Nothing New Under the Sun

The 1960’s saw another wave of anti-religious propaganda under Khrushchev. The attack on religion by the communist party had a couple different tactics. The first was legislation that transferred the leadership of a local parish from a priest to a council of lay people. This allowed atheist communists to gain seats on the councils and obstruct parish life. In the years following this change in policy, half of all seminaries were closed, and over half of all parishes were dissolved. The Russian Orthodox faith rests almost entirely on religious rituals and practices, so breaking up parishes was devastating to many.

Soviet anti-religious propaganda

“If somebody asks me, say: there is no God.”

The above piece of atheist  propaganda stresses the argument that God does not exist because He would interact with us. The atheists are taunting Christians by implying that if God exists, He must not care for us. In the early 1960’s, the Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge was brought back in an attempt to influence the youth that God did not exist by providing ‘scientific’ evidence. The propaganda is filled with passionate, straw man attacks on religion and clerics.

“The world of religion confronted me as a unitary process of the development of superstitions and spurious concepts, the mirroring of mundane relations in the empty heavens, where there is no place for any higher spiritual powers.” – Aleksandr Osipov

A powerful form of persuasion is the use of a testimony. A letter titled A Rejection of Religion Is the Only True Path is a personal account of an Orthodox cleric turned atheist. The author, Aleksandr Osipov, tells his own story of how he first became excited to study religion and be a part of it, but was easily disenchanted by hypocrisy within the Church and a disbelief of the efficacy of rituals. One of Osipov’s main objections to the Orthodox faith is the lack of adherence of clerics around him to the tenants of the faith. He despised what he saw as narrow-minded, backward, and hypocritical clerics and beliefs. He also viewed the Old Testament as a nonsensical collection of myths that hearkened back to a barbaric time and had nothing to do with a loving God the Christians were talking about. When Osipov continued to encounter stubborn clerics against even science, he firmly resolved to be an atheist and leave his career in the Church. His letter was published in a newspaper, and provides a passionate, sensationalized account of his relations with the Church. He focuses solely on negative experiences and offers no sound philosophical arguments against Christianity. His argument rests on the weakness of men who could not hold themselves up to the high standards of Christianity. Much of the communist propaganda seized on the opportunity to attack Orthodox hypocrisy because people responded to it.

Aleksandr Osipov, Letter to the Editor: A Rejection of Religion Is the Only True Path. December 6, 1959. Current Digest of the Soviet Press. Vol. XI, No. 4 (1959), pp. 12-14.

“Fight Against Superstition”. James von Geldern. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/fight-against-superstition/

Cover of Krokodil, No. 7, 1968. “Fighting Pencil” Group: Red Tape from Red Square, 1998. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/fight-against-superstition/fight-against-superstition-images/#bwg155/833

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4 thoughts on “Nothing New Under the Sun

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post, and I loved the anti-religious propaganda you chose to display. As Americans, we think of the 1960s as a wave of change, of acceptance and of an entire new generation of thinking, which was also somewhat true in Russia but to different extents. Khrushchev’s views on religion only solidified that the scientific aspect of the brain was important – which makes sense in leu of citizens being controlled by communism, something that does not necessarily align with Christianity. Great post!

  2. I liked your post. The Bolsheviks definitely persecuted religious people and organizations throughout their reign. Very interesting in how the Soviets used a multitude of tactics to push Russians away from the Orthodox Church, especially the plan that used a former ranking member of the church to argue that the teachings were lies. Also that poster is pretty humorous, I would be very surprised if posters in that style had any impact other than mocking religious people.

  3. It is interesting to see some parallels between the U.S. and the USSR in the 1960s. For both powers, the 60s was a tumultuous decade for religion. For the USSR, it was less of a cultural statement and more of a issue of control with regards to the government. It is interesting how Khrushchev viewed the Bible as nothing more than a collection of myths and how this, in his mind, ultimately took away from the logic and scientific reasoning needed to drive the industrial machine of the USSR forward. Great post on an interesting topic.

  4. This post illustrates how anti-religious campaigns shifted from direct repression, as had been the case under Stalin, to more subtle forms of persuasion and propaganda, including the use of former priests to denounce their ideology. At the same time, as the poster shows, the Soviet regime used crude humor to mock the faithful, thus deploying another type of persuasive tool.

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