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Short description: Opposition to religion

Antireligion is opposition to religion.[1][2][3] It involves opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. The term antireligion has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not. The Soviet Union adopted the political ideology of Marxism–Leninism and by extension the policy of state atheism which opposed the growth of religions.

Antireligion is distinct from deity-specific positions such as atheism (the lack of belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities); although "antireligionists" may also be atheists or antitheists.


Early anti religious tendencies were expressed by skeptics such as Christopher Marlowe.[4] Significant antireligion was advanced during the Age of Enlightenment, as early as the 17th century. Baron d'Holbach's book Christianity Unveiled published in 1761, attacked not only Christianity but religion in general as an impediment to the moral advancement of humanity. According to historian Michael Burleigh, antireligion found its first mass expression of barbarity in French Revolution as "organised ... 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state" responded violently to religious influence over society.[5]

State atheism

The Soviet Union adopted the political ideology of Marxism–Leninism and by extension the policy of state atheism.[6] It directed varying degrees of antireligious efforts at varying faiths, depending on what threat they posed to the Soviet state, and their willingness to subordinate themselves to political authority. These antireligious campaigns were directed at all faiths,[citation needed] including Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shamanist religions. In the 1930s, during the Joseph Stalin ist period, the government destroyed church buildings or put them into secular use (as museums of religion and atheism, clubs or storage facilities), executed clergy, prohibited the publication of most religious material and persecuted some members of religious groups.[7] Less violent attempts to reduce or eliminate the influence of religion in society were also carried out at other times in Soviet history. For instance, it was usually necessary to be an atheist in order to acquire any important political position or any prestigious scientific job; thus, many people became atheists in order to advance their careers. In the years of 1921–1950, some estimate that 15 million Christians were killed in the Soviet Union.[8] [better source needed] Up to 500,000 Russian Orthodox Christians were persecuted by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups.[9] At least 106,300 Russian clergymen were executed between 1937 and 1941.[10] The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic targeted numerous clergy for arrest and interrogation as enemies of the state,[11] and many churches, mosques, and synagogues were converted to secular uses.[12]

The People's Republic of Albania had an objective for the eventual elimination of all religion in Albania with the goal of creating an atheist nation, which it declared it had achieved in 1967. In 1976, Albania implemented a constitutional ban on religious activity and actively promