atheism behind the iron curtain

May 30, 2009 — 28 Comments

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that more and more blogs are starting to post detailed accounts of someone leaving religion and embracing atheism. With surveys showing that the fastest growing belief systems in the United States is actually a lack of belief in the supernatural and the rejection of theistic worldviews, one could say that we’re seeing atheists feeling emboldened and revealing themselves to the world. Atheists are leaving the closet, starting internet communities and trying to advertise on buses and billboards that they’re not crazy or in denial because they reject a supernatural deity for which there’s no proof and that they’re not alone. For a person doubting the faith he grew up with, it’s now a perfectly viable option to become an atheist and try to find answers to existential questions through science and education after announcing his intention to the world.

It’s a post that I will never be able to make. As long time readers of Weird Things may recall, I was born in the former USSR where religious institutions were corralled by the government to ensure that a powerful church wouldn’t start grooming political figures to compete with the nation’s leaders. By the time of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church had been a major institution for almost a thousand years. If the priests tried to organize any kind of mass resistance to the regime, they would’ve had no shortage of faithful followers less concerned about the material goods offered by the Communist Party than their spiritual fiber. Knowing that it would never be possible to eliminate religious organizations and was actually likely to backfire, the Soviet leaders started to downplay the role of religion in peoples’ lives.

soviet robot poster

Interestingly enough, the campaign to de-emphasize religion was relatively subtle. Churches were open and there was a law declaring that all religions which weren’t considered to be dangerous cults (read: advocated resistance to the government or its policies), were free to practice as they wish. Seminaries were open to any would be priest or rabbi. However, being deeply religious carried with it a veiled social stigma. It might hurt a budding career because you weren’t considered to have your feet firmly enough on the ground. You would get some resistance in politics because your devotion should have been to your work in the party rather than your church. And all college students attended a class called Scientific Atheism which outlined a case for disbelief.

On the other side of the world, priests in the United States used the growing indifference of the Soviet public to religion as a tool for proselytizing and motivating the government to put religious references on court buildings and money. They promoted a belief in God as integral to what it means to be an American and that religiosity was a bulwark against the evil, godless Reds. We can trace the chants that America is a Christian nation and true Americans are God-fearing people back to the Cold War and the Red Scares. No wonder atheists stayed in the shadows for so long. Their lack of belief was being tied to an enemy state with a nuclear arsenal poised to destroy their nation at any moment.

Of course in the USSR, people saw the ideological conflict with the U.S. as a case of establishing who would control the world and shape it in its image. Religion had nothing to do with it. And it was in this world that I was born. Growing up, there was no religious indoctrination. Churches were examples of artwork and architecture rather than direct links to a higher power. There was no serious interest in spreading religion or making sure you were “saved” and believed in the right thing in order to go to heaven. Atheism was considered a perfectly normal way of thinking and a sizable percentage of the nation were atheists. For me there was never anything to really reject or embrace. I experimented with learning about religious beliefs and trying them on for size, but found that nothing really answered any of the big questions in an objective, factual way. The only way to solve them, I decided, was to find out through research and experimentation.

Had I been born about 4,000 miles away, deep in the American Bible Belt, things would have turned out much differently. Instead of presenting evidence for evolution and debunking claims of the supernatural in nature or cosmology. this blog would have been yet another part of a chorus of religious zealotry. I wouldn’t have had to live in a nation mismanaging itself into oblivion after decades upon decades of abusing its people, then run from the chaos after its collapse, but I would’ve been subjected to proselytizing from birth. Oh well. I suppose everything has some sort of bizarre a trade off…

update 06.08.2009 – please note that this post is solely a short summary of some of my experiences of living in the Soviet Union and relates to the freedom of religion laws and a de-emphasizing campaign of the 1970s and 1980s, long after the political repressions which affected numerous religious communities were over by the mid 1950s. In no way do I condone anything the Soviet Union has done or advocate any of its activities as was grossly misrepresented on several blogs which have linked to this post. I realize that I should have done a better job during editing and that may be a source of some confusion, but this post was supposed to be just a quick and random reflection on why I grew up without strong religious beliefs and nothing more.

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  • Pierce R. Butler

    We can trace the chants that America is a Christian nation and true Americans are God-fearing people back to the Cold War and the Red Scares.

