State Atheism

There are two ways for one to become an atheist (or believer of any religion, faith, or belief system) – he/she can accept it wholeheartedly through his/her own free will (if free will is real, anyway), or the it can be pushed onto him/her by others. And as far as statistics show, the latter almost always brings about bad results. State atheism is one great example.

1929 cover of Bezhnoznik, a Soviet magazine, showing the three gods (of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) being crushed by the First Five-Year Plan. An extremely offensive picture for believers. (not to mention that He Who Should Not be Depicted is shown here being crushed)

A Brief History

State atheism is defined by David Kowalewski as the official “promotion of atheism” by a government, typically by active suppressing religious freedom and practice. State atheism first appeared briefly (about 7 months) during the French revolution, and was continued by communist regimes and other nations. The most notable atheist states in the modern era would be the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Albania.

[NOTE: Do not confuse state atheism with secularism. State atheism promotes atheism and attempts to eliminate religion, while secularism is the acceptance of all faiths and the support of none.]

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was an officially atheist state from 1928-1939, in which religion has heavily persecuted, and became a secular state until its dissolution. Since the Soviet Union was built upon Marxism-Leninism, the fact that it was strongly opposed to all religion isn’t surprising at all. Here’s Lenin’s own words:

“Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.” – Lenin, “About the attitude of the working party toward the religion.”

and of course, Marx’s words:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.”

To quote statistics, a total of 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and 1200 priests were killed from 1922 to 1926, most religious seminaries and writings were banned, the number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes were reduced from 54,000 before World War I to 400 by 1940, while only 17% to 22% of Russians are Christian now. Of course, the government isn’t as oppressive now.

Bezbozhink 1929
1929 issue of the same magazine showing Jesus Christ being dumped from a wheelbarrow by an industrial worker. I wonder how Christian fundamentalists will react to this picture?

The People’s Republic of China

As for the PRC, it has always been and still is an officially atheist state. During the Cultural Revolution, religion was seen as by the communist government as superstitious and backwards. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of Buddhist and Taoist temples (and you thought the Taliban was bad), plus temples, churches and mosques being converted for secular uses.

The attitude relaxed by a great deal since the mid-70s, and greater freedom of religion was given by the 1978 Constitution of the PRC. In fact, there have been programs to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples destroyed since the mid-1980s. Lately, the government has been much more positive towards religion, organizing the World Buddhist Forum in 2006 and the International Forum on the Daodejing in 2007. The new statute of China in October 2007 even cited religion as an important element of citizens’ life. Religions/cults like the Falun Gong and Xiantianism are still banned though.

Buddha relic in the Ji Le Temple in Haerbin, China – destroyed during the Cultural Revolution

Why State Atheism is Bad

Despite being an atheist, I do not support state atheism in any way. To me, it’s the atheist equivalent of extremist Islamic states, and totalitarian governments will never bring any good. Here’s a few reasons why I absolutely condemn state atheism:

1) Creates Irrational Atheists

Those who become atheists because of politics cannot be expected to act or think sceptically, as they had atheism literally forced onto them. It’s just the same for beliefs – a government may be able to push a religion onto its citizens, but they will not accept it whole-heartedly, nor will they follow its teachings. Thus, although many living in officially atheist nations will declare that they are non-believers, but they won’t truly think or act like one, and we can thus predict that they won’t be rationalists/skeptics.

2) Harms Atheism’s Reputation

State atheism also harms atheism’s reputation as a whole. While it’s certainly true that atheism shouldn’t be confused with communist policies, humans do a great job at correlating unrelated data.

Since a large amount of people only know of atheism through religious communities, they will almost certainly get a biased view about atheism. Most religions consider disbelief in God/god(s) as a sign that the person in question is sinful and immoral, and the persecution of other religions by atheist states are taken by many as evidence that all atheists must be violent, immoral people. This may have also contributed to the distrust and discriminations against atheists in religious nations.

3) Bad Demographics

Plus, anyone who have checked the surveys on international demographics (here’s Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index 2011 and Gallup’s Global Wellbeing Survey) will find out that there are 2 types of nations with high atheist percentages – the 1st one are nations like New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway, which are correlated with high living standards and peace; the 2nd one would be countries like Russia, China (pre-Deng Xiaoping), Vietnam, which have atheism literally forced onto the citizens.

Alright, I admit that this isn’t directly related to state atheism, but more to the nation’s policies. However, state atheism (or any other religion) is commonly associated with totalitarian governments, and that couldn’t be good for the country.

In short, although I would certainly like a world that embraces science and rationalism instead of religious dogma, state atheism isn’t the way to go. In fact, by pushing atheism onto the citizens by force, atheist states are no better than extremist Islamic states, with their dogma just under another name. Instead, I think that secularism is the best solution in any case if peace is to be achieved.


~ by kriskodisko on October 20, 2013.

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