RELIGION IN RUSSIA in pre‑revolutionary days had long been regarded by liberal and progressive thinkers and workers as a dangerous enemy. It is still seriously distrusted, and, where not openly and vigorously attacked, is discouraged and handicapped. In the early days of the Revolution many suffered martyrdom for their faith, the good with the bad.
For centuries the Orthodox Church had worked hand in glove with the Tsarist regime. Institutional religion had consistently sided with superstition and reaction: it was the confessed opponent of science and education. A boast was made to me in pre‑war days that an entirely ignorant man could become a bishop in Russia.
It was inevitable that many adherents of a religion openly reactionary and confessedly unintellectual should oppose the new revolution and side with the interventionist nations whose armies encircled the young republic and sought its destruction. In such circumstances the effort to suppress the Church is no matter of surprise. Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were anti‑religious just because they believed that religion had consistently aligned itself with organized injustice. Outrages were committed on the Church in proportion as the Church had become corrupt and wealthy, neglectful not only of social justice, liberty, education of the masses, and social welfare in general, but actively persecuting those who made these things their concern. It is not natural for people to murder priests.
No great revolution, alas, was ever carried through without bloodshed, violence, and brutality. The struggles for liberty in England have their own tales to tell. Terrible things happened in France. Terrible things likewise happened in Russia. They happened on both sides, though the atrocity statistics concerning them have been, as most responsible historians know today, grossly exaggerated.
The attitude of persecution has given way to a measure of tolerance. It is totally untrue to say that the present‑day Soviet Union lacks religious freedom. Churches in the Soviet Union may, and do, suffer material disabilities compared with churches in England. They may be denied revenue from land or capital. But that is a restriction denied to all groups or individuals in Soviet Russia. Still more serious, they are denied the right to give organized religious teaching to children outside the family circle, though no restrictions debar instruction there. It is not forbidden to give religious instruction to adults. Press and radio are closed to religious propaganda.
These constitute serious restrictions, but many lands besides the Soviet Union suffer from the like or worse. It has been the subject of constant complaint of Protestants in Catholic lands and vice versa.
On the other hand, every citizen is free to express his or her religious views, and convert others to them. My friend, Mr. Pat Sloan, a Cambridge graduate of distinction, teaching in a Soviet college, and serving as leader of its Trade Union, was taken ill with fever and removed to hospital, where a nurse, who happened to be a Baptist, endeavoured to proselytise him, with no hindrance from the authorities. The Baptist nurse, incidentally, was as severe as any Bolshevik on the Russian Orthodox Church,saying, "Oh, well, that's not real religion, that's false religion.” Nothing, apparently, says Mr. Sloan, in Soviet legislation irritated her save that she desired for the Baptists the same monopoly of the people's mind as the Russian Orthodox Church had enjoyed before the Revolution.
Another friend of mine lived with a Russian family in Moscow. In the corner of the living‑room stood an ikon, and before it burned a lamp.
"Are there believers here?" he asked.
"Yes, a maid from the country who works next door is a believer, so is an engineer who also lives here," was the reply.
"Then you do permit a profession of religion?" he asked.
"Certainly, why not? That is their own affair," was the further reply.
No official attempt is made to suppress views such as these, and any group of citizens wishing to conduct religious worship is at liberty to do so, having access to premises free of charge, though responsibility for the pay of the priest and repair and insurance of the building are first charges on its resources.
Some 50,000 priests live today in the Soviet Union. They are as free to vote at the polls as any other citizen. I could quote, in substantiation of these statements, from my own experience, or from that of a Russian émigre abbot from New York, who had visited me in 1937, immediately after his visit to the Soviet Union, where he had travelled without let or hindrance from north to south and in his priestly robes; or from many another source; but let these brief quotations from Mr. Alan Cash, a Canadian traveller and observer, suffice:
The congregation (of a church in Leningrad) nearly filled the church, and people of all ages were represented, although most of them were elderly. . . . One of the priests was quite young, but his enthusiasm was patent to all. Passers‑by took little notice when the crowd poured out into the street. . . . It was the same in Moscow, where I saw a priest walking through the streets in the usual long grey robes and with his hair rolled in a knot on the back of his head. . . . At Tiflis I went a round of churches with a young Georgian, who had been in the U.S.A. for many years.... St. Simons Cathedral, now more than a thousand years old, had not been damaged in any way.
Mr. Cash tells of a priest at another new church in Tiflis, who
told us that the priests had been persecuted there considerably, but he did not blame the government. It was due to overzealous local officials, and as soon as the government learnt what was going on it promptly put a stop to it. The Church, he admitted quite frankly, had taken an active part in anti‑revolutionary work and had suffered the consequences. One of his own bishops had been caught using the church as a mask for anti‑revolutionary activities, and this had brought much trouble down on them all. But now everything was right.
