Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Church’

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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Commemorating Christian Martyrdom: The Armenian Genocide

April 24, 2015

Armenian Gospels

Armenian Gospel Book from the Monastery of Gladjor, c. 1321

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. This was a series of massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people. The Armenians had risen up, like the other, majority Christians subject nations in the Balkans across the Black Sea to gain their freedom from the decaying Turkish empire. To counter this, the last Turkish sultan, Talat Pasha issued a firman ordering that the Armenians should be rounded up and slaughtered. 1.5 million Armenians, men, women and children were butchered.

The Pope caused controversy earlier this week when he marked the massacres, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century. I’m not sure if this is quite true, as I think about ten years or so previously the German colonial authorities in East Africa had also organised a genocide of the indigenous Herrero people. The occasion has a wider, European significance than just its attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Hitler noted the way the other European powers remained silent and did not act to stop it. This convinced him that they also wouldn’t act to save the Jews when the Nazi state began to persecute and murder them in turn. As he said ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’

Denial of Genocide by Turkish Authorities

Unfortunately, the genocide is still controversial. Robert Fisk in his article in Monday’s Independent discussed the Turkish government’s refusal to recognise the massacres as a genocide. Pope Francis’ comments sparked outrage amongst the Turkish authorities, and the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to meet the prime minister. Fisk himself recalled the abuse he had received from Turks outraged by his discussion of the genocide. He stated he began receiving mail about the issue when he personally dug the bones of some of the Armenians out of the sands of the Syrian desert in 1992. He stated that some of the letters were supportive. Most were, in his words, ‘little short of pernicious’.

In Turkey any discussion or depiction of the Armenian genocide as genocide was brutally suppressed. A few years ago, the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed for writing about them. Liberal Turks, who wish their nation face up to this dark episode of their history, have been imprisoned. The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, was sent to jail a few years ago. His writing on the genocide was judged to be ‘insulting to Turkish nationhood’, a criminal offence.

Fatih Arkin, Turkish Director, on Movie about Genocide

Dink’s assassination has, however, acted to promote a greater discussion and awareness of the genocide, and a large number of both Armenians and Turks are now pressing for the Turkish government to recognise it as such. Indeed, the Turkish-German film director, Fatih Arkin, made a film about the genocide, The Cut which premiered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January.

In the interview below, Mr Arkin talks about he was moved to make the film following Dink’s assassination, and the number of Turks, who also join with the Armenians in demanding their government officially recognise the atrocity. Among those is the grandson of one of the leading perpetrators. What is interesting is that the film received a wide release in Turkey with no opposition or move to ban it.

Fisk on Turks Who Saved Armenians

This seems to show a new openness amongst the Turkish people as a whole about the genocide. And Fisk in his article notes that there many courageous and humane Turks, who refused to comply with Sultan’s orders, and saved Armenians. He stated in his article that these included at least one provincial governor, as well as lesser Turkish soldiers and policemen. Fisk felt that the Armenians should compile a list of these heroes, not least because it would make it harder for politicians like Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, not to sign a book of condolences, which included their names.

And these men were courageous: they risked their lives to save others from the carnage. There is absolutely no reason why they should not also be commemorated. In Judaism, I understand that righteous gentiles, who save Jews from persecution, are commemorated and believed to have a part in the olam ha-ba, the world to come. There is a section of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, which displays the names of such righteous gentiles, who saved Jews during the Third Reich.

Syriac Evangelistary

The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, from a Syriac Evangelistary

Massacre of Syriac Christians as Part of Wider Pattern of Massacres

The massacre of the Empire’s Christian minorities was not confined to the Armenians, although they are the best known victims. Other Christian peoples, including the Syriac-speaking churches in what is now Iraq and Syria, were also attacked and massacred, in what has become known as ‘the Day of the Sword’. The massacres also spread into Iran, where the Christian communities there also suffered massacres. They too deserve commemoration.

