State Atheism

1819 Caricature by English caricaturist George Cruikshank. Titled “The Radical’s Arms”, it depicts the infamous guillotine. “No God! No Religion! No King! No Constitution!” is written in the republican banner.

State atheism is the official “promotion of atheism” by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice.[1] In contrast, a secular state purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion.[2] Atheism is either the lack of belief in a deity or the belief that none exist,[3] and forms a binary pair with theism,[4] which is the belief that at least one deity exists.[5][6] Atheists have offered various rationales for not believing in any deity, but there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[7] Furthermore, atheism figures in to certain religious and spiritual belief systems, such as Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Neo-pagan movements[8] such as Wicca.[9]

State atheism may refer to a government’s anti-clericalism, which opposes religious institutional power and influence, real or alleged, in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen.[10] State promotion of atheism as a public norm was first practised during a brief period in Revolutionary France. Since then, such a policy was repeated only in Revolutionary Mexico and some communist states. The Soviet Union had a long history of state atheism,[11] in which social success largely required individuals to profess atheism, stay away from churches and even vandalize them; this attitude was especially militant during the middle Stalinist era from 1929-1939.[12][13][14] The Soviet Union attempted to suppress religion over wide areas of its influence, including places such as central Asia.[15] The Socialist People’s Republic of Albania under Enver Hoxha went so far as to officially ban the practice of every religion.[16]

French Revolution

During the French Revolution a society delved into the prospect of an atheist state.[17] After the Revolution, Jacques Hébert, a radical revolutionary journalist, and Anacharsis Cloots, a politician, both anticlerical and atheist, had successfully campaigned for the proclamation of the atheistic [18] Cult of Reason, which was adopted by the French Republic on November 10, 1793, though abandoned May 7, 1794 in favor of its deistic replacement as the state religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being.[19]

Cloots maintained that “Reason” and “Truth” were “supremely intolerant” and that the daylight of atheism would make the lesser lights of religious night disappear.[19] The state then further pushed its campaign of dechristianization,[20] which included removal and destruction of religious objects from places of worship and the transformation of churches into “Temples of the Goddess of Reason”, culminating in a celebration of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral.[21][22][23]

Counterrevolution against the persecution rooted in the anticlerical aspects of the Revolution led to a war in the Vendée region where republicans suppressed the Catholic and royalist uprising in what some call the first modern genocide.[17][24]

Unlike later establishments of anti-theism by “communist” regimes, the French Revolutionary experiment was short (7 months), incomplete and inconsistent.[20] Although brief, the French experiment was particularly notable for the influence upon atheists Ludwig Feuerbach (who called religion an opiate before Marx[25]), Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.[17] Using the ideas of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, “communist” regimes later treated religious believers as subversives or abnormal, sometimes relegated to psychiatric hospitals and reeducation.[17]

Mexico under Plutarco Elías Calles

Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 of the The Mexican Constitution of 1917 as originally enacted were anticlerical and enormously restricted religious freedoms.[26] At first the anticlerical provisions were only sporadically enforced, but when President Plutarco Elías Calles took office, he enforced the provisions strictly.[26] Calles’ Mexico has been characterized as an atheist state[27][28] and his program as being one to eradicate religion in Mexico.[29]

All religions had their properties appropriated, and these became part of government wealth. There was a forced expulsion of foreign clergy and the seizure of Church properties.[30] Article 27 prohibited any future acquisition of such property by the churches, and prohibited religious corporations and ministers from establishing or directing primary schools.[30] This second prohibition was interpreted to mean that the Church could not give religious instruction to children within the churches on Sundays, seen as destroying the ability of Catholics to be educated in their own religion.

The Constitution of 1917 also closed and forbade the existence of monastic orders (article 5), forbade any religious activity outside of church buildings (now owned by the government), and mandated that such religious activity would be overseen by the government (article 24).[30]

Cristeros hanged in Jalisco.

On June 14, 1926, President Calles enacted an anticlerical legislation known formally as The Law Reforming the Penal Code and unofficially as the Calles Law.[31] His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to trial by jury (in cases involving anti-clerical laws) and the right to vote.[31][32] Catholic antipathy towards Calles was enhanced because of his vocal atheism.[33] He was also a Freemason.[34] Regarding this period, recent President Vicente Fox stated, “After 1917, Mexico was led by anti-Catholic Freemasons who tried to evoke the anticlerical spirit of popular indigenous President Benito Juárez of the 1880s. But the military dictators of the 1920s were a more savage lot than Juarez.” [35]

Due to the strict enforcement of anti-clerical laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him, and this opposition led to the Cristero War from 1926 to 1929, which was characterized by brutal atrocities by both sides. Some Cristeros applied terrorist tactics, while the Mexican government persecuted the clergy, killing suspected Cristeros and supporters and often retaliating against innocent individuals.[36] On May 28, 1926, Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico’s Scottish rite of Freemasonry for his actions against the Catholics.[37]

A truce was negotiated with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow.[38] Calles, however, did not abide by the terms of the truce – in violation of its terms, he had approximately 500 Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their spouses and children.[38] Particularly offensive to Catholics after the supposed truce was Calles’ insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing “socialist” education in its place: “We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.”.[39] The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a believing Catholic, took office.[39] This attempt to indoctrinate the youth in atheism was begun in 1934 by amending Article 3 to the Mexican Constitution to eradicate religion by mandating “socialist education”, which “in addition to removing all religious doctrine” would “combat fanaticism and prejudices”, “build[ing] in the youth a rational and exact concept of the universe and of social life”.[26] In 1946 this “socialist education” was removed from the constitution and the document returned to the less egregious generalized secular education. The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed.[39] Where there were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion, and assassination.[39][40] By 1935, 17 states had no priest at all.[41]

Religion in communist states

The founder and primary theorist of Marxism, the nineteenth century German sociologist Karl Marx, had an ambivalent attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as “the opiate of the masses” that had been used by the ruling classes to give the working classes false hope for millennia, whilst at the same time recognizing it as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions.[42] In the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of Marxist theory, developed primarily by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, religion is seen as negative to human development, and socialist states that follow a Marxist-Leninist variant are atheistic and explicitly antireligious.[43] However, several religious communist groups exist, and Christian communism was important in the early development of communism.

People’s Socialist Republic of Albania

State atheism in Albania was taken to an extreme during the totalitarian regime installed after World War II, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether.[44]

The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized most property of religious institutions, including the estates of monasteries, orders, and dioceses. Many clergy and believers were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns were expelled in 1946.[45]

Religious communities or branches that had their headquarters outside the country, such as the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were henceforth ordered to terminate their activities in Albania. Religious institutions were forbidden to have anything to do with the education of the young, because that had been made the exclusive province of the state. All religious communities were prohibited from owning real estate and from operating philanthropic and welfare institutions and hospitals. Although there were tactical variations in Hoxha’s approach to each of the major denominations, his overarching objective was the eventual destruction of all organized religion in Albania. Between 1945 and 1953, the number of priests was reduced drastically and the number of Roman Catholic churches was decreased from 253 to 100, and all Catholics were stigmatized as fascists.[45]

The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Beginning in 1967 the Albanian authorities began a violent campaign to try to eliminate religious life in Albania. Despite complaints, even by APL members, all churches, mosques, monasteries, and other religious institutions were either closed down or converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, or workshops by the end of 1967.[46] By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. As the literary monthly Nendori reported the event, the youth had thus “created the first atheist nation in the world.”[45]

The clergy were publicly vilified and humiliated, their vestments taken and desecrated. More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or starved to death. The cloister of the Franciscan order in Shkodër was set on fire, which resulted in the death of four elderly monks.[45]

Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, “The State recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.”,[47] and the penal code of 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for “religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature.” A new decree that in effect targeted Albanians with Muslim and Christian names stipulated that citizens whose names did not conform to “the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state” were to change them. It was also decreed that towns and villages with religious names must be renamed. Hoxha’s brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with Bibles, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences. Religious weddings were prohibited.[48]

Parents were afraid to pass on their faith, for fear that their children would tell others. Officials tried to entrap practicing Christians and Muslims during religious fasts, such as Lent and Ramadan, by distributing dairy products and other forbidden foods in school and at work, and then publicly denouncing those who refused the food, and clergy who conducted secret services were incarcerated.[45] Catholic priest Shtjefen Kurti had been executed for secretly baptizing a child in Shkodër in 1972.[49]

The article was interpreted by Danes as violating The United Nations Charter (chapter 9, article 55) which declares that religious freedom is an inalienable human right. The first time that the question came before the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights at Geneva was as late as 7 March 1983. A delegation from Denmark got its protest over Albania’s violation of religious liberty placed on the agenda of the thirty-ninth meeting of the commission, item 25, reading, “Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.”, and on 20 July 1984 a member of the Danish Parliament inserted an article in one of Denmark’s major newspapers protesting the violation of religious freedom in Albania.


