Posts Tagged ‘Baptists’

Beeb’s Newsnight Brings on Actress and Internet ‘Pastor’ to Promote May’s Brexit

November 30, 2018

More Tory bias from the Beeb, which is now angling to be the channel that hosts the debate between Tweezer and Jeremy Corbyn. On Monday, 26th November 2018, Newsnight held a studio debate over Brexit. Taking the government’s side was Lynn Hayter, wearing a dog collar, who, we were informed, was a vicar. She declared that she had been a Tory all her life, and believed the government was far better informed than we are, and so backed May.

However, the people on the Net, including Evolve Politics, soon found out that Hayter wasn’t quite what she appeared. She was an actress, who had appeared in various bit parts in EastEnders, Dickensian, The Dresser and The Chronicles.

As for being a vicar, well, no, she wasn’t. She was the Pastor of an internet church with a congregation of 69. The Rev Stevie pointed out that Pastor just meant that she was head of a church, which anyone can set up without any official registration or accreditation. And her church was ‘Seeds For Wealth Ministries’, which describes itself as a religious organization which can help people “realize, release and walk into your financial freedom in Christ. To Educate, Equip and Empower the saints.” Yes, it’s more Prosperity Gospel.

This is the name given to the type of theology which appeared in the 1980s, along with Thatcherism, Reaganomics, Yuppies and all-out corporate greed. It’s best described as a Gospel for the rich. In my experience, it’s mostly been pushed by the Evangelical, non-denominational churches. You know, the type whose members say they’re just ‘Christians’, as against all the other churches from Roman Catholics, the Orthodox churches, right down through Anglicanism, Methodism, Lutherans and the Reformed churches as all counterfeit. The idea is that if you’re a Christian, God will reward you with wealth and material goods. There’s also a New Age, pantheistic version, called Prosperity Consciousness, pushed by Deepak Chopra among other snake-oil merchants.

The Rev. Jim Bakker was also peddling this pernicious nonsense in the US before he got sent to the slammer for financial irregularities at his church. Apart from the fact that he was also having affairs with various female members of his congregation. Bakker was released from jail a few years ago, and wrote a book, denouncing Prosperity Gospel as a heresy. One of the priests at my local church here in Bristol had zero time for it. He was a prison chaplain, and he was disgusted with the way the Pastors preaching this stuff turned up, and promised the inmates that when they got out they’d have expensive cars, good housing and loads of money. But when the cons were release, they’d find there was no car, no fine house and no money waiting for them. And then somebody from the mainstream churches had to clean this psychological and theological mess up after these dodgy Pastors had done their pernicious work.

Christ doesn’t promise His followers wealth and possessions. He promises that the Lord will listen to their prayers, but He consistently condemns the rich for their greed and neglect of the poor, and champions the poor against them. As did the prophet Amos in the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. Other passages in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments also praise the poor against the rich, like this verse from the Psalms, which used to be recited during Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer.

He hath exalted the humble and meek
The rich he hath sent empty away.

Not a verse that would appeal to the Prosperity Gospelers, I would imagine. And some mainstream theologians will argue that Christ had very different intentions for His community and its moral life, which was at 180 degrees to the materialistic values of Roman society. As demonstrated by Christ Himself washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, this was supposed to be a faithful community where indeed to be the first was to be the last, whose leaders were meant to serve their followers in humility, as against the kings and princes of the Roman world, who lorded it over their peoples. In fact the morals of the early Christian church were so different from that of the pagan Roman world that one Christian writer has talked about ‘the Christian Revolution’.

Back to Lynn Marina Hayter, Newsnight responded to these revelations by saying that

Claims that Lynn appeared on #newsnight as a paid actor are false. Lynn is a pastor and was a genuine participant of our Brexit debate. She carries out work as an extra using her middle name but this is not relevant to the capacity in which she appeared.

But Mike on his blog rightly described her as

So: Not a genuine priest, if by that we mean a member of a recognised church. But a genuine actor, and one known to the BBC. And the BBC is unlikely to admit trying to deceive us, so we have reason to doubt its claims.

And the internet made great sport of the fact that anyone can get themselves ordained as a Pastor over the Net, including George Galloway. Galloway described himself as ‘Monsignor’ George Galloway, parish of nowhere, diocese of Brigadoon. In this respect, Hayter’s credentials as a member of the clergy remind me of one of the characters in the Illuminatus! conspiracy novels by Michael Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, who sends out to people cards declaring that they are a genuine Pope or ‘Mome’, according to gender, and so should be treated right.

Tom Pride and others argued that such deception was a matter for resignation, and destroys any confidence that the Beeb is impartial. And Brexitshambles made the point that this was only one such incident. They said

Week after week we have a procession of scam artists appearing on @BBCNewsnight @bbcquestiontime and @SkyNews under the guise of audience participants or official commentators from opaquely funded lobbyists masquerading as educational charities….who checks these people out?

And Mike concluded his article about it by stating that following this, he doesn’t think the BBC will be at all impartial if it wins the decision to host the debate between Tweezer and Corbyn.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/30/the-strange-tale-of-the-vicar-of-brexit-why-the-bbc-shouldnt-host-the-brexit-debate-part-1/

As for Prosperity Gospel, I would strongly advise anyone with a Christian faith, or feels a calling towards Christianity, to give this fraudulent theology a wide berth. It’s not traditional Christian doctrine and the churches pushing it are, in my experience, very right wing. They do want the welfare state destroyed and the NHS privatized. And I’d go so far as to say that the Pastors running this theology are scamming people.

For proper spiritual nourishment, go instead to one of the mainstream churches, like the Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Reformed, Quakers, whichever church, doctrinal theology and form of worship appeals to you. But make sure they teach the traditional Christianity doctrine of genuinely taking care of the poor. The Non-Denominational churches despise the traditional churches in my experience, saying that they teach ‘a social Gospel’. Well quite. This means that they hate them because they’re socially engaged, with a left-wing view of empowering the poor and minorities through state action.

If you go to a church that tries to tell you that joining them will make you rich, and you shouldn’t use the welfare resources of the state, walk out, and go to someone better.

There are plenty of churches, which are working to transform our world for the better, which haven’t swallowed and thoroughly reject this Thatcherite rubbish.

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Thoughts and Prayers for the Victims of the Racist Shooting in Kentucky

October 30, 2018

There was another racist shooting in Kentucky on Saturday, which got overlooked with attention focused on the mass murder of the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In this video from The Young Turks, presenter Francis Maxwell describes what happened, and angrily denounces the anti-Black racism that has led to this story being ignored.

The shooting occurred at a Kroger supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky. The shooter was seen trying to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown. The alleged perp, Gregory Bush, had a history of racism and violence. When he couldn’t get into the church, he walked into the store and shot two Black people, Maurice Stallard and Vicki Jones. Stallard died in front of his 12 year old grandson, while Jones had recently retired from VA hospital. When the cops arrived, Bush surrendered, saying ‘Don’t shoot. Whites don’t kill Whites’.

It’s very obviously a racially motivated killing, but it didn’t make the news in what Maxwell angrily denounces as a failure of the news cycle. It took three days for the story to be noticed by the mainstream news organisations. It was drowned out by stupid conspiracy theories about Justin Bieber, or another Republican politician saying that this time, a White man needs to run for the presidency. And even when the other news media had picked it up, Fox News turned their attention elsewhere, like the migrant caravan from Honduras, which is now still a thousand miles away. And at the same time Trump’s supporters are denying that the right-wing maniac sending bombs to prominent Democrats and the MAGA truck had anything to do with Trump.

He makes the point that racism needs to be confronted, and discussion of it and racially motivated crimes should not be avoided. They aren’t rare. There are all too many of them. Not only is this policy of not mentioning shooting incidents against Blacks dangerous, but it also plays into Trump’s hands and his manipulation of the media. Maxwell here points to another, similar shooting that people also probably haven’t heard about: the shooting of two Black cops by a heavily armed White man they’d confronted. The right-wing American media ignored it, partly because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about a war on cops waged by Blacks.

Maxwell goes on to state that this is why independent media is so important in today’s hyperpolarized political climate. We need to expose these issues, so they can be confronted head on.