Peaceful Relations between Christians and Muslims Normal in Ottoman Empire

Historians of the Turkish Empire have pointed out that the Armenian genocide, and similar massacres committed by the Ottoman forces in the Balkans during the nationalist wars of the 19th century, were largely the exception. For most of the time Christian and Muslim lived peacefully side by side. Quite often Muslims and Christians shared the same cemeteries. And in one part of Bosnia, at least, the local Roman Catholic church stood bang right next to the local mosque. There were even a small group of worshippers, who seem not to have differentiated between Christianity and Islam.

There’s a story that one orthodox priest, while officiating mass at his church, noticed a group of people at the back wearing Muslim dress. He went and asked them why they were attending a Christian church, if they were Muslims. The people replied that they didn’t really make much difference between the two faiths. On Friday, they prayed at the mosque, and on Sunday they went to church.

Historical Bias and Nationalist Violence by Christians in 19th century Balkans

Historians of the Balkans have also pointed out the dangers of religious bias when discussing the various nationalist wars in the 19th century. In the 1870s the Ottoman Turks committed a series of atrocities suppressing a nationalist uprising in Bulgaria. This outraged public opinion in England, and provoked the Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, to demand that the Turks be ‘thrown out of Europe, bag and baggage’. Other British and American observers noted that atrocities were hardly one sided. Christians also committed them, but these were ignored by the West. One author of a book on the Balkans I read back in the 1990s argued that the various atrocities committed in this period were caused not so much by religious differences, but from nationalism, and so were no different from other atrocities committed by other countries across the world, and in western Europe today as part of ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as Northern Ireland.

British Empire and Atrocities in Kenya

Other decaying empires have also committed horrific atrocities, and attempted to cover them up. It was only after a very long legal campaign, for example, that the British government admitted the existence and complicity in the regimes of mass murder, torture, mutilation and internment in Kenya to suppress the Mao Mao rebellion. See the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags, for a complete history of this.

ISIS and the Massacre of Christians

The commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians, and by extension the other Christian subject peoples of the Ottoman and Persian Empires at the time, has become pressing relevant because the persecution today of Christians in the region by the resurgent Islamist movements, like ISIS, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Yet these groups differ in their attitude to the massacre of non-Muslim civilians from that of the Turkish government. The official Turkish attitude has been silence and an attempt to suppress or rebut the genocide’s existence. This points to an attitude of shame towards them. ISIS, which last Monday murdered 30 Ethiopian Coptic Christians, shows absolutely no shame whatsoever. Far from it: they actually boast about their murder and enslavement of innocent civilians.

Conversion of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians by Force, and Murder of Civilians Contrary to Muslim Law

I was taught at College that their actions contravene sharia law. Islamic law also has a set of regulations for the conduct of warfare, which rule out the conversion of the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians – by force. Nor may women, children and non-combatants be harmed. And this has been invoked by the ulema in the past to protect Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century one of the Turkish sultans decided he was going to use military force to make the Christians in the Balkans convert to Islam. He sought approval for his course of action from the majlis, the governing assembly of leading Muslim clerics, who issued legal opinions on questions of Muslim law and practice. They refused, on the grounds that it was un-Islamic. The sultan backed down, and his planned campaigns against his Christian subjects were abandoned.

ISIS Also Butcher Muslims and Yezidis

Nor do ISIS, and similar Islamist movements limit themselves to attacking Christians. We’ve also seen them butcher and enslave the Yezidis, as well as other Muslims, simply for being the ‘wrong’ type of Muslim. For ISIS, they, and only they, represent true Islam. The rest are part of the ‘juhailiyya’, the world of darkness and ignorance, who must be fought and conquered.

Need to Commemorate All Victims of Atrocities

The Armenian genocide and its victims should rightly be remembered, as should so many other holocausts since then. Not only is this owed to the victims and history itself, but also to stop similar massacres occurring. And we need to remember that the capacity for such evil is not confined to particular nations, but can be found throughout history and humanity.