    Indeed. The problem for “Christian nationalists” is that you can’t trace such ideas back to the founding of the nation – at least not honestly.

  • http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/ Ken MacLeod

    Your account of the situation sounds quite similar (on the facts) to official Soviet accounts of the situation (e.g. this – and quite different from the ‘religious persecution behind the Iron Curtain’ accounts we got in the West at the time.

  • Amy P.

    I wouldve been subjected to proselytizing from birth.

    Yeah, because it totally sounds like you’re an independent thinker here. What about the millions of religious persons killed in that supposed atheistic utopia?

  • daffey

    My question is: does the poster really believe these things, or is this a put on? Really. The USSR should not be the place atheists point to and say ‘see, that’s how good it could be! It was mostly atheists running the show, and look how great it was!’ Come on. This is either a joke, or the poster needs to get out more.

  • Arnold

    The USSR did not discourage and “downplay” the importance of religion, it murdered Christians by the millions, including the direct murder of over 300,000 priests and monks. Millions more died in the camps for their beliefs. Talk about covering up the sins of atheism!

  • daffey

    Read your own article. You make the case that whew, thank goodness I didnt grow up in a country like America where religious people were calling the shots. I grew up in the USSR where most of the culture and people were cool with atheism. Well, if the sins of Europe and America are so freely based on its roots in Christianity and religion, then its fair to blame the sins of the USSR at least to a degree on its atheism which you point out was all the rage.

    And yes, atheists died in the USSR. But there is a difference between being murdered because you buck the leadership that you disagree with on a political policy, and being murdered because you failed to renounce your belief, or insisted in maintaining your belief beyond what was allowed.

    For too long atheists and secularists in general have been able to sweep the sins of atheism under the carpet. But thanks to the internet, a whole new generation of people are starting to say, wait a minute. Religion may have done some bad things, but looks like non-religious societies havent been any better.

    But as for your protest, Im sorry, but your article did nothing other than say USSR – secular state, better than if Id grown up in America – religious place dominated by religious people. You cant make bold sweeping claims, then protest because people take them to their logical conclusion.

  • CEK

    If this wasn’t supposed to be a clever parody of George Bernard Shaw, then gfish, you really need to get your head out of the sand. Christians (and other minority religions) were explicitly targeted as being enemies of the party, and their churches and monasteries were torn down and destroyed. So what was it about Christians that made them enemies of the party? Their beliefs.

    Are you really this ignorant?

  • Greg Fish

    I would love to know exactly where I said anything about how good it was to live in the USSR. I would also be interested to see where I said anything about the Soviet Union being an atheist utopia. In fact, if Amy wouldve read the first half of the sentence she was quoting, she would find this:

    a nation mismanaging itself into oblivion after decades upon decades of abusing its people

    Yes, that certainly sounds like a ringing endorsement of Soviet Russia. By the time I was raised there, the repressions were largely over and the country was collapsing. The bloody repressions took place from the late 1920s to the 1930s followed by another round right after World War Two. So forgive me for not being able to describe the horrors that ended long before I was around, firsthand.

    What about the millions of religious persons killed in that supposed atheistic utopia?

    Show me once place where I say the Soviet Union was a utopia of any sort. I wrote a post about the USSR a while back as well. Maybe if you want to take a look at that one to find the endorsement you want to read into it?

    To the Soviet leaders it didnt matter whether the people being killed were religious or not. Do you know how many atheists were sent to Siberia? Because Ive met a few. The Party imprisoned or killed anyone and everyone they thought wanted to oppose them, regardless of their personal faith.

    This is either a joke, or the poster needs to get out more.

    Oddly enough I wondered what post you were reading to turn a description of how religion was treated in the Soviet Union into some sort of advocacy for that nation. I got out plenty. I lived in the country Im talking about. I honestly cant tell you that life there only consisted of looking over your shoulder between beatings and murders by KGB agents because it didnt.

    “Talk about covering up the sins of atheism!”

    Talk about revising history and injecting one’s personal beliefs into it. Yes, millions of Christians were killed. Just like millions from every belief system, including atheists. If you were deemed a threat to the party, you were jailed or killed, end of story. Your beliefs were completely irrelevant. I apologize if this reality doesn’t match the story told during the Red Scares.

