Isn't it strange that atheism and communism are so closely bound to one another, but the two actually have very distinctive meanings? Many people ponder why these two simple words are intertwined as tightly as they are. What initiated this widely known relationship? Why are atheists often asked if they are communists?
Understanding atheism is usually an uncomplicated task because most people have already learned about one way or another. As C.S. Lewis stated, "Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning..." (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). By reading Lewis's statement, it is possible to determine that atheists do not believe in a God because they assume the universe does not have a meaning; if the world does not have a meaning, then God does not exist. In my opinion, believing in a God makes the world go around. If a person believes in God, then the universe has meaning because God created the universe. The bible clarifies this by widely known phrase that came from God stating, "Let there be light".
For a direct definition, David Palmer wrote that atheism is the view that there is no God (Palmer, 2008, p. 448). Several atheism arguments are the kind of reverse cosmological proofs, which try to show that some of the facts in the world do not agree with the idea of God. The following is an example: "God's omniscience in incompatible with the freedom he gave his creatures. (If God is omniscient, he knows the future. If God knows what humans will do in the future, then they must do what God knows they will do [or else God is wrong]. If God does not know what they will do, then he is not omniscient)". (Palmer, 2008, p. 178).
In addition, some philosophers throughout history were atheists. Bertrand Russell is a commendable example of a noted philosopher who did not believe in God. Russell became an atheist at age eighteen when he decided that the "first cause" argument was invalid (Palmer, 2008, p. 159). This argument is an attempt to establish God's existence by deducing it from some observable facts in the world. An example is Thomas Aquinas's claim that from the observation of causal chains in the world, we can deduce the necessity of a "first cause", or God (Palmer, 2008, p. 450). What if we trace the past series of events back and there is not a first event? What if the past series stretches back into infinity? This is the mindset that atheists have. Atheists do not think that the past series of events trace back to God. Instead, they believe that if they were to trace the past, they would discover that the past stretches back into infinity, and there is not a first event; there is no God. The two men who authored The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels, were philosophical atheists as well. Karl Marx once pronounced,
"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" (Karl Marx).
I believe that Marx referred to religion in a negative view because he thought religion was ruining the human society; he believed that it was "the opium of the people". Perhaps Marx felt that this "opium" was ruining the society because people believed in it too much. I think that Marx felt that religion should not play an important role in people's lives.
Yet, communism is a completely different story than atheism. Communism is more perplexing when trying to understand because there are many aspects involved. Because there are so many aspects, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels formulated a book titled The Communist Manifesto in order to explain it more appropriately.
Furthermore, it is difficult to suppress communism to a simple definition because the term is necessarily very broad. Communism is the political theory that advocates the abolition of private property and asserts that goods must be held in common and that the ideal social unit is the commune. Communism and Marxism are closely related. Marxism is a political or philosophical doctrine based on the writings of Karl Marx (an atheist philosopher who wrote The Communist Manifesto). Marxism is politically a form of communism (Palmer, 2008, p. 449, 456). In an attempt to explain communism, Vladimir Pozner wrote, "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies" (Marx & Engels, 2004, p. xi). I think the meaning of this quote is to compare communism to a spectre, which is basically something very unpleasant; communism is unpleasant. This quote explains communism because most people look at communism as a system that is evil and unwanted, much like a spectre.
Why are the two simple words, communism and atheism, intertwined as tightly as they are? It all began when communism was introduced in the 19th century. Karl Marx and his assistant, Friedrich Engels, defined the word "communism" better than anyone ever had. As mentioned before, Marx and Engels developed the book The Communist Manifesto to define communism for everyone to read. This book preaches atheism very clearly. Why did Marx and Engels preach atheism in a book that was designed to demonstrate communism? My guess is that the two authors were doing so in order to demolish religion altogether for good.
Marx and Engels wrote about the way a society should work very clearly, in a long list of requirements. Within this list lies the idea of stringent atheism. "Stringent atheism" are not actual words in the book, but it is very clear to see that atheism was buried behind the words. For example, the book states, "But communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience" (Marx & Engels, 2004, p. 33-34). Here, anyone can realize that Marx and Engels did not want the people to respect the idea of religion or anything related to being truthful.
