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Religious culture in the USSR


Cyrillic
Cyrillic

Karl Marx, who believed history was driven by purely material considerations, took a dim view of religious faith, calling it “the opium of the masses” in his writings. The Soviet regime’s Marxist roots and its antipathy toward all social associations and belief systems not under its direct control made it openly opposed to religion from the outset. Shortly after 1917 it impounded the property of the Russian Orthodox Church, forbade religious instruction, instituted antireligious propaganda, and persecuted priests. Atheistic fervor, having abated in the 1920s, reached a crescendo after 1929, when thousands of churches were shut down and razed, only to ebb in the late 1930s and to yield during World War II to pragmatic concessions to believers. The crusade against religion was revived by Khrushchev, then toned down under Brezhnev and Gorbachev.

From the 1930s onward, Soviet policy was more antagonistic toward non-Orthodox denominations than toward Orthodoxy, which had been the established church under the tsars and was linked with Russian patriotism.

The government sought out collaborators in the Orthodox hierarchy but dealt harshly with the activist groups that emerged as part of the dissident movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The main arm of antireligious education was the Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge, the successor to the League of Militant Atheists founded in 1925. Within the state apparatus, the Council on Religious Affairs kept tabs on the clergy, working hand in hand with the political police.

The incidence of religious belief is difficult to assess because the government did not publish statistics on it and harassment drove many religious practices underground.

Approximately 50 million Soviet citizens identified themselves to some degree with Russian Orthodoxy or with the somewhat autonomous branches of Eastern Orthodoxy in the Georgian and Armenian republics.

There were perhaps 8 million Roman and Greek Catholics, chiefly in the Ukrainian and Lithuanian republics, and about 1 million Protestants and about the same number of Jews. Up to 50 million Soviet citizens had some tie to Islam, but often more on the cultural than on the religious plane. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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