Is communism an ideology exclusive to atheism?

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.

LIBERATION THEOLOGY

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

MARXISM

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

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

GERRARD WINSTANLEY – TRUE LEVELLERS FOUNDER

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.

CAN A CHRISTIAN BE A COMMUNIST?

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

Does religion define morality?

I’ve covered this subject a few times, Why religious people can’t be objective, Good without God, Philosophical morality, and other articles have referenced religion and morality, but after researching world religions for a previous article, I have more opinions on the subject matter. First of all, let’s define what morality is.

Morality, put simply is a system of values which determine a person’s conduct, or put less simply, it’s a code of ethics that directs a person, and defines their mode of action and behaviour, and allows a person to define the difference between wrong or right, good and bad, and to be moral is about the greater good, in which your aim is to maximise happiness, and minimise suffering. Stanford has two definitions for morality, and they are as follows:

  1. descriptively to refer to certain codes of conduct put forward by a society or a group (such as a religion), or accepted by an individual for her own behavior, or
  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

As you can see, a society or group, like a religion, has codes of conduct, but morality isn’t exclusive to religion, and isn’t exclusive to certain groups or societies, and also what you have to decide is which religion is the most moral, as many of them differ greatly as to what’s morally acceptable. Take Hinduism as an example, they value all sentient life, so to them being a vegetarian is often their lifestyle choice, as they believe they have no right to take a life, but Christians are of the mindset that god placed all the animals of the Earth for our consumption, and many American Christians support the second amendment and go hunting. A Christian believes they are morally superior to Muslims, as Muslims execute animals using the Halal method, which involves a sharp blade to the jugular artery, and the animal is left to bleed out, as opposed to being stunned or sedated before execution. This is just one example of how three of the world’s biggest religions value life differently, yet all believe their holy book gives them moral guidance.

Instead of focusing on all religions here, I will deal with Christianity verses atheism. As I’ve covered in a previous article, geographical indoctrination, a person’s faith is often defined by their family’s influence, and the society they live in. If you’re living in the Bible Belt of America, there’s an extremely high possibility that you’re going to be a fundamental Christian, as opposed to a Taoist, or Confucianist, as they tend to be more Asian focused religions and philosophies. So bearing this in mind, a Christian is left with the Bible, whichever version they prefer, but when I quote the Bible I tend to use the King James for consistency.

The Bible is a collection of books that were written thousands of years ago, and interpretations have changed through language, translations and generations. No one can take all of the Bible literally, and different branches of Christianity take certain things, and leave others behind, and some of the subjects in the Bible don’t reach the modern interpretations of morality, and this is where the term cherry picking comes into play, as often what a Christian defines as moral matches their personal feelings on the matter. In other words, they take from the Bible what they see themselves as being moral, and attempt to justify the more horrific acts, like slaughtering of babies, or a global flood as God’s will, and who can question that? Looking at it this way, a Christians morality is based on emotion, and elements of what they believe is correct in the Bible, and just like atheists a large part of their morality is subjective, and/or based on what society expects from people.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been asked why, as an atheist, I can categorically state why rape is wrong, as I’ve no God to guide me. Most people grow up from a child being taught what ethical behaviour is from their parents, schools, society and through experience. If a child hurts another child, and feels remorse, then their compassion and empathy have come into play, and it’ll make them sad, and hopefully this will teach them a life lesson that’s it wrong to hurt someone, as walk in their shoes and see if it’s enjoyable. As children get older, they learn that it’s not acceptable to steal, hurt people, insult their parents etc, and they learn to respect others. By the time a child reaches adulthood they should know that it’s unacceptable to infringe on another person’s rights, especially physically harming someone like an act of violence, rape or murder.

In the modern world, especially in the west, people tend to pick and choose as they reach adulthood as to what religion suits them best. They may have been raised a Christian, but encountered a Buddhist, and that way of life suits them more and they convert. They choose Buddhism because of its ethics and lifestyle, and if it’s morally suitable then great, but it doesn’t define the moral compass they already have within them.

Are we all Agnostic?

Is everything Black and White? Are the only answers really Yes and No? Or is there another option?

Uncertainty. I really don’t know?

What is Atheism?

Depending who you talk to, or where you search there are several definitions for atheism.

• The most common definition adopted by atheists is ‘A lack of belief, or disbelief in God/s, or deities.’

This is an example of Negative/Weak Atheism, where there’s disbelief but the person does not assert that there’s no God/s.

• Others will say that they do not believe in God/s, or deities.

This is an example of Positive/Strong Atheism, where they do not believe in God/s, but additionally asserts that there are no God/s.

• Another term to describe Atheism is the rejection of Theism.

Many people who I’ve spoken to claim that atheism is a belief system, a world view, or even a religion, when essentially it’s just ἄθεος (Atheos) meaning ‘without god(s)‘.

What is theism?

• Theism is the belief and/or Faith in a God, or God/s or deities, which generally involves doctrines and dogmas and the belief that God created the Universe and all within it.

• Monotheism is generally the most popular in modern society which means the belief in just one God. The Abrahamic God is the most worshipped around the world.

• Tritheism is the Christianity belief of the Holy trinity. The father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

• Ditheism (Cosmic Dualism) is the belief that there are two powers at work. The benevolent and the malevolent. Good and evil, which can be seen as a creator and a destroyer, but some believe in Bitheism which can sometimes imply harmony.

• Polytheism is the belief in more than one God. Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism all observe polytheism.

• Deism derived from Latin in which  ‘Deus means‘God’. This is a philosophical stance that puts God as the creator of the Universe, but does not interact with his creation.

There are plenty more types of theism and it can all get confusing as to what’s what and who’s who.

What is Agnosticism?

• Agnosticism is a stance that suggests the existence of God/s, deities or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. Meaning that there’s insufficient evidence to prove, or disprove God/s, deities and the supernatural.

Professor Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and anthropologist, invented the term agnostic in the 19th century, when he said that there are no ways to prove or disprove the existence of God using scientific methods.

‘That it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism.’ – Huxley

So atheism is a lack of belief, or not believing in God/s and theism is believing in God/s. So it all comes down to belief, or lack of belief.

Belief is accepting that something is true, or real, that’s especially without proof. Faith is similar in the fact that there’s no evidence. At the end of the day these are just opinions without any basis to back it up. So if everyone is being honest then are we all Agnostic, as we cannot provide evidence to refute or prove God/s?

Thomas Henry Huxley 1825 – 1895