It’s a pity that this story was not given the prominence it deserved, and that it has been overshadowed by the synagogue shooting. Every incident of this kind is equally disgusting, regardless of the ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation of the victims. But the concentration of attention on the synagogue shooting to the exclusion of this other atrocity could confirm the anti-Semitism in parts of the American Black community.

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam hate Jews, because they mistakenly blame them for the slave trade. I’ve dispensed with this pernicious myth several times on this blog, quoting from Hugh Thomas’ exhaustive The Slave Trade, and other works of historical scholarship. These show that Jews comprised only a vanishingly tiny minority of slave traders and owners. But Farrakhan and his ilk also resent Jews because they feel they’re not discriminated against, because they’re White. And they have a point. Despite anti-Semitic prejudice, Jews in America and Britain aren’t discriminated against and are now largely comfortably off. This wasn’t always the case. Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century did suffer enormous poverty, as well as prejudice. They got to their present position in society through extremely hard work and talent. And large sections of the Jewish community supported the Black community’s demand for Civil Rights and social and economic improvement. Jackie Walker over here is proof of that in her person. Her parents, a black American mother and a Russian Jewish father, met on a Civil Rights march.

But the resentment and prejudice against the Jews in parts of the Black American community remains. And I’m afraid that the media’s handling of this story will just confirm this prejudice.

Pat Mills Talks to Sasha Simic of the SWP about the Politics of 2000AD

September 15, 2017

This comes from the Socialist Workers’ Party, an organization of which I am not a member and which I don’t support. But this is another really great video, in which one of the great creators of the British comics for over forty years talks about politics, social class, the role of capitalism and women and feminism, not just in 2000AD, but also in comics and publishing generally, and the media.

Mills was speaking as part of annual four day convention the Socialist Workers hold on Marxism. Simic introduces himself as the person, who gets the annual geek slot. As well as a member of the party, he’s also a convener of USDAW. And he’s very happy in this, the centenary of the Russian Revolution, to have on Pat Mills.

Mills starts by saying that as he was growing up in the 50s and 60s, he read the same books everyone else did – John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel. But there was something about it that made him angry, and it was only looking back on it that he came to realise that what infuriated him was the fact that these were all authors from the upper and middle classes, who created heroes from those class backgrounds. He makes the point that these were good writers, but that some of their work was very sinister the more you go into it. Like John Buchan. Buchan was the major propagandist of the First World War. Mills says that Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s infamous spin doctor, had nothing on him. He promoted the First world War, for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada.
He states that he doesn’t want to go too far into it as he’ll start ranting. Nevertheless, he’s glad to be able to talk to the people at the SWP’s convention, as it means they have a similar opinion to him, and he doesn’t have to censor himself.

He makes the point that there are very, very few working class heroes, and believes this is quite deliberate. It’s to deprive working people of a strong role. When the working people do appear, it’s as loyal batmen, or sidekicks, and there is an element of parody there. And it’s not just in comics and literature. In the 1980s he was contacted by the producers of Dr. Who to do a story. He wanted to have a working class spaceship captain. He was told by the script editor that they couldn’t. They also didn’t like his idea to have a working class family. It was only by looking back on where this hatred of the heroes of traditional literature came from, that he came to realise that it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to have any generals in his work.

He also talks about how it’s easier to get away with subversion in comics, as comics are treated as a trivial form of literature, which nobody really cares about. The profit motive also helps. So long as it’s making money, comics companies don’t care what’s going on. And this explains how he was able to get away with some of the things he did in Battle. He states that the way he works is by pretending to write something mainstream and inoffensive, and then subvert it from within. An example of that is Charley’s War in Battle. This looks like an ordinary war strip, but in fact was very anti-war. Even so, there were times when he had to be careful and know when to give up. One of these was about a story he wanted to run about the entry of the Americans into the War. In this story, a group of White American squaddies are members of the Klan, and try to lynch a Black soldier. Charley wades in to help the Black guy. The management rejected the story on the grounds that they didn’t want anything too controversial. Mills decided to draw in his horns and bite his tongue at that point, because he had a bigger story lined up about the British invasion of Russian in 1919, when we sent in 20-30,000 men. It was, he says, our Vietnam, and has been whitewashed out of the history books.

He also makes the point that subversion was also present in the girls’ comics. Even more so, as there was a psychological angle that wasn’t present in the boys’. For example, there was one story called ‘Ella in Easy Street’, where a young girl reacts against her aspirational family. They want to get on, and so the father has two jobs, and the mother is similarly working very hard to support their aspirations. But Ella herself is unhappy, as it’s destroying what they are as a family. And so she sets out to sabotage their yuppie dream. Mills says that it’s not all one-dimensional – he looks at the situation from both sides, pro and con, but the story makes the point that there are things that are more important that materialism and social advancement, like family, comradeship. He says that such a story could not be published now. It’s rather like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, where the hero, in the end, throws the race as a way of giving the system the finger.

Mills reminds his audience just how massive girls’ comics were in the ’70s. They were bigger, much bigger, than the boys’. 2000AD sold 200,000 copies a week in its prime. But Tammy, one of the girls’ comics, sold 260,000. This is really surprising, as women read much more than we men. These comics have all disappeared. This, he says, is because the boys’ took over the sandpit. He has been trying to revive them, and so a couple of stories from Misty have been republished in an album.

This gets him onto the issue of reaching the audience, who really need it. In the case of the stories from Misty, this has meant that there are two serials on sale, both of which are very good, but in a book costing £17 – odd. The only people going to read that are the mothers of the present generation of girls, perhaps. To reach the girls, it needs to be set at a lower price they can afford. This is also a problem with the political material. If you write something subversive, it will receive glowing reviews but be bought by people, who already agree with you. He wants his message to get further out, and not to become a coffee table book for north London.

He talks about the way British comics have grown up with their readership, and the advantages and disadvantages this has brought. British comics has, with the exception of 2000AD, more or less disappeared, and the readership of that comic is in its 30s and 40s. People have put this down to demographics and the rise of computer games, saying that this was inevitable. It wasn’t. It was our fault, says Mills. We fumbled it. Games workshop still have young people amongst their audience, while the French also have computer games across the Channel, but their children are reading comics.

Mills goes on to say that it’s easier writing for adults. Writing for 9 and 10 year olds is much harder, because if they don’t like a story, they’ll say. He says to his audience that they may think the same way, but they’re much too polite to say it at conventions. And they had to respond to their young readers as well, as the kids voted on it every week. They’d tell you if they thought it was a bad story, even if you thought it was the best one so far, and asked yourself what was wrong with the little sh*ts.

He also talks about how difficult it is to break into comics. He has friends, who have been trying for decades to get into 2000AD, and have been unsuccessful. His advice to people trying to do so is: don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s 2000AD. And this also effects text publishing. All the publishers have now been bought up, so that HarperCollins have the fingers in everything, such as Hodder and Stoughton. And their politics aren’t ours.

The way round this is to get into web publishing. Here he digresses and talks about pulp fiction, which is a close relative of comics. He was talking to a guy at a convention, who writes pulp fiction and puts it on the net. It only costs a few pence. The man writes about a zombie apocalypse, but – and this is true, as he’s seen the payment slips – he’s pulling in £3,000 a month. Mills says that this is important as well. He wants to get his material out there, but he also wants to eat. This shows you how you can make money publishing it yourself. Later on in the video, after the questions and the comments from the audience, he goes further into this. He mentions some of the web publishers, one of which is subsidiary of Amazon, which will allow people to publish their own work. He also talks about self-publishing and chapbooks. He found out about these while writing Defoe, his story about Leveller zombie killer in an alternative 17th century England. Chapbooks were so called because they were cheap books, the cheap literature of the masses. And this is what comics should go back to. He says that everyone should produce comics, in the same way that everyone can also make music by picking up an instrument and playing a few chords.

He also praises some of the other subversive literature people have self-produced. Like one piece satirizing the British army’s recruitment posters. ‘Join the army’, it says, ‘- like prison, but with more fighting’. Mills is fairly sure he knows who wrote that as well. It was another guy he met at a convention, who was probably responsible for the anti-war film on YouTube Action Man: Battlefield Casualties. He enormously admires this film, and is envious of the people, who made it.

He also talks about some of the fan letters he’s had. One was from the CEO of a school, he talks about the way reading 2000AD opened up his mind and changed his moral compass. The man says that everything he learned about Fascism, he learned from Judge Dredd, everything about racism from Strontium Dog, and feminism from Halo Jones. He and his headmaster, whom he names, were both punks and he’s now opened a school in Doncaster. The most subversive thing you can do now is to try to create an open-minded and questioning generation of young people. The letter is signed, yours, from a company director, but not an evil one, and then the gentleman’s name.

He concludes this part of the talk by describing the career of James Clarke, a member of the Socialist Labour Party, the Communist Party, a lion tamer and conscientious objector. During the War he ran escape lines for British squaddies in France. And people say that pacifists are cowards, Mills jokes. How much braver can you be than sticking your head in a lion’s mouth. He wrote a pamphlet defending a group of comrades, who tried to start the revolution by following the example of the Irish Nationalists and blow things up with a bomb. The pamphlet argued that this was wrong, and that if the working class wanted to gain power, they should concentrate on confronting capitalism through direct action. He also wrote poetry. Mills describes Clark as being a kind of Scots Tom Baker. One of these is a biting satire of Kipling’s If. The poem begins by asking if the reader can wake up every morning at 5 O’clock, or 4.30, and then labour at their machines, and see their wives and children suffer deprivation while those, who haven’t earned it take it all the profits, and describes the backbreaking grind of hard working life for the capitalist class in several stanzas. It ends with the statement that if you can do all that, and still be complacent, then go out, buy a gun and blow your brains out.

Clearly, I don’t recommend any actually do this, but it is a witty and funny response to Kipling’s poem. I found it hugely funny, and I do think it’s a great response to what was voted Britain’s favourite poem by the Beeb’s viewers and readers a few years ago. Can you imagine the sheer Tory rage that would erupt if someone dared to recite it on television!

Many of the comments are from people thanking Mills for opening their eyes and for writing such great stories. They include a man, who describes how Mills’ works are on his shelf next to his copy of Das Kapital. Another man describes how he used to buy 2000AD just after going to church on Sunday. So after listening to some very boring sermons, he came back from Baptist chapel to read all this subversion. One young woman says that the zines – the small press magazines, that appeared in the 1990s – seem to be still around, as she has seen them at punk concerts. Another young woman says that although comics are seen as a boys’ thing, when she goes into Forbidden Planet near her, there are always three girls in there and two boys. She also talks about how many young women read Japanese manga. Mills states in reply that manga stories generally are light and frothy, and so not the kind of stories he wants to write. But as for women in comics, he says that he spoken several times to students on graphic novel courses, and each time about 75 per cent of them have been women, which is good.

He also talks about Crisis and Action. The Third World War strip in Crisis was about the politics of food, and was set in a world where food production was dominated by a vast multinational formed by the merger of two of today’s megacorporations. Mills states that when the strip covered what was going on in South America, that was acceptable. However, at one point he moved the story to Brixton, finding a Black co-writer to help with the story. At that point, the White Guardian-reading liberals started to be uncomfortable with it. There was also a story in which Britain leaves the EU. This results in the rise of a Fascist dictatorship, and the EU responds by invading Britain. Mills says that he’s been trying to get Crisis relaunched, but the company are stringing him along with excuses, probably because it’s easier than arguing with him.

Mills obviously did the right thing by finding a Black co-writer. Marvel suffered a barrage of criticism with some of their attempts to launch a series of Black superheroes, like the Black Panther as part of the Blaxploitation wave of the 1970s. The Black Panther was particularly criticized. The creators were old, White dudes, who didn’t understand urban Black culture, even if the comics themselves were sincere in presenting a sympathetic view of Black Americans and combating racism.

He also talks briefly about Action, and the controversy that caused. What really upset Mary Whitehouse and the rest was ‘Kid’s Rule UK’, a strip in which a disease killed everyone over 16, and Britain was inhabited solely by warring street gangs. Mills used to take the same train from where he was living at the time with Mary Whitehouse. He said he was editing a Hookjaw script at the time, and notice Whitehouse over the other side of the carriage looking daggers at him. So he put in more carnage and more arms and legs being bitten off.

One of the most interesting questions is about the politics and morality of Judge Dredd. Dredd is a fascist, and in one of the strips it seemed to take the side of authority over subversion with no irony. This was in a story about the punks taking over Megacity 1. At the end of the strip, Dredd gets hold of the leader, and makes him say, ‘I’m a dirty punk.’ Mills actually agrees with the speaker, and says that there are people, who take Dredd as a role-model. He’s had letters from them, which he doesn’t like. He doesn’t know what these people do. Perhaps they have their own chapterhouse somewhere. He went cold inside when he heard about the story. It wasn’t one of his. It was by John Wagner, who isn’t at all political, but is very cynical, so this has some of the same effects of politics. But 75 per cent of Dredd comes from Mills. Mills states that it’s a flawed character, and that can be seen in why the two Dredd films never did well at the box office. Dredd was based on a particular teacher at his old school, as was Torquemada, the Grand Master of Termight, a genocidally racist Fascist military feudal order ruling Earth thousands of years in the future. They were both two sides of the same coin. That was why he enjoyed humiliating Torquemada. But it isn’t done with Dredd. Yet it could have been different, and there could be instances where people have their revenge on Dredd without losing the power of the character. He states that it was because Chopper did this in the story ‘Unamerican Graffiti’, that this became the favourite Dredd story of all time.

It’s a fascinating insight into the politics of the comics industry. The zines and other self-published small magazines he describes were a product of the Punk scene, where people did start putting together their own fanzines in their bedrooms. It was part of the mass creativity that punk at its height unleashed. As for the web comics, he talks about a couple that he finds particularly impressive, including those by the author of the dystopian science fiction story Y – the Last Man, set in a future in which all the men in the world have been killed by another disease. A number of my friends used to publish their own small press magazines in the 1990s, as did Mike. Mike started his own, small press comic, Violent, as an homage to Action when it was that comics anniversary. Mike was helped by some of the artists and writers from 2000AD, and so some of the tales are very professional. But probably not for delicate, gentle souls.

Amongst SF fandom, chapbooks are small books which another publishes himself. And they have been the route some professionally published authors have taken into print. Stephen Baxter is one of them. I think his Xelee stories first appeared in a chapbook he sold at one of the SF conventions.

Looking back at Kids Rule UK, this was my least favourite strip in Action. I was bullied at school, and so the idea of a Britain, where everything had broken down and there was nothing but bullying and juvenile violence really scared me. Action took many of its strips from the popular culture of the time. Hookjaw was basically Jaws. One-Eyed Jack seemed based very much on the type of hard-boiled American cop shows, if not actually Dirty Harry. One of the SF movies of the late sixties was about an America in which teenagers had seized power, and put all the adults in concentration camps were they were force-fed LSD. One of the four Star Trek stories that were banned on British television until the 1980s was ‘Miri’. In this tale, Kirk, Spock and the others beam down to a planet occupied entirely by children, as all the ‘grups’ – the adults – have been killed by disease. Kids Rule UK seems very much in the same vein as these stories.

Mills’ story about Dr. Who not wanting to show a working class family, let alone a spaceship captain, shows how far the series has come when it was relaunched by Russell T. Davis. Christopher Eccleston basically played the Doctor as northern and working class, wile Rose Tyler’s family and friends were ordinary people in a London tower block. As for not wanting to show a working class spaceship captain, that probably comes from very ingrained class attitudes in the aviation industry. A friend of mine trained as a pilot. When he was studying, their tutor told the class that the British exam included a question no other country in the world required, and which was particularly difficult. He stated that it was put there to weed out people from working or lower middle class backgrounds, as they would fail and not be able to retake the exam, as their competitors from the upper classes could.

It’s great to hear Mills encourage people try to produce their own work, and not be disheartened if they are rejected by mainstream publishers. I’m also saddened by the absence of any comics for children. They offered me when I was a lad an escape into a whole world of fun and imagination. And at their best, they do encourage children to take an interest in real issues like racism, sexism, bigotry and exploitation. I hope some way can be found to reverse their disappearance.