When communists seized power in former Czechoslovakia in February 1948, part of their agenda was also a fight against “dangerous ideological enemy that holds enormous influence on the masses” what was a reference made to Christianity.[50] Thus, the monasteries had been seized by state security service (StB) during three so called “barbaric nights” in 1950. In total, 3142 people were displaced by force into concentrating monasteries. These were in case of male members of orders virtually turned into prison camps or labor camps secured with guards and strict regime aiming the “political re-education” of monks. The 213 monastery buildings and facilities were confiscated by state and content of many ancient precious libraries that survived even Turko-Tatar attacks in the middle ages was scrapped and used for cardboard production.”[51]

In 1957 ŠtB arrested university students in eastern Slovakia town Košice who held Bible study meetings. The consequent investigations lead to further arrests of Christians and lawsuit in 1959 with non-public hearing and coverage by state-controlled media. Newspapers brought up the case under titles „Poison in gold-foil“, „Sects are eradicating the thinking of youth“ and „Report on trial with blue crusaders“ (Blue Cross was Christian abstinent association fighting alcoholism). The arrested members of the Blue Cross were found „guilty“ of „spreading hostile Christian ideology“ that is „contradicting scientific Marxist ideology“. They were sentenced pursuant to paragraph on subversion of republic. At the same time their personal correspondence, typing machines and Christian literature was confiscated, mainly the one written by national author Kristína Royová,[52] regarded by some authors for “Slovak Kierkegaard“.[53]

The Soviet Union

A.L. Eliseev writes that a meeting of the antireligious commission of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) took place on 23 May 1929 under the Chairmanship of E. Laroslavskii. The commission estimated the portion of believers in the country at 80 percent, though it cannot be ruled out that this percentage was somewhat understated to prove the successfulness of the struggle with religion.[54]

USSR. 1922 issue of the Bezbozhnik (The Godless) magazine. By 1934, 28% of Christian Orthodox churches, 42% of Muslim mosques and 52% of Jewish synagogues were shut down in the USSR.[55]

State atheism in the Soviet Union was known as “gosateizm”,[56] and was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. As the founder of the Soviet state V. I. Lenin put it:

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about 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.[57]

Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religion. Within about a year of the revolution the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution).[58]

From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, such organizations as the League of the Militant Godless ridiculed all religions and harassed believers. Anti-religious and atheistic propaganda was implemented into every portion of soviet life, in schools, communist organizations (such as the Young Pioneer Organization), and the media. Though Lenin originally introduced the Gregorian calendar to the Soviets subsequent efforts to reorganize the week for the purposes of improving worker productivity with the introduction of the Soviet revolutionary calendar had a side-effect that a “holiday will seldom fall on Sunday” [59]

Although all religions were persecuted,[58] the regime’s efforts to eradicate religion, however, varied over the years with respect to particular religions, and were affected by higher state interests. Official policies and practices not only varied with time but also in their application from one nationality and one religion to another. Although all Soviet leaders had the same long-range goal of developing a cohesive Soviet people, they pursued different policies to achieve it. For the Soviet regime, the questions of nationality and religion were always closely linked. Not surprisingly, therefore, the attitude toward religion also varied from a total ban on some religions to official support of others.

Most seminaries were closed, publication of religious writing was banned.[58] The Russian Orthodox Church, which had 54,000 parishes before World War I, was reduced to 500 by 1940.[58] Today, approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, amounting to 70% of population, although the Church claims a membership of 80 million[60][61] although according to the CIA Factbook, only 17% to 22% of the population is now Christian.[62]

The People’s Republic of China

Between 1900–1950, 90 percent of the population occasionally resorted to Buddhist rites or temples and 99 percent were affected by Buddhist contributions to Chinese thought and behavior[63] The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 and since then the government has been officially atheist.[64][65] For much of its early history maintained a hostile attitude toward religion which was seen as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism. Houses of worship, including temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use.

In the early years of the People’s Republic, religious belief or practice was often discouraged because it was regarded by the government as backward and superstitious and because some Communist leaders, ranging from Vladimir Lenin to Mao Zedong, had been critical of religious institutions. During the Cultural Revolution, religion was condemned as feudalistic and thousands of religious buildings were looted and destroyed.

This attitude, however, relaxed considerably in the late 1970s, with the end of the Cultural Revolution. The 1978 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guaranteed “freedom of religion” with a number of restrictions. Since the mid-1990s there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

The Communist Party has said that religious belief and membership are incompatible. Party membership is a necessity for many high level careers and posts. That along with other official hostility makes statistical reporting on religious membership difficult. There are five recognized religions by the state: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholic Christianity, and Protestant Christianity.[66]

Most people report no organized religious affiliation; however, people with a belief in folk traditions and spiritual beliefs, such as ancestor veneration and feng shui, along with informal ties to local temples and unofficial house churches number in the hundreds of millions. The United States Department of State, in its annual report on International Religious Freedom,[67] provides statistics about organized religions. In 2007 it reported the following (citing the Government’s 1997 report on Religious Freedom and 2005 White Paper on religion):[68]

·         Buddhists 8%.

·         Taoists, unknown as a percentage partly because it is fused along with Confucianism and Buddhism.

·         Muslims, 1.5%, with more than 45,000 Imams. Other estimates state at least 2%.

·         Christians, Protestants at least 2%. Catholics, about 1.5%. Total Christians according to 2008 different polls: 4%.

Statistics relating to Buddhism and religious Taoism are to some degree incomparable with statistics for Islam and Christianity. This is due to the traditional Chinese belief system which blends Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, so that a person who follows a traditional belief system would not necessarily identify him- or herself as exclusively Buddhist or Taoist, despite attending Buddhist or Taoist places of worship. According to Peter Ng, Professor of the Department of Religion at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as of 2002, 95% of Chinese were religious in some way if religion is considered to include traditional folk practices such as burning incense for gods or ancestors at life-cycle or seasonal festivals, fortune telling and related customary practices.[69][70]

Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge

Though the constitution of Democratic Kampuchea guaranteed the right to worship according to any religion and the right not to worship according to any religion, it also provided that “Reactionary religions which are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and Kampuchean people are absolutely forbidden.”[71] Religious people were killed in the killing fields, as the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, suppressed Cambodia‘s Buddhists: monks were defrocked; temples and artifacts, including statues of Buddha, were destroyed; and people praying or expressing other religious sentiments were often killed. The Christian and Muslim communities were among the most persecuted, as well. The Roman Catholic cathedral of Phnom Penh was razed. The Khmer Rouge forced Muslims to eat pork, which they regard as an abomination. Many of those who refused were killed. Christian clergy and Muslim imams were executed.[72]

Mongolian People’s Republic

In 1936, and especially after Japanese encroachments had given the Soviets enough reason to deploy Soviet troops in Mongolia in 1937, a whole-scale attack on the Buddhist faith began. At the same time, Soviet-style purges took place in the Communist Party and in the Mongolian army. Mongolia’s leader at that time was Khorloogiin Choibalsan, a follower of Joseph Stalin who emulated many of the policies Stalin had implemented in the Soviet Union. The purges led to the almost complete eradication of Lamaism in the country, and cost an estimated 30,000–35,000 lives.


Originally more tolerant of religion, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuba began arresting many believers and shutting down religious schools, its prisons since the 1960s being filled with clergy.[73] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has amended its statutes to declare itself a “secular state” rather than atheistic.

In 1961 The Cuban government confiscated the Catholic schools, including the Jesuit school Fidel Castro had attended. In 1965 it exiled two hundred priests.[74]

Pope John Paul II visited Cuba January 21–25, 1998, the first time a pope had visited Cuba and the first time since the Communist Revolution of 1959 that a papal visit was welcome.[75] The main reason for the visit was not to call the Communist government to task, but to carry out a pastoral visit to the Catholic community and to deliver a message of evangelization.[76] In his farewell statement to the pope at the airport Fidel Castro thanked the pope for visiting the “last bastion of Communism.”[74]

In 2009, when welcoming Cuba’s new ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Catholic Church had been trying to help suffering Cubans and, thanks to a new government willingness to cooperate, it was able to take part in emergency relief and reconstruction efforts after hurricanes struck the island in 2008. The pope went on to say, “I hope concrete signs of openness to the exercise of religious freedom continue to multiply as they have in recent years,”. In particular, he asked for “the opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass in some prisons, to conduct religious processions, for the repair and return of some churches and the construction of houses for religious, (and) the possibility that priests and religious could receive social security. In this way, the Catholic community could more freely exercise its specific pastoral task.”[77]

North Korea

North Korea‘s government exercises virtual total control over society and imposes state sanctioned atheism, the cult of personality of Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung, described as a political religion.[78] Although the North Korean constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted,[79] free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.[80][81] Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk has said that, “There’s no knowledge of priests surviving persecution that came in the late forties, when 166 priests and religious were killed or kidnapped.” which includes the Roman Catholic bishop of Pyongyang, Francis Hong Yong-ho.[82]


The process of secularization in Poland began with Józef Klemens Piłsudski, the de facto dictator of Poland after the May 1926 coup d’état, and his Socialist Party before World War II. During Piłsudski’s reign, the Polish military had many fewer priests, rabbis, and imams per 100,000 soldiers than other European countries, though Piłsudski did not stand against religion as did the Polish Communists who took over Poland in 1956 and continued to rule it with a minimal amount of plurality (there were also a communist farmers’ party and social-democratic Intelligencia party) until 1989. When even the Jehovah Witnesses became readily tolerated[contradiction] by the communist government of Poland, a Pole in uniform could not attend services in open. The vast majority of the Polish police officers, the professional military, and even some members of the Communist Party of Poland (PZPR) were attending services incognito, as well as getting rites, such as baptism or communion, in secret. This secret religiosity continued until the 1980s.

