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Antireligion is opposition to religion of any kind. [1] [2] [3] It involves opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. The term antireligion has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not. Opposition to religion also goes beyond the misotheistic spectrum. As such, antireligion is distinct from deity-specific positions such as atheism (the lack of belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities); although "antireligionists" may also be atheists or antitheists.

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

Organized religion, also known as institutional religion, is religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established. Organized religion is typically characterized by an official doctrine, a hierarchical or bureaucratic leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices.

"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR), also known as "Spiritual but not affiliated" (SBNA), is a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. Historically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion, but in contemporary usage spirituality has often become associated with the interior life of the individual, placing an emphasis upon the well-being of the "mind-body-spirit", while religion refers to organizational or communal dimensions.


Historical perspectives

An early form of mass antireligion was expressed during the Enlightenment, as early as the 17th century. Baron d'Holbach's book Christianity Unveiled published in 1761, attacked not only Christianity but religion in general as an impediment to the moral advancement of humanity.[ citation needed ] According to historian Michael Burleigh, antireligion found its first mass expression of barbarity in revolutionary France as "organised ... 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state" responded violently to religious influence over society. [4] Christopher Hitchens was a well-known antireligionist and critic of religion of the 20th century who maintained opposition to religion, arguing that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as the method of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.

Age of Enlightenment European cultural movement of the 18th century

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".

Baron dHolbach French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon. He was well known for his atheism and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770).

The Soviet Union adopted the political ideology of Marxism-Leninism and viewed religion as closely tied with foreign nationality. It thus directed varying degrees of antireligious efforts at varying faiths, depending on what threat they posed to the Soviet state, and their willingness to subordinate itself to political authority. These antireligious campaigns were directed at all faiths, [5] [6] including Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shamanist religions. In the 1930s, during the Stalinist period, the government destroyed church buildings or put them into secular use (as museums of religion and atheism, clubs or storage facilities), executed clergy, prohibited the publication of most religious material and persecuted some members of religious groups. [5] [7] [8] Less violent attempts to reduce or eliminate the influence of religion in society were also carried out at other times in Soviet history. For instance, it was usually necessary to be an atheist in order to acquire any important political position or any prestigious scientific job; thus many people became atheists in order to advance their careers. In the years of 1921-1950, some estimate that 15 million Christians were killed in the Soviet Union. [9] Up to 500,000 Russian Orthodox Christians were persecuted by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups. [10] The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic targeted numerous clergy for arrest and interrogation as enemies of the state, [11] and many churches, mosques, and synagogues were converted to secular uses. [12] The People's Republic of Albania had an objective for the eventual elimination of all religion in Albania with the goal of creating an atheist nation, which it declared it had achieved in 1967. In 1976, Albania implemented a constitutional ban on religious activity and propaganda. [13] The government nationalised most property of religious institutions and used it for non-religious purposes, such as cultural centers for young people. Religious literature was banned. Many clergy and theists were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic clergy were expelled in 1946. [13] [14] Albania was the only country that ever officially banned religion.[ citation needed ]

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). Initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, by the 1930s he was the country's de facto dictator. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalinism.

Authorities in the People's Republic of Romania aimed to move towards an atheistic society, in which religion would be considered as the ideology of the bourgeoisie; the régime also set to propagate among the laboring masses in science, politics and culture to help them fight superstition and mysticism, and initiated an anti-religious campaign aimed at reducing the influence of religion in society. [15] After the communist takeover in 1948, some church personnel were imprisoned for political crimes. [16]

Superstition belief or practice that is considered irrational or supernatural

Superstition is any belief or practice that is considered irrational or supernatural: for example, if it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown. It is commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events. The word superstition is often used to refer to a religion not practiced by the majority of a given society regardless of whether the prevailing religion contains alleged superstitions.

Mysticism Practice of religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness

Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them. It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.

The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate Cambodia's cultural heritage, including its religions, particularly Theravada Buddhism. [17] Over the four years of Khmer Rouge rule, at least 1.5 million Cambodians perished. Of the sixty thousand Buddhist monks that previously existed, only three thousand survived the Khmer Rouge horror. [18] [19]

Khmer Rouge followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge was the name popularly given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and by extension to the regime through which the CPK ruled in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. The name had originally been used in the 1950s by Norodom Sihanouk as a blanket term for the Cambodian left.

Notable antireligious people


Shin'ichi Hisamatsu was a philosopher, Zen Buddhist scholar, and Japanese tea ceremony master. He was a professor at Kyoto University and received an honorary doctoral degree from Harvard University.

Lucretius Roman poet and philosopher

Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is the philosophical poem De rerum natura, a didactic work about the tenets and philosophy of Epicureanism, and which is usually translated into English as On the Nature of Things. Lucretius has been credited with originating the concept of the three-age system which was formalised in 1836 by C. J. Thomsen.

Thomas Paine English and American political activist

Thomas Paine was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution and inspired the patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era ideals of transnational human rights. Historian Saul K. Padover described him as "a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination". Born in Thetford in the English county of Norfolk, Paine migrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), proportionally the all-time best-selling American title, which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–1783) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said: "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain". Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on Irish conservative writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in England in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel.


See also

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State atheism Official promotion of atheism by a government

State atheism is the incorporation of positive atheism or non-theism into political regimes. It may also refer to large-scale secularization attempts by governments. It is a form of Religion-State relationship that is usually ideologically linked to irreligion and the promotion of irreligion to some extent. State atheism may refer to a government's promotion of anti-clericalism, which opposes religious institutional power and influence in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen. In some instances, religious symbols and public practices that were once held by religion were replaced with secularized versions. State atheism can also exist in a politically neutral fashion, in which case it is considered as non-secular.

Religion in the Soviet Union religion in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was established by the Bolsheviks in 1922, in place of the Russian Empire. At the time of the 1917 Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church was deeply integrated into the autocratic state, enjoying official status. This was a significant factor that contributed to the Bolshevik attitude to religion and the steps they took to control it. Thus the USSR became the first state to have as one objective of its official ideology the elimination of existing religion, and the prevention of future implanting of religious belief, with the goal of establishing state atheism (gosateizm). Under the doctrine of state atheism in the Soviet Union, there was a "government-sponsored program of conversion to atheism" conducted by Communists. The Communist regime targeted religions based on State interests, and while most organized religions were never outlawed, religious property was confiscated, believers were harassed, and religion was ridiculed while atheism was propagated in schools. In 1925 the government founded the League of Militant Atheists to intensify the persecution. Accordingly, personal expressions of religious faith were not in any way privately banned, but a strong sense of social stigma was imposed on them by the official government structures and secular mass media and it was generally considered unacceptable for members of certain government professions to be openly religious and anti-secular.

Atheism is the absence or rejection of the belief that deities exist. The English term was used at least as early as the sixteenth century and atheistic ideas and their influence have a longer history. Over the centuries, atheists have supported their lack of belief in gods through a variety of avenues, including scientific, philosophical, and ideological notions.

League of Militant Atheists organization

The League of Militant Atheists ; Society of the Godless ; Union of the Godless, was an atheistic and antireligious organization of workers and intelligentsia that developed in Soviet Russia under the influence of the ideological and cultural views and policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1947. It consisted of party members, members of the Komsomol youth movement, those without specific political affiliation, workers and military veterans.

Criticism of atheism is criticism of the concepts, validity, or impact of atheism, including associated political and social implications. Criticisms include positions based on the history of science, findings in the natural sciences, theistic apologetic arguments, arguments pertaining to ethics and morality, the effects of atheism on the individual, or the assumptions that underpin atheism.

Persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union

Throughout the history of the Soviet Union (1917–1991), there were periods when Soviet authorities brutally suppressed and persecuted various forms of Christianity to different extents depending on State interests. Soviet Marxist-Leninist policy consistently advocated the control, suppression, and ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs, and it actively encouraged the propagation of Marxist-Leninist atheism in the Soviet Union. However, most religions were never officially outlawed.

After the October Revolution of November 7, 1917 there was a movement within the Soviet Union to unite all of the people of the world under Communist rule. This included the Eastern bloc countries as well as the Balkan States. Communism as interpreted by Vladimir Lenin and his successors in the Soviet government required the abolition of religion and to this effect the Soviet government launched a long-running campaign to eliminate religion from society. Since some of these Slavic states tied their ethnic heritage to their ethnic churches, both the peoples and their churches were targeted by the Soviets.

Marxism and religion

19th century German philosopher Karl Marx, the founder and primary theorist of Marxism, had an antithetical and complex attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as "the soul of soulless conditions", the "opium of the people" that had been useful to the ruling classes since it gave the working classes false hope for millennia. At the same time, Marx saw religion as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions and their alienation. In the Marxist–Leninist interpretation of Marxist theory, primarily developed by Georgian revolutionary and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, religion is seen as hindering human development. Due to this, a number of Marxist–Leninist governments in the 20th century, such as the Soviet Union after Vladimir Lenin and the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong, implemented rules introducing state atheism.