  • Ranee

    “So what was it about Christians that made them enemies of the party? Their beliefs.

    Thats a textbook case of a non-sequtur. What about atheists being put in Siberian camps in just as big of numbers? Their beliefs were also threatening? I stated very clearly that any organization that could be seen as being able to organize any sort of resistance to the party was being targeted.

    Not quite the same thing, which I am sure you know. Aside from the millions of Jews, Christians and others being killed, the priests, nuns and monks who were specifically targeted for murder so they faith wouldn’t be passed along, the seizing of property of said persons and those who thought like them, the imprisonment of the same types again, there is the fact that Communism specifically taught against religion (“opiate of the masses” anyone?), promoted atheism and had a goal of removing trust and faith in God to trust and faith in state.

    That is a significant thing and makes the murders of religious a little more than being just because they didn’t like what the Soviets were doing.

  • daffey

    Why are you having a hard time getting what most who have read your post get? The USSR holds the trophy for being the most murderous regime in human history. More people were killed in the USSR than in all the religious wars ever fought combined. And you state that the USSR was among other things, foremost an atheistic society where people and the state generally embraced atheism. Which is true. You go on to say you are glad that it did. Yet for some inexplicable reason, you don’t link the ‘USSR = Atheist society with USSR = Murderous society.’ Moreover, you seem to have a hard time understanding that killing a person because of political expediency, despite the fact that he may or may not be religious, is a far cry from killing someone because they are religious. The USSR brutally oppressed religious thought, to the tune of murdering thousands of religious leaders and thousands, if not millions, more because their religion would not yield to the Soviet ideals. Yet despite that, you say you’re glad you grew up in this society that promoted atheism. That’s the strange part.

    And no, Ranees argument wasn’t a non sequitur. It was a valid argument. You, like so many atheists, apparently haven’t come to grips with the meaner aspects of Western Secularism – which isn’t surprising, since those aren’t taught in most educational establishments that embrace Western Secularism.

  • Greg Fish

    “You make the case that whew, thank goodness I didnt grow up in a country like America where religious people were calling the shots.”

    No. I make the case that if I grew up in the Bible Belt, I would mostly likely be a religious fundamentalist but since I grew up in a country where religion was very much low key, I’m not. That’s it. That’s the entire case. Everything else you read into it is your own biases and imagination taking over. Nowhere did I say it was better or worse.

    “So what was it about Christians that made them enemies of the party? Their beliefs. “

    That’s a textbook case of a non-sequtur. What about atheists being put in Siberian camps in just as big of numbers? Their beliefs were also threatening? I stated very clearly that any organization that could be seen as being able to organize any sort of resistance to the party was being targeted.

    I find it bizarre that after selectively mishandling history and showing that you don’t know how the Soviet Union functioned, you accuse others of ignorance.

  • dannyboy

    gfish,

    Perhaps it would help a bit if you could substantiate your claim that an equal number of atheists were persecuted/imprisoned/executed by the Soviet government.

    I do get that you were not trying to write an apologetic for the USSR here, any more than you were saying “ra-ra-USA for not mismanaging its economy or abusing its people” but the persecution targeted specifically at religious people in the USSR is a sensitive subject.

    Even if the numbers did stack up as you say they did, it is going to rub people the wrong way if you neglect the fact that a great number of [though, obviously, not ALL] faithful religious people were targeted specifically FOR their religious beliefs, while atheists were not targeted for that reason.

    If your posters misunderstood you, I don’t think it does much good to resort to ad hominems in trying to respond to them. It’s your blog. You can afford to take the high ground here…

    peace

    dannyboy

  • Greg Fish

    daffey,

    Your leaps of logic and your insistence on putting words in my mouth is what I have a hard time getting. I didn’t say that the USSR was an atheistic society, just one where religion was downplayed and there were a lot of atheists so I grew up without strong religious beliefs.

    I did not say I was glad that’s what happened. You are blatantly making it up. Basically, you just want me to say that atheists are cold blooded monsters and murderers and the USSR is an example of it. But that’s not true. Soviet leaders were so bloodthirsty because they were politically paranoid and the beliefs of those who they targeted didn’t matter. But you don’t want to hear that because it conflicts with the assertions you’ve been taught.