The Georgian priest's statement that the Government had put a check on over‑zealous anti‑religious local officials is interesting in the light of a recent occurrence widely quoted in the Soviet Press.
A Stakanovite girl‑worker on a State farm in Siberia was a practising believer. Her anti‑religious neighbours felt that, as such, she should not hold important office. Hers was made a test case. it was referred to Stalin himself. And Stalin's decision was entirely in favour of the girl; a decision fully borne out by Article 124 of the New Constitution:
In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the State, and the school from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti‑religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.
So far we have been concerned with external questions, with the attitude of the Soviet Union to an organized religious body and to members of that body.
A more difficult, but also, I venture to think, a more important concern awaits discussionthe relation of the Soviet experiment as a whole and in its essence to religion as such.
I wish to suggest that communism in its positive aspect is no fundamental enemy of religion, least of all of the Christian religion. In the long run, unless I am seriously mistaken, it will prove to be a true friend in at least one essential particular. It provides society with a new moral base, and is in process of achieving on the "this world" level those very things that we Christians have too often professed with our lips but denied in our lives. It has struck the death‑blow to an immoral order in which we have tacitly acquiesced. A misconception concerning the Soviet Union in respect of religion is widespread and must be removed at once.
The use of the words "dialectical materialism" as descriptive of the Soviet outlook is unfortunate for the average English reader. The term "dialectical materialism" is easily confounded with the largely discredited doctrine of "materialism" which had gripped scientists a quarter of a century ago, and which was entirely incompatible with religious belief.
To the materialist, mind and matter are the same thing. To the materialist, mind is merely a function of matter. To the materialist, mind is but an effect, a mode, a property of inert matter.
That belief is now dead. And scientists themselves have had no small part in slaying it.
That belief again, and all that we common English folk mean by the word "materialism," stands entirely apart from what is meant by "dialectical materialism." None, indeed, opposed the materialistic view of life more resolutely than Lenin himself. Lenin said that he knew what "reality" was because he found the same laws working in his own mind that were working in human society, in the atoms and in the stars. The process of life is creative, says Lenin, and the process of life calls for purposeful activity of man.
Lenin's belief in personality as something alive, creative, originating, and dignified, is wholly opposed to a devitalizing and degrading materialism.
A passionate assertion of atheism no more means that a man is fundamentally irreligious from a Christian point of view than a passionate profession of belief in God necessarily stamps a man as religious. Much depends upon the meaning we attach to the words religion and God.
Tolstoy, we are told, once asked Maxim Gorky point blank: "Do you believe in God?" Gorky replied: "No." Let me paraphrase Tolstoy's reply. "You say you don't, and you believe you don't; in reality you do. Every word you write tells me so. It is not what a man says, or thinks he says, but what a man is, that speaks the truth; your whole being tells me you believe in God."
We may here appropriately recall the words of Christ Himself: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
Not what we say with our lips, or even what we think we believe, expresses our real belief. The orientation of our entire life is the thing that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Our life prays more sincerely than our lips.
In a stimulating and suggestive chapter of his "Creative Society" Professor John McMurray puts the matter clearly, bidding us look below the verbal definition of the term God, and religion, and ask, "What are the realities for which these terms stand?"
Is not a real belief in God that which lifts us out of our self‑centredness and frees us from our fears? Is it not the power to live as part of the whole of things?
Many of us, unfortunately, whilst calling ourselves religious and professing belief in God, lack any such real belief in God, or hold it half‑heartedly and partially. We distrust the world and men, and prove our lack of confidence in the supreme power behind all, by hedging ourselves around in isolation and building up our own security. We are self‑centred. We lack real enthusiastic confidence in the possibilities of the world or man, or in the providence which orders both. That is always the danger of professional religion.
And it is of such so‑called believers in God that Jesus avers that He will finally say, "I never knew you." Refusal to act gave the lie to their professed belief.
The disinterested communist, on the other hand, has, I would suggest, recaptured this power to live as part of the whole of things. He believes in what he calls the laws of Nature and the processes of history. He has faith in a power which determines the destiny of mankind. He feels himself to be an instrument in the hands of a power which is not unfriendly and which is here and now achieving its purpose of creating a true and universal brotherhood of mankind, which he calls the classless society.
In so far as he holds such a belief, a communist has recovered much of the core of real belief in God.
The ground cleared by these preliminary suggestions, we can proceed to closer quarters with our problem. Hitherto we have spoken of communism and religion in general. There is something further to say on communism and Christianity.
Geologists and biologists have enabled us to trace the course of the world's development, and select a leading principle as guide amidst the stupendous changes through which life on this earth has passed. It is the principle of organization.
Life as it develops reaches higher and ever higher levels of organization.
This knowledge enables us to estimate in which direction life in the future will move. Life will follow the lines of a more complex and closely knit organization. As change appears to be the one inevitable law of life: change in the direction of higher organization will be the hall‑mark of progress.
Living organisms are obviously to be distinguished from a mere mixture of chemical elements. Thus protoplasm, that semi‑fluid, colourless, or whitish substance which constitutes the physical basis of life in all plants and animals, is a living organism, very low, but definitely organized as no mere chemical compound is organized.
Every successive upward step has been a fresh advance in the level of organization. The process has culminated in the higher mammals, where the number and complexity and interrelation of parts in the whole reach the maximum.
Organization, however, does not stop when it has reached the stage of mammals. As Dr. Joseph Needham, the Cambridge biochemist, points out, from the complexity of man, the highest individual mammal, we pass on to a new complexity on another plane, the complexity of the group.
Sociological organization and development must be thought of as continuous with biological.
Furthermore, social organization, when and as it comes, will demand just that same "renunciation of the dominant impulses" which has been necessary in earlier stages of organized life and which at the human stage we call altruism or unselfishness.
Looking back upon life at its lowest ranges, we see this same principle of "renunciation" already operative. The free‑living, independent cells out of which all bodies are built up, had, in "renunciation," to give up their freedom ere they could pass into the higher levels of life which are found in those animals whose bodies consist of many cells.
In like manner, if there is to be a higher level of social organization than we possess today, then similar renunciations will be demanded of each of us. We are, as it were, cells of the new and more complex organization, losing something of independence, but gaining far more in the higher level of living to which we have advanced.
We, as individuals, however, are not the last stage of the evolutionary process. We cannot believe that we alone have reached the pinnacle of organization. We in turn need to be united in a yet larger whole. Our present confusion must be turned into future order.
As from our standpoint other ages were ages of chaos, so from a future standpoint will our age appear chaotic. Chaos reigns, for example, in the existence of our many sovereign states, each unrestricted by any moral law curtailing its absolute sovereignty. Chaos reigns in a world where the natural resources and the machinery of production are retained as private property by private men who possess the right to lay down the terms on which alone other men have access to what is their only means of livelihood. Chaos reigns in a world where fierce competition and unregulated profit‑making are the twin motives of industrial production.
If there is any force at work tending to remove this chaos, tending to unite the world of men into one whole, whilst leaving to the peoples composing that world as much as possible of their peculiar customs, languages, art, and literature, limited in national sovereignty, but united in economic dependence, such a force would he completely in line with that growth in organisms which has marked the march of life in the past. Any process of world‑planning by collective man who has obtained control of land, natural resources, and productive machinery, who has abolished privilege and approaches a classless state, marks the upthrust of another stage of the evolutionary development. Not one whit the less does it mark the fulfilment of the Christian demands.
This collectivism is inevitable. The Soviet Union has obviously made a great step towards it: both explicitly in its professed programme, and concretely, as we have seen, despite all setbacks, blunders, defects, and crimesand what nation among us is guiltless of these?in the practice of its daily life.
Christians should recognize once and for all that economic exploitation, with all its degrading and disorganizing consequences, is as utterly wrong as it is scientifically doomed.
Christians should cease from that exclusive concentration on the "other worldly" and mystical elements of religion, through fear of feudal lord or financial capitalist, or established order, or sheer inertia, which makes them condone what they should condemn and condemn what they should welcome. The established order has small complaint against, though real contempt for, the men whose religion is concerned wholly and solely with the things beyond the skies. A true Christianity never permits its contemplation of another world to hinder its joy and duty in this; but draws from an eternal order the inspiration for achievement here. Only a spurious Christianity neglects "living" in the interests of "thinking and contemplation.”
Collectivism, in short, is not only answerable to Christian originswe recollect the early communism at Jerusalemit begins to create in practical and concrete form what is meant by the Christian term of brotherhood.
Communism, in the Soviet Union, believes in brotherhood and practises it; believes in collective security and seeks it; believes in internationalism and works for it; believes in peace and hopes to win it. Communism, in the Soviet Union, turns emotional communism into scientific communism.
Covetousness is the greatest foe to the next advance towards this higher organization, and Christianity is the sworn foe of covetousness. Men covet riches because they covet the power, prestige, and privilege which riches bring. The covetous man moves into isolation, hedging himself around in the search for security.
In its very essence covetousness is a denial of God, a refusal to give up the selfish, independent life and seek security in the whole.
That is why Jesus warned men to "take heed and beware of covetousness.” That, too, is why St. Paul speaks of covetousness as of something indecent and loathsome: "let it not even be named among you" (Ephesians v. 3). The covetous man is classed with fornicators and unclean persons.
The acquisitive or covetous spirit, in the eyes of St. Paul, is as evil in its nature as is perverted and unrestrained carnal instinct.
