Humanism, Atheism: Principles and Practice


When young Marx quoted Prometheus: "In sooth all gods I hate," he denounced all gods, heavenly and earthly, who did not acknowledge the consciousness of man as the supreme divinity. This was the expression of the identity of humanism and atheism. In Marx's time this idea caused far less criticism than it does today, for what sounded much like an aphorism is being now implemented in social practice, winning the approval of some and the sharp condemnation of others.

For a long time the discussion of Marxist humanism and atheism, their meaning and character was in the West reduced to bare condemnation. The situation has changed, as it was bound to, and a new method, a dialogue of atheists, believers and agnostics, has become part of life. The desire to perceive the meaning of Marxist atheism is now displayed even by theists—sociologists, politicians, religious leaders, etc., who work directly with the masses. Above all, this refers to those who cherish social peace, justice and national equality as do the working people, those who in the struggle to implement these principles defend unity regardless of their attitude to religion.

A book Links Katholizismus. Eine Katholische Initiative in Moskau was published in Vienna in September, 1965. It was written by Dr. Wilfrid Daim, a Left Catholic, one of the ideologists who not only study the possibility of dialogue between Christians, atheists and those indifferent to religion, but also work to implement it, realizing that it is a means of attaining objectives that are common to all people of good will—universal peace, above all. Dr. Daim is quite right when lie states that "contact between Communists and Catholics is essential, for it is much easier to talk if you know the other side's pattern of thinking."

Dr. Daim tells about the impressions of his visit to the Soviet Union, and reflects on atheism in the USSR. He comes to a number of rash conclusions (which is quite natural for a person making such a short visit as he)—conclusions which are often unconfirmed and sometimes even biased. However, both the visit and the book are actually an initiative, in attempt to understand social relations in the Soviet Union, the ethical principles underlying people's relations and the relations between Church and State there.

Of late the problem of atheism in the Soviet Union has gained currency and is now much discussed by writers, papers and magazines. Among them are not only those who have contact with the Vatican Secretariat on relations with non‑Christians or those who like the Paris magazine Compas follow the development of the dialogue, but also many people who, it would seem, should have no particular interest in the subject. The London Times, for instance, published an article in the summer of 1965, attempting objectively to analyze the activities of atheists. The Times commented on an article from the Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, entitled "The Holy of Holies is Man." Some facts are actually discoveries for the commentator, such as the affirmation of the principle of active love for man and condemnation of those violating the principle in their atheistic activities. Had this dialogue begun earlier, such revelations would probably long since have ceased to be revelations.

Educational and enlightening work in the USSR has always been directed to implementing in all its magnitude the principle "Man is a friend to man, a comrade and brother."

What does day‑to‑day atheistic educational work consist of? It is directed to helping man find his place in life, and also to instilling in people the desire to dedicate their work directly to society and to people, so that their full and spiritually rich life becomes earthly happiness and not a preparation for some reward in the next world. The work of the atheist requires active love for man and irreconcilability to the illusions, myths and ideas that prevent him from living a socially meaningful life.

The need to do people good—not to think only of one's own advantage, profit, success, business—does not spring up all by itself. To promote the good of society and man (or to love thy neighbour, as a believer would put it) in the name of man and the whole of society and not for the sake of blessings in the world to come, to make this one's vital necessity, the meaning of one's being and off day‑to‑day relations, requires tremendous effort and considerable time on the part of society. It requires the emancipation of man's consciousness, its release from delusions and superstitions about society and man in general. The founders of scientific communism did not think that the process of making social relations "tranquil for all'' could be momentary. It was vulgarizers of various categories who ascribed the automatic materialization of the tendency of social progress to Marx and Engels's doctrine, those who did not wish serious to consider Engels's Critique of Political Economy or his last letters on the role of ideas in social development.

However, the matter is not limited to a mere affirmation of relations between people as being brotherly and comradely. Above all, it depends on the creation of material conditions in which such relations can develop in everyday life. This is inconceivable without knowledge of material life, without science.