    An argument which claims that something which was not historically true happened isn’t a valid argument and you can defer to educational conspiracies all you want but it won’t suddenly make it true. People who were killed for land, for money and out of political paranoia weren’t being specifically targeted for their beliefs. Hell, many of the leading members of the Party were actually Christian Orthodox.

    Well, I suppose this is what I get from a link by someone who trolls websites which mention atheism and tells everyone I’m trying to excuse Soviet repressions. Enter false assertions and demands that I call atheists a bunch of murderers because that’s what your clergy told you and anyone who saw otherwise must be either mistaken or covering it up.

  • Martin Snigg

    I hope you’ll allow me to troll. Generalising – yeah I think it’s impossible not to conclude that atheism is murderous. Atheists and non-believers are highly over represented in jails which is just common sense.

    Lezsek Kolakowski went further: he became an avowed Communist but repented later on, he believes atheism and its political outworkings are murderous one reason is:

    You must know that nothing is good or evil, but I am teaching you that some things are good and some are evil, in order to induce in you conditioned reflexes which are useful for the maintenance of solidarity in communal life which is neither good nor evil but must be seen as good [Kolakowski The Presence of Myth p.25]

    The outcome is thus:

    The natural social self defense against education so conceived (that is an education which gives up authority or employs authority while at the same time proclaiming its fictitiousness) is understandable. Since an effective inheritance of values is always the work of authority, and every act of emancipation from authority may arise only in the name of values absorbed thanks to authority, a scientistic upbringing is therefore an absurd utopia.

    The Irrational Atheist: Chapter 1

    I previously referenced the number of atheists being held by the prison system of England and Wales, where it is customary to record the religion of the prison population as part of the Inmate Information System. In the year 2000, there were 38,531 Christians of twenty-one different varieties imprisoned for their crimes, compared to only 122 atheists and sixty-two agnostics. As Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular has become increasingly post-Christian, this would appear to be a damning piece of evidence proving the fundamentally criminal nature of theists while demonstrating that atheists are indeed more moral despite their lack of a sky god holding them to account.29

    However, there also happened to be another 20,639 prisoners, 31.6 percent of the total prison population, who possessed no religion. And this was not simply a case of people falling through the cracks or refusing to provide an answer; the Inmate Information System is specific enough to distinguish between Druids, Scientologists, and Zoroastrians as well as between the Celestial Church of God, the Welsh Independent church, and the Non-Conformist church. It also features separate categories for other Christian religion, other non-Christian religion, and not known.

    At only two-tenths of a percent of the prison population, High Church Atheists are, as previously suggested, extremely law-abiding. But when one compares the 31.6 percent of imprisoned no-religionists to the 15.1 percent of Britons who checked none or wrote in Jedi Knight, agnostic, atheist, or heathen in the 2001 national survey, it becomes clear that their Low Church counterparts are nearly four times more likely to be convicted and jailed for committing a crime than a Christian.30

    So to conclude you can quote me, I think atheism is parasitic on Christian culture.

  • daffey

    Downplayed? Are you serious? That isnt the tale Ive heard from others who grew up in the Soviet Union. It wasnt a casual gee, think what you want, we prefer this. And thousands died because of it. Those assertions have been taught me by many a former resident of Russia and its satellite states.

    Oh, and speaking of putting words in mouths. I didnt say you were glad the bad things happened. I said this:

    You said atheism was considered a perfectly normal way of thinking and a sizable percentage of the nation were atheists. A sizable, or historically speaking, the majority view. You pointed out that the societal structure, for instance the educational establishments, were taught from that point of view. You then go on to say the benefits of having grown up in such a society where atheism was the official educational standard, making it clear that the alternative – growing up in America (where I guess you must be in the Bible belt or something), would have been worse.

