading invention of right-wing Christians.
On the contrary, Atheism is inherent to Marxism at least to the degree that Marx saw it and since the political-socio-philosophy bears his name I suppose he gets say in the matter. Marx founded much of his thought on the materialist philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach. Thus Marx was also an atheist and a materialist and he saw religion (as we all know) as the opiate of the masses. He believed religion was at once a delusion that prevented people from rightfully pursuing material happiness as well as a tool utilized by the wealthy and powerful to retain the status quo. More than this, there is also a paramount belief in humanism and that mankind's fullest potential was being thwarted by archaic belief in the supernatural and the afterlife. Marx and his protege Lenin would look to the blossoming field of natural sciences as a tool by which they might in turn thwart religious belief and bolster society’s belief in materialism.
More concerning is that while Feuerbach and Marx’s humanism seemed to uphold a good deal of faith in the goodness and worthiness of humankind, they were quick to admit and note that individuals themselves were often undeserving of humanistic efforts and thus their emphasis for humanism was on humans as a collective whole. One can see in this notion of serving the “greater good” the future under Lenin and Stalin wherein millions would perish in the quest for the atheistic, humanist utopia.
Lenin, following Feuerbach and Marx believed and taught that a socialist government had an obligation to actively wipe out religion through education (teaching the natural sciences), the manifestation of economic equality and sufficiency, and if necessary, force.
Schools would become bases for teaching children scientific materialism and not subtly (as is sadly done today in the United States), but overtly and with impunity. Generations of Russian children would leave grade schools "knowing" that science had rendered all religious belief obsolete. Both Lenin and Marx felt that if people had their basic needs met, that religion would die a natural death, but until such a time there would be a "natrual" tendency amidst the poor and working classes to cling to hope for change via supernatural means. Lenin believed the coming workers utopia would bring that hope and change and would negate such primal and unenlightened senses such as religion. And, of course, most of us know that the worker's utopia - struggling to create itself - would utilize extensive force in wiping the Church out.
I've not even begun to get into the specifics of what the Marxist government in Russia did in this triple front war on faith, but the philosophical underpinnings of atheism in Marxism as described in the first chapter has had me thinking a great deal.
I think Marx is right to the degree that by providing for people's needs you can seriously undermine faith. Unfortunately, as history has clearly demonstrated, socialism is terribly ineffective at generating widespread wealth, satisfaction, or even in meeting people's authentic needs. Capitalism, as demonstrated in the United States here, has been fantastically effective in creating a society whose affluence has never been known in all of history. So how is Marx right, then? Well, I would argue that while people in the United States will on paper demonstrate that a significant majority of us hold to some form of theism, I think we also see a great deal of what I like to call "practical atheism." Another post will have to detail what I mean by this term, but I think you all understand the point...checking yes to "theism" on a census and sitting home watching reruns of "Sex in the City" on Sunday mornings are two entirely different things.
In other affluent cultures like Western Europe, they play no such games. Theism is a dying philosophical breed. It would seem that not having much in the way of needs and also having an unbelievable quantity of alluring daily distractions has indeed deprived people of the need to ponder much about God. Combine this with increasingly secularized education and I think you have a society that is moving toward fulfilling Feuerbach, Marx, and Lenin’s dream of an atheist society – if not literally, then surely practically. We all know what things typically must happen in our lives to drive us to our knees and I’ve seen first hand the greater public display of everyday faith in the third world where there is much need and suffering.
Of course Marx and Lenin would never have approved of the method by which so much wealth and affluence has been “distributed”, for after all, it has been done rather unevenly even if extensively. But none-the-less, I think we are seeing voluntary secularization growing in leaps and bounds as the average westerner has far more time for “American Idol”atry than prayer.
Are we accomplishing with democratic capitalism what the communists could not accomplish with socialism? I wonder. And there's more to my thinking in this as well...but this is already too long.
Thanks for this post. I've been pondering this in my own feeble way as things here in the US are starting to look more and more like the USSR via secularism and some socialist ideals becoming so popular. When I read Russian pre-rev lit. I can't help but see astonishing similarities of those times to what is going on here now.
American secularism greatly differs from the open atheism of the Soviet Union or Red China. There, atheism was/is a comprehensive worldview that simply replaces all religion, at least theistic religion, and leaves no place for it at all. However, the deceitfulness of American secularism is that it is not anti-religious. Like a universal solvent, secularism simply absorbs religion into its ultimate framework, and in so doing, it changes religion into a mere accessory for furthering secularistic aims.
I agree 100% with Gary. Having lived in the Soviet Union for 5 months, I can say that there is a quantum leap from the soft agnosticism we enjoy here vs. real State Atheism. Here, religion is welcomed much like ethnic food: it adds to life's color, provided no one is allowed to get too dogmatic.
Technically, Marxism does have an honored place for religion, namely in the PAST. They would say that it had a role in humanity's development, and much like the belly button on an infant, religion needs to wither, die, and be plucked away.
Thus, unlike the Chinese, the Russians, even at their most destructive, did treasure certain artifacts of Religion, namely the architecture, the nationalistic dimensions, etc. for their historic value.
Clearly Soviet attempts at forced secularization are not the same as what we see in the west today...my question is whether we are being unintentionally MORE successful in creating a largely secularized (atheistic in practice) society.
I would say yes, "we" (whoever "we" are) have already been more successful than state atheism in pulling Christianity's fangs, not by directly persecuting it, but by incorporating a civil, obedient, nationalistic, and (therefore) innocuous version of it. Aslan has been tamed.
Remember what Eisenhower (quoted by the Schmemann article) said: "Religion is helpful, and I don't care which one it is." And isn't it ironic how similar this is to the Marxist view of religion as populistic opium?
If I remeber correctly, religion wasn't banned in the Soviet Union, just watched very closely. Sort of like China know, where religion is considered good because it "promotes social harmony". Yes, China is doing the "openly evil sounding"- they got rid of many of the socialistic programs like health and education.
So, communist countries aren't a good example- the exception being Albania where their leader becided he would make his countiry the world's first atheist state... and he succeded. "We might not be able to destroy an idea... but we can kill everyone who believes in it and burn all their books".
As for wealth distribution and inequality, it may surprise you to learn that the US had a decreasing amount of inequality up to the 70s.
Honestly, this is ignorant slippery slope thinking. Atheists will not ban religion nor will the set up a Stalinist state. Honestly you should be more worried about libertarians- those guys would make the police a private industry.
You don't remember correctly. Lenin and Trotsky uprooted religion viciously up to 1921 or so, when there was a brief pause, and then again Stalin in the 30s removed almost all remainders. The Russian Church had something like 50,000 churches pre-Revolution and hundreds of seminaries, and these were reduced to handful by 1940.
I think we covered this before...Albania failed in remaining an atheist state. I think I offered stats in a previous post.
But, yes, Steve is right the Soviets had an up and down history of actively trying to eliminate religion...but it always held it in disdain. It's a principle of Marxism and the communist party. Check the book out that I reference - worthy read. Astonishing persecution that Pagan Romans could not hope to compete with.
Honestly, this is ignorant slippery slope thinking. Atheists will not ban religion nor will the set up a Stalinist state.
Well since we are being honest: Samuel, I think you missed my point entirely. I'm not wringing my hands herein about atheists imposing their religion on me, nor am I too terribly worried about a Stalinist state. I won't repeat....reread please. I'm noting that what Lenin and Marx wanted to accomplish (elimination of religious faith) with communism, we may well be essentially doing with capitalism.
you should be more worried about libertarians- those guys would make the police a private industry.
Oh, not all of us would wish that...I assure you. :)