Stalin, Ian Duncan Smith and Terror as Corporate Management Technique

January 28, 2014

Stalin

Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, aka Stalin: Thuggish Dictator of the Soviet Union

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Ian Duncan Smith: Thuggish Dictator of the Department of Work and Pensions

One of the other books I’ve been reading lately is Alex De Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1986). During his career Stalin is estimated to have killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens – though the real figure may be a high as 45 million or over – through a series of purges and artificial famines as he transformed the Soviet Union into the military and industrial superpower that was to dominate half of Europe and challenge America for world mastery for the next fifty years. From his boyhood Stalin was a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The son of a drunken, abusive father, who used to challenge his son to knife him when beating him and a hard mother, Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, grew up dirty poor in the village of Gori in Georgia, one of the countries in the Caucasus that had been absorbed into the Russian Empire. The family lived in one room of a two-room house. The other was occupied by their landlord. He was short, only 5’4” tall, with an elbow left permanently stiff through a childhood accident. The second and third toes on one of his feet were conjoined from birth, and his faced had been left pockmarked through smallpox. This and his family’s poverty gave him strong feelings of inferiority. He soon developed a deep hatred of anyone in authority above him, and his need to dominate and utter lack of any feeling for others were commented on by his fellow students at the Orthodox Christian seminary in Tiflis, in which his parents had enrolled him. One of them remarked on how he was never known to cry, and greeted the joys and misfortunes of his fellow students alike with a sarcastic smile. Most of all, the young Stalin already was alien to basic human altruism. He could not understand how anyone could act kindly or generously to another out of the sheer goodness of their heart, without some ulterior motive. At the seminary he joined a secret Marxist discussion circle set up by some of the other students. He managed to split this between his supporters and opponents through his absolute insistence that only his interpretation of Marx’s doctrine could ever be correct.

He was also already an advocate of absolute, ruthless personal government. One of the stories about Stalin’s time at the seminary is about an essay he wrote on the fall of Julius Caesar. The history teacher had set them the question ‘Why did Caesar fall?’ Stalin’s essay looked at the question from the perspective of the organs of state power, identifying weaknesses and filling in the gaps where these could be strengthened. He stated that Rome’s greatest dictator fell, because he had allowed another source of authority and resistance, the Senate, to continue uninterrupted. The provincial governors opposed him, because they feared his power more than that of the Senate. He also made the mistake of relying on the support of friends, rather than managers, who depended on him for power and who could be relied on to do his bidding. As a result, he was assassinated by his two friends, Brutus and Cassius. When he was asked if his essay was recommending absolute monarchy, he responded by saying that it did not. Absolute monarchy was the control of the state by a single personality. In Stalin’s view, his recommendations were the exact opposite: the strengthening of state power through a single personality.

Stalin was eventually thrown out of the seminary for reading forbidden
books, like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Marx. He demanded that the other members of the Marxist discussion circle should likewise resign, so that they could concentrate on revolutionary activities and propaganda amongst the people. They refused, offering the excuse that they didn’t want to disappoint their parents. So Stalin denounced them all to the seminary authorities, who threw them out anyway. On their expulsion, Djugashvili told them that they were now free to pursue their revolutionary activities amongst the people. After this, the young revolutionary became a kinto, the Georgian term for a semi-criminal street hustler. His revolutionary activities included a series of bank robberies used to fund the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent Marxist organisation which produced the Bolshevik faction, that later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

So the pattern of Stalin’s personality and rule were present from his childhood: feelings of inferiority, hatred of authority, utter ruthlessness and a need to dominate others, with a predilection for absolute power and the willingness to use violence to obtain it.

I can’t remember if it was De Jonge’s book, but I do remember that in the 1980s the Sunday Express reviewed one of the biographies of the monster. This was done as yet another of the ‘real truth about an icon of the Left’ that the Right-wing press runs every now and again in order to discredit anyone, whose views are to the left of Maggie Thatcher. In fact, Stalin had been discredited long before the 1980s. He had been out of favour in the Soviet Union ever since the ‘Secret Speech’ of 1953, in which Khruschev denounced his ‘cult of personality’. Moreover, the old thug’s fiercest critics included not only non-Communist democrats, but also dissident Marxists like Roy Medvedev, an historian and author of Let History Judge, which exposed not only Stalin and his crimes, but also his henchmen. The book’s Russian title is, if I can remember correctly, B Dvortse Istorii, which literally translated means In History’s Court, which might have a slightly different shade of meaning. Medvedev was a democrat. He presented to Brezhnev a 12-point plan drawn up by himself and other leading Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov. Nevertheless, he was a Marxist, who founded the Socialist Party of Russian Working People in 1991 in opposition to the banning of the Russian Communist party after the coup against Gorbachev.

At first sight, there appears to be very little in common between Ian Duncan Smith and Stalin. Stalin was, after all, essentially a poor street thug, who cleverly manipulated others to make his way to the very top of Soviet hierarchy. IDS is like the rest of the cabinet, a creature of privilege, who owes his position to the British class system. Nevertheless, the two share certain psychological traits in common and their management styles are very similar. In the introduction De Jonge discusses Stalin’s style of government, and rebuts the suggestion that it is somehow strange or unusual in the West. It is in the traditions of democratic government. However, it is much less unusual, and even common, when it is compared with the aggressive and ruthless management style of some company directors. These also rule by fear, though this is simply that of being sacked, rather than being sent to a forced labour camp or shot in the back of the head by the NKVD. Such chairmen are also unwilling to take advice, capricious, and surround themselves with sycophants willing to do and say anything to gain promotion, including stabbing each other in the back. And like Stalin, these company directors can turn their corporations into highly efficient, successful companies. De Jonge states

‘At first sight the country over which he and they ruled strikes Western observers as alien, as indeed it is when judged by the standards and practices of Western political democracy. However, when considered from a different point of view, much that may seem strange at first sight will strike the reader as surprisingly familiar. My interest in Stalin began many years ago, when I was in a position to compare what I knew of him with the atmosphere in a large British corporation, ruled by a chief executive who believed in management by terror. Everyone, fr4om the board of directors to the lift man, existed under the continuing threat of dismissal without warning, while sackings appeared to occur on a virtually random basis. The chairman set ambitious targets based on his intuitions, seldom listened to advice and never admitted he had made a mistake. He was surrounded by an entourage of sycophants who passed his management style down the line, subjecting their own subordinates to the same kind of bullying, with the result that the corporation operated in a terror-laden miasma of politicking, backstabbing, misrepresentation of personal achievement and the sophisticated ‘management’ of company news. Nevertheless, the technique got results, and while the chairman’s intuitive methods produced some spectacular failures, they could also be spectacularly successful. It was a world in which the dangers were colossal, but in which the rewards were commensurate with the risks.

For many years I had supposed this style of management to be unique and that those who had had the misfortune to know it were exceptionally unfortunate. However, I have come to understand that in the world of the nontenured, administration by fear, with the firing squad replaced by instant dismissal, is closer to the rule than the exception. Indeed, it appears to be the norm for any organization in which the administrators are not accountable to those under their authority and in which there is no job security. Academics tend to tr4eat STalin’s Russia as a savage and alien society that requires sophisticated analytic techniques to understand it, because tenure protects them from that perpetual threat of job loss that, with all its attendant office politics, drawn daggers and smoking guns, is part of the fabric of most peoples’ daily lives. They fail to appreciate that Soviet reality ‘begins at home’.

Now this reminds very strongly of IDS’ DWP. Let’s see, run by a bully, who governs by his own intuitions untrammelled by facts? Check. An atmosphere of fear of dismissal, with the subordinates passing this down the line to those under them? Check. Carefully managed news? Definitely check. Backstabbing? Absolutely. Furthermore, like Stalin the ultimate use of terror is the benefit sanction, in which the victim is denied state support. You can compare this to the artificial famines Stalin and his subordinates created during collectivisation, and which devastated the Ukraine in what has become known as the Holodomor. And people are similarly starving in Britain through Smith’s policies, and have died as a result. See the blog entries by Stilloaks, Mike, The Void, DEAP and Jayne Linney for this.

As for the personal psychology of the two, like Stalin IDS also appears to have an inferiority complex. There is, after all, considerable doubt whether he was actually an officer in the British army. IDS also seems to share Stalin’s intellectual vanity. Stalin became General Secretary of the Communist Party as the other Bolsheviks thought that he was too thick to present much of a threat. They believed that a Napoleonic dictator would arise after the Revolution to rule by fear. Unfortunately, they looked in completely the opposite direction, and thought it was Trotsky. Trotsky was, after all, the head of the Red Army during the Civil War, and was a far more sophisticated thinker than Stalin. And so they were looking in completely the wrong direction, while Stalin was under their noses carefully using his position to throw out anyone, who was not absolutely loyal to him. From being a thicko, who didn’t properly understand the niceties of Marxist doctrine – in the 1930s he was still supposed to be taking lessons in Dialectal Materialism – Stalin suddenly became the greatest genius of all time and all humanity, who not only understood Marx thoroughly, but had also personally solved certain problems in Plato. IDS similarly claims an intellectual ability he doesn’t possess. He has, after all, claimed to have a degree from an Italian institute of higher education, which actually doesn’t issue them.

As for spin and backbiting, it was IDS, who appears to have blamed one of his subordinates for his own mistakes. He regularly refuses to release the figures on how many people have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and delayed appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee for as long as possible. Like Iosip Vissarionovich from Georgia, he also believes himself to be above the law.

And like Stalin, IDS personally likes to appear surrounded by armed thugs. When he appeared before the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed policemen, who kept their guns trained on the public gallery, including disabled visitors and their carers. So IDS also has the old brute’s absolute contempt for the poor and most vulnerable in spades.

There are, however, some differences between the two. So far, Ian Duncan Smith and Cameron are not following Stalin in demanding mass arrests, and deportations to forced labour camps, although there are extremely ominous signs of something like them in Osborne’s plans to expand workfare. But the main difference is in success. Stalin was ruthless, but he turned the Soviet Union into the world’s second superpower. During the 1930s the country had an economic growth rate of something like 30 per cent. Vast industrial combines, such as those in the Donbass, virtually appeared overnight. The Tories, on the other hand, have consistently wrecked Britain’s industrial, manufacturing base. Osborne is claiming that we are well on the way to recovery, but this is only through a very clever manipulation of the statistics.

So IDS and his Tory party comrades have all of Stalin’s defects – the murderous ruthlessness, with absolutely none of the old psychopath’s capacity for turning the country into an industrial giant. And this is the man, who, as head of the Department for Work and Pensions, is in charge of the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Way back in the 19th century liberal Russians cried ‘Who can be happy in Russia?’ Under Cameron, the question can be put this side of the Baltic. ‘Who can be happy in Britain?’

British Shell Companies and the Attacks on Liberal Journalism in the Ukraine

January 16, 2014

ukraine

Private Eye has long been extremely critical of the shell companies and the British tax legislation and accountancy firms that support them. These are companies that largely exist in name only, which are used as an accountancy trick to allow corporations to avoid paying tax in Britain by falsely claiming that they are resident, or owned by companies in foreign tax havens. It dates back to Blair and New Labour, but as with everything corrupt that benefits big business, it’s been taken over by the Coalition. Now, according to the Eye’s Christmas edition, these companies have been used for something even more pernicious and sinister: the attack on liberal journalism itself on the Ukraine. The Eye’s article ‘Tricking Kiev’ reports how a network of shell companies was used by the American-Ukrainian businessman, Alexander Altman, to wrest control of Ukrainian news agency, TVi, from its rightful owner, Konstantin Kagalovsky, a Russian businessman based in Britain.