    Now, lets take this slow and easy. Im sure you arent glad that millions died because of the USSR. Im sure you arent glad that countless numbers died because of their religious beliefs. Most atheists I know arent glad. Yet, your hurray that the Soviet culture endorsed and embraced and taught from an atheist point of view cant be separated from the fact that atheism was behind the nation that brought about the suffering and death of many. This has to be true since the mantra of modern atheism is that whenever evil occurs in a religious culture, it is the religious philosophies and doctrines that are behind it. If so, the atheism of the USSR must be culpable. One or the other. Either we need to reexamine the burden of guilt that various religions are made to share for the atrocities committed by societies in which they dominate, or all belief systems are equally guilty. The atheist two step just doesnt work.

    But there was persecution of religious leaders, and followers. Its a fact born by records and witnesses of many who fled before and after the fall of the union. It sounds like you might be having a tough time coming to grips with that darker side of Western Secularism I talked about. To me, it appears you dont want to hear that because it conflicts with the assertions youve been taught.

  • daffey

    By the way, I dont troll the blogs. I came to this because the link to it seemed absurd, that someone was actually dismissing the record of the USSR in favor of the fact that at least it was an atheist society. I thought that was so ridiculous, I would come to see how wrong the link was. Turned out it wasnt too far off. For you are saying that for all the USSR was, you are glad you didnt grow up in America for the sheer fact that it is religious (followed by ludicrous and absurd claims on your part regarding life in America for the last 60 years). So you obviously arent saying the USSR was good. You are saying you preferred it, despite its record of unprecedented terror, over America for the sheer fact of the religious influence in America. If anything, it is the religious believer, or victim of Soviet brutality, who should be offended, not you.

  • Greg Fish

    Perhaps it would help a bit if you could substantiate your claim that an equal number of atheists were persecuted/imprisoned/executed by the Soviet government.

    I would need to look for an exact source on this. Mostly, I’ve heard from several atheists who were imprisoned for various reasons, but to be honest, nobody really cared or kept very good track. Tellingly, you can find all sorts of wild estimates on how many Christians may have been killed but when you do the same search for atheists, all you seem to find are sites which accuse atheists of being bloodsucking demons. Again, the camps didn’t care who you were. You were there to be worked to death because the government saw you as a threat. All other questions were secondary.

    “Downplayed? Are you serious? That isnt the tale Ive heard from others who grew up in the Soviet Union.”

    I’m sorry about that. However, I’m sure that you know many more people who grew up in the USSR in the second half of the 20th century and if they can give you the story you want, by all means feel free to listen to them instead.

    The repressions which sideswiped the religious institutions were over by the early 1950s with a break during World War 2, during which churches were used to help disseminate Soviet propaganda. So I’m just curious about how old these people were and whether you considered that conditions in the USSR changed over time.

    Unlike the original link on the Mark Shea blog says (and it’s Mark who I call a troll), I’m talking about my personal experience with religion here, not what happened long before I was born. Had a comprehensive history of religion in the USSR been my goal, you would’ve seen detailed accounts of how Soviet leaders went after churches to bolster their power and crush anyone who had the means to stand in their way. But even in my post here, you see very clear statements that this is what they had in mind.

    “You said atheism was considered a perfectly normal way of thinking and a sizable percentage of the nation were atheists. A sizable, or historically speaking, the majority view.”

    See you just put words in my mouth while trying to prove you don’t. I said nothing about atheism being a majority view. Nothing at all. Sizable? Yes. But if having a large number of atheists means that a society is atheistic, might as well call of of Western Europe atheist since in some of those nations over a third of the people identify themselves as atheist or agnostic.

    You defend yourself with the comment: “I didnt say you were glad the bad things happened.” while the actual comment I made was that I didn’t say I was happy about being raised without strong religious beliefs, it just happened. Again, you’re either just trying to throw in anything and everything or skimming along the replies rather than reading them.

    “Yet, your hurray that the Soviet culture endorsed and embraced and taught from an atheist point of view”

    There was no such hurray. Repeating a lie does not change reality and make it a fact. Nowhere do I even endorse atheism itself! But really, if you’re just going to insist on making things up as you go along, why should I bother to explain myself?

    “You are saying you preferred it, despite its record of unprecedented terror, over America for the sheer fact of the religious influence in America.”

    Complete, utter, fictional nonsense that resides only in your imagination. I said no such thing and didn’t even come close to it. It takes a rare form of liar to look at something and blatantly insist it says what it does not.

