Comment roundup bonus edition: Stalin.

On my post about possible forthcoming laws in Russia with three-year prison terms for offending people’s religious sensibilities, someone left this comment.

//You say “atheists”, plural, as if their atheism had shit to do with the Gulags. It didn’t.//

You’re delusional.

Am I now?

A cursory examination of Russian history will confirm that Stalin was a paranoid who killed millions to consolidate his power.  Totalitarianism, not atheism, was the driving force or causal link.  Those who claim he was killing because of atheism conveniently ignore facts that show their claim to be bogus.

One of the facts they ignore is that he killed lots of different folks, not just Christians.  This makes no sense if atheism is the causal link, but perfect sense if potential political foes is the reason.  He killed factions within his own Communist party  (anyone not unquestioningly loyal to him, and many hundreds of thousands who were loyal to him, had to be “weeded out”).  He killed Finns, Karelians, Ukrainians, 35,000 military officers shot or imprisoned, almost all of the Bolsheviks  who had played prominent roles during the Russian Revolution of 1917, thousands of writers, intellectuals, and artists, 141 American Communists, at least 436,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD troikas as part of the Kulak (relatively affluent peasants, regardless of religion) operation, and so on.

One of the numbers you’ll often hear theists regurgitate is the 7 million Ukrainians who died in Stalin’s famine.  Most of the time they’ll even say Stalin murdered 7 million Christians, not 7 million Ukranians.  That kind of misleading argument can only be found with a position that must mislead in order to be accepted.  The truth of the matter is that the famine was engineered to break the will of the Ukrainians politically and as a source of revolt, not to wipe out whatever Christians happened to be Ukrainian.

Something those using atheism as an excuse are typically unaware of is that the Orthodox Church in Russia was heavily involved in the politics of the time.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize the power of the church in politics has only to glance at all of the anti-gay legislation in this country fomented from the pulpit.  Quite simply, the Russian Orthodox Church backed the wrong horse politically and suffered political consequences for it.  Stalin didn’t go after them because they were Christians, he went after them because they were a political player.  Theists want to pretend that all the various elements of communist totalitarianism were irrelevant to what happened, which is utter nonsense.

Another conveniently ignored fact is that between 1945 and 1953 (and extending to 1959 under policies put into place by Stalin), the official organization of the church was greatly expanded, “although individual members of the clergy were occasionally arrested and exiled. The number of open churches went from about 500 to  25,000. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active.”

After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union  in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church. On September 4, 1943, Metropolitans Sergius, Alexy and Nikolay  had a meeting with Stalin and received a permission to convene a council on September 8, 1943, which elected Sergius Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This is considered by some violation of the XXX Apostolic canon, as no church hierarchy could be consecrated by secular authorities.  A new patriarch was elected, theological schools were opened, and thousands of churches began to function. The Moscow Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was re-opened.

What this shows is that religion was a political football for Stalin.  If atheism, and not totalitarianism, were the driving force, why ever would he have revived the church from 500 units to 22,000 units?  How can you possibly explain this if atheism were the driving force behind any of his purges?

In Stalin’s case, he was clearly driven by the acquisition of political power.  He was not driven by a lack of belief in god, a lack of belief in leprechauns, the fact that he had a mustache or any other quality.  This is obvious.  Compare him to a monster like Torquemada, who stated explicitly why non-Christians must die and who only killed non-Christians.  It is plain to see how Torquemada’s religious beliefs were the driving force for his bloodshed.  Can you see the difference?

Even if I concede Stalin’s atheism, not all atheists are particularly reasonable.  This is why Stalin’s barbarism is universally condemned by atheists and religious people of sane moral standards alike (and was condemned by those who shared his conclusions about god at the time, which is another way Stalin’s case is different from Torquemada’s).  There is no atheist creed Stalin was referencing to motivate him since no such creed exists and could not exist, because nobody builds creeds upon what they don’t believe – otherwise you could just as soon ascribe Stalin’s barbarism to his disbelief in unicorns.

Atheism entails one truth claim: god doesn’t exist.  That’s it.  Compare that to religion in which, once you accept the founding premise, many truth claims follow.  Once you accept that god exists and that he wrote a book (the bible) dictating his will to mankind, can anybody genuinely wonder how that fact can make, say, opposition to homosexual equality seem like a logical conclusion?

Essentially it boils down to this: reason is what’s important.  Were Stalin’s political and moral ideas reasonable?  No, not at all.  Is the idea that a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead reasonable?  No, not at all.  Irrationality is dangerous and embarrassing, and we should criticize it fiercely.  If you can agree to the very basic premise that irrationality was required for what Stalin (an atheist) did or for what Hitler (a Catholic) did, then you should realize irrationality for the poison that it is and do everything in your power to carve it out of your own life.  If you think believing that a guy 2,000 years ago walked on water is the best way to meet this responsibility, it is you who is delusional, not me.

Moral of the story: do fucking research before shooting off at the mouth!  Will that make you right every time?  No.  But it will certainly help and, when you are wrong, you can change your mind and be happy to do so because reason and fact, not your current conclusions, are what’s important to you.  If believers took even fifteen fucking minutes to honestly ask themselves “Hrm, Stalin was an atheist, but did he really kill people because he was an atheist?” and went on Wikipedia to find out, we would not even need to be having this conversation.

If you cherish your beliefs, treat them like you think they’re important!  Make them the product of research and introspection, not a substitute for them.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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