Religion in Estonia

Estonia, which historically was a Lutheran Protestant nation, is today one of the "least religious" countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14 per cent of the population declaring religion to be an important part of their daily life.

USSR anti-religious campaign (1921–1928)

The USSR anti-religious campaign (1921–1928) was a campaign of anti-religious persecution against churches and believers by the Soviet government following the initial anti-religious campaign during the Russian Civil War. The elimination of most religion and its replacement with deism, agnosticism and atheism supported with a materialist world view was a fundamental ideological goal of the state. To this end the state conducted anti-religious persecutions against believers that were meant to hurt and destroy religion. It was never made illegal to be a believer or to have religion, and so the activities of this campaign were often veiled under other pretexts that the state invoked or invented in order to justify its activities.

USSR anti-religious campaign (1928–1941)

The USSR anti-religious campaign of 1928–1941 was a new phase of anti-religious persecution in the Soviet Union following the anti-religious campaign of 1921–1928. The campaign began in 1929, with the drafting of new legislation that severely prohibited religious activities and called for a heightened attack on religion in order to further disseminate atheism. This had been preceded in 1928 at the fifteenth party congress, where Joseph Stalin criticized the party for failure to produce more active and persuasive anti-religious propaganda. This new phase coincided with the beginning of the forced mass collectivization of agriculture and the nationalization of the few remaining private enterprises.

USSR anti-religious campaign (1958–1964)

Nikita Khrushchev's anti-religious campaign was the last large-scale anti-religious campaign undertaken in the Soviet Union. It succeeded a comparatively tolerant period towards religion which had lasted from 1941 until the late 1950s. As a result, the church had grown in stature and membership, provoking concerns from the Soviet government. These concerns resulted in a new campaign of persecution. The aim of anti-religious campaigns was to achieve the atheist society that communism envisioned.

Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik seizure of power led to the Russian Civil War which continued until 1922. The victory of the Bolshevik Red Army enabled them to set up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Throughout the civil war various religions, secularists and anti-clericalists of the Bolsheviks played a key role in the military and social struggles which occurred during the war.

Irreligion and atheism have a long history and a large demographic constitution in France, with the advancement of atheism and the deprecation of theistic religion dating back as far as the French Revolution. In 2015, according to estimates, at least 29% of the country's population identifies as atheists and 63% identifies as non-religious.

The Polish Anti-Religious Campaign was initiated by the communist government in Poland which, under the doctrine of Marxism, actively advocated for the disenfranchisement of religion and planned atheisation. To this effect the regime conducted anti-religious propaganda and persecution of clergymen and monasteries. As in most other Communist countries, religion was not outlawed as such and was permitted by the constitution, but the state attempted to achieve an atheistic society.

Marxist–Leninist atheism The irreligious and anti-clerical element of Marxism–Leninism

In the philosophy of Marxism, Marxist–Leninist atheism is the irreligious and anti-clerical element of Marxism–Leninism, the official state ideology of the Soviet Union. Based upon a dialectical-materialist understanding of humanity's place in Nature, Marxist–Leninist atheism proposes that religion is the opium of the people, meant to promote a person's passive acceptance of his and her poverty and exploitation as the normal way of human life on Earth in the hope of a spiritual reward after death; thus, Marxism–Leninism advocates atheism, rather than religious belief.

Irreligion, atheism and agnosticism are present among Albanians, along with the predominant faiths of Islam and Christianity. The majority of Albanians lead a secular life and reject religious considerations to shape or condition their way of life.

A new and more aggressive phase of anti-religious persecution in the Soviet Union began in the mid-1970s after a more tolerant period following Nikita Khrushchev's downfall in 1964.

Antireligious campaigns in China

Antireligious campaigns in China refer to the promotion of state atheism, coupled with the persecution of the religious, in China. These anti-religious campaigns started occurring in 1949, after the Cultural Revolution, and continue today, with an emphasis on the destruction of houses of worship, such as churches.


Ateist was an antireligious monthly magazine in Russian, which was published from 1922 to 1930 in the RSFSR and the USSR.


  1. "Anti-religion". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  2. "Antireligion". Collins Dictionary. Collins Dictionary Online. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  3. Bullivant, Stephen; Lee, Lois (2016). A Dictionary of Atheism. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780191816819.
  4. Michael Burleigh Earthly Powers p 96-97 ISBN   0-00-719572-9
  5. 1 2
  6. "Soviet Union: Policy toward nationalities and religions in practice". May 1989. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  7. Timasheff, N. S. (1941). "The Church in the Soviet Union 1917 - 1941". Russian Review. 1 (1): 20–30. doi:10.2307/125428. JSTOR   125428.
  8. "Revelations from the Russian Archives: ANTI-RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGNS". Library of Congress. US Government. Retrieved 2 May 2016. The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.
  9. World Christian trends, AD 30-AD 2200, p.243 Table 4-10 By David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, Peter F. Crossing
  10. Емельянов Н.Е. Сколько репрессированных в России пострадали за Христа?
  11. (in Romanian)Martiri pentru Hristos, din România, în perioada regimului comunist, Editura Institutului Biblic și de Misiune al Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, București, 2007, pp.34–35
  12. Brezianu, Andrei (26 May 2010). The A to Z of Moldova. Scarecrow Press. p. 98. ISBN   978-0-8108-7211-0. Communist Atheism. Official doctrine of the Soviet regime, also called "scientific atheism." It was aggressively applied to Moldova, immediately after the 1940 annexation, when churches were profaned, clergy assaulted, and signs and public symbols of religion were prohibited, and it was applied again throughout the subsequent decades of the Soviet regime, after 1944. ... churches were either pulled down or turned into facilities designed to serve secular or even profane purposes ... the Transfiguration Cathedral (previously dedicated to St. Constantine and Helena) housed the city's planetarium.
  13. 1 2
  14. World Christian trends, AD 30-AD 2200, p.230-246 Tables 4-10 By David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, Peter F. Crossing
  15. Leustean, Lucian (2009). Orthodoxy and the Cold War: Religion and Political Power in Romania, 1947-65. la University of Michigan. pp. 92–93. ISBN   978-3447058742. One of the main aims of the regime was to transform Romania into a communist atheist society in which religion was considered the ideology of the bourgeoise. Thus in 1949, the Society for the Popularisation of Science and Culture was established. The main objective of this anti-religious society was 'to propagate among the labouring masses political and scientific knowledge to fight obscurantism, superstition, mysticism, and all other influences of bourgeois ideologies'. ...the regime's anti-religious campaign aimed to discredit the church and to reduce the influence of religion in society.
  16. January 23, 1999, issue of the London Tablet by Jonathen Luxmoore, Published by Chesterton Review Feb/May 1999
  17. Philip Shenon, Phnom Penh Journal; Lord Buddha Returns, With Artists His Soldiers The New York Times - January 2, 1992
  18. Khmer Rouge: Christian baptism after massacres Archived January 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  19. "CRIMES OF WAR". Archived from the original on 2016-07-16. Retrieved 2015-07-09.
  20. Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right . Collected Works, v. 3. New York.
  21. "Dewey felt that science alone contributed to 'human good,' which he defined exclusively in naturalistic terms. He rejected religion and metaphysics as valid supports for moral and social values, and felt that success of the scientific method presupposed the destruction of old knowledge before the new could be created. ... (Dewey, 1929, pp. 95, 145) "William Adrian,
  22. "I think all the great religions of the world  Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism  both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. ... I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue." Bertrand Russell in "My Religious Reminiscences" (1957), reprinted in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell Archived 2008-12-05 at the Wayback Machine
  23. Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful! The Guardian, 2001-10-11
  24. Grimes, William (16 December 2011). "Christopher Hitchens, Polemicist Who Slashed All, Freely, Dies at 62". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  25. "[T]he Bible, contrary to what a majority of Americans apparently believe, is far from a source of higher moral values. Religions have given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers, gay-bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen, and mothers who drown their sons so they can happily be united in heaven." The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion, presentation by Steven Pinker to the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, October 29, 2004, on receipt of “The Emperor’s New Clothes Award.”
  26. "Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about the 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, V. I. "About the attitude of the working party toward the religion". Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2006-09-09.
  28. Grossman, J. D. (1973). "Khrushchev's Anti-Religious Policy and the Campaign of 1954". Soviet Studies. 24 (3): 374–386. doi:10.1080/09668137308410870. JSTOR   150643.
  29. "I'm anti-religious ... It's all a big lie ... I have such a huge dislike [of] the miserable record of religion." The Guardian, 2005-12-14 " The Guardian.