Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. A Dictionary of Atheism

 

Today’s Advent Post concerns what happens when traditions are stripped from lives. It isn’t a Christmasy topic per se, or even an Advent-y one.

Unpacking still from our move two years ago, I came across the contents of a long file drawer dating back to my office at SMU. In three boxes were folders with Soviet-era topics: Lenin-this, Stalin-that, plus a host of files for Soviet-era artists. Drawn to one thick manila envelope, I slid out a photocopy of a Dictionary of Atheism (Slovar’ aeteista), published in Moscow in 1964.

Apparently while in Leningrad in the early 1980s researching my dissertation, I had copied this dictionary using the lugubrious Soviet system that allowed scholars restricted access to non-sequential photocopying (kcerokopia). “Restricted” meant, for example, that pages 5-15 of a resource could be copied one day, ten more pages randomly selected two days later (pages 59-69 or any others far from page 15), then ten more pages a couple of days after that. You get the idea.

Presuming one kept careful records and stretched the process out so as not to draw attention when filling in the gaps, voilà, it was possible to copy fully a publication unattainable in the West. Since every copy order required waiting in long lines to request, submit, pay, and receive the pages, you can see why copying anything required a will of steel.

I must have been awfully intrigued with this Dictionary of Atheism to come out with a full copy. But why? Why did I spend precious time and effort for a book utterly unrelated to my musicological research?

The best I recall is that I realized what an odd item it was—something one could not fathom elsewhere at that time. I also recall a feeling of gratitude that such distortion of religious traditions and Judeo-Christian history could never exist in my homeland of America.

soviet-stalin-babyI was wrong. Today, in many quarters, people find themselves edged up against circumstances that bespeak eerily of a similar phenomenon. It was clear to the Bolsheviks that religious culture and tsarist history were inextricably linked to Russian identity, so both had to be eliminated. Under Lenin that meant assassinating the royal family (Nicholas, Alexandra, their five children, and even household members), then driving out or killing a certain amount of clergy, plus closing nearly all churches and monasteries and stripping them of their wealth. Later, under Stalin came dynamiting certain of those churches and monasteries (especially the most historic) and executing far more clergy (along with a horrifying number of intellectuals from every field).

Still, the Soviets were practical. They recognized that an educated person needed to know a few things about Jewish and Christian history, so the trick was to find a way to teach those basics while exposing it as “Tom-foolery.” Anyone in Leningrad during the Communist period, for example, remembers the stunning Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospect being turned into a “Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism.” My one visit there in the spring of 1982 left me in tears, it was so perverted.

Yet, wondrously and amazingly, churches in Russia have again filled with worshipers, precisely as increasing numbers of our churches here face steep declines. The decimation of religious culture in the USSR came at the point of a bayonet. Here, it has come through the media and a political correctness that may have seemed innocuous, but clearly now is weaponized. We are reaping the fruits of what a culture in decline looks like, particularly with a new generation that seems dedicated to worshipping Marxism.

kazan-cathedral
Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg

In Russia’s case, the transition to Marxism was ensured by violence. In our case, the steps seem gentler, particularly when wrapped in the banner of progress and freedom of choice. But are they? Are you old enough to remember when kids’ sporting events began to be held on Sunday mornings? (That, by the way, is an old Soviet trick: circuses and theatrical performances for children were routinely scheduled on Sunday mornings.) Do you remember when crude public language and awful images printed on T-shirts became “ok”? (Another chink in the foundation is kicked in.) At what point did we accept the fashion industry’s decision to dress our pre-adolescent girls as “ladies of the night”?

Add in the viciously misogynous lyrics we are supposed to celebrate in pop music. Throw a few pastors in jail for continuing to preach the biblical principles that have underlain their denominations for centuries. And top it all off with a public education system that seems satisfied with fourth-grade proficiency in reading and third-grade standards for math. Voilá, we have moved far closer than many realize to the position that Soviet ideologues celebrated when they published the Dictionary of Atheism.