  • Ranee

    Okay, I see what you are saying. Because the extermination of religious people had already occurred prior to 1954, and after that point the government had “religious” people who gave up their belief in favor of furthering the regime, it means that religious persecution wasn’t significant anymore.

  • Ranee

    No, sir. Please do not use ad hominem attacks because you cannot address the real topic. Your last paragraph:

    Had I been born about 4,000 miles away, deep in the American Bible Belt, things would have turned out much differently. Instead of presenting evidence for evolution and debunking claims of the supernatural in nature or cosmology. this blog would have been yet another part of a chorus of religious zealotry. I wouldnt have had to live in a nation mismanaging itself into oblivion after decades upon decades of abusing its people, then run from the chaos after its collapse, but I wouldve been subjected to proselytizing from birth. Oh well. I suppose everything has some sort of bizarre a trade off

    This makes an equivalence of sorts. Growing up in an atheist environment in which the religious persecution had ended (according to you – though that would be a shock to my Czech friends who were not able to practice their faith in Czechoslovakia without losing their jobs, facing scrutiny from the government or having some trumped up charge brought against you, and that was not before 1954, but in the 1980s – and yes, I know that Czechoslovakia is not the USSR or Russia), but was a ruinous totalitarian regime that, according to you, mismanaged itself into oblivion, created a reasonable material atheist. Had you grown up in the Bible Belt, you wouldn’t have been subjected to Communist rhetoric and doublespeak, but its equally pernicious proselytizing.

    Since you gloss over the “real” religious persecution which occurred prior to 1954, which resulted in not enough religious people to persecute after that, your statement is reprehensible.

    This has nothing to do with Mark Shea, sir. I am able to read, think and come to a different conclusion than others, including you. You may misrepresent what I have said here if you wish, or mock me as some sheep that listened to a blogger to gain my opinion of you. However, for your own edification, I have often disagreed with Mr. Shea’s representation of a blog or article, so I came here to read what you actually said, not to confirm your evil nature.

    This will be my last post to your blog, as I do not actually read it on a regular basis, and you are welcome to mock me, lie about me or otherwise remain obtuse about what I actually write. A little advice, though: Sometimes the criticisms of those who disagree with you are valid. A thoughtful person takes the time to understand the opponent’s criticism before disregarding it, giving himself at least a moment of self-reflection to determine if that criticism is relevant.

    You may indeed be making the argument that you defend in the comments, but your post does not make that argument well or clearly. That is all I have to say. Enjoy your life.

  • Greg Fish

    No. I’m saying that because the repressions were over, the government took a softer note and focused on de-emphasizing religion so by the time I was born, I didn’t see the kind of active religious persecution that happened in years before. How hard could this possibly be to understand?

    For some reason I have a feeling I could point out your strawman arguments until the web becomes obsolete and you’ll just keep putting words into my mouth on your next reply. Be honest now, you just really want to hear about the bloody repressions instead of this tame little story from the Soviet Union’s twilight years. It’s not exciting enough and dammit, Mark Shea told you that I’m glossing over them or acting as some sort of an apologist in his link so this must be the case, right?

  • Greg Fish

    “…was a ruinous totalitarian regime that, according to you, mismanaged itself into oblivion, created a reasonable material atheist.”

    The word “reasonable” is a weasel word inserted by you. I made no evaluation of whether atheism was good or bad. Just listed possible outcomes. You chose to read a personal evaluation into it.

    Also, if you read the post itself, you would note that most of a paragraph was devoted to explaining how deeply religious people were held back at work and in politics as per the accounts to which you try to refer.

    “Since you gloss over the real religious persecution which occurred prior to 1954, which resulted in not enough religious people to persecute after that, your statement is reprehensible.”

    Reprehensible? Really? Again, the persecution was primarily political and caught up religious organizations because of their power to organize people and political heft. So apparently, if I don’t go along with your version that this persecution could only be religious and not give you bloody details, my statements are reprehensible?

    “A thoughtful person takes the time to understand the opponents criticism before disregarding it”

    I can fully accept being wrong but when I’m being accused of condoning or pardoning mass murder just by musing about my experiences growing up and not dwelling on something that happened over a generation earlier, a quiet moment of self-reflection isn’t going to happen. I would also offer you to take the same advice. You’re not going to prove anything by calling comments reprehensible or demanding that someone explain or apologize for comments he never made.

