Sunday, May 31, 2009

Atheism behind the iron curtain

Atheism behind the iron curtain:
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.

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 you 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.

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