That’s why, no matter what you do this Advent, it is important. Certain things cannot occur in some places (starting with Christmas Eve services and visits from family). These conditions, coming after such a limited, frustrating 2020, feel doubly discouraging. Yet not only is it possible to create a meaningful, traditional Christmas season, it is imperative that we do so!

So whether your form of celebrating focuses on “secular” traditions (watching old Christmas movies, playing with the chipped collection of nutcrackers, baking cookies, and wearing headbands with reindeer antlers) or “sacred” observations—lighting Advent candles, singing hymns, and following the devotional readings dedicated to John the Baptist and other saints commemorated in December, or a combination of both, you are preserving and extending the substance of Advent and Christmas.

An Orthodox priest in a recent class made the simplest, most wondrous statement about the Christmas Season. He was addressing the liturgical cycle of fasting for Lent, but also during Advent. But then he made this joyous statement about the spiritual obligation for feasting that follows. It caught me by surprise:

You must feast. You really then must feast . . . for Twelve Days!

Feasting means far more than returning sweets, meats, or dairy products to a dining-room table. It means rejoicing and singing. It means spreading across the Twelve Days of Christmas some of those gifts that overwhelm the tree on Christmas morning. It means keeping the crèche, tree, and decorations up wherever possible. It means continuing to send cards, make goodies, offer help particularly to neighbors, and do whatever activities bring you and your family joy. In short, rejoice!

soviet-new-year
New Year’s Greeting 1969

This is the spirit of spiritual rejoicing that was stripped from daily life under Communism. Yes, it was replaced with vapid holidays like the “October Revolution Day” or cartoon-like facsimiles of Christmas as a New Year’s Feast replete with New Year’s trees, New Year’s gifts, Father Frost, and plenty of vodka. But it never worked.

All of this I thought about, looking at the now-antiquated Dictionary of Atheism. For 70 years the outlook was dark in Russia. But darkness always precedes light.

Prepare for Christmas not just through meditation, fasting, praying, and whatever else is part of your Advent tradition. But prepare to feast as well! And proclaim your gratitude that we still do have freedom in our religious activities, even amidst troubling trends. Make certain your children know what this freedom is worth. Both your and their commitments to hold on to our religious liberty may well be necessary.

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  1. EODmom Coolidge

    I cannot thank you enough for this post! You speak profoundly to what has been grieving me this past week – and you make specific suggestions for relief and calm expression of HOPE. I’ve been saying around town that even the Grinch found out you can’t stop Christmas, but you encourage the joy and real rejoicing in it. Preparation and waiting is such an important part of the Advent lessons – I hope it is transformative for many this year. We wait, but then find that Yup – Christmas is. This morning EODDad said “Let’s get a Creche for the front yard to put right next to the little tree.” So we are – just ordered one to come in 3 days. 

    Thank you for writing. And – I think the Lenin-this and Stalin-that aspect of the threat today is ohhhh too relevant. 

    • #1
    • December 5, 2020, at 10:25 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  2. Kelly B Member

    Thank you for this. You noted a lot of things that have begun sticking in my craw about our culture, and your post underlines why it’s become so important that, because we can go to church in Texas, we absolutely must. I’m very grateful for our relative freedom here, and have found myself doing some things simply because I can, knowing that many Americans are stuck at home by the baseless edicts of tin pot dictators, slowly nudging us all toward totalitarianism.

    • #2
    • December 5, 2020, at 10:58 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    @professorcarol, you are such a beautiful writer. Superb post, with many bonus points awarded for using the wonderful word lugubrious.

    • #3
    • December 5, 2020, at 6:37 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As a Torah Jew who celebrates the religious foundations of America…. superb post. And I hope it helps move the dial. Thank you!

    • #4
    • December 5, 2020, at 9:10 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Bishop Wash Member

    I wonder if it’s available outside of Russia now.

    • #5
    • December 5, 2020, at 10:08 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Skyler Coolidge

    Soviet conception of atheism is not typical of atheism. It substitutes worship of the state for worship of ethereal imaginary beings.