State Atheism Today

While many countries no longer follow state atheism, communist governments in China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and Cuba, despite some economic liberalization, continued to persecute the religious.[73] In addition to overt persecution, these states also sought to control religion by forcing upon the people state-sanctioned churches, essentially attempting to make the churches tools of the state.[73]


Author Niels Christian Nielsen has written that the post-Soviet population in areas which were formerly predominantly Orthodox are now “nearly illiterate regarding religion”, almost completely lacking the intellectual or philosophical aspects of their faith and having almost no knowledge of other faiths.[83] Nonetheless, their knowledge of their faith and the faith of others notwithstanding, many post-Soviet populations have a large presence of religious followers. In Russia, the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report published by the US Department of State said that approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians.[84]

According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 63% of respondents considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslim and less than 1% considered themselves either Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Another 12% said they believe in God, but did not practice any religion, and 16% said they are non-believers.[85] In Ukraine, 96.1% of the Ukrainian population is Christian.[86] In Lithuania, a 2005 report stated that 79% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.[87]

Most Poles—approximately 88.4% in 2007, are members of the Roman Catholic Church.[88] According to the CIA World Factbook and the U.S. Department of State, 60% of Mongolia’s population are religious.[89][90] Likewise, despite the Soviet Union’s attempts to eliminate religion,[91][92][93] other former USSR and anti-religious nations, such as Armenia,[94] Kazakhstan,[95] Uzbekistan,[96] Turkmenistan,[97] Kyrgyzstan,[98] Tajikistan,[99] Belarus,[100][101] Moldova,[102] Mexico,[103] Albania,[104] and Georgia[105] have high religious populations.[106]


1.       ^ Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences, David Kowalewski, Russian Review, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 426–441, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review

2.       ^ Madeley, John T. S. and Zsolt Enyedi, Church and state in contemporary Europe: the chimera of neutrality, p. , 2003 Routledge

3.       ^‘s short article on Definitions of the term “Atheism” suggests that there is no consensus on the definition of the term. Simon Blackburn summarizes the situation in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: “Atheism. Either the lack of belief in a god, or the belief that there is none”. Most dictionaries first list one of the more narrow definitions. * Runes, Dagobert D.(editor) (1942 edition). Dictionary of Philosophy. New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams & Co. Philosophical Library. ISBN 0-06-463461-2. Retrieved 2011-04-09. “(a) the belief that there is no God; (b) Some philosophers have been called “atheistic” because they have not held to a belief in a personal God. Atheism in this sense means “not theistic”. The former meaning of the term is a literal rendering. The latter meaning is a less rigorous use of the term though widely current in the history of thought” – entry by Vergilius Ferm

4.       ^ Grace Jantzen (1999). Becoming divine: toward a feminist philosophy of religion. Indiana University Press. pp. 64–72. ISBN 978-0-253-21297-9.

5.       ^ Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). 1989. “Belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism”

6.       ^ “Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary”. Retrieved 2011-04-09. “belief in the existence of a god or gods”

7.       ^ Baggini 2003, pp. 3–4

8.       ^ Carol S. Matthews (19 October 2009). A New Vision A New Heart A Renewed Call – Volume Two. William Carey Library. “Although Neo-Pagans share common commitments to nature and spirit there is a diversity of beliefs and practices. Some are atheists, others are polytheists (several gods exists), some are pantheists (all is God) and others are panentheists (all is in God).”

9.       ^ Carol S. Matthews (19 October 2009). New Religions. Chelsea House Publishers. “There is no universal worldview that all Neo-Pagans/Wiccans hold. One online information source indicates that depending on how the term God is defined, Neo-Pagans might be classified as monotheists, duotheists (two gods), polytheists, pantheists, or atheists.”

10.    ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Anticlericalism (2007 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

11.    ^ Greeley (2003).

12.    ^ Pospielovsky (1998):257.

13.    ^ Miner (2003):70.

14.    ^ Davies (1996):962.

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19.    ^ a b McGrath (2006).

20.    ^ a b McGrath (2006):45.

21.    ^ Latreille, A. FRENCH REVOLUTION, New Catholic Encyclopedia v. 5, pp. 972–973 (Second Ed. 2002 Thompson/Gale) ISBN 0-7876-4004-2

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23.    ^ Tallet (1991):1

24.    ^ Jonassohn, Bjeornson:208.

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26.    ^ a b c Soberanes Fernandez, Jose Luis, Mexico and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, pp. 437-438 nn. 7-8, BYU Law Review, June 2002

27.    ^ Haas, Ernst B., Nationalism, Liberalism, and Progress: The dismal fate of new nations, Cornell Univ. Press 2000

28.    ^ Chadwick, Owen, A History of Christianity, p. 265, Macmillan, 1998

29.    ^ Cronon, E. David “American Catholics and Mexican Anticlericalism, 1933-1936,” ,pp. 205-208, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLV, Sept. 1948

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31.    ^ a b Joes, Anthony James Resisting Rebellion: The History And Politics of Counterinsurgency p. 70, (2006 University Press of Kentucky) ISBN 0-8131-9170-X

32.    ^ Tuck, Jim THE CRISTERO REBELLION – PART 1 Mexico Connect 1996

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41.    ^ Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People p.393 (1993 W. W. Norton & Company) ISBN 0-393-31066-3

42.    ^ Raines, John. 2002. “Introduction”. Marx on Religion (Marx, Karl). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Page 05-06.

43.    ^ Lenin, V. I.. “About the attitude of the working party toward the religion.”. Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Retrieved 2006-09-09.

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48.    ^ Albania – Social Structure under Communist Rule

49.    ^ Sinishta, G., 1976. The Fulfilled Promise: A Documentary Account of Religious Persecution in Albania. Albanian Catholic Information Center, Santa Clara.

50.    ^ NMI (2011). “Likvidácia kláštorov v komunistickom Československu – Barbarská noc (“Eradication of monasteries in communist Czechoslovakia – Barbaric night”)”. Nation’s Memory Institute.

51.    ^ NMI (2011). “Likvidácia kláštorov v komunistickom Československu – Barbarská noc, výpovede svedkov (“Eradication of monasteries in communist Czechoslovakia – Barbaric night, reports of witnesses”)”. Nation’s Memory Institute.

52.    ^ Slavka, M. et al. (1994). Naše korene. Bratislava: Nádej. pp. 187. ISBN 80-7120-029-8. “In 1957 StB arrested Miloš Rataj, undergraduate student in Košice. He was a son of teacher and poet Ján Rataj. Miloš Rataj together with his fellow students held private Bible Study and prayer meetings at the hostel belonging to university campus. Somebody reported their activities to authorities what triggered investigations and later leaded to a lawsuit. In the newspaper „Východoslovenské Noviny“ there were consequently published articles „Poison in gold-foil“ (No.41 in 1959), „Sects are eradicating the thinking of youth“ and „Report on trial with blue crusaders“. It was just a preparation for more thorough trial at court in Bratislava, where prior to that trial further church members had been arrested, namely Ing. O. Lupták, Ing. Vl. Matej, J. Rosa and J. Hollý from Stará Turá. The hearings during the trial were behind the closed doors excluding the public (sep 1959). The main guilt of accused was that they as members of blue cross „spread hostile Christian ideology“ that is „contradicting scientific Marxist ideology“. They were sentenced pursuant to paragraph on subversion of republic. At the same time their personal correspondence, typing machines and Christian literature was confiscated, mainly the one written by national author Kristína Royová.”

53.    ^ Trúsik, Pavol (2/2011). “Kristína Royová – slovenský Kierkegaard? (Kristína Royová – Slovak Kierkegaard?)”. Ostium, Internet journal for humanitarian science. Retrieved 2011-08-19. “We can conclude that (Kristína) Royová was sort of Slovak version of Kierkegaard.”

54.    ^ Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer (2009). Religion and Politics in Russia: A Reader. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-7656-2415-4.

55.    ^ Religions attacked in the USSR (Beyond the Pale)

56.    ^ Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences‘, JSTOR.

57.    ^ Lenin, V. I.. “About the attitude of the working party toward the religion.”. Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Retrieved 2006-09-09.

58.    ^ a b c d Country Studies: Russia-The Russian Orthodox Church U.S. Library of Congress, Accessed Apr. 3, 2008

59.    ^ “Staggerers Unstaggered”. Time magazine. December 7, 1931.,9171,930406,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-02.

60.    ^ Page, Jeremy (2005-08-05). “The rise of Russian Muslims worries Orthodox Church”. The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-24.

61.    ^ Russia

62.    ^ Cole, Ethan Gorbachev Dispels ‘Closet Christian’ Rumors; Says He is Atheist Christian Post Reporter, Mar. 24, 2008

63.    ^ The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900–1950 – Page 393

64.    ^ Xie, Zhibin, Religious diversity and public religion in China, p.145, Ashgate Publishing 2006

65.    ^ Tyler, Christian Wild West China, p. 259, Rutgers Univ. Press 2004

66.    ^ “White Paper—Freedom of Religious Belief in China”. Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. October 1997. Retrieved 2007-09-05.

67.    ^ “Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom”. U.S.Department of State. Retrieved 2007-10-02.

68.    ^ “International Religious Freedom Report 2007 — China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)”. U.S.Department of State. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-02.

69.    ^ Madsen, Richard. “Chapter 10. Chinese Christianity: Indigenization and conflict”. In Elizabeth J. Perry, Mark Selden. Chinese society: change, conflict and resistance. Routledge. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-415-56073-3.

70.    ^ Peter Tze Ming Ng, “Religious Situations in China Today: Secularization Theory Revisited” Paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion Meetings, Chicago, August 14–16, 2002.

71.    ^ Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979),

72.    ^ Cambodia – Society under the Angkar

73.    ^ a b c Hertzke (2006):43

74.    ^ a b William F. Buckley Jr., Cuba libre?, November 21, 2005, National review.

75.    ^ Pope John Paul II Visits Cuba, January 25, 1998,

76.    ^ Jack Wintz, The Pope in Cuba: A Call for Freedom,

77.    ^ Cindy Wooden, Pope urges greater religious freedom in Cuba, criticizes U.S. embargo, December 10, 2009, Catholic News Service.

78.    ^ Hertzke (2006):44

79.    ^ DPRK’s Socialist Constitution (Full Text)

80.    ^ Essential Background: Overview of human rights issues in Human Rights in North Korea (DPRK: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) (Human Rights Watch, 8-7-2004)

81.    ^ CIA – The World Factbook

82.    ^ 30Giorni | Korea, for a reconciliation between North and South (Interview with Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk by Gianni Cardinale)

83.    ^ Nielsen, Niels Christian, Jr., Christianity After Communism, p. 77-78, Westview Press 1998

84.    ^ “Russia”. Retrieved 2008-04-08.

85.    ^ (Russian) Опубликована подробная сравнительная статистика религиозности в России и Польше”. 6 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-27.

86.    ^ NationMaster – Ukrainian Religion statistics

87.    ^ Department of Statistics to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. “Population by Religious Confession, census”. Archived from the original on 2006-10-01. . Updated in 2005.

88.    ^ “Maly Rocznik Statystyczny Polski 2009” (in (Polish)) (PDF). Retrieved 2009-09-26.

89.    ^ CIA Factbook – Mongolia

90.    ^ “Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs – Mongolia”. 2010-02-28. Retrieved 2010-05-02.

91.    ^

92.    ^ Sabrina Petra Ramet, Ed., Religious Policy in the Soviet Union. Cambridge University Press (1993). P 4

93.    ^ John Anderson, Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp 3

94.    ^ “The Armenian Apostolic Church (World Council of Churches)”.

95.    ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2009 – Kazakhstan U.S. Department of State. 2009-10-26. Retrieved on 2009-11-05.

96.    ^ “Uzbekistan”. 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2010-05-02.

97.    ^ CIA – The World Factbook

98.    ^ “Kyrgyzstan”. Retrieved 2010-04-17.

99.    ^ “Background Note: Tajikistan”. Retrieved 2009-10-02.

100.^ NationMaster – Belarusian Religion statistics

101.^ CIA – The World Factbook

102.^ NationMaster – Moldovan Religion statistics

103.^ “Religión” (PDF). Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda 2000. INEGI. 2000. Retrieved 2 August 2009.

104.^ CIA World Factbvook : Albania, reporting Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%, but noting, “percentages are estimates; there are no available current statistics on religious affiliation; all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice”

105.^ NationMaster – Georgian Religion statistics

106.^ Miller, Tracy, ed. (October 2009). “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population” (PDF). Pew Research Center. Retrieved 8 October 2009. [dead link]

New Atheism

New Atheism is the name given to the ideas promoted by a collection of 21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”[1] The series of popular books associated with New Atheism argue that recent scientific advancements demand a less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition, and religious fanaticism than had traditionally been extended by many secularists. Continue reading “New Atheism”

Marxism and Religion

The founder and primary theorist of Marxism, the nineteenth century German sociologist Karl Marx, had an ambivalent attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as “the opium of the people” that had been used by the ruling classes to give the working classes false hope for millennia, while at the same time recognizing it as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions.[1]

In the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of Marxist theory, developed primarily by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, religion is seen as negative to human development, and socialist states that follow a Marxist-Leninist variant are atheistic and explicitly antireligious. Due to this, a number of avowedly Marxist governments in the twentieth century, such as the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, implemented rules introducing state atheism. However, several religious communist groups exist, and Christian communism was important in the early development of communism.

Marx on religion

Karl Marx’s religious views have been the subject of much interpretation. He famously stated in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that

Religious distress was at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

The esoteric nature of the quote has led to some confusion among historians, who are divided as to whether Marx was speaking in favor of or against organized religion. Though Marx does state that religion is “the heart of a heartless world,” and that “the demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions” (which could be taken to mean that religion is a necessary component of society, true or false).[2]

Lenin on religion

Vladimir Lenin was highly critical of religion, saying in his book Religion

Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism.[3]

In About the attitude of the working party toward the religion, he wrote

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about 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.[4]

Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky on religion

In their influential book The ABC of Communism, Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky spoke out strongly against religion. “Communism is incompatible with religious faith”, they wrote.[5]

In self-identified “Marxist” states

Religion in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was an atheist state,[6][7][8] in which religion was largely discouraged and heavily persecuted.[9] According to various Soviet and Western sources, however, over one-third of the country’s people professed religious belief. Christianity and Islam had the most believers. Christians belonged to various churches: Orthodox, which had the largest number of followers; Catholic; and Baptist and various other Protestant sects. The majority of the Islamic faithful were Sunni. Judaism also had many followers. Other religions, which were practiced by a relatively small number of believers, included Buddhism and Shamanism.

The role of religion in the daily lives of Soviet citizens varied greatly. Two-thirds of the Soviet population, however, were irreligious. About half the people, including members of the ruling Communist Party and high-level government officials, professed atheism. For the majority of Soviet citizens, therefore, religion seemed irrelevant.

Prior to its collapse in late 1991, official figures on religion in the Soviet Union were not available.

State atheism in the Soviet Union was known as “gosateizm”[10]

Religion in the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania

Albania was declared an atheist state by Enver Hoxha,[11] and remained so from 1967 until 1991.[12] The trend toward state atheism in Albania was taken to an extreme during the regime, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether.[12] This policy was mainly applied and felt within the borders of the present Albanian state, thus producing a nonreligious majority in the population.

Religion in the People’s Republic of China

The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 and for much of its early history maintained a hostile attitude toward religion which was seen as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism. Houses of worship, including temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use.

This attitude, however, relaxed considerably in the late 1970s, with the end of the Cultural Revolution. The 1978 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guaranteed “freedom of religion” with a number of restrictions. Since the mid-1990s there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

Religion in Democratic Kampuchea

Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge regime, suppressed Cambodia’s Buddhist religion: monks were defrocked; temples and artifacts, including statues of Buddha, were destroyed; and people praying or expressing other religious sentiments were often killed. The Christian and Muslim communities were among the most persecuted, as well. The Roman Catholic cathedral of Phnom Penh was razed. The Khmer Rouge forced Muslims to eat pork, which they regard as an abomination. Many of those who refused were killed. Christian clergy and Muslim imams were executed.[13][14]

Religion in Laos

In contrast with the brutal repression of the sangha undertaken in Cambodia, the communist government of Laos has not sought to oppose or suppress Buddhism in Laos to any great degree. Rather, since the early days of the Pathet Lao, communist officials have sought to use the influence and respect afforded to Buddhist clergy to achieve political goals, while discouraging religious practices seen as detrimental to Marxist aims.[15]

Starting as early as the late 1950s, members of the Pathet Lao sought to encourage support for the Communist cause by aligning members of the Lao sangha with the Communist opposition.[15] Though resisted by the Royal Lao Government, these efforts were fairly successful, and resulted in increased support for the Pathet Lao, particularly in rural communities.[15]

Religion in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

Once it came to power in Afghanistan, from the period it ruled for, 1978 to 1992, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan aggressively implemented state atheism.[16][17] They also imprisoned, tortured or murdered thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment, and the intelligentsia.[18]

Communism and Christianity

Christian communism can be seen as a radical form of Christian socialism. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the Apostles, created their own small communist society in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles themselves.

In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific Friedrich Engels draws a certain analogy between the sort of utopian communalism of some of the early Christian communities and the modern-day communist movement, the scientific communist movement representing the proletariat in this era and its world historic transformation of society. Engels noted both certain similarities and certain contrasts.[19]

Communism and Islam

From the 1940s through the 1960s, Communists and Islamists sometimes joined forces in opposing colonialism and seeking national independence.[20] The Tudeh (Iranian Communist party) was allied with the Islamists in their ultimately successful rebellion against the Shah in 1979, although after the Shah was overthrown, the Islamists turned on their one-time allies.

Communist philosopher Mir-Said (Mirza) Sultan-Galiev, Stalin’s protégé at the Commissariat of Nationalities (Narkomnats), wrote in The Life of Nationalities, the Narkomnats’ journal.[21]

Communism and Judaism

During the Russian Civil War, Jews were seen as communist sympathizers and thousands were murdered in pogroms by the White Army. During the Red Scare in the United States in the 1950s, a representative of the American Jewish Committee assured the powerful House Committee on Un-American Activities that “Judaism and communism are utterly incompatible.”.[22] On the other hand, some Orthodox Jews, including a number of prominent religious figures, actively supported either anarchist or Marxist versions of communism. Examples include Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, an outspoken libertarian communist, Russian revolutionary and territorialist leader Isaac Steinberg and Rabbi Abraham Bik, an American communist activist.[23]

Communism and Buddhism

Buddhism has been said to be compatible with communism given that both can be interpreted as atheistic and arguably share some similarities regarding their views of the world of nature and the relationship between matter and mind.[24] Regardless, Buddhists have still been persecuted in communist states,[25] notably China, Mongolia and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Many supporters of the Viet Cong were Buddhists, strongly believing in the unification of Vietnam, with many opposing South Vietnam due to former president Ngo Dinh Diem‘s persecution of Buddhism during the early 1960s.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, speaks positively of Marxism, despite the heavy persecution of the Tibetan people by the Chinese communists.

Communism and Hinduism

Some principles of Hinduism can be seen as compatible with communism, though it is a definite theistic religion, its followers worshipping many gods, and therefore contradicts the atheistic element of communism.

However, a vast number of followers of Nepalese Maoist leader Prachanda and members of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) follow Hinduism, preferring the communist system to the Nepalese monarchy, despite Mao Zedong’s hostility towards religion.

Religious criticism of communism

Because of communism’s atheism, some have accused communism of persecuting religion.[26] In addition, another criticism is that communism is, in itself, a religion.[27][28]


1.       ^ Raines, John. 2002. “Introduction”. Marx on Religion (Marx, Karl). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Page 05-06.

2.       ^ Marx, Karl. “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved 19 January 2012.

3.       ^ Lenin, V. I. (2007). Religion. READ BOOKS. pp. 5. ISBN 1408633205, 9781408633205.,+Introduction+to+Religion.

4.       ^ Lenin, V. I.. “About the attitude of the working party toward the religion.”. Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Retrieved 2006-09-09.