TYT Politics on the Historic Unitarian Church Determined to Defend Trump’s Victims

November 17, 2016

This is really heartening. In this video, The Young Turks’ Eric Byler interviews the Rev. Dr. Robert Hardies, the minister of All Souls Unitarian church in Washington DC, on his determination to offer his church as sanctuary to all the groups, who are going to be attacked by Trump now he’s in office – the gays, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks and others. There’s footage of the reverend gentleman preaching, in which he talks about how God, before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, were told to set up cities of refuge, to which persecuted individuals could flee. He describes how in the Middle Ages the church also offered sanctuary for those fleeing secular justice, and so his decision to make his church protect those now threatened with persecution from Trump is part of this tradition. He also talks about his historic church’s own individual tradition of sounding its bell during times of national crisis and celebration, including the ending of the American Civil War.

The Turks, in their blurb for this video, state:

“This congregation will provide sanctuary to all who are vulnerable and oppressed by the incoming administration.”

Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies, addressed his congregation at the historic All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC on the Sunday following the election of Donald J. Trump to be the United States’ 45th president. TYT reporter Eric Byler ( http://Twitter.com/EricByler ) sat down with Rev. Hardies, who is one of the nation’s most respected gay ministers as well as a leader in the national fight for racial justice, to ask whether his advice to his church would be the same he would offer to the nation. Hardies spoke both of reconciliation and resolve to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Our response to a comment saying churches should stay out of politics:

“The reality is we are going to be governed either by (a) corporatists plus religious people blinded by partisanship and “white racial identity” or (b) corporatists and people of conscience and compassion whether their inspiration be secular or nonsecular. One of these two coalitions will govern us better. It won’t harm anything to learn about, and have dialogue with religious communities, and, perhaps even learn how to tell the difference.” — @EricByler

Our response to comments from viewers marvelling at the existence of progessive people of faith:

“There have always been progressive and regressive churches. As the abolitionist movement began to take root, circa 1830, many of the churches split over slavery. This is why we have Southern Methodist vs. Methodist, Southern Baptist vs. Baptist, for instance Other churches, like the one seen in this report, were formed for the PURPOSE of fighting slavery and other forms of oppression. The reason why we are SO MUCH MORE familiar with regressive churches in today’s America is that plutocratic interests have worked very hard to annex the churches as amplifiers of their political agendas. They did so in the 1830’s (slave owners) and they did so in the 1970’s and 1980’s (white nationalist corporatists), both times with great success. The progressive churches have continued to exist, but they have not been put in the lime light of corporate media, with the intermittent exception of progressive Black churches, especially during the Civil Rights movement. But they do exist. Two of the best known progressive evangelicals are Rev. Dr. William Barber (whom you probably know) and Rev. Jim Wallis ( http://Twitter.com/jimwallis ) Here is info on Wallis: https://sojo.net/biography/jim-wallis

Their comment about the greater attention given to the regressive churches due to their annexation by the plutocracy is exactly right. A few years ago, a pair of sociologists published a book The Truth About Evangelical Christians, which presented the real picture of the nature of American theologically conservative Christians. They found that, in contrast to the picture presented by the Televangelists like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson and his appalling 700 Hundred Club and the rest of the religious Right, about half, or over half of American Evangelicals were actually left-wing. In fact, many were even further left than American Roman Catholics.

This is part of submerged, left-wing America, the America of the unseen, ignored masses of liberals and progressives, coming together to challenge the quasi-Fascist beast now squatting in the White House. It’s part of the movement that saw Americans in cities across the US get on to the streets to march together against Trump’s election, and the political and corporate corruption that put him there. Amen to all this.

Michelle Thomasson on the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Martin Luther King and Gandhi

December 28, 2015

Michelle Thomasson posted a fascinating comment on the influence of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Christian peace movement that arose in response to the First World War, and its influence on Martin Luther King and the Black Baptists’ campaign against segregation, and even Gandhi on the article I put up yesterday about the Christian peace movements and Pax Christi. She wrote

Thanks for putting this list together. Wanted to add that these little lights, though small, can have an enormous effect even though there has always been war mongering support from the UK’s state church e.g. https://theconversation.com/the-church-of-englands-vote-to-effectively-back-military-action-is-a-shocking-mistake-51679

Last December, I attended a conference called ‘Movements for Peace in 1914’ at Regents College, Oxford, supported by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage; one of the talks illustrated just how far these peace movements reached. In the presentation on ‘The Relation between the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the early Civil Rights Movement’ by Andrea Strubind (Prof of Church History and Dean of Faculty for the Institut fur Evangelische Theologie at the Universitat Oldenburg) a profound link was shown between the black Baptist movement and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). FOR had developed training and co-operation in non-violent peaceful demonstration and resistance. This training was shared in the Montgomery bus movement and many others in the Baptist church including Martin Luther King, even Gandhi learnt some of the peaceful resistance techniques from Clifford an early advocate of FOR because Gandhi had been influenced in his early years by Clifford when he had been injured and stayed with him in his home.

Today also the Quakers reach out in unexpected ways, they have peace education for schools, especially important to try and counteract the current government’s Dept. of Defence’s youth engagement strategy to build support for the armed forces (for which the poorer students are especially targeted!).
REF: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/nov/09/peace-education-schools-mililtary-ethos-children and further info from http://www.forceswatch.net/

Russia Persecutes the Jehovah’s Witnesses

December 18, 2015

Religious persecution has returned to Russia again after the collapse of Communism. It was reported a few weeks ago in the I that a judge in a region about 600 miles away from Moscow had decided that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were an illegal sect, and sentenced a small group of mainly elderly believers to jail. The leader of this band of dangerous religious zealots was Koptev, a man in his 70s. Putin’s regime, at least in that part of the Russian Federation, has decided that the JWs are a dangerous and subversive organisation. They have put them on a list of such dangers to the post-Soviet state as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the mafia, and Neo-Nazi organisations.

Really! I never knew the Jehovah’s Witnesses were such a danger to life, liberty and property. There I was thinking the only thing wrong with them was that they turned up on your doorstep trying to interest you in joining them and offering copies of The Watchtower.

Most people probably find their religious proselytizing silly, but it’s absurd and monstrous to put them in the same category as genuine threats to life, limb and freedom like organised crime, Fascists and Islamist terrorists. Their prosecution renewed fears that Russia was returning to the bitter anti-religious campaign it pursued under Communism. Religious believers of all faiths, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and shamanists were rounded up and sent to the gulags. Their places of worship were torn down, and the few that survived the campaign were closely monitored. There was some toleration for believers practising their religion, but if you tried to explain the tenets, you would be arrested and tried. Baptists, Pentecostalists and Seventh Day Adventists in particular were heavily persecuted. If you dared to hold a religious service in your own home, you could be arrested and your house torn down. The state also promoted vicious conspiracy theories about the Pentecostalists to work up public sentiment against them. They were accused of becoming rich through taking money secretly smuggled in by an American ship in the Russian far north every year. All Soviet recruits to the army are viciously bullied under the brutal regime of the grandfathers, but the treatment meted out to Pentecostalists was especially harsh. They were beaten particularly savagely, many having to spend weeks recovering in the hospital afterwards as a result.

This looks like a return to those days, though my guess is that it’s now less about atheism than about Russian nationalism and the alliance Putin has struck with the Russian Orthodox Church. Not that this necessarily rules out a militantly atheist component in the persecution. Some of the judges and attitudes are no doubt left over from the officially atheist regime of the Soviet Union, and may see religious organisations generally as a subversive threat, just as the former Soviet state did.

And my guess is that the JWs are being persecuted not just because they’re a foreign religious denomination, but for the same reason the Nazis threw them into the camps: they don’t accept secular messiahs. They were persecuted by the Nazis as they recognised that Hitler was making a claim to be such a figure. The Nazi oath, to be recited in schools, had children swearing allegiance to ‘my Fuehrer sent by God’, and so treated Hitler as he deserved. They rejected him. This saw believers as young as 17 thrown into the concentration camps as a subversive threat to the Nazi state.

First Hitler, now Putin.

I don’t have a lot of time for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t share their religious views. But they aren’t any kind of political threat or menace to society, except to totalitarian despots. Yeah, it’s irritating when they turn up at your house to promote their religion, but that’s all it is. In genuinely free societies, people are at liberty to have and to promote different philosophical, religious and political views, as long as this does not involve force. That means that they are at liberty to knock on doors asking them if they’d like to join them, just as it also means that everyone else has the right to say ‘No’, or argue with them. Or agree, and join them, if they so wish.

This is part of what it means to live in genuinely pluralist, free society. And that’s why Putin’s persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is also part of an attack on everyone’s liberties in Russia.