  • daffey

    I think I get the problem with your article. I think the root problem is your somewhat silly portrayal of what life would have been like growing up in America. In fact, it appears – to me at least – that you are projecting. You admit that atheism was more or less the default viewpoint even toward the end (something confirmed by other witnesses). You admit it was mandatory to be learned, and those who were religious were stigmatized, again even toward the end. You then assume that the same thing is true in America, just reversed. You seem to act as though the USSR and the USA were simply two sides of the same coin, one where atheism was predominant, and one where religion was, and apparently assume those on the outside in both cases were similarly treated. You then say youre glad you grew up in the atheist one, because otherwise you would have probably been one of them. quote: this blog would have been yet another part of a chorus of religious zealotry.

    The fact that atheism is not the sole reason for the terrors of the USSR does not mean you cant admit that it played a part, in light of the fact that all of the societies that have enforced a secular, communist state have horrible track records. The secular nature and the atrocities committed cannot so easily be separated – especially if the tendency of modern atheism is to refuse to separate atrocities committed by Christian societies from their Christian foundations. Your hip-hip-hurray (see above quote) about growing up in a society that encouraged this philosophy, as opposed to that other kind of society, might be part of the problem.

    But the bigger problem is your somewhat Sam Harris style appraisal of life in America (and thats not a compliment by the way, Harris known for never letting an ugly fact get in the way of his stereotypes). You seem to imagine an America that simply wasnt. And perhaps that is what makes the USSR side of your argument so suspect. For instance, I grew up an agnostic, in America, in the Midwest, good old small town USA. My parents were Christian. I went my own way. I converted as an adult after finding no end of flaws and holes in ashiest and secular theories. But I did it on my own, no indoctrination, no mass meetings of mind control via the KJV, nothing. This America had the majority of American wanting prayer in school in the 1950s, and one person said they didnt – and guess who got their way. The thought that growing up in America ensured anything is far from true. In fact, a growing number of church goers today left the church when they were young and have since returned. Likewise, the increasing number of people not believing includes those who simply are rejecting traditional religions, not necessarily belief in God. This is not an all or nothing proposition, growing up in the US, and never has been.

    Because of that combination in your article of boy, Im glad I had what I had in terms of what I got to learn in a society not known, even in the last decades, for being the flower garden of human history, combined with a goofy post-Harris portrayal of life in America during the same period, thats where the confusion may come from. Just an observation.

  • Jadehawk

    daffey said:

    “But the bigger problem is your somewhat Sam Harris style appraisal of life in America (and thats not a compliment by the way, Harris known for never letting an ugly fact get in the way of his stereotypes). You seem to imagine an America that simply wasnt.”

    it’s not only an America that was, it’s an America that is. I live there at the moment, and Christianity is everywhere, and it’s seen as the default (unless you’re obviously, visually “other”).

    This is the country where, in 1987, the candidate for president mused about how atheists shouldn’t be considered citizens. it’s the country where there’s only one atheist elected official on a federal level, and where election campaigns find it acceptable to smear their opponents as “consorts with atheists”; and the smeared side sues them for libel, and where a teacher can be dismissed simply because he is rumored to be an atheist.

    It’s even the country where an atheist can be attacked and then accused and brought to court on assault charges, where his attorney can suggest that it would be better for him if he didn’t mention his atheism at trial because it would disadvantage him, and where a whole bunch of jurors quit because they admitted they wouldn’t be able to judge an atheist fairly (hey, at least they were honest…); and all because his daughter didn’t want to take part in the pre-basketball prayer.

    maybe your experiences when growing up were different. and maybe the blogger’s experiences when growing up in the USSR were different from what others experienced. but if we’re supposed to accept your version of growing up in America, you have to equally accept the blogger’s version of her growing up in the USSR.

  • erasmus

    I think it is fair to say from the comments subsequent to the article that your original piece had too many generalisations and not enough specifics. Generalisations, especially in a public forum type situation such as this, are bound to elicit many and varied responses some of which seem to be irrelevant to the author’s topic. But if the author did not sufficiently define the subject matter that’s what happens. There seem to be two main bones of contention here:

    First, that you weren’t very clear originally that the policies viz. the Church etc. only referred to later policies, not earlier ones i.e. around 1917 – 40′s. There is a big difference. Really bad stuff happened earlier on, horrific. One can argue about to what degree and to what degree it was about ‘religion’ versus ‘not going along with the worker’s revolution’ etc. but it was not a gentle, restrained approach.