Why did communism involve abolishing religion? Perhaps communists attacked religion because they viewed it as part of a troublesome and corrupt system; referring to religion as a treacherous system because communism was simply supposed to be the only system. The previous quote stated, "Communism therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience" (Marx and Engels, 2004, p. 33-34). Here, the reader can be sure that religion is said to be related to history. Maybe communism wants this relationship to vanish because religion is the only concept that has managed to stay strong, faithful, and unyielding to all of the people throughout our history. I think that communism probably wants to be the only "system" that can take place, not change, and be successful in the minds of the people, while they sit back and watch other systems attempt to be successful but eventually fail. Communism is supposed to be the "absolute" system, and for that to happen, communists must get rid of religion for good. In other words, communism practically looks at religion as an aggressive competing system, and communists do not like competition. Communism attempts to take the people and control everything they do and think. In order to be controlling, communists must annihilate all of the influences (such as religion) in their people's lives.
Why are atheists often asked if they are communists? I believe that most atheists are asked if they are communists because most people who are communists have not been able to be exposed to any religion or anything having to do with religious aspects for that matter. Since communism eliminated all connections to religion, I find it hard to believe that anyone under the communist power would have even had the change to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to believe in a God. However, some communists could have just chosen to be atheists. If a child was raised under a communist family, he or she could have simply chosen to live his/her life as their parents or guardians did. It is easy to understand why a person would assume an atheist is a communist. It is because atheism is practically the official "religion" of the countries that are under communist power.
In conclusion, I hope that one can now understand this paradoxical relationship between atheism and communism. When looking up these two words, it is easy to see that the two have very different meanings. However, atheism and communism have been linked together for centuries. When participating in a conversation including communism, it is difficult to not acknowledge atheism for many reasons. However, I personally believe that the biggest reason is all because of the book, The Communist Manifesto. This book shows how much Marx wanted to eliminate religion in order to have absolute power over his people, and this, in my opinion, is a major aspect of communism.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2004). The Communist Manifesto. New York: Bantam Dell.
Palmer, D. (2008). Does the center hold? (4th edition). New York: McGraw Hill.
When I was told we would have to write a five page philosophical paper for this class, I was worried about it. Then, I found out that it was worth thirty percent of our grade, and I started to worry even more. I had never given philosophy much thought before enrolling in this class, so I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I sat around for days upon days trying to figure out where to even start with this project.
One day, I decided that I just needed to get a move on because I did not want to fall behind. I began reading the recommended material. Reading the material was a lot of hard work. It took a long time, but I found myself not being able to put it down. I realized that I was actually interested in the material, and this is when I began to calm down. I have noticed that students do not do as well when they are not interested in the subject. When I realized that this material was actually something I was interested in, the process became a lot easier.
First, I picked up the book The Communist Manifesto. It took me several days to read it because I found it boring and tiresome, but after I finished, I decided that this book was going to be my main focus. The book had a lot of material I found very useful. I personally believe that communism is insane, so I had a difficult time keeping my harsh opinions to myself. I finally managed to keep those feelings to myself, and the paper became even easier.
Next, I reread the sections in our textbook, Does the Center Hold? This section was titled "Philosophy of Religion". Here, I learned about the cosmological proof, as well as Bertrand Russell. I found these two topics to be the most interesting, so I wanted to add them to my project, along with The Communist Manifesto. While writing about atheism, I found that my faith was interfering with the purpose of this paper. Once again, I found it difficult to set my feelings aside. I simply wanted to write, "Atheism is stupid," and be done with it, but I knew I could not do this.
Once I began to see the deep connection between atheism and communism, I was surprised. I had always known that the two were connected, but I did not completely understand why. Every time there was a conversation about communism, atheism was brought up. Once people started talking about the relationship between atheism and communism, I would have to leave the conversation because I did not understand. After writing this paper, I am actually looking forward to the next time this subject matter is brought up, because I can finally participate. I can even add a lot of my own personal ideas and concerns that have been running through my head.
Every time I reread this project, I find new things to add into it. I have caught myself changing my ideas and finding new explanations almost every day. I found it difficult to not go over the five page limit because there are just so many ideas, opinions, and theories that I want to elaborate on; there is so much to say, and not enough room to fit it all in. I never knew that I would have so many opinions or be so interested in a paper for philosophy!!
To conclude this appendix, I would just like to say that I have found philosophy very interesting. Like I stated above, I never knew that I could formulate so many ideas and explanations for one subject. I have never been placed in a situation where I had to actually use my mind to come up with opinion, and I found that I actually enjoyed it. Despite my first reaction to this paper, I am glad that it was assigned. I have learned a lot about the relationship between atheism and communism.