The Soviet Persecution of the Churches

April 9, 2008

There seems to be an attempt by atheist polemicists to deny or play down the extent to which atheism informed and provided the ideological basis for the persecution of Christianity and other religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the indigenous shamanic religions of Siberia and the Soviet Far East by the Communist regime in the USSR. According to some atheist commentators, the Soviet persecution of people of faith was motivated not by atheist ideology, but by political expediency. The Russian Orthodox Church was attacked and persecuted because of its support for the Tsarist autocracy. The supporters of this view point to the reconciliation between the religions and the state that emerged in the 1940s when Stalin lifted some of the restrictions on organised religion, which resulted in the reopening of churches, seminaries, theological academies and monasteries. This tolerant attitude towards religion by the officially atheist Communist states continues today, according to this view, in China, where Christianity has been tolerated by the Communist authorities, and Buddhist and Taoist temples and monasteries re-opened after the savage persecution of Mao’s cultural revolution.

Religious Toleration by and Opposition to the Soviet Regime 

Now initially the Soviet authorities did indeed consider that the individual had the right to freedom of belief. Lenin himself hated religion, but felt that the individual should be free to seek comfort in the religion of his choice and that this freedom should be guaranteed. 1 He also does not seem to have considered religious belief to have necessarily been an obstacle to membership of the Communist party. In the 1920s it was not unknown for Communist delegates in Central Asia to take prayer mats to party meetings. 2 There was indeed a political dimension to the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin probably launched his attack on the Church because he was afraid that the Orthodox Church, which had been a central pillar of Tsarist autocracy, would provide inspiration and a centre for anticommunist activities. In a Civil War the Church, through its influence with the rural peasantry, could lead to the Bolsheviks’ defeat. 3 The Soviet attack on the Russian Orthodox Church began after Patriarch Tikhon condemned the bloodshed of the revolutionaries. In a speech in January 1918 Tikhon had commanded the Bolshevkis to ‘Come to your senses, ye madmen, and cease your bloody doings!’ 4 Many Orthodox priests did indeed speak out in opposition to the Soviet Regime, and it was partly as a consequence of this clerical opposition that the supporters of the Soviet system denounced the Orthodox Church, declaring that every priest personified the ‘cursed past’ and was ‘for the Tsar’. 5

Stalin also became far more tolerant towards the Russian Orthodox Church during the Second World War, largely as a result of the need to enlist its aid as an inspirational, patriotic force, as in some areas the clergy were encouraging collaboration with the Nazis and attacks on the Soviets during the Nazi invasion. From 1942 there was a tacit understanding between the Church and the Soviet authorities that they should unite against the invader, an alliance which appeared to be cemented by Patriarch Sergius’ letter in Pravda hailing Stalin as the ‘God-chosen leader of our military and cultural forces’. The Mufti of the Soviet Muslims prayed that Allah would make Stalin victorious in his ‘work of freeing the oppressed peoples’ while the Jewish community in Moscow declared that ‘the Almighty has prepared for the Fascist horde the inglorious and shameful destruction suffered by all the Pharoahs, Amalekites and Ammonites’. 6 As a result of this active encouragement, many of the restrictions on religious worship were lifted. The Soviet government reopened 22,000 Orthodox churches that had been closed, two theological academies, eight seminaries and some monasteries. 7

Atheist Nature of Marxism

However, the view that political expediency, rather than an ideological commitment to atheism, was responsible for the persecution of people of faith in the Soviet Union ignores the essentially atheistic nature of Marxism and the continuation of the persecution of religious believers long after the Stalin era, from Khruschev’s presidency until Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Some of the early ‘utopian’ socialist ideologies before Marx had either included a place for religion in their grand schemes to reform society, or else made use of arguments from Scripture even when the founders were religious sceptics. In England, Thomas Spence, the founder of the Spenceian Philanthropists who advocated the nationalisation of the country’s land, came from a Glassite family. These were a small sect who preached and practised to a limit extent community of property. 8 Spence was also strongly influenced by the Rev. James Murray, a Presbyterian clergyman who led an independent, democratic congregation and who taught that the Gospels provided humanity with the best charter for human rights and liberties. Murray attacked what he saw as the government’s oppression of the poor, and demanded civil and religious liberty. He was a strong opponent of the War with the American colonies, and believed that the Americans had been cruelly oppressed by Britain. 9 Although Spence later denounced religion as a delusion, he nevertheless tried to justify his arguments using Scripture. 10 

Similarly, the French Utopian Socialist Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, although initially a follower of Auguste Comte, also appealed to religion in his campaign to establish a perfect, Socialist political and social order. In his Nouveau Christianisme of 1825, Saint-Simon declared that the most important of the sciences was morality. Morality was far more important than either physics or mathematics as it formed the basis of society. However, while the sciences of mathematics, physics, chemistry and physiology had made enormous progress since the 15th century, the fundamental principles of morality had been laid 1,800 years previously by Christ, and despite research by the greatest geniuses had not been superseded. 11 Saint-Simon considered that the essence of the divine revelation in Christianity was the command that all men should treat each other like brothers, and so urged the creation of a New Christianity in opposition to the existing sects and denomination to put this article of faith into practice. 12 Saint-Simon believed that with the establishment of such a form of Christianity, in which the form of worship and dogma wuold be merely an accessory to the teaching of morality, would lead to Christianity becoming the sole, universal religion, converting the peoples of Africa and Asia. 13 While Saint-Simon’s highly politicised version of Christianity to many Christians departs very far from the historic conception of the Church, nevertheless it is remarkable that Saint-Simon saw a place for Christianity in his radical reconstruction of society, and felt that it was needed in order to put this reform into practice.

Marx, however, was strongly influenced in the development of his philosophical and political system by the Humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach. In his 1841The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach had argued from a Hegelian perspective that religion was merely the alienation of humanity’s own powers by substituting the human species for Hegel’s ‘subject’ in his Philosophy of Mind. 14 Marx thus became extremely critical of religion. His doctrinal thesis, ‘On the Difference between the Democritian and Epicurian Philosophies of Nature’, was produced as an anti-religious work, while Marx used Feuerbach’s concept of the ‘species-being’ or Gattungswesen, which denoted the sum of humanity’s collective abilities, to analyse the political state and capitalist economy in his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State of 1843 and Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. 15 Marx eventually rejected Feuerbach’s Humanism because it assumed an ideal human nature to which social institutions could be remoulded after Marx developed his own idea of historical materialism in which ideas, religion and ideologies were all the product of the material conditions of specific points in history. 16 In place of the ideal society imagined by philosophers, Marx and Engels recommended scientific investigation of the real world and revolutionary action to change society. 17 Thus from its very beginning an atheist critique of society was an intrinsic part of Marxist philosophy, and the philosophical materialism supporting Marxist atheism informed Communist attitudes to other philosophies, including those of science. When Alexander A. Bogdanov, a physician, economist, socilogist, philosopher and Lenin’s leading lieutenant in the early years of the Bolshevik party attempt to synthesise Marxism with a empirio-criticism of the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach and the German philosopher Richard Avenius it provoked an angry reaction and party purge by Lenin. Mach was an empiricist and one of the founders of Logical Positivism. He believed that as the mind could not know anything apart from its own sensations, so scientific theories were not the discovery of true, objective facts about the world that exist apart from human sensations, but merely a device for predicting the course of the world and its constituent objects. 18 Thus Bogdanov in his 1905 Empiriomonism stated that ‘laws do not belong at all to the sphere of immediate experience; laws are the result of conscious reworking of experience; they are not facts in themselves, but are created by thought, as a means of organising experience, of harmoniously bringing it into argreement as an ordered unity. Laws are abstract cognition, and physical laws possess physical qualities just as little as psychological laws possess psychic qualities.’ 19 Lenin’s response to Bogdanov, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, asserted the primacy of matter and that thought, consciousness and mind were secondary, and denounced the empirio-criticism as idealism and agnosticism, which left the way open for fideism, and declared that it was a kind of professorial scholasticism ‘unable and frequently unwilling, to separate objective truth from belief in sprites and hobgoblins’. 20 With this, Lenin established an oversimplified 19th century materialism as official Communist philosophy. Thus Lenin’s specifically materialist conception of atheism bitterly attacked other philosophies, even those based squarely on empiricism, as insufficiently scientific and leading to idealism and the primacy of mind and non-physical objects in the shaping of the cosmos.

