Antireligion is opposition to religion of any kind. It involves opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. The term antireligion has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not. Opposition to religion also goes beyond the misotheistic spectrum. As such, antireligion is distinct from deity-specific positions such as atheism (the lack of belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities); although “antireligionists” may also be atheists or antitheists.
An early form of mass antireligion was expressed during the Enlightenment, as early as the 17th century. Baron d’Holbach’s book Christianity Unveiled published in 1761, attacked not only Christianity but religion in general as an impediment to the moral advancement of humanity. According to historian Michael Burleigh, antireligion found its first mass expression of barbarity in revolutionary France as “organised … irreligion…an ‘anti-clerical’ and self-styled ‘non-religious’ state” responded violently to religious influence over society. Christopher Hitchens was a well-known antireligionist and critic of religion of the 20th century who maintained opposition to religion, arguing that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as the method of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.
The Soviet Union adopted the political ideology of Marxism-Leninism and viewed religion as closely tied with foreign nationality. It thus directed varying degrees of antireligious efforts at varying faiths, depending on what threat they posed to the Soviet state, and their willingness to subordinate itself to political authority. These antireligious campaigns were directed at all faiths, including Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shamanist religions. In the 1930s, during the Stalinist period, the government destroyed church buildings or put them into secular use (as museums of religion and atheism, clubs or storage facilities), executed clergy, prohibited the publication of most religious material and persecuted some members of religious groups. Less violent attempts to reduce or eliminate the influence of religion in society were also carried out at other times in Soviet history. For instance, it was usually necessary to be an atheist in order to acquire any important political position or any prestigious scientific job; thus many people became atheists in order to advance their careers. In the years of 1921-1950, some estimate that 15 million Christians were killed in the Soviet Union. Up to 500,000 Russian Orthodox Christians were persecuted by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups. The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic targeted numerous clergy for arrest and interrogation as enemies of the state, and many churches, mosques, and synagogues were converted to secular uses. The People’s Republic of Albania had an objective for the eventual elimination of all religion in Albania with the goal of creating an atheist nation, which it declared it had achieved in 1967. In 1976, Albania implemented a constitutional ban on religious activity and propaganda. The government nationalised most property of religious institutions and used it for non-religious purposes, such as cultural centers for young people. Religious literature was banned. Many clergy and theists were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic clergy were expelled in 1946. Albania was the only country that ever officially banned religion.
Authorities in the People’s Republic of Romania aimed to move towards an atheistic society, in which religion would be considered as the ideology of the bourgeoisie; the régime also set to propagate among the laboring masses in science, politics and culture to help them fight superstition and mysticism, and initiated an anti-religious campaign aimed at reducing the influence of religion in society. After the communist takeover in 1948, some church personnel were imprisoned for political crimes.
The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate Cambodia’s cultural heritage, including its religions, particularly Theravada Buddhism. Over the four years of Khmer Rouge rule, at least 1.5 million Cambodians perished. Of the sixty thousand Buddhist monks that previously existed, only three thousand survived the Khmer Rouge horror.
Notable antireligious people
- Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1889 – 1980), Japanese philosopher and scholar who rejected theism, claimed that God or Buddha, as objective beings, are mere illusions.
- Lucretius (99 BC – 55 BC)
- Thomas Paine (1737–1809), English-American author and deist who wrote a scathing critique on religion in The Age of Reason (1793–4): “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish [i.e. Muslim], appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit”.
- Karl Marx (1818–1883), German philosopher, social scientist, socialist. He is well known for his antireligious views. He said religion was “the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness”.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, composer, and Latin and Greek scholar. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor and irony.
- John Dewey (1859–1952), an American pragmatist philosopher, who believed neither religion nor metaphysics could provide legitimate moral or social values, though scientific empiricism could (see science of morality).
- Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), English logician and philosopher who believed that authentic philosophy could only be pursued given an atheistic foundation of “unyielding despair”. In 1948, he famously debated the Jesuit priest and philosophical historian Father Frederick Copleston on the existence of God.
- Ayn Rand (1905–1982), Russian-American novelist and philosopher, founder of Objectivism.
- Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919–1995), American atheist activist, founder of American Atheists organization.
- Richard Dawkins (born 1941), English biologist, one of the “four horsemen” of New Atheism. He wrote The God Delusion, criticizing belief in the divine, in 2006.
- Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011), English-American author and journalist, one of the “four horsemen” of New Atheism. He wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in 2007.
- Steven Pinker (born 1954), Canadian-American cognitive scientist who believes religion incites violence.
- Prince Ito Hirobumi (1841 – 1909) Four-time Prime Minister of Japan
- Johann Most (1846-1906), German anarchist, who wrote Die Gottespest against any religion
- Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), Soviet leader from 1917 until 1924, who, like most Marxists, believed all religions to be “the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class”.
- Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), a leader of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953, who actively persecuted religions.
- Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), Soviet leader in 1953-64, who initiated, among other measures, the 1958-1964 Soviet anti-religious campaign.
- Periyar E. V. Ramasamy (1879–1973), Tamil politician, between 1938–73, who propagated the principles of rationalism, self-respect, women’s rights and eradication of caste in South India.
- Mao Zedong (1893–1976), Chinese communist leader.
- Enver Hoxha (1908–1985), Albanian communist leader between 1944 and 1985 who banned religion in Albania.
- Pol Pot (1925–1998), was a Cambodian politician and revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge, who banned religion in Cambodia.
- Haruki Murakami, Japanese novelist who wrote: “God only exists in people’s minds. Especially in Japan, God’s always has been a kind of flexible concept. Look at what happened to the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being a God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person.”
- Bill Maher, who wrote and starred in Religulous, a 2008 documentary criticizing and mocking religion.
- Marcus Brigstocke, British comedian.
- James Randi, former magician, professional “debunker” of psychics, outspoken atheist and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.
- Philip Roth, contemporary Jewish-American novelist.
- Matt Dillahunty, Host of The Atheist Experience and former president of the Atheist Community of Austin, engages in debates with apologists.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia