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Atheistic States

Atheistic States

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will explain athestic states.

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Notes on “Atheistic States”

Source: Public Domain Music by Brian Boyko, "Circumspection."

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Hello, welcome. Today we're going to talk about atheistic states. State atheism is considered the official promotion of atheism by a government. Historically in conjunction with this promotion of atheism, you can see that some countries have actively either directly or indirectly suppressed freedom of religion and religious activity.

The use and application of the term atheism was present in ancient Greece to refer to someone who rejected the gods in one way or another. The word atheism comes from two Greek words a and theos. The negative, no or not, and theos, god or gods. State affairs were tied to a belief structure that included many gods, and anyone on a different track was given this uncomplementary label atheist.

Atheism was not a commonly used term. It wasn't applied very often throughout late antiquity and also through the Middle Ages. It wasn't used much. There were certainly tussles between faith and reason. But the nations and states didn't present themselves as godless entities per se. It wasn't really until the 18th century in Europe that some people saw the movements in science and modern philosophy and a bit later the social sciences as structures that pointed to and supported an ideology of atheism.

At the same time, political shifts were taking place, giving rise to the establishment of newly-formed national identities and nationhood. And this was often at least at arm's length from religion and religious issues. Atheism found its home, then, in the writings and political philosophies and actual governmental structures that began to unfold through the modern era. Let's take a look at a couple of them.

A government that presents its country as atheistic and promotes it, discourages religiosity, is different than a secular state. A secular country, a secular state, is more neutral with regard to religion and usually makes efforts to remain neutral with the institution of legal structures that follow that orientation, to follow a course that is clearly distinct from any religion and religious practice that might be one element in the country's profile and makeup of the population.

One of the strong roots of modern atheistic states can be traced back to the French Revolution. In its power struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, France experimented with atheism as a state ideology, but is lasted a very, very short time-- less than a year, in fact. Nevertheless, the extremes of political, social, and religious identity of France made its mark on notions of nationhood in many parts of the world.

Probably the most noticeable influence of this tussle with atheistic ideology was upon communist Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Marxist Leninist communist regime. Religion offered little to no solace in the worldly affairs of economic and political oppression. Both founders were atheistic, and the nation's complex identity-- indeed it's personality, therefore-- associated itself with atheism and actively suppressed religion as a distraction from the more immediate concerns of the state. Some of the policies included the seizing of churches and their properties and the extreme persecution of orthodox bishops and priests.

And as the French Revolution inspired social and political and secular movements throughout the world, the Russian Revolution also inspired many countries-- for example, Cuba. Throughout the 1950s, Fidel Castro was struggling against the Batista regime. He fought an ideological battle very similar to what had occurred 40 years earlier in the Soviet Union. In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power and began a series of major social reforms in the areas of health care, education, communications, and steps toward recognition of equality. A major policy also included the shipping off of members of the Roman Catholic Church, and members of the ruling Communist Party had to be atheist, had to be declared atheist. This was the case until the early '90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And today in Cuba, one can profess a faith and still be eligible to join the Communist Party as they have now an official nondiscrimination policy on the matter of religion.

Now we can review. We started with the two words a and theos, which makes up our word atheism, a meaning no and theos god or gods. That was a derogatory term. And that atheism really wasn't an ideology that was applied or used, it wasn't a term that was used much, during late antiquity, nor was it used much through the Middle Ages. It wasn't until the French Revolution in the 18th century that atheism started to become more experimented with in terms of applying it to state ideology and state politics.

We then looked at the Soviet Union and the application of atheism as a state ideology that rejected religion because it had gotten in the way of some of the more pertinent issues of the state and political and economic life. And then we saw in Cuba that the Communist Revolution was an inspiration, and a big part of that was the atheistic belief structure. Then we also saw that in the '90s, the atheist manifesto of Cuba was softened a bit, and now there's a nondiscrimination policy in terms of membership in the Communist Party.

Terms to Know
State Atheism

The official promotion of atheism by a government.