5.       ^ Bukharin, Nikolai; Evgenii Preobrazhensky (1920). The ABC of Communism. pp. Chapter 11: Communism and Religion. ISBN 0472061127, 9780472061129.

6.       ^

7.       ^ Sabrina Petra Ramet, Ed., Religious Policy in the Soviet Union. Cambridge University Press (1993). P 4

8.       ^ John Anderson, Religion, State and Politics in the Soviet Union and Successor States, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp 3

9.       ^

10.   ^ Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences, David Kowalewski, Russian Review, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 426–441, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review

11.   ^ Sang M. Lee writes that Albania was “[o]fficially an atheist state under Hoxha…” Restructuring Albanian Business Education Infrastructure August 2000 (Accessed 6 June 2007)

12.   ^ a b Representations of Place: Albania, Derek R. Hall, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 165, No. 2, The Changing Meaning of Place in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe: Commodification, Perception and Environment (Jul., 1999), pp. 161–172, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

13.   ^ “Pol Pot – MSN Encarta”. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31.

14.   ^ Cambodia – Society under the Angkar

15.   ^ a b c Savada, Andrea Matles (1994). Laos: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: GPO for the Library of Congress.

16.   ^ Maley, William (1998). Fundamentalism reborn?: Afghanistan and the Taliban. NYU Press. pp. 276. ISBN 0814755860, 9780814755860. p. 8

17.   ^

18.   ^

19.   ^ Avakian, Bob (22 June 1997). “Early Christian Communalism and Real Communism”. Revolutionary Worker (RW Online) (912). Retrieved 15-Nov-2008.

20.   ^ “Communism and Islam”. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Retrieved 15-Nov-2008.

21.   ^ Byrne, Gerry (17 March 2004). “Bolsheviks and Islam Part 3: Islamic communism”. Retrieved 15-Nov-2008.

22.   ^ Diner, Hasia R. (2004). Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000. University of California Press. pp. 279. ISBN 0520227735, 9780520227736.

23.   ^ Rabbis and Communism, a research article by Prof. Marc Shapiro

24.   ^ Sharma, Arvind (1995). Our Religions: The Seven World Religions Introduced by Preeminent Scholars from Each Tradition. HarperCollins. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0060677007, 9780060677008.

25.   ^ Mongolia. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

26.   ^ Communism Persecutes Religion. Accessed 15 November 2008

27.   ^ The Hidden Link Between Communism and Religion, by Gaither Stewart, World Prout Assembly 12/08/07

28.   ^ Defining Religion in Operational and Institutional Terms, by A Stephen Boyan, Jr., Accessed 4-1-2010

Implicit and Explicit Atheism

A diagram showing the relationship between the definitions of weak/strong and implicit/explicit atheism. Explicit strong/positive/hard atheists (in purple on the right) assert that “at least one deity exists” is a false statement. Explicit weak/negative/soft atheists (in blue on the right) reject or eschew belief that any deities exist without actually asserting that “at least one deity exists” is a false statement. Implicit weak/negative atheists (in blue on the left) would include people (such as young children and some agnostics) who do not believe in a deity, but have not explicitly rejected such belief.

(Sizes in the diagram are not meant to indicate relative sizes within a population.)

Implicit atheism and explicit atheism are subsets of atheism coined by George H. Smith (1979, p. 13-18). Implicit atheism is defined by Smith as “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it”. Explicit atheism is defined as “the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it”.[1] Explicit atheists have considered the idea of deities and have rejected belief that any exist. Implicit atheists thus either have not given the idea of deities much consideration, or, though they do not believe, have not rejected belief.

Implicit atheism

Smith defines implicit atheism as “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it”. “Absence of theistic belief” encompasses all forms of non-belief in deities. This would categorize as implicit atheists those adults who have never heard of the concept of deities, and those adults who have not given the idea any real consideration. Also included are agnostics who assert they do not believe in any deities (even if they claim not to be atheists). Children are also included, though, depending on the author, it may or may not also include newborn babies. As far back as 1772, Baron d’Holbach said that “All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.”[2] Smith is silent on newborn children, but clearly identifies as atheists some children who are unaware of any concept of any deity.

The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.[1]

Ernest Nagel contradicts Smith’s definition of atheism as merely “absence of theism”, acknowledging only explicit atheism as true “atheism”.

I shall understand by “atheism” a critique and a denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism… atheism is not to be identified with sheer unbelief… Thus, a child who has received no religious instruction and has never heard about God, is not an atheist – for he is not denying any theistic claims. Similarly in the case of an adult who, if he has withdrawn from the faith of his father without reflection or because of frank indifference to any theological issue, is also not an atheist – for such an adult is not challenging theism and not professing any views on the subject.[3]

Explicit atheism

Smith observes that some motivations for explicit atheism are rational and some not. Of the rational motivations, he says:

The most significant variety of atheism is explicit atheism of a philosophical nature. This atheism contends that the belief in god is irrational and should therefore be rejected. Since this version of explicit atheism rests on a criticism of theistic beliefs, it is best described as critical atheism.[1]

For Smith, explicit atheism is subdivided further into three groups:


  • a) the view usually expressed by the statement “I do not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being”;
  • b) the view usually expressed by the statement “God does not exist” or “the existence of God is impossible”; and
  • c) the view which “refuses to discuss the existence of a god” because “the concept of a god is unintelligible” (p. 17).[1]


Although, as mentioned above, Nagel opposes identifying what Smith calls “implicit atheism” as atheism, the two authors do very much agree on the three-part subdivision of “explicit atheism” above, though Nagel does not use the term “explicit”.

Other typologies of atheism

The difference between Nagel on the one hand and d’Holbach and Smith on the other has been attributed to the different concerns of professional philosophers and layman proponents of atheism (see Smith (1990, Chapter 3, p. 51-60[4]), for example, but also alluded to by others).

Everitt (2004) makes the point that professional philosophers are more interested in the grounds for giving or withholding assent to propositions:

We need to distinguish between a biographical or sociological enquiry into why some people have believed or disbelieved in God, and an epistemological enquiry into whether there are any good reasons for either belief or unbelief… We are interested in the question of what good reasons there are for or against God’s existence, and no light is thrown on that question by discovering people who hold their beliefs without having good reasons for them. (p.10)[5]

So, in philosophy (Flew and Martin notwithstanding), atheism is commonly defined along the lines of “rejection of theistic belief”. This is often misunderstood to mean only the view that there is no God, but it is conventional to distinguish between two or three main sub-types of atheism in this sense. However, writers differ in their characterization of this distinction, and in the labels they use for these positions.

The terms weak atheism and strong atheism (or negative atheism and positive atheism) are often used as synonyms of Smith’s less-well-known implicit and explicit categories. However, the original and technical meanings of implicit and explicit atheism are quite different and distinct from weak and strong atheism. “Strong explicit” atheists assert that it is false that any deities exist. “Weak explicit” atheists assert they do not believe in deities, but do not assert it is true that deities do not exist. Those who do not believe any deities exist, but do not assert their non-belief are included among implicit atheists. Among weak implicit atheists are thus sometimes included the following: children and adults who have never heard of deities; people who have heard of deities but have never given the idea any considerable thought; and those agnostics who suspend belief about deities, but do not reject such belief.

People who do not use the broad definition of atheism as “absence of theism”, but instead use the most common definition “disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods”,[6] would not recognize mere absence of belief in deities (implicit atheism) as a type of atheism at all, and would tend to use other terms, such as “skeptic” or “agnostic“, or even the heavy-handed “non-atheistic non-theism”, for this position.


  1. ^ a b c d Smith, George H. (1979). Atheism: The Case Against God. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus. pp. 13–18. ISBN 0-87975-124-X.
  2. ^ d’Holbach, P. H. T. (1772). Good Sense. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  3. ^ Nagel, Ernest (1959). “Philosophical Concepts of Atheism”. Basic Beliefs: The Religious Philosophies of Mankind. Sheridan House.
    reprinted in Critiques of God, edited by Peter A. Angeles, Prometheus Books, 1997.
  4. ^ Smith, George H. (1990). Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies. pp. 51–60.
  5. ^ Everitt, Nicholas (2004). The Non-existence of God: An Introduction. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30107-6.
  6. ^ “”. Retrieved 2006-03-05.

History of Atheism

Although the term atheism originated in the sixteenth century — based on Ancient Greek ἄθεος “godless, denying the gods, ungodly” [1] – and open admission to positive atheism in modern times was not made earlier than in the late eighteenth century, atheistic ideas and beliefs, as well as their political influence, have a more expansive history.

The spontaneous proposition that there may be no deities at all is logically as old as theism itself (and the proposition that there may be no deity as old as the beginnings of monotheism or henotheism). Philosophical atheist thought appears in Europe and Asia from the sixth or fifth century BCE.

Will Durant explains that certain Pygmy tribes found in Africa were observed to have no identifiable cults or rites. There were no totems, no deities, no spirits. Their dead were buried without special ceremonies or accompanying items and received no further attention. They even appeared to lack simple superstitions, according to travelers’ reports. The Vedahs of Ceylon, only admitted the possibility that deities might exist, but went no further. Neither prayers nor sacrifices were suggested in any way.

Indian philosophy

In the Far East, a contemplative life not centered on the idea of deities began in the sixth century BCE with the rise of Jainism, Buddhism, and certain sects of Hinduism in India, and of Taoism in China.

Although these religions claim to offer a philosophic and salvific path not centering on deity worship, popular tradition in some sects of these religions has long embraced deity worship, the propitiation of spirits, and other elements of folk tradition. Furthermore, the Pali Tripiṭaka, the oldest complete composition of scriptures, seems to accept as real the concepts of divine beings, the Vedic (and other) deities, rebirth, and heaven and hell. While deities are not seen as necessary to the salvific goal of the early Buddhist tradition, their reality is not questioned.