The Eye says:

‘The battle in the Ukraine between pro-European reformers and the friends of Russia’s Vladimir Putin is partly a fight for control of the media.

Luckily for the oligarchs, they can rely on the acquiescence of TVi. Once a source of investigative journalism, it is now a feeble wreck thanks to a massive fraud perpetrated with the help of Britain’s lax corporate regulations.

As Eye 1344 reported, American-Ukrainian “businessman” Alexander Altman walked into TVi in April, and astonished its journalists by saying that he was now their boss. He locked out its owner, the British-based-based Russian businessman Konstantin Kagalovsky, and ordered reporters to stop causing trouble on pain of dismissal.

In a withering judgment at the High Court in London last week, Mr Justice Turner said there had been a “coup” at TVi, accomplished by “using forged documents comprising fake powers of attorney, board resolutions and board minutes”.

TVi’s baffled owner found that control had passed to a British firm called Balmore he had never heard of. No one could blame him for his ignorance. Balmore was an off-the-shelf firm, which Mr Justice Turner said “was in the precarious position of having beern served with a notice that it was to be struck off the company register for failing to submit an annual return”.

On the day Altman moved against liberal journalists in Kiev, Balmore’s annual return was prepared and filed electronically to Companies House in Britain.

The rightful owners’ lawyers secured an injunction in the summer saying that Altman must disclose information on how TVi had gone from Balmore into a maze of British shell companies. Robert Dougans, Kagolovsky’s solicitor, said Altman had refused to comply and was thus guilty of contempt of court. Even Altman’s London lawyers, Kerman & Co appeared to suspect that something unprofessional and unethical may have been going down. Internal emails, revealed to the court, show Sebastian Devlin, an associate lawyer at the firm, warning partner Carl Robinson that he saw a “real risk” in complying with Altman’s wishes. As the judge drily noted, Robinson was “unable to proffer any clear Explanation” on what Altman had asked Turner that had so worried his colleague.

Throughout the contempt case, Altman said he was the victim of a “set up”. He got out of bed one morning and found that he was associated with mysterious British companies. The judge was having none of it. If Altman were an innocent victim, “he would have made far more strenuous efforts to find out what had happened”. He “knew full well “why the companies had been formed. He was their “controlling mind”, who had retained Kerman & Co and handed them boxes of corporate documents.

The judge found Altman guilty of contempt, and will sentence him next year.

Robert Dougan, the victorious solicitor, told the Eye that despite the judgement there was still no guarantee that the Ukrainian courts would hand TVi back. “One of the reasons why people are on the streets in Kiev is because shady operators in and out of government can commit frauds and no one does anything about it.” As in so many other frauds, the fraudsters turn to “light touch” Britain for help. Dougans explained how he had found out for himself how light that touch was. “I decided to test our controls by registering my cat as a company director,” he said. “No one tried to stop me.”

(Private Eye, 21 December – 9 January 2014, p. 33).

This is a serious attack on the nascent free press in the new, post-Soviet state. The Ukraine is one of the oldest of the Russian states. As the kingdom of Kiev, tt was founded in the early Middle Ages by Varangian Vikings, who intermarried with and adopted the culture of the indigenous Slav population. Under its king, Oleg, in the 9th century it established relations with the Byzantine Empire. Oleg marched to Constantinople at the head of an army and after sacking its suburbs and nailed his shield to the city’s wall. As well as extracting tribute, he also demanded a number of agreements establishing trade between the Empire and Kievan Russia. The Byzantine Emperor acceded to his demands, and Oleg married a Byzantine princess. Later in the century, sometime after 988, the Kievan king, Vladimir the Great, converted to Christianity. This marked the beginning of the Orthodox Church in Russia, as well as the beginning of the Russian view that they are the ‘Third Rome’, after the Eternal City itself, and Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire.