Atheism and Soviet Persecution of the Church

This intensely atheist, materialist philosophy lead to conflict and persecution of the Church. While Lenin believed that individual religious liberty should be protected, he also strongly believed that the Bolshevik party should engage in a propaganda campaign to promote atheism and convince the Russian people that religion truly was an opium. 21 Stalin stated that the party could not be neutral towards religion, and that it was engaged in struggle against any and all religions. 22 The Soviet Constitution of 1918 allowed freedom of ‘religious and anti-religious propaganda. This, however, was changed in 1929 to ‘freedom of religious belief and of anti-religious propaganda’. 23 The 1977 constitution permitted freedom of worship and of antireligious propaganda’. 24 The Soviet authorities guaranteed a limited freedom of worship, but prohibited religious evangelisation. Although Khruschev  signed a resolution in Novemeber 1954, ‘On Mistakes in the Conduct of Scientific-Atheistic Propaganda among the Population’ condemning violent persecution and offensive attacks on religious belief, the resolution also required that the campaign against religion be continued at a higher ideological struggle. 25

Excommunication of Bolsheviks by Tikhon because of their Atheism and Violence, rather than Political Programme

The Russian Orthodox patriarch Tikhon had excommunicated the Bolsheviks not for political reasons, but because of their atheism and violence, particularly their attacks on the Church. He made no comment about their political and economic programme, but criticised them for their violence and suppression of freedom. In his letter on the first anniversary of the Revolution, Tikhon stated

‘It is not for us to judge earthly powers … However, to you who use your power for the persecution ooand destruction of the innocent, we issue our world of warning: celebrate the anniversay of your rise to power by relaseing the imprisoned, by ceasing from bloodshed, violence, and havoc, and by removing restrictions upon the fiath; devote yourselves not to destruction but to the building up of order and law; give to the people the respite from civil warfare which they have both desired and deserved. For otherwise the righteous blood which you have shed will cry ot against you.’ 26

In 1923 Tikhon stated:

‘The Russian Orthodox Church is non-political, and henceforward does not want to be either a Red or a White Church; it should and wil be the One Catholic Apostolic Church, and all attempts coming from any side to embroil the Church in the political struggel should be rejected and condemned.’ This statement did, however, come following his imprisonment by the Bolsheviks between 1922-3, and it is possible that it was the result of Soviet coercion. 27

Attack on Russian Orthodox Church

Following Khruschev’s condemnation of the violent persecution of religious believers, the Soviet authorities turned instead to severely restricting church activities in an attempt destroy religious belief. In 1961 the Council of Bishops of the Orthodox Church adopted changes in parish regulations that subordinated parish priests to parish councils of 20 lay people, selected by the authorities and the Council on Affairs of Religious Cults. 28 The 1961 parish regulations were very similar to the provisions of the early Soviet legislation on the Church and other religions of 1917 and 1918. This organised religious believers into local religious associations, which had to have at least twenty members in order to lease a church from the government and hire clergy as ‘servants of the cult’. The Religious instruction of children was banned, and clergy could only attend conferences with express permission of the authorities. 29 Under the 1961 parish regulations, Orthodox priests were also reduced to employees. Unless they had the express permission of the local authorities or government agencies, they could not visit their parishioners at home or in hospital, perform the last rites at home or allow children into the church, give them eucharist or hear their confessions. The priests were also required to demand identification from parents bringing their children to be baptised and couples wishing to be married. The priest was also supposed to inform on his congregation, supplying Communist officials with the names of those who had been baptised, married or had the last rites performed, and on their other parishioners, who could be persecuted in their jobs or at their schools and universities. 30 Thus, although parish clergy could preach sermons, they could not give religious instruction, organise study groups for children or adults, organise catechism classes or Sunday schools. The only books that the parish church may own are service books, and the printing of the Bible was deliberately restricted. 31

As well as placing restrictions on evangelisation and the abilities of priests to perform their traditional duties to their parishioners, the Communists attacked the Church as an institution. The Decree on the Separation of Church and State of 5 February 1918 deprived the Church of its status as a juridical person. 32 It could not hold property, and the decree provided for the nationalisation of Church land, funds, and buildings, which believers were required to lease back from the state. 33 Churches could be closed down by the local authorities without the consent of the worshippers if the workers requested this. This resulted in the systematic closure of Orthodox churches. Of 54,457 churches in 1914, only 4, 255 remained in 1941. The number of active priests fell from 57,105 in 1914 to 5, 665 in 1941. Of the 1,498 monasteries and convents that existed in 1914, there were 38 left in 1941. None of the 4 theological academies, 57 seminaries and 40,150 other religious schools that existed in 1914 survived into 1941. 34 The unofficial Concordat between Stalin and the Church did allow many churches and other religious institions to be reopened. In 1947 for there 22-25,000 churches, 33,000 active priests, 80 monasteries and convents, 2 theological academies and 8 theological seminaries. The other religious schools supported by the Church before the Communists seized power remained closed, however. 35 However, from 1959 the Church was again attacked and ecclesiastical institutions closed by the Soviet authorities. By the late 1970s less than 7,000 Orthodox churches were open in Russia. Five of the eight seminaries opened in 1945 had been closed down by 1966, and of the 80 monasteries only 16 still survived by the 1970s. During the closure of the Monastery of Saint Job of Pochaev one monk was beaten to death in prison, several others taken to hospital for injections, despite their good health and others placed in psychiatric hospitals. 36 In 1918 and 1919 28 bishops were killed by the Communists. A further fifty were killed between 1923 and 1926 and from 1917 to 1926, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks, and 3,400 nuns were killed by the Communists. Emigre Russians estimated that from 1917 to 1983 at least 12,000 priests were killed. 37 The Metropolitan of Petrograd was executed for anti-Soviet activities and the Patriarch Tikhon jailed in 1922. The Communists also attempted to destroy the Church by encouraging a group of clergy sympathetic to the Communist regime, calling themselves the Living Church to take over its leadership, and arresting their ecclesiastical opponents. Tikhon was deposed by the Living Church, and his trial set for 1923, but he signed a confession and publicly repented of his past opposition to the Communists. He was thus released, and reinstated as the head of the Church. Nevertheless, the Living Church continued to exist and the Communists attempted at times to play it and the Orthodox Church off against each other. 38 The Living Church split into a number of increasingly smaller factions and lost its significance in 1926.

Other Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostalists and the Seventh Day Adventists were also subject to terrible persecution.

Persecution of Soviet Baptists

Although the Bapists were able to hold their meetings and publish their religious literature from 1918 to 1929 without restriction, from 1929 until the Second World War they were subjected to an increasing campaign of persecution. Approximately 50,000 Baptists, including most of the clergy, were arrested for ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’ and sentenced to 25 years each in the gulags, where 22,000 died. Of the numerous Baptist churches, only four in Moscow and other large cities survived as the Soviet authorities closed them. 39 