Within the astika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy, the Samkhya and the early Mimamsa school did not accept a creator-deity in their respective systems.

The principal text of the Samkhya school, the Samkhya Karika, was written by Ishvara Krishna in the fourth century CE, by which time it was already a dominant Hindu school. The origins of the school are much older and are lost in legend. The school was both dualistic and atheistic. They believed in a dual existence of Prakriti (“nature”) and Purusha (“spirit”) and had no place for an Ishvara (“God”) in its system, arguing that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. The school dominated Hindu philosophy in its day, but declined after the tenth century, although commentaries were still being written as late as the sixteenth century.

The foundational text for the Mimamsa school is the Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (c. third to first century BCE). The school reached its height c. 700 CE, and for some time in the Early Middle Ages exerted near-dominant influence on learned Hindu thought. The Mimamsa school saw their primary enquiry was into the nature of dharma based on close interpretation of the Vedas. Its core tenets were ritualism (orthopraxy), anti-asceticism and anti-mysticism. The early Mimamsakas believed in an adrishta (“unseen”) that is the result of performing karmas (“works”) and saw no need for an Ishvara (“God”) in their system. Mimamsa persists in some subschools of Hinduism today.


Jains see their tradition as eternal. Jainism has prehistoric origins dating before 3000 BCE, and before the beginning of Indo-Aryan culture.[2] Organized Jainism can be dated back to Parshva who lived in the ninth century BCE, and, more reliably, to Mahavira, a teacher of the sixth century BCE, and a contemporary of the Buddha. Jainism is a dualistic religion with the universe made up of matter and souls. The universe, and the matter and souls within it, is eternal and uncreated, and there is no omnipotent creator deity in Jainism. There are, however, “gods” and other spirits who exist within the universe and Jains believe that the soul can attain “godhood”, however none of these supernatural beings exercise any sort of creative activity or have the capacity or ability to intervene in answers to prayers.


The thoroughly materialistic and anti-religious philosophical Cārvāka school that originated in India with the Bārhaspatya-sūtras (final centuries BCE) is probably the most explicitly atheist school of philosophy in the region. The school grew out of the generic skepticism in the Mauryan period. Already in the sixth century BCE, Ajita Kesakambalin, was quoted in Pali scriptures by the Buddhists with whom he was debating, teaching that “with the break-up of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.”[3] Cārvākan philosophy is now known principally from its Astika and Buddhist opponents. The proper aim of a Cārvākan, according to these sources, was to live a prosperous, happy, productive life in this world. The Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta (c. eighth century) is sometimes cited as a surviving Carvaka text. The school appears to have died out sometime around the fifteenth century.


The non-adherence [4] to the notion of a supreme deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions. While Buddhist traditions do not deny the existence of supernatural beings (many are discussed in Buddhist scripture), it does not ascribe powers, in the typical Western sense, for creation, salvation or judgement, to the “gods”, however, praying to enlightened deities is sometimes seen as leading to some degree of spiritual merit.

Buddhists accept the existence of beings in higher realms (see Buddhist cosmology), known as devas, but they, like humans, are said to be suffering in samsara,[5] and not particularly wiser than we are. In fact the Buddha is often portrayed as a teacher of the deities,[6] and superior to them.[7] Despite this they do have some enlightened Devas in the path of buddhahood.

In later Mahayana literature, however, the idea of an eternal, all-pervading, all-knowing, immaculate, uncreated, and deathless Ground of Being (the dharmadhatu, inherently linked to the sattvadhatu, the realm of beings), which is the Awakened Mind (bodhicitta) or Dharmakaya (“body of Truth”) of the Buddha himself, is attributed to the Buddha in a number of Mahayana sutras, and is found in various tantras as well. In some Mahayana texts, such a principle is occasionally presented as manifesting in a more personalised form as a primordial buddha, such as Samantabhadra, Vajradhara, Vairochana, Amitabha, and Adi-Buddha, among others.

Classical Greece and Rome


In western Classical Antiquity, theism was the fundamental belief that supported the divine right of the state (Polis, later the Roman Empire). Historically, any person who did not believe in any deity supported by the state was fair game to accusations of atheism, a capital crime. For political reasons, Socrates in Athens (399 BCE) was accused of being ‘atheos’ (“refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the state”). Despite the charges, he claimed inspiration from a divine voice (Daimon). Christians in Rome were also considered subversive to the state religion and persecuted as atheists. Thus, charges of atheism, meaning the subversion of religion, were often used similarly to charges of heresy and impiety – as a political tool to eliminate enemies.

Presocratic philosophy

Western philosophy began in the Greek world in the sixth century BCE. The first philosophers were not atheists, but they attempted to explain the world in terms of the processes of nature instead of by mythological accounts. Thus lightning was the result of “wind breaking out and parting the clouds,”[8] and earthquakes occurred when “the earth is considerably altered by heating and cooling.”[9] The early philosophers often criticised traditional religious notions. Xenophanes (sixth century BCE) famously said that if cows and horses had hands, “then horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cows like cows.”[10] Another philosopher, Anaxagoras (fifth century BCE), claimed that the Sun was “a fiery mass, larger than the Peloponnese;” a charge of impiety was brought against him, and he was forced to flee Athens.[11]

The first fully materialistic philosophy was produced by the Atomists, Leucippus, and Democritus (fifth century BCE), who attempted to explain the formation and development of the world in terms of the chance movements of atoms moving in infinite space.

Euripides (480–406 BCE), in his play Bellerophon, had the eponymous main character say: “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, Led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”[12]

Aristophanes (ca. 448–380 BCE), known for his satirical style, said in his The Knights play: “Shrines! Shrines! Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What’s your argument? Where’s your proof?”[13]

The Sophists

In the fifth century BCE the Sophists began to question many of the traditional assumptions of Greek culture. Prodicus of Ceos was said to have believed that “it was the things which were serviceable to human life that had been regarded as gods,”[14] and Protagoras stated at the beginning of a book that “With regard to the gods I am unable to say either that they exist or do not exist.”[15]

Diagoras of Melos (fifth century BCE) is known as the “first atheist”. He blasphemed by making public the Eleusinian Mysteries and discouraging people from being initiated.[16] Somewhat later (c. 300 BCE), the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus of Cyrene is supposed to have denied that gods exist, and wrote a book On the Gods expounding his views.

Euhemerus (c. 330–260 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors, and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.[17] Although Euhemerus was later criticized for having “spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods”,[18] his worldview was not atheist in a strict and theoretical sense, because he differentiated that the primordial deities were “eternal and imperishable”.[19] Some historians have argued that he merely aimed at reinventing the old religions in the light of the beginning deification of political rulers such as Alexander the Great.[20] Euhemerus’ work was translated into Latin by Ennius, possibly to mythographically pave the way for the planned divinization of Scipio Africanus in Rome.[21]


Also important in the history of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE). Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy where the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention. Although he stated that deities existed, he believed that they were uninterested in human existence. The aim of the Epicureans was to attain peace of mind by exposing fear of divine wrath as irrational. One of the most eloquent expressions of Epicurean thought is LucretiusOn the Nature of Things (first century BCE). Lucretius declared “There is no God”.[22] The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife.[23] Epicureans were not persecuted, but their teachings were controversial, and were harshly attacked by the mainstream schools of Stoicism and Neoplatonism. The movement remained marginal, and gradually died out at the end of the Roman Empire.


Cicero (ca. 106–43 BCE) declared: “In this subject of the nature of the gods the first question is: do the gods exist or do they not? It is difficult, you will say, to deny that they exist. I would agree, if we were arguing the matter in a public assembly, but in a private discussion of this kind it is perfectly easy to do so.”[24]

Ancient Levant

The concept of atheism was apparently known to the ancient Jews and viewed negatively by the authors of the Biblical texts. Psalm 14:1–3 reads “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”.[25]

The middle Ages

In medieval Islam, scholars recognized the idea of atheism, and frequently attacked unbelievers, although they were unable to name any atheists.[26] When individuals were accused of atheism, they were usually viewed as heretics rather than proponents of atheism.[27] One notable figure was the ninth century scholar Ibn al-Rawandi who criticized the notion of religious prophecy including that of Muhammad, and maintained that religious dogmas were not acceptable to reason and must be rejected.[28] Other critics of religion in the Islamic world include the physician and philosopher Abu Bakr al-Razi (865–925), and the poet Al-Ma`arri (973–1057).

In the European Middle Ages, no clear expression of atheism is known. The titular character of the Icelandic saga Hrafnkell, written in the late thirteenth century, says that I think it is folly to have faith in gods. After his temple to Freyr is burnt and he is enslaved, he vows never to perform another sacrifice, a position described in the sagas as goðlauss “godless”. Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology observes that

It is remarkable that Old Norse legend occasionally mentions certain men who, turning away in utter disgust and doubt from the heathen faith, placed their reliance on their own strength and virtue. Thus in the Sôlar lioð 17 we read of Vêbogi and Râdey â sik þau trûðu, “in themselves they trusted”,[29] citing several other examples, including two kings.

In Christian Europe, people were persecuted for heresy, especially in countries where the Inquisition was active. However, Thomas Aquinasfive proofs of God’s existence and Anselm’s ontological argument implicitly acknowledged the validity of the question about God’s existence. The charge of atheism was used as way of attacking one’s political or religious enemies. Pope Boniface VIII, because he insisted on the political supremacy of the church, was accused by his enemies after his death of holding (unlikely) atheistic positions such as “neither believing in the immortality nor incorruptibility of the soul, nor in a life to come.”[30]

Renaissance and Reformation

During the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, criticism of the religious establishment became more frequent in predominantly Christian countries, but did not amount to atheism, per se.