The Soviet Union performed an essentially religious act entirely parallel with this Christian abhorrence of covetousness when it cut the taproot of covetousness, freeing men from the bondage of the acquisitive instinct and paving the way for a new organization of life on a higher level of existence.
If communism cannot be regarded by religious men as the end of the whole life process, it certainly appears to shadow a vitally necessary step in religious development.
Communism has overcome the disintegration of modern society by pressing forward to a higher and more complete union of the separated parts.
Communism has at last found a form of integration compatible with the necessities of a technical civilization.
Communism has served religion by challenging the irreligious dualism of Greek thought which separated life into two parts, religious and secular, thus perverting the religion which we inherited from the Hebrews and which culminated in Jesus. For Hebraic religion, and still more the Christian religion in its original intention, embraced the whole of life. It never suffered life to fall into two parts, signifying that contemplation was the sole and supreme religious duty, condoning the disintegration of society, whilst luxuriating in the thought of the harmonious heavenly places.
Where, to the Greek, God was an aristocrat, to the Christian He was a worker; and, as a consequence of this, where to the Greek the ideal of human life was contemplation, to the Hebrew and Christian it was action and self‑realization.
Furthermore, to the Hebrew and to the early Christian, man's welfare depended upon community; his self‑realization demanded "renunciation" and subordination to the whole. The intention of God, according to Jesus, is a community of persons building up relationships on a basis of freedom and equality. To violate that sense of community, to realize, or seek to realize, oneself at the expense of the whole, is to court disaster. To act egocentrically is to act against one's nature, and leads to failure and frustration. All history is a commentary and a judgement upon the self‑will of man, particularly upon his lust for power and for the luxury of contemplation.
To the communist, as to the Christian, community is paramount. Man realizes himself in society. The communist puts the Christian to shame in the thoroughness of his quest for a harmonious society. Here he proves himself to be heir of the Christian intention.
The communist attack upon idealism, then, as well as the communist struggle for community, contains an element of true religion, and as such demands Christian recognition.
Had Christians from the first but given to communists the welcome which was due to men whose motto"from every one according to his ability and to every one according to his need”is so wholly Christian, and who had passed from words to deeds in their construction of a concrete order based on these principles, Christians would have done more honour to the intention of their Founder, and Soviet communists might never have felt compelled to launch their war against religion. Perhaps they had even been ready to heed the warning which Christians must feel bound to give to all who lightly imagine that a perfected order lies at the end of the social process; or anticipate the creation of a perfect society in which all tensions are resolved.
Such a social order would, indeed, appear to be the end of society, and not a new beginning. Every fresh integration introduces its own tension instead of tensionless perfection.
But it is a tension upon a higher plane. The communist order, now having moved to a higher plane of integration, may well be expected to experience new and newly creative tensions. Such tension should be neither surprising nor disturbing. The Christian anticipates them.
Did it concern our present purpose, we might well proceed to argue that the problems of good and evil, life and death, cannot be solved so easily as some communists would suppose. We could urge substantial grounds for believing that the final fulfilment of life is to he found, not in but beyond history itself. We might further urge that could we succeed even in integrating all human life in this present order, there will still remain the problem of integrating the life of our human order as a whole with the life of the universal order.
That, save for the mention of it, lies, however, outside our present purpose, which in the main is to seek the creative ideas in communism and to examine and estimate their value, and we may appropriately come back to the point at which we began, and urge that communists are right when they insist that we must begin to achieve in practice that integration which already lies within our power, and that the religion which not only refuses to do this but hinders, side‑tracks, and misrepresents those who attempt it and then seeks refuge from action in contemplation and reflection, is an enemy and must be resolutely removed. "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen." “Love is the fulfilling of the law."
Note: I usually post works by others for research purposes without editorializing. I offer this piece of odious Stalinist propaganda as a duplicitous version of holism and emergent evolution. Note the reference to Joseph Needham. The famous Red Dean of Canterbury, a Christian fellow-traveller and pro-Soviet propagandist, writing under the menace of World War, effects a curious alchemical fusion of Christian moralism, communitarianism, dialectical materialism, and mystical holism. His interpretations of the meanings of 'materialism' and 'atheism' are sly distortions and misrepresentations. Under all of the feelgood moralism is an ideology of collectivism and self-sacrifice completely foreign to the thought of Marx. Even if the examples of religious freedom are factually correct and not fabricated, Stalin's real motives and calculations for not pushing religious workers and peasants too far are left out of account. This is not only an exemplary piece of Popular Front sophistry, it reveals the ideological logic by which middle class moralism becomes the unwitting accomplice of totalitarian barbarism. RD
SOURCE: Johnson, Hewlett (The Very Reverend, the Dean of Canterbury). The Soviet Power: The Socialist Sixth of the World (New York: International Publishers, 1940), Book Six, Chapter 3, pp. 310-320.
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