During the War, however, the Soviet authorities turned from outright persecution to the authoritarian system of control and repression used against the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1942-3 the regime established the Council on the Affairs of Religious Cults under the control of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. 40 Baptist ministers who were prepared to collaborate with the government in the control of their churches were released from the camps and internal exile to form the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. 41 At the end of the war, 5,000 Baptist communities  were revived. However, as with the churches, these communities were required to register with the authorities. Unregistered Baptist churches were closed. As a result, 1/3 – 1,696 of the revived Baptist churches were registered, and staffed with ministers from the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. Hand-picked members of the ministery were used by the Soviet authorities in 1947 to give the impression that there was no religious persecution in the Soviet Union by travelling abroad to meet their co-religionists and deny that such persecution was occurring. 42 This is similar to the way the Russian Orthodox Church was required to support Soviet propaganda. 43 In 1960 further restrictions were placed on the Baptist Church through the publication of the New Regulations of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists and the secret Instructive Letter to Senior Church Officials. These two documents demanded that Baptists cease from evangelism and placed increased restrictions on worship. Baptists were prohibited from using some musical instruments, such as guitars, in their services. They could not invite choirs from neighbouring communities to sing in their churches, and church attendance by children under 18 years of age was also prohibited. Those over 18 years old could only be baptised after a probationary period of two to three years. Preaching was restricted to the area of each individual Baptist community and was to be held entirely within the church building. No part of the service could be held outside the church. Baptist communities were prohibited from visiting and assisting each other. Children’s meetings, Sunday school outings attended by members of different Baptist churches and private religious services at home were banned. 44 The Instructive Letter was a secret document intended to be read only by the Baptist Church leadership. However, ordinary Baptists learned of it, read it, and in outrage led a campaign against it. This resulted in the establishment of an independent Baptist Church, with its own governing body, the Council of Churches of the Evangelical Christian Baptists in 1965. 45 The leaders of the independent Council of Churches, G. Kryuchkov, Nikolay Baturin and G. Vins, were arrested in May 1966, after which all the leaders of the Council of Churches lived in hiding to avoid arrest. By 1981 all of the members of the Council of Churches were in prison, charged with violating the statutes in the USSR separating church and state, ‘performance of rites injurious to church members’ and occasionally with slandering the Soviet system. 46 Although private services in the home were prohibited under the regulations of the All-Union Council, there was no official Soviet secular legislation against them. Despite this, however, private prayer meetings were broken up by the police, both regular and volunteer, and with those attending them frequently beaten. Ministers and community leaders who organised such domestic services, and often the person in whose home the service was held, were arrested. For the person whose home was used, the charges were often that of ‘hooliganism’ or ‘resisting’ the police’. Russian Baptist weddings are traditionally large, as the entire local religious community is often invited. Because the guests often filled the house into the yard or garden, the Soviet authorities frequently broke them up as ‘ritual assemblies’ that were illegally being held in the open air. Ordinary, unregistered Baptists were fined for attending services at an unregistered church, the amount fined often exceeding their monthly salary. 47 Moreover, Baptists, like other religious believers, were excluded from higher education. 48 The Civil Rights group formed to support the independent Baptists in February 1964, the Council of Relatives of Evangelical Christian Baptist Prisoners, amongst its other activities collected examples of the official persecution of the Baptist community. In addition to the arrest and imprisonment of Baptists, persecution by the Soviet authorities also included removing Baptist children from their families for being brought up in the faith, the persecution of school children for their religious beliefs, the confiscation of the homes in which religious services had been held, and the sacking of Baptists from their jobs because of their religious beliefs. The first president of the Council of Relatives was Lidiya Vins, the widow of a Baptist minister, Pyotr Vins, who had died in one of Stalin’s gulags, and who herself was imprisoned in a forced labour camp from 1970-3. 49

Persecution of Soviet Pentecostal Christians

The Pentecostalists were also savagely persecuted by the Soviet regime after 1929, using the same methods the authorities used against the Baptists. The Soviet authorities viewed them as the same church as the Baptists, and they were forced to submit to the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. 50 Pentecostalists were particularly subject to severe persecution by the Soviet authorities because of their absolute refusal to compromise their religious beliefs. Pentecostalist children refused to join the Soviet youth organisation, the Octobrists, Pioneers and the Komsomol. As a result, their grades were lowered, they often suffered criticism at school meetings were beaten up by other schoolchildren, often at the command of the school teacher. Soviet teachers also questioned Pentecostalist children in order to get them to admit that their parents forced them to take part in religious ceremonies and prayer meetings. If the child admitted that this occurred, their parents would be prosecuted or the child taken away from them. 51 The Pentecostalists also suffered for their pacifism. Church doctrine prohibits Pentecostalists from joining the military, being arms or killing. This led to persecution in the Soviet Union, which still had compulsory National Service. Refusal to take the enlistment oath was punished by five years in a labour camp. Additionally, Pentecostalist servicemen were also subjected to vicious beatings, which left some of them permanently handicapped. As religious believers, they were also excluded from higher education, and were frequently sacked from their jobs on the command of the local Communist party. Like other religious believers, Pentecostalist services at home were broken up by the police and the homes destroyed. Weddings and funerals were similarly broken up by the authorities, and leaders and elders arrested under the regulations against religious evangelism, and also slandering the Soviet system and engaging in anti-Soviet propaganda. 52 Pentecostalist clergy were also accused of performing savage religious rites which traumatised their fellow believers, and even human sacrifice. In 1960 the Pentecostalist elder, Ivan Fedotov, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the charge of attempting to influence one of his congregation so that she murdered her daughter. 53

Persecution of Seventh-Day Adventists in Soviet Union

The Seventh Day Adventists were also subjected to persecution, particularly because of their pacifism, in which the Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is taken so literally that they are vegetarians, and their refusal to work on Saturday, which they observe as the Sabbath. In 1928 the Congress of Seventh Day Adventists, under pressure from the Soviet authorities, passed a resolution that forced members to violate these tenets of their faith, and to perform all the duties expected of other Soviet citizens. As a result, the Church split, and a separate Church emerged which refused to conform to these restrictions, the All-Union Church of True and Free Seventh-Day Adventists. From its very beginning this church was not recognised by the Soviet authorities, and was savagely persecuted. Its first leader, Gregory ostvald, died in a gulag in 1937, and his successor, Pyotr Manzhura, also died in a camp twelve years later in 1949. The third leader of the church, Vladimir Shelkov, was arrested several times in his career before his death in a gulag in 1980. 54 During the 1980s the Soviet authorities imprisoned and tortured a number of Seventh-Day Adventists in an attempt to find their underground publishing house, True Witness. 55

Attacks on Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches

The Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches also suffered terrible persecution. In Lithuania, for example, persecution of the Roman Catholic Church began on 2nd July 1940, when Soviet troops entered the country. The Concordat with the Vatican was annulled. This was followed by the prohibition of all Catholic organisations, the nationalisation of Catholic schools and the closure of the Catholic press. The monasteries were looted, and the four Catholic seminaries in Lithuania were closed, with the exception of the one at Kaunas, and this had its buildings confiscated. All the Roman Catholic bishops except one were arrested and imprisoned in 1946-7. In the 1940s and 1950s, 600 priests, more than a third of all Roman Catholic priests in Lithuania, were imprisoned, and many died. Mecislovas Reinys, the bishop of Vilnius, died in Vladimir Prison in 1953. 56 The evangelism of children was strictly prohibited. In September 1970 a Catholic priest, Antanas Seskevicius was sentenced to a year in prison camp for teaching the catechism to schoolchildren, despite the fact that this was done at the request of their parents and so perfectly legal under the existing regulations. 57 In Estonia the Lutheran Church also suffered persecution like the other Churches, though it was particularly attacked as a ‘German’ Church after the Second World War. 58

Promotion of Atheism by Soviet Regime

In addition to the persecution of the churches and their members, the Soviet state also embarked on a campaign to promote atheism through the educational system, and in officially sponsored lectures, demonstrations and atheist publications. Atheism was explicitly taught in schools. In 1949 the former Secretary of the League of the Militant Godless, the official Soviet anti-religious organisation, writing in the teacher’s newspaper Uchitelskaya Gazeta, stated ‘A Soviet teacher must be guided by the principle of the Party spirit of science; he is obliged not only to be an unbeliever himself, but also to be an active propagandist of Godlessness among others, to be the bearer of the ideas of militant proletarian atheism.’ 59 The official campaign against religion began soon after the Revolution when the reliquaries of the Orthodox saints were opened by the revolutionaries in the presence of the Church, press, party and ordinary members of the Church. Some of the relics on display were found to be fakes, made from wax or plaster. These disinternments were filmed and shown in propaganda films throughout the Soviet Union. 60 Some of the closed churches were converted into ‘museums of religion and atheism’, including the former Kazan cathedral in Leningrad. 61

Soviet propaganda posters regularly attacked religion. A 1918 propaganda poster, for example, shows an Orthodox priest, flanked by a pair of rich peasants – kulaks – supporting the fist of the Tsarist general Denikin. 62 A 1930 poster by the Soviet propagandist Yuri Pimenov urging Soviets to fulfill the five year plan in four shows an express train hurtling down the rails towards a group of the regime’s opponents, one of whom is an Orthodox priest. One of the poster’s slogans is ‘No Religion’. 63 The regime also attempted to promote atheism through television and pop music. In the 1980s Soviet television screened a pop song denouncing belief in Christ at Christmas.

The League of the Militant Godless

 The League of the Militant Godless was founded in 1925 as part of the Soviet authorities’ attack on religion. 64 At its height in 1932 it had about five million members, before it was eventually disbanded in 1942. 65 Originally its activities included vandalism and the destruction of church property, like smashing church windows and desecrating cemeteries, done more out of its members’ hatred for religion rather than any attempt to spread atheism. Over time it became more sophisticated in its approach, organising meetings in the villages to promote its atheist message. It also organised anti-religious lectures, and published anti-religious books, magazines and journals. These included works of popular science written to show how science had disproved religion. These included quizzes, which presented the approved answers to criticism of Communism as well as attacking religion. Thus a 1930 handbook for the League, Dosug Bezbozhnika, by S. Glyazer and N. Kopievskii, included questions such as:

‘Q. How do reply to a priest who says ‘your communism is just another religion’?

A. All religions involve belief in the supernatural. Communism does not.

Q. How did Karl Marx describe Christianity?

A. As the Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie.’

The League also organised plane trips above the clouds in Tupolevs in order to show that there was no God or heaven up there. 66 Before the Second World War, the League also organised blasphemous processions and demonstrations against religion, especially on religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Continuation of Government Ideological Campaign against Religion

Although the League was abolished in 1942, its propaganda functions were taken over by the All-Union Society for the Diseemination of Scientific and Political Knowledge, which was established in 1947, and the regime’s campaign to promote atheism continued. 120,679 anti-religious lectures were given in the Soviet Union in 1954, while four years later, in 1958, the number of anti-religious lectures increased to 300,000. 67 The atheist popular science magazine, Science and Life, which was originally founded by the League of Militant Godless, continued publication into the 1970s. 68

These publications and lectures, like the propaganda posters, strongly attempted to present the clergy as agents of political reaction and exploitation. The priests were presented as enjoying the spectacle of the peasants getting drunk, and opposed science and collectivisation because these threatened their hold on them. 69 The attacks on the clergy in the press continued after the League was disbanded. In 1959 the Soviet press carried a number of stories supposedly exposing the corrupt activities and ideas of individual bishops and monasteries. Monks were denounced, amongst other accusations, as ‘money grabbers’, ‘idlers’, ‘libertines’, ‘sexual perverts’. The theological seminaries were particularly attacked, with their students described as ‘any sort of rabble … lovers of an easy life … criminals who should be remoulded by work’, with the papers asking rhetorically ‘Does an honest man go to a theological school, in our century of science and technology?’ 70

Pentecostalist Christians were similarly accused in the press of collaborating with the opponents of Communism, in their case the Americans. They were regularly accused of being Western agents, being paid in dollars for services such as hiding American spies. Film depictions of Pentecostalists often showed them praying along on a beach, where it was explained that they were waiting for an ark filled American money. The newspapers also accused them of isolating their children from life by stopping them from going to movies, dances and other gatherings. In fact, Pentecostalist children tended to avoid such social activities not out of religious reasons, but to avoid abuse and violence from others. It’s also true that many Pentecostalists are more prosperous than their fellow citizens, but this was not from receiving any secret funds from the CIA or any other Western intelligence agency. Rather it was because the Pentecostalists had an ethic of hard work, sobriety and mutual aid. 71

Conclusion: Religious Persecution result of Atheist Ideology in Marxism, and New Atheists Similarly Authoritarian in Attitude to Religion

Thus the persecution of religious believers in the Soviet Union was not the result of political concerns, but from the intrinsically atheist nature of Communism itself. Unlike other forms of Socialism, which were not hostile to religious belief or which made Christianity a part of their programme for reform, Marx had developed his ideology under the influence of Feuerbach’s Humanism. This had view God as an alienate projection of humanity, and demanded the abolition of religion as part of the creation of a system that would allow the fullest exercise of humanity’s powers. Marxism’s essentially atheist nature resulted in the persecution of religion. The fact that it continued after Stalin under Khruschev and successive administrations suggests that it was the brief periods of toleration that were due to political expediency, not the persecutions. Indeed, historians have noted that while the Soviet regime did not make the destruction of Christianity, rather than just the Orthodox Church, a priority after the Revolution, it was also impossible for the regime to attempt it in the short term. 72 Furthermore, while China has become more tolerant of religion, churches are still required to be registered with the authorities and are under strict government control. Ministers and ordinary believers who are considered to violate these restrictions are persecuted.

Away from Communist politics, the persecution of religious believers in Communist states is similar to some of the policies and attitudes towards religion recommended by the New Atheists. While the New Atheists aren’t Communists, they do seem to share the Communist assumption taken from 19th century Positivism that atheism and science are identical, and that the educational and legal systems should be used to combat religion. Nicholas Humphreys, in an address to Amnesty International, demanded that the British government should pass legislation against parents giving their children a religious upbringing, while Daniel C. Dennett in his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, supported the idea of using the teaching of Darwinism in schools to destroy religious faith in children. This coercive attitude towards the indoctrination of children in schools with atheism contrasts strongly with the attitudes of some of the Soviet people of faith, such as the Seventh Day Adventist leader, Vladimir Shelkov. Shelkov believed that questions of belief were for the individual conscience, and so should not be imposed on the school system by the government:

‘The materialism of atheism is also a kind of belief or religion. For this reason, it should not be a state religion that imposes its materialistic world view through schools and other government agencies. It should be considered a personal ideology among other ideologies. The principle of separation of church, state, and school also applies to teh separation of government atheism from the state and the education system.’ 73 Thus for some Soviet people of faith, a truly neutral educational system regarding issues of faith meant removing atheism as well as religion from the classroom to allow genuine freedom of conscience. As for the Soviet governments attempt to destroy the Orthodox Church, despite the vicious persecution many Russians still see it as their most trustworthy institution. In 1991 an opinion poll asked Russians in which political force or social movement they had the most confidence? 60 per cent considered it was the Church. 74 

Notes

1. J.N. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-1986 (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1987), p. 325.

2. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

3. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

4. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.  

5. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, translated by Carol Pearce and John Gad, Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Wesleyan University Press 1985), p. 246.

6. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 346.

 7. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

8. H.T. Dickinson, The Political Works of Thomas Spence (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Avero (18th Century) Publications Ltd 1982), p. VII.

9. Dickinson, Thomas Spence, p. VIII.

10. Dickinson, Thomas Spence, p. VII.

11. Ghita Ionescu, ed., The Political Thought of Saint-Simon (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1976), p. 216.

12. Ionescu, Political Thought of Saint-Simon, pp. 206, 209.

13. Ionescu, Political Thought of Saint-Simon, pp 208, 209-10.

14. David Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in David Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1973), p. 11.

15. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, pp. 11, 14.

16. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, pp. 19, 21.  

17. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 21.

18. ‘Mach, Ernst’, in J. Speake, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan Books 1979), p. 217.

19. A.A. Bogdanov, Empiriomonism, in Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism: Volume 1 – Communism in Russia (London, I.B. Tauris 1987), pp. 34-5.  

20. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism – Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, in Daniels, Documentary History of Communism, pp. 39-41.

21. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

22. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, Penguin 1964), p. 152.  

23. Ware, Orthodox Church, pp. 152-3.

24. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 153.

25. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 172.

26. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 159.

27. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 160.

28. Alexeya, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

29. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.

30. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

31. Ware, Orthodox Church, pp. 153-4.  

32. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.

33. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 155; Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.  

34. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 167.

35. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 167.

36. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 173.  

37. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 156.

38. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

39. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 160.  

40. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 201.

41. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 201.

42. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 201-2.

43. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 202.

44. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 168.

45. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 203.

46. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 205-6.

47. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 207.    

48. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 208.

49. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 209.

48. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 210.

50. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 215.

51. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 216.  

52. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 217-8.

53. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 218.

54. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 233.  

55. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 237-243.

56. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 72.

57. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 73.  

58. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 96.

59. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 153.

60. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

61. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.  

62. Nina Baburina, ed., translated by Boris Rubalsky, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1980 (London, Penguin Books 1985), p. 5.

63. Baburina, ed., and Rubalsky, trans., Soviet Political Poster, p. 56.

64. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, pp. 325-6.

65. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 327; Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.

66. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.

67. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.

68. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.  

69. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.

70. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 172.

71. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 218-9.

72. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

73. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 234.

74. ‘Orthodox Church’ in Andrew Wilson and NinBachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London, Andre Deutsch 1992), p. 164.