The term athéisme was coined in France in the sixteenth century. The word “atheist” appears in English books at least as early as 1566.[31] The concept of atheism re-emerged initially as a reaction to the intellectual and religious turmoil of the Age of Enlightenment and the Reformation – as a charge used by those who saw the denial of god and godlessness in the controversial positions being put forward by others. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was used exclusively as an insult; nobody wanted to be regarded as an atheist.[32] Although one overtly atheistic compendium known as the Theophrastus redivivus was published by an anonymous author in the seventeenth century, atheism was an epithet implying a lack of moral restraint.[33] How dangerous it was to be accused of being an atheist at this time is illustrated by the examples of Étienne Dolet who was strangled and burned in 1546, and Giulio Cesare Vanini who received a similar fate in 1619. In 1689 the Polish nobleman Kazimierz Łyszczyński, who had allegedly denied the existence of God in his philosophical treatise De non existentia Dei, was condemned to death in Warsaw for atheism and beheaded after his tongue was pulled out with a burning iron and his hands slowly burned. Similarly in 1766, the French nobleman Jean-François de la Barre, was tortured, beheaded, and his body burned for alleged vandalism of a crucifix, a case that became celebrated because Voltaire tried unsuccessfully to have the sentence reversed.

Among those accused of atheism was Denis Diderot (1713–1784), one of the Enlightenment’s most prominent philosophes, and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopédie, which sought to challenge religious, particularly Catholic, dogma: “Reason is to the estimation of the philosophe what grace is to the Christian”, he wrote. “Grace determines the Christian’s action; reason the philosophe’s”.[34] Diderot was briefly imprisoned for his writing, some of which was banned and burned.

The English materialist philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was also accused of atheism, but he denied it. His theism was unusual, in that he held god to be material. Even earlier, the British playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe (1563–1593), was accused of atheism when a tract denying the divinity of Christ was found in his home. Before he could finish defending himself against the charge, Marlowe was murdered, although this was not related to the religious issue.[citation needed]

The Age of Enlightenment

By the 1770s, atheism in some predominantly Christian countries was ceasing to be a dangerous accusation that required denial, and was evolving into a position openly avowed by some. The first open denial of the existence of God and avowal of atheism since classical times may be that of Paul Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789) in his 1770 work, The System of Nature. D’Holbach was a Parisian social figure who conducted a famous salon widely attended by many intellectual notables of the day, including Denis Diderot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Benjamin Franklin. Nevertheless, his book was published under a pseudonym, and was banned and publicly burned by the Executioner.[citation needed]

The Cult of Reason was a creed based on atheism devised during the French Revolution by Jacques Hébert, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, and their supporters. It was stopped by Maximilien Robespierre, a Deist, who instituted the Cult of the Supreme Being.[35] Both cults were the outcome of the “de-Christianization” of French society during the Revolution and part of the Reign of Terror.

Fête de la Raison (“Festival of Reason”), Notre Dame, 20 Brumaire (1793)

The culte de la Raison developed during the uncertain period 1792–94 (Years I and III of the Revolution), following the September Massacres, when Revolutionary France was ripe with fears of internal and foreign enemies. Several Parisian churches were transformed into Temples of Reason, notably the Church of Saint-Paul Saint-Louis in the Marais. The churches were closed in May 1793 and more securely, 24 November 1793, when the Catholic Mass was forbidden.

Notre Dame of Strasbourg turned into a Temple of Reason

The Cult of Reason was celebrated in a carnival atmosphere of parades, ransacking of churches, ceremonious iconoclasm, in which religious and royal images were defaced, and ceremonies which substituted the “martyrs of the Revolution” for Christian martyrs. The earliest public demonstrations took place en province, outside Paris, notably by Hébertists in Lyon, but took a further radical turn with the Fête de la Liberté (“Festival of Liberty”) at Notre Dame de Paris, 10 November (20 Brumaire) 1793, in ceremonies devised and organised by Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette. The Cult of Reason centered upon a young woman designated the Goddess of Reason.

The pamphlet Answer to Dr. Priestley’s Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever (1782) is considered to be the first published declaration of atheism in Britain – plausibly the first in English (as distinct from covert or cryptically atheist works). The otherwise unknown ‘William Hammon’ (possibly a pseudonym) signed the preface and postscript as editor of the work, and the anonymous main text is attributed to Matthew Turner (d. 1788?), a Liverpool physician who may have known Priestley. Historian of atheism David Berman has argued strongly for Turner’s authorship, but also suggested that there may have been two authors.[36]

Modern History

Nineteenth century

The French Revolution of 1789 catapulted atheistic thought into political notability in some Western countries, and opened the way for the nineteenth century movements of Rationalism, Freethought, and Liberalism. Born in 1792, Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a child of the Age of Enlightenment, was expelled from England’s Oxford University in 1811 for submitting to the Dean an anonymous pamphlet that he wrote entitled, The Necessity of Atheism. This pamphlet is considered by scholars as the first atheistic ideas published in the English language. An early atheistic influence in Germany was The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872). He influenced other German nineteenth century atheistic thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Stirner, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).

The freethinker Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) was repeatedly elected to the British Parliament, but was not allowed to take his seat after his request to affirm rather than take the religious oath was turned down (he then offered to take the oath, but this too was denied him). After Bradlaugh was re-elected for the fourth time, a new Speaker allowed Bradlaugh to take the oath and permitted no objections.[37] He became the first outspoken atheist to sit in Parliament, where he participated in amending the Oaths Act.[38]

Karl Marx

In 1844, Karl Marx (1818–1883), an atheistic political economist, wrote in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Marx believed that people turn to religion in order to dull the pain caused by the reality of social situations; that is, Marx suggests religion is an attempt at transcending the material state of affairs in a society – the pain of class oppression – by effectively creating a dream world, rendering the religious believer amenable to social control and exploitation in this world while they hope for relief and justice in life after death. In the same essay, Marx states, “…[m]an creates religion, religion does not create man…”[39]

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche, a prominent nineteenth century philosopher, is well known for coining the aphorism “God is dead” (German: “Gott ist tot”); incidentally the phrase was not spoken by Nietzsche directly, but was used as a dialogue for the characters in his works. Nietzsche argued that Christian theism as a belief system had been a moral foundation of the Western world, and that the rejection and collapse of this foundation as a result of modern thinking (the death of God) would naturally cause a rise in nihilism or the lack of values. While Nietzsche was staunchly atheistic, he was also concerned about the negative effects of nihilism on humanity. As such, he called for a re-evaluation of old values and a creation of new ones, hoping that in doing so humans would achieve a higher state he labeled the Overman.

Twentieth century

Atheism in the twentieth century found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies in the Western tradition, such as existentialism, Objectivism,[40] secular humanism, nihilism, logical positivism, Marxism, anarchism, feminism,[41] and the general scientific and rationalist movement. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. H. L. Mencken sought to debunk both the idea that science and religion are compatible, and the idea that science is a dogmatic belief system just like any religion [42]

A. J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. The structuralism of Lévi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious, denying its transcendental meaning. J. N. Findlay and J. J. C. Smart argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialists such as John Dewey considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.[43][44]

The twentieth century also saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred on by interpretation of the works of Marx and Engels. State support of atheism and opposition to organized religion was made policy in all communist states, including the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. In theory and in practice these states were secular. The justifications given for the social and political sidelining of religious organizations addressed, on one hand, the “irrationality” of religious belief, and on the other, the “parasitical” nature of the relationship between the church and the population. Churches were sometimes tolerated, but subject to strict control – church officials had to be vetted by the state, while attendance at church functions could endanger one’s career. Very often, the state’s opposition to religion took more violent forms; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn documents widespread persecution, imprisonments and torture of believers, in his seminal work The Gulag Archipelago. Consequently, religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, were among the most stringent opponents of communist regimes. In some cases, the initial strict measures of control and opposition to religious activity were gradually relaxed in communist states. On the other hand, Albania under Enver Hoxha became, in 1967, the first (and to date only) formally declared atheist state,[45] going far beyond what most other countries had attempted — completely prohibiting religious observance, and systematically repressing and persecuting adherents. The right to religious practice was restored in the fall of communism in 1991.

In India, E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Periyar), a prominent atheist leader, fought against Hinduism and the Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.[46] This was highlighted in 1956 when he made the Hindu god Rama wear a garland made of slippers and made antitheistic statements.[47]

During the Cold War, the United States often characterized its opponents as “godless communists”, which tended to reinforce the view that atheists were unreliable and unpatriotic.[48] Against this background, the words “under God” were inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954,[49] and the national motto was changed from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust in 1956. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was perhaps one of the most influential American atheists; she brought forth the 1963 Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett which banned compulsory prayer in public schools.[50]

Twenty-first century

Richard Dawkins with Ariane Sherine at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch

The early twenty-first century has continued to see secularism and atheism promoted in the Western world, with the general consensus being that the number of people not affiliated with any particular religion has increased.[51][52] This has been assisted by non-profit organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the United States which promotes the separation of church and state,[53] and the Brights movement, which aims to promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview.[54] In addition, a large number of accessible antitheist and secularist books, many of which have become bestsellers, have been published by authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor J. Stenger.[55][56] This period has seen the rise of the New Atheism movement, a label that has been applied, sometimes pejoratively, to outspoken critics of theism.[57] Richard Dawkins also propounds a more visible form of atheist activism which he light-heartedly describes as ‘militant atheism’.[58]


1.       ^ Modern translations of classical texts sometimes translate atheos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also atheotēs (“atheism”).

2.       ^ “For Beginners”. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

3.       ^ “Elements of Atheism in Hindu Thought”. AGORA. Retrieved 26 June 2006.

4.       ^ Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997) (in translated from Pali). Tittha Sutta: Sectarians. “Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of a supreme being’s act of creation… When one falls back on lack of cause and lack of condition as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], ‘This should be done. This shouldn’t be done.’ When one can’t pin down as a truth or reality what should & shouldn’t be done, one dwells bewildered & unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative.”