    The fact is, whether you want there to be a god, there isn’t one, and no amount of dancing and feasting will change that fact.

    • #6
    • December 5, 2020, at 10:19 PM PST
    • Like
  7. Flicker Coolidge

    Have you seen Russia’s new iron cathedral?

    • #7
    • December 5, 2020, at 10:28 PM PST
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. dukenaltum Coolidge

    A fine post. Thank you. 

    Most atheistic regimes also use the all too human failings, cowardice and tepid faith of the clergy to discredit and defame their targeted faith long before they have the courage to embrace the necessary violence to rip God from the heart of mankind. It is irrefutable that all Atheistic systems worship some idealized human creation or the natural world. 

    It isn’t an accident that the core tenet of the Church of Satan is objectively and subjectively Atheistic.

    • #8
    • December 6, 2020, at 5:26 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Front Seat Cat Member

    This is a fascinating and timely post. Can you share more details of your experience and also parts of the atheist dictionary? Speaking of cards, @rushbabe49 can you remember who has been in charge of the Ricochet Christmas card exchange? I haven’t see anything about it yet??

    • #9
    • December 6, 2020, at 6:09 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Skyler Coolidge

    dukenaltum (View Comment):
    It isn’t an accident that the core tenet of the Church of Satan is objectively and subjectively Atheistic.

    I’m not sure how someone can be atheist, which means they don’t believe there is a god, and then also believe there is an evil god.

    • #10
    • December 6, 2020, at 6:17 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Jules PA Member

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Have you seen Russia’s new iron cathedral?

    If that is a Christian Cathedral, built in Russia, that is amazing, because it expresses the presence of the most important cathedral: the hearts of men that recognize G-d.

    • #11
    • December 6, 2020, at 7:31 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    This is a fascinating and timely post. Can you share more details of your experience and also parts of the atheist dictionary? Speaking of cards, @rushbabe49 can you remember who has been in charge of the Ricochet Christmas card exchange? I haven’t see anything about it yet??

    @amyschley has been in charge of the card exchange. I hope she will do it again. But even if she doesn’t, there’s nothing preventing us from sending cards anyway, which I plan to do.

    • #12
    • December 6, 2020, at 9:07 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Flicker Coolidge

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Have you seen Russia’s new iron cathedral?

    If that is a Christian Cathedral, built in Russia, that is amazing, because it expresses the presence of the most important cathedral: the hearts of men that recognize G-d.

    It has Christian symbology. It has a cross at the top. It has a face of similar to the Western image of Christ in the top of the rotunda. It has mosaics and statues of what may be saints, of what I suppose in the Mary holding Jesus, and is ornamented with huge high relief sculptures of angels wielding swords.

    But it is mostly by far a memorial to all the Russian soldiers who died, with halls of mementos, weapons and machinery of war and of brave and lost soldiers. And the entire structure is made out of iron. It may best be described from the little I know about it as a War Memorial in with a Christian theme.

    I have read that Russian leaders realized the affects of the emptiness and nihilism of atheism, and have built a cathedral designed to enshrine the Russian military dead for the purpose of giving Russian soldiers moral strength and purpose. I do not want to condemn the work, but it appears to me inside and out to be somber, imposing and I would say piteous. It certainly doesn’t look victorious.

    To me it looks more like a depiction of hell, wittingly or not. The inside is dark. Jesus is out of reach frowning down from heaven, huge angry angels on guard on the walls above the viewer inside and out, and ill-lit rooms that look like tunnels hold the esteemed artifacts of war.

    I can’t say this is not Christian, but it is not in any spirit that I’ve seen in any cathedrals, except maybe the Sedlec Ossuary.

    • #13
    • December 6, 2020, at 9:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  14. Jules PA Member

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Have you seen Russia’s new iron cathedral?

    If that is a Christian Cathedral, built in Russia, that is amazing, because it expresses the presence of the most important cathedral: the hearts of men that recognize G-d.

    It has Christian symbology. It has a cross at the top. It has a face of similar to the Western image of Christ in the top of the rotunda. It has mosaics and statues of what may be saints, of what I suppose in the Mary holding Jesus, and is ornamented with huge high relief sculptures of angels wielding swords.

    But it is mostly by far a memorial to all the Russian soldiers who died, with halls of mementos, weapons and machinery of war and of brave and lost soldiers. And the entire structure is made out of iron. It may best be described from the little I know about it as a War Memorial in with a Christian theme.

    I have read that Russian leaders realized the affects of the emptiness and nihilism of atheism, and have built a cathedral designed to enshrine the Russian military dead for the purpose of giving Russian soldiers moral strength and purpose. I do not want to condemn the work, but it appears to me inside and out to be somber, imposing and I would say piteous. It certainly doesn’t look victorious.

    To me it looks more like a depiction of hell, wittingly or not. The inside is dark. Jesus is out of reach frowning down from heaven, huge angry angels on guard on the walls above the viewer inside and out, and ill-lit rooms that look like tunnels hold the esteemed artifacts of war.

    I can’t say this is not Christian, but it is not in any spirit that I’ve seen in any cathedrals, except maybe the Sedlec Ossuary.

    Well, funny, that is what I sensed, from the video. I found the imagery in the video confusing, which was why I posted the way I did.

    As a believer, I can see the Christian story, but there was something of to me, from watching the entire thing.

    Oddly enough, the whole iron cathedral points both directly, and indirectly, to Christ, as victorious, but only for those who have eyes to see. 

    The soldiers and war have not won…because they fight for the wrong things. 

    I remember the Bible story about Nebuchadnezzars dream, with the statue. Or maybe UT was Joesrph interpreting Pharaoh. 

    No part of the statue endured. 

    • #14
    • December 6, 2020, at 9:47 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Soviet conception of atheism is not typical of atheism. It substitutes worship of the state for worship of ethereal imaginary beings.

    The fact is, whether you want there to be a god, there isn’t one, and no amount of dancing and feasting will change that fact.

    I mean no disrespect to you, but what you characterize as a “fact” is hardly as self-evident as you seem to imply. For most believers, it contradicts the weight of the evidence.

    What is an incontrovertible fact is that the Soviet conception of atheism failed to thrive just as the Soviet conception of socialism failed to thrive. It seems dodgy to now suggest that it was not real atheism.

    • #15
    • December 6, 2020, at 11:06 AM PST
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  16. Flicker Coolidge

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    If that is a Christian Cathedral, built in Russia, that is amazing, because it expresses the presence of the most important cathedral: the hearts of men that recognize G-d.

    It has Christian symbology. It has a cross at the top. It has a face of similar to the Western image of Christ in the top of the rotunda. It has mosaics and statues of what may be saints, of what I suppose in the Mary holding Jesus, and is ornamented with huge high relief sculptures of angels wielding swords.

    But it is mostly by far a memorial to all the Russian soldiers who died, with halls of mementos, weapons and machinery of war and of brave and lost soldiers. And the entire structure is made out of iron. It may best be described from the little I know about it as a War Memorial in with a Christian theme.

    I have read that Russian leaders realized the affects of the emptiness and nihilism of atheism, and have built a cathedral designed to enshrine the Russian military dead for the purpose of giving Russian soldiers moral strength and purpose. I do not want to condemn the work, but it appears to me inside and out to be somber, imposing and I would say piteous. It certainly doesn’t look victorious.

    To me it looks more like a depiction of hell, wittingly or not. The inside is dark. Jesus is out of reach frowning down from heaven, huge angry angels on guard on the walls above the viewer inside and out, and ill-lit rooms that look like tunnels hold the esteemed artifacts of war.

    I can’t say this is not Christian, but it is not in any spirit that I’ve seen in any cathedrals, except maybe the Sedlec Ossuary.

    Well, funny, that is what I sensed, from the video. I found the imagery in the video confusing, which was why I posted the way I did.

