We’ve all read it many times, how atheism is responsible for ‘100,000,000 deaths in the twentieth century’ through the ideology of Marxism. But strictly speaking, is communism an atheist ideology? The Marxist–Leninist ideology claimed that religion was the ‘opium of the people’, and because of this they advocated, and promoted atheism, but didn’t outright deny religion, and during World War II Stalin welcomed the support of the Russian Orthodox Church. Many Marxist movements, especially in the Latin Americas are Catholic and are in direct opposition to the Marxist-Leninist anti-religion stance.
The Liberation Theology movement (Teología de la liberación) rose in South America and was developed by Peruvian Roman Catholic Priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, in the early 1950s. Whilst the theory of liberating oppressed people through the Gospels of Jesus Christ doesn’t sound too terrible, the ideology gave way for military dictators to coup d’etat existing governments. This upset America greatly, and they accused the Catholic Church of Latin America of adopting Marxism ideologies. The mixing of Catholic theology and Marxist ideology of removing social class was frowned upon by the Vatican as they didn’t wish to see the church turned into a secular political institution as it would rob people of the option to have Jesus save them, but the Liberation Theology movement believed that if Jesus Christ were on Earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary.
“Gutierrez says that Marxism presents the best analysis of the oppression/liberation conflict in terms of class struggle. So the liberation theologian must be committed to Marxism at least as an “analytical tool,” at most to socialist revolution as such. So theology is the critical reflection on praxis, from within praxis.” –Source
Karl Marx has a bad reputation, and is often considered responsible for the actions of communist Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cambodia, but in reality all he presented was a theory on how a society could become classless, and how important it is to understand human agency without the influence of the supernatural. He didn’t like the way the church oppressed, brainwashed and controlled people by claiming the authority of a god must be obeyed so you will be judged fairly when you face them. He was of the belief that the church used the power of the upper class to keep the lower class people in order, or under control. Napoleon Bonaparte described it as ‘Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich’, and Vladimir Lenin said ‘The roots of modern religion are deeply embedded in the social oppression of the working masses.’ People who understand the concept of Marxism claim that religion thrives from capitalism, and fears communism, because their control is reduced significantly.
Vladimir Lenin orchestrated the October revolution of 1917, and put the Council of People’s Commissars into power, before forming the one party state governed by the Russian Communist Party, who objective was to create a secular communist society. Lenin was an atheist, as everyone knows, but not many people know, or at least acknowledge that it wasn’t a requirement to be an atheist to join the Communist Party. Lenin adopted the Erfurt Program ideology that came from Marx’s International Workingmen’s Organisation which said that religion was a private matter, and if a cleric or person of religion joined the party and objected to something, it was a matter for them to personally resolve.
“Organisations belonging to the R.S.D.L.P. [Russian Social Democratic Labour Party] have never distinguished their members according to religion, never asked them about their religion and never will” – Vladimir Lenin
The early Christian Church adopted communalism principles by referring to the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ ‘all things in common’, and owning possessions communally, and these communities existed long before Marxism, but lived by some communistic ideologies. The similarities between communism and communalism aren’t common, but they both share the view of anti capitalism, secularism and equality in ownership and needs. Communalism is rooted in some socialist ideologies and focuses on the collective rather than the individuals of a community, but often they view other communities as hostile, so it’s been criticised by scholars. Yet, early Christian churches in the Roman world were often self sufficient communities, who shared what they had, and saw materialism pointless and greed a sin.
The Diggers, or the True Levellers, were a group of radical Protestants in the 17th century, who adopted an early socialist ideology, also from Acts, where they claimed that god created all men equally, so the land should be shared on grounds of needs. They created communities that operated as Agrarian socialism and radical communalism, who had anarchist views as they wished for the British government to be abolished.
Martin Luther King Jr gave a sermon in 1962, in Atlanta, where he gave a really eloquent speech on why he believes that communism and Christianity aren’t compatible, and it can be read here. Whilst he presents a well constructed argument from intensive knowledge, I don’t agree with all that he has to say.
“And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need.” – Acts 2:45
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any [of them] that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” – Acts 4:32
“And laid [them] down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” – Acts 4:35
Correct me if I’m interpreting this incorrectly, but isn’t this communistic ideology?
“a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.”
The Communist Party of America are a mixture of faithless and Christians, and this page highlights how they think Christianity and communism can work together. The problem is that many people view communism as Mao’s China, or Stalin’s Russia, and instantly link them to atheistic ideologies, when atheism hasn’t got ideologies, as it’s just the refusal to accept the existence of a god that no one can provide evidence for. Stalin was educated at a Jesuit school, and studied for a year to become a priest. So the claims that he was a full blown atheist are doubtful, and I’d say it’s probably more accurate that he was agnostic, and claimed atheism to please Lenin and the Bolsheviks. As you can read in the below quote from Martin Luther King Jr, communism arose as a protest against hardship. Russia was under the cruel regime of Romanovs for 300 years, and they were heavily influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite Russia being one of the most religious countries in the world, with more cathedrals than anywhere else, the majority of the population were peasants living in poverty, and the revolution came about because the common man was tired of being treated like animals. The Bolsheviks even had support from Muslim groups, as they too desired change. Although Nicolas was described as barbarian, who frequently ordered his guards to shoot protestors, he was made a saint by the church after his death.
“Communism should challenge us to be more concerned about social justice. However much is wrong with communism, we must admit that it arose as a protest against the hardships of the underprivileged.” – Martin Luther King Jr