5.       ^ John T Bullitt (2005). “The Thirty-one planes of Existence”. Access To Insight. Retrieved May 26, 2010. “The suttas describe thirty-one distinct “planes” or “realms” of existence into which beings can be reborn during this long wandering through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily dark, grim, and painful hell realms all the way up to the most sublime, refined, and exquisitely blissful heaven realms. Existence in every realm is impermanent; in Buddhist cosmology there is no eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to both their past kamma and their kamma at the moment of death. When the kammic force that propelled them to that realm is finally exhausted, they pass away, taking rebirth once again elsewhere according to their kamma. And so the wearisome cycle continues.”

6.       ^ Susan Elbaum Jootla (1997). “II. The Buddha Teaches Deities”. In Access To Insight. Teacher of the Devas. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. “”Many people worship Maha Brahma as the supreme and eternal creator God, but for the Buddha he is merely a powerful deity still caught within the cycle of repeated existence. In point of fact, “Maha Brahma” is a role or office filled by different individuals at different periods.”, “His proof included the fact that “many thousands of deities have gone for refuge for life to the recluse Gotama” (MN 95.9). Devas, like humans, develop faith in the Buddha by practicing his teachings.”, “A second deva concerned with liberation spoke a verse which is partly praise of the Buddha and partly a request for teaching. Using various similes from the animal world, this god showed his admiration and reverence for the Exalted One.”, “A discourse called Sakka’s Questions (DN 21) took place after he had been a serious disciple of the Buddha for some time. The sutta records a long audience he had with the Blessed One which culminated in his attainment of stream-entry. Their conversation is an excellent example of the Buddha as “teacher of devas,” and shows all beings how to work for Nibbana.””

7.       ^ Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). Kevaddha Sutta. Access To Insight. “When this was said, the Great Brahma said to the monk, ‘I, monk, am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be… That is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, don’t know where the four great elements… cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart.”

8.       ^ Anaximander, ap. Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of all Heresies, i. 6

9.       ^ Anaximenes, ap. Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, i. 7

10.    ^ Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, v. 14

11.    ^ Diogenes Laertius, ii. 6–14

12.    ^ “El-Ev: Positive Atheism’s Big List of Quotations”. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

13.    ^ “Classic Drama Plays by Greek, Spanish, French, German and English Dramatists … – Albert Ellery Bergh – Google Books”.!+Shrines!+Surely+you+don%27t+believe+in+the+gods.+What%27s+your+argument%3F+Where%27s+your+proof%3F&hl=en&ei=GIMoTcH-LIP6lwf6tOy1AQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Shrines!%20Shrines!%20Surely%20you%20don%27t%20believe%20in%20the%20gods.%20What%27s%20your%20argument%3F%20Where%27s%20your%20proof%3F&f=false. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

14.    ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum, i. 42

15.    ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum, i. 23

16.    ^ Walter Burkert, Homo necans, p. 278

17.    ^ Fragments of Euhemerus’ work in Ennius’ Latin translation have been preserved in Patristic writings (e.g. by Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea), which all rely on earlier fragments in Diodorus 5,41–46 & 6.1. Testimonies, especially in the context of polemical criticism, are found e.g. in Callimachus, Hymn to Zeus 8.

18.    ^ Plutarch, Moralia – Isis and Osiris 23

19.    ^ Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel II.45–48 (chapter 2); Euhemerus also acknowledged that the sun, moon, and the other celestial bodies were deities (cf. also Alan Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars, Oxford 1991, p. 55), and he regarded elemental earthly phenomena such as the wind as divine, for they had “eternal origin and eternal continuance”. Nevertheless he concluded that the Titans and all next-generation deities such as the Olympian deities existed only as culturally and religiously constructed divine entities with a human past (cp. also Harry Y. Gamble, “Euhemerism and Christology in Origen: ‘Contra Celsum’ III 22–43”, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 33, No. 1 (1979), pp. 12–29).

20.    ^ “Euhemeros”, in Konrat Ziegler & Walther Sontheimer, Der Kleine Pauly, Bd. 2 (1979), cols. 414–415

21.    ^ Spencer Cole, “Cicero, Ennius and the Concept of Apotheosis at Rome”. In Arethusa Vol. 39 No. 3 (2006), pp. 531–548

22.    ^ “Li-Lu: Positive Atheism’s Big List of Quotations”. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

23.    ^ Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE), who leaned considerably toward Epicureanism, also rejected the idea of an afterlife, which e.g. lead to his plea against the death sentence during the trial against Catiline, where he spoke out against the Stoic Cato (cf. Sallust, The War With Catiline, Caesar’s speech: 51.29 & Cato’s reply: 52.13).

24.    ^ “Ce-Cl: Positive Atheism’s Big List of Quotations”. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

25.    ^ “Psalm 14 NIV – For the director of music. Of David.”. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

26.    ^ “Various Muslim theologians in the early Abbasid periods wrote treatises ‘Against the Unbelievers,’ … the earliest extant work bearing this title is probably the Radd ala al-mulhid of the ninth-century Zaydi theologian al-Qasim b. Ibrahim. … Nevertheless, in the discussions of God’s existence the actual opponents are not identified as individuals. As a group they are sometimes referred to as heretics, unbelievers, materialists, or skeptics. These designations often appear together, and they do not always seem to be clearly distinguished in the authors’ mind.” Sarah Stroumsa, (1999), Freethinkers of medieval Islam: Ibn al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr al-Razi and their Impact on Islamic Thought, pages 121–3. BRILL

27.    ^ Sarah Stroumsa, 1999, Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn al-Rdwandi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, and their Impact on Islamic Thought, page 123. BRILL.

28.    ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1971, Volume 3, page 905.

29.    ^ Jacob Grimm, 1882, Teutonic Mythology Part 1, page 6.

30.    ^ John William Draper, 1864, History of the intellectual development of Europe, page 387.

31.    ^ Martiall, John (1566). “English recusant literature, 1558-1640”. A Replie to Mr Calfhills Blasphemous Answer Made Against the Treatise of the Cross. 203. p. 51.

32.    ^ Armstrong, Karen (1999). A History of God. London: Vintage. p. 288. ISBN 0-09-927367-5.

33.    ^ Hecht, Jennifer Micheal (2004). Doubt: A History. HarperOne. pp. 325, ISBN 0060097957.

34.    ^ “”The Philosophe””. Retrieved 2012-03-01.

35.    ^ “War, Terror, and Resistance”. Retrieved 31 October 2006.

36.    ^ see Berman 1988, Chapter 5

37.    ^ British Humanist Association, Charles Bradlaugh (1833–91)

38.    ^ Hansard, Oaths Bill 1888, Second Reading, 14 March 1888; Third Reading, 9 August 1888

39.    ^ Karl, Marx (February 1844). “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. Retrieved 24 July 2009.

40.    ^ Leonard Peikoff, “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series (1976), Lecture 2.

41.    ^ Overall, Christine. “Feminism and Atheism”, in Martin, Michael, ed. (2007), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 233–246. Cambridge University Press

42.    ^ Mencken, H. L. “Treatise on the Gods,” 2nd ed., The Johns Hopkins University Press.

43.    ^ Zdybicka, Zofia J. (2005), “Atheism”, p. 16 in Maryniarczyk, Andrzej, Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1, Polish Thomas Aquinas Association

44.    ^ Smart, J.C.C. (9 March 2004). “Atheism and Agnosticism”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 12 April 2007

45.    ^ Majeska, George P. (1976). “Religion and Atheism in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, Review.” The Slavic and East European Journal. 20(2). pp. 204–206.

46.    ^ Michael, S. M. (1999). “Dalit Visions of a Just Society”. In S. M. Michael (ed.). Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 31\u201333. ISBN 1555876978.

47.    ^ “He who created god was a fool, he who spreads his name is a scoundrel, and he who worships him is a barbarian.” Hiorth, Finngeir (1996). “Atheism in South India“. International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Humanist News. Retrieved on 30 May 2007.

48.    ^ Aiello, Thomas (Spring 2005). “Constructing “Godless Communism”: Religion, Politics, and Popular Culture, 1954–1960″. Americana: the Journal of American Popular Culture (1900 – present) 4 (1). Retrieved 24 July 2009.

49.    ^ Broadway, Bill (6 July 2002). “How ‘Under God’ Got in There”. Washington Post: B09.

50.    ^ Jurinski, James (2004). Religion on Trial. Walnut Creek, California: AltraMira Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-7591-0601-0. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

51.    ^ Harris, Dan (9 March 2009). “The Rise of Atheism”. ABC News. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

52.    ^ Biema, David Van (2 October 2007). “Christianity’s Image Problem”. TIME.,8599,1667639,00.html. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

53.    ^ Erickson, Doug (25 February 2007). “The Atheists’ Calling”. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 24 July 2009.

54.    ^ Dawkins, Richard (21 June 2003). “The future looks bright”. The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2009.

55.    ^ Egan, Tim (19 October 2007). “Keeping the faith”. BBC. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

56.    ^ Stenger, Victor J. “The New Atheism”. Colorado University. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

57.    ^ Wolf, Gary (November 2006). “The Church of the Nonbelievers”. Wired (14.11). Retrieved 23 November 2009.

58.    ^ “Richard Dawkins on militant atheism Talk”. TED. Retrieved 27 November 2009.

Why is Atheism so widespread?

Atheism means denying God’s existence, which of course involves rejecting His commandments, as well as religious reflection and seriousness, and believing in the possibility of total self-independence apart from God. As such beliefs negate the concept of sin, people imagine that they can live as they please. Therein lies in the corruption of people’s hearts and minds. Atheism spreads because education is misused, young people are neglected, and schools actually defend and foster it.

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