    As a believer, I can see the Christian story, but there was something of to me, from watching the entire thing.

    Oddly enough, the whole iron cathedral points both directly, and indirectly, to Christ, as victorious, but only for those who have eyes to see.

    The soldiers and war have not won…because they fight for the wrong things.

    I remember the Bible story about Nebuchadnezzars dream, with the statue. Or maybe UT was Joesrph interpreting Pharaoh.

    No part of the statue endured.

    Yes. The iron in the the statue was brittle.

    Jesus is portrayed within in the light that He is. And God’s Kingdom will be daylight bright with no night. And the streets or Heaven’s foundation (I forget which) will be paved with (and there are several descriptions that I refer to here) translucent gold. And New Jerusalem’s foundations will be colored stones, and the gates pearlescent. God’s heaven is bright not dark.

    • #16
    • December 6, 2020, at 11:57 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Skyler Coolidge

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Soviet conception of atheism is not typical of atheism. It substitutes worship of the state for worship of ethereal imaginary beings.

    The fact is, whether you want there to be a god, there isn’t one, and no amount of dancing and feasting will change that fact.

    I mean no disrespect to you, but what you characterize as a “fact” is hardly as self-evident as you seem to imply. For most believers, it contradicts the weight of the evidence.

    What is an incontrovertible fact is that the Soviet conception of atheism failed to thrive just as the Soviet conception of socialism failed to thrive. It seems dodgy to now suggest that it was not real atheism.

    What is “real” atheism? It’s not organized. 

    • #17
    • December 6, 2020, at 12:40 PM PST
    • Like
  18. GrannyDude Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Soviet conception of atheism is not typical of atheism. It substitutes worship of the state for worship of ethereal imaginary beings.

    The fact is, whether you want there to be a god, there isn’t one, and no amount of dancing and feasting will change that fact.

    Aw. Merry Christmas, Mr. Grumpypants! 

    • #18
    • December 6, 2020, at 4:49 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  19. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    dukenaltum (View Comment):

    It isn’t an accident that the core tenet of the Church of Satan is objectively and subjectively Atheistic.

    Its rejection of Christianity apparently includes the rejection of James 2:19.

    • #19
    • December 6, 2020, at 5:22 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):

    What is “real” atheism? It’s not organized.

    That’s a good question.

    As many people, including atheists, have observed, human beings seem to have a natural need to worship someone or something. Even narcissists and hedonists can be described as people “whose God is their belly.” Phillipians 3:19.

    Most people also perceive the existence of an objective morality: basic principles of good and evil that manifest through conscience, and that transcend and supersede the promptings of instinct, appetite, preference and utility. No one has yet made a convincing argument that there can be any source for objective morality except God.

    Maybe that’s why efforts at organizing atheism, from the French Revolution’s Cult of Reason to the Russian Revolution’s attempts at “God building,” quickly failed.

    • #20
    • December 6, 2020, at 5:51 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Skyler Coolidge

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    No one has yet made a convincing argument that there can be any source for objective morality except God.

    You may not be convinced, but it is nonetheless true

    Maybe that’s why efforts at organizing atheism, from the French Revolution’s Cult of Reason to the Russian Revolution’s attempts at “God building,” quickly failed.

    Why would there be such a need? What would be the point?

    • #21
    • December 6, 2020, at 7:16 PM PST
    • Like
  22. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    Regarding your first point: I believe that truth should be established by evidence and reason, not by mere assertion.

    Regarding your question: As I understand it, the people who have tried to invent secular religions were trying to satisfy the desire for God by creating ceremonies and rituals as psychological substitutes.

    By the way, are those crossed K-bars? Semper fi, brother!

    • #22
    • December 6, 2020, at 7:28 PM PST
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  23. Skyler Coolidge

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):
    By the way, are those crossed K-bars? Semper fi, brother!

    They are Randall Made Knives.

    • #23
    • December 7, 2020, at 12:48 AM PST
    • 1 like