The building of a communist society is based on the knowledge of nature, society and man. Irreconcilability to religious ideology as a system of anti‑scientific views is also based on the foundation of knowledge. Ideological conviction and firm principles, spiritual wealth and human kindness are the qualities that the true propagandists of atheism display in their everyday practical work.

It is gratifying to note that genuine atheistic work, and not its caricature, as spread in the West, is increasingly becoming a subject of study for those who concern themselves with problems of atheistic work in the USSR, the nature and methods in which it is carried out.

This fact is the main reason for publishing this book. It is not a collection of documents or informational matter on the state of affairs in various religious organizations. If the reader is interested in such material he should turn to the church periodicals issued in the USSR, such as The Moscow Patriarchy, the Echmiadzin, published by the Armenian-Georgian Church or the Brotherly Herald, organ of the Evangelical Baptist Christians. These periodicals also contain in information on theological literature published in the USSR, on the international contacts religious organizations in the USSR maintain with their co‑believers abroad, on the functioning monasteries, churches, houses of worship and synagogues, as well as on ecclesiastical seminaries, academies, medresses and other centres where clergymen receive education.

This book acquaints the reader with atheists' ideas of their own work, and with their principles and methods. It was prepared by the Institute of Scientific Atheism—the theoretical centre dealing with vital problems of the theory and practice of atheistic education—and contains both original and reprinted material.

The article "Humanism and Atheism—the Present-Day Dialogue" by Inga Kichanova, M. A. (Philosophy), who is also the compiler of this book, outlines the atheists' views on the dialogue of the working people—believers, indifferent ones and atheists—in their struggle for peace, social progress and national equality, that is, the problem now prominent in papers, magazines and books. It contains the author's meditations and conclusions concerning the processes she observed at the Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and during her trips in West Europe.

The article "Atheism: Its Everyday Expression" was written by Boris Grigoryan, M. A. (Philosophy), who was for a long time assistant, editor‑in‑chief of the magazine Science and Religion. He is also the author of a number of articles on the meaning of life, published in that magazine which caused wide repercussions among readers (the editors received about five hundred letters). Today Boris Grigoryan is on the staff of the Institute of Philosophy, USSR Academy of Sciences.

Grigoryan's article concerns the principles of atheistic activities in the USSR. Proceeding from the experience of atheist propaganda and summing up his numerous interviews with believers, that is, examining "human documents," the author reveals the very "essence" and "mechanics" of work with believers. He reveals the profound humanism of this work: the purpose of atheistic education is to seek positive solutions to problems exercising the minds of believers, to help believers restore their contacts with society, that for some reason or other have been destroyed or are incomplete.

The "Experiment" by Vladimir Pomerantsev, writer and journalist, (reprinted from the magazine Science and Religion) would be even more aptly entitled in a polemic way: "Does the Spreading of Atheism Have an Unfavourable Influence on Morals?" The author bases his answer on the results of a special investigation he conducted in Estonia. It was not the author's purpose to give an extensive outline of present‑day moral relations, but only to reveal the tendency in and the dynamics of the development of moral standards.

The documentary story "Meditation and the Heart" by the well-known Soviet surgeon Nikolai Amosov is reprinted from the magazine Science and Life. It contains an intellectual's meditations on the ever‑present problem of life and death. The story is in its way an answer to the questions raised by V. Pomerantsev. Nikolai Amosov's reflections are focused on the problem of goodness and justice.

"Through a Thousand Why's" is an autobiographical essay by Alexander Osipov, a scholar and formerly Professor at the Leningrad Ecclesiastical Academy, who renounced the priesthood in 1959.

The article contains philosophical reflections of the meaning of life and on man's place in society. From the positions of a highly educated intellectual, who for many years was a believer, the author compares Christian humanity with the humanity which has been realized in socialist society, and with the conception of Marxist humanist atheism. He explains why he has made his choice in favour of the materialistic world outlook and the Marxist concept of practical humanism.

The authors are grateful to the Novosti Press Agency Publishing House for the opportunity given them to share their views and thoughts with readers abroad.

SOURCE: Humanism, Atheism: Principles and Practice, by Inga Kichanova, Boris Grigoryan, et al; translated by N. Kiteĺ. Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1966. 248 pp. Introduction, pp. 3-9.

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