    Second, your description of America singled out a particular type of ‘Bible Belt’ situation which, although it exists roughly as depicted, is not exactly typical of the entire country, nor even most rural communities in the Bible Belt per se. Indeed, and here I generalise shamelessly, I would go so far as to say that the great majority of contemporary Americans, even if they have heard the term ‘Bible Belt’ or ‘religious fundamentalist’, don’t have the faintest idea what they mean, don’t know anyone like that at all, and are completely disinterested in the topic.

    And THAT said, I think you are onto something. In surveys again and again Americans, far more than their similarly Western European cultural counterparts, give much more religiously favorable responses in surveys (belief in the Devil, angels, Christ etc.). I grew up in England where, by the 1990′s (long after I left) less than 2% of the population was going to Church regularly. 16 Churches designed by Wren were empty and boarded up to save on heating bills. Lovely structures, no congregations.

    I don’t know this blog or its author well but I am now curious: now that things have relaxed a bit in Russia the past decade or so, I get the impression that the Christian Orthodox Church is making a comeback. Is this true? And how does religion work in Russia today? I suspect it’s like in the West: if you are into it, fine, if you are not, fine. But in either case, don’t use religion as a basis for challenging the government / the way things are run in society.

  • http://jericosystems.com Eric Hamby

    I for one love the article. Not sure what everyones negativity is about.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    I thought this was a good article. It seems obvious to me that some people just want to read their own biases into the article, and put words into the author’s mouth.

    Please don’t do that.

    Also, for those who claim that Gfish’s picture of the United States is inaccurate:

    My home state’s “In God We Trust” license plates, the fact that my principle invoked God at my public high school graduation, the use of Christian propaganda by local businesses to sell products, the assumption that Christianity is the default status everywhere you go…this says to me, that there is a real problem. I don’t know what country the rest of you are living in.

  • jypson

    Jadehawk, well said, you nailed it.

  • Chelovek

    Hi,
    Little background infromation: I was born when the hellhol– I mean USSR collapsed. It was a terrible time to be in Moscow and there were enormous lines just to get bread. Mum was rather luck to live on literally $4 a week for about two months. (I know I sound like a prick, but it is the truth.) Anyone still thinking USSR, (1918-1991) and a few years after that (1991-1995) was a utopia? Just asking.
    I was just reading through, and I think it would help if I got some statistics:
    Stalin’s regime (1924-53): 20 000 000 people died at least. 40 000 000 at maximum. (According to http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm)
    (Even this one statistic shows how terrible things were in Russia.)

    Also, I have seen a few posts on here that truly shocked me. I will have to agree with gfish here: “I find it bizarre that after selectively mishandling history and showing that you don’t know how the Soviet Union functioned, you accuse others of ignorance.”

    Religion in Russia. I will say this. My ancestors were both theists and atheists. Most of the died by the hand or USSR. Pretty much the mentality there was that if you were in the way, the country would kill you. You could have been an Orthodox, and you could have lived or died, depending on how much you got in the way of the government. (Daffey, this part of the post is for you. gfish is not making it up, trust me.)

    Mr.Teleprompter, I completely agree with on: “I thought this was a good article. It seems obvious to me that some people just want to read their own biases into the article, and put words into the author’s mouth.

    Please don’t do that.

    Also, for those who claim that Gfish’s picture of the United States is inaccurate:

    My home state’s “In God We Trust” license plates, the fact that my principle invoked God at my public high school graduation, the use of Christian propaganda by local businesses to sell products, the assumption that Christianity is the default status everywhere you go…this says to me, that there is a real problem. I don’t know what country the rest of you are living in.”

    It is in my opinion that this article is about the experience of being in the USSR and the opinions that result from such an experience. Everyone who reads into this article and then adds in their biases do not have my respect, or for that matter, other’s respect(s), especially when they are persistently adding on to their theories when their core value is incorrect.