The country takes its name from the Ukrainian word ‘Krai’, which means a border area. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Republic of Poland, before being conquered and incorporated into Russia. The Ukraine has produced some of the greatest Russian authors, including Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the White Guard and the Master and Margarita.

One of my father’s workmates was Ukrainian, who finally moved back his native country to be with his family after the fall of Communism. One of my friends has also lived and worked in the former Eastern Bloc. A few years ago he holidayed in Kiev, and really loved the place. When he came back he proudly showed me the various sights he’d seen. Back in the 1990s there was some pessimism about the new, post-Soviet nation’s future. There has been considerable friction between the western Ukraine, which is largely rural and Roman Catholic, and the industrialised, Orthodox east, which has a large Russian population. Some observers and commenters feared that the country would degenerate into ethnic conflict and possible civil war, along with the emergence of anti-Semitism. While the country is clearly divided over the question of its ties to either the EU or Putin’s Russia, large scale conflict has been avoided. Indeed, the Financial Times was so impressed with the new state that in an article about it, the newspaper described it as almost a magical place, straight from a fairy-tale. The question of whether the country has closer ties to Russia or the EU is, of course, an issue for the Ukrainians themselves to decide. To do so, and to strengthen their democracy, they need a genuinely liberal, free press able investigate corruption and dodgy political dealing. Unfortunately, the extremely lax corporate legislation over here has meant that this is being stifled to serve very powerful, corporate interests.

The use of this legislation to attack Ukrainian free journalism also poses a threat to the free press in the rest of the world, including this country. Globalisation has meant that the world is now interconnected, and once international big business feels it can get away with something in one country, it will try and use the same tactic elsewhere. We cannot afford to see this as merely a problem for a far away country, tucked away in the former USSR. If it is allowed to succeed in the Ukraine, then it will eventually come here.

A Face from Medieval Nubia

June 28, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned on previous posts on medieval Nubia, the churches of the Classic Christian period, including that at Arminna West, were decorated with wall paintings. Faras Cathedral was richly decorated with murals. It had been dedicated to the Virgin in 630, so many of the wall paintings were of her. One of these was of Our lady standing amongst the stars in heaven, holding the infant Christ and with two angels, one standing either side of her. The fesco had the inscription ‘The Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of Christ’. To the right was another inscription, reading ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour’. There was another wall-painting showing the Virgin and the birth of Christ with the three kings and the shepherds. The two shepherds depicted had the names Arnias and Lekotes. There were other murals of the three kings, the Apostle Peter, and those saints that were particularlyrevered in the Monophysite church, such as St. John Chrysostom, and Ignatius, the archbishop of Antioch. There was also a vast mural of the three holy children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace as described in the Book of Daniel. The military saints were also depicted as was the the archangel Michael, the patron and protector of the Nubian kingdom of Macuria, whose capital Faras was. The murals also showed the Queen Mother, Martha, under the special protection of the Virgin and God crowning king Mercurius on the church’s foundation stone. The mural’s inscription described the king as ‘Christ-loving’. The tenth century mural of King Georgios II showed him under the protection of both the Virgin and Child.

The murals also showed the bishops, and their staff of archpriest, priests and deacons. These were shown in their vestments, including the stoles and chasubles. These were richly decorated, some covered with jewels. Their vestments were modelled on those of the Byzantine church, but are not very different from the modern vestments of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican church. As a diocese, Faras had the status of Metropolitan, a high status held only by the most important dioceses of the Byzantine Empire. The town itself was under the Eparch, a high official directly subordinate to the king himself in Old Dongola. The Eparch was styled ‘illustris’, a term used only of the highest rank of civil servants Byzantium. One of the churchmen depicted on the murals is of Marianos, who was bishop of Faras from 1005 until his death in 1036. With his broad face and beard, he has been described as resembling King Henry VIII of England. I’ve attempted to depict the mural of him in the drawing below.

Nubian Face Drawing

Clearly Nubia had a rich artistic as well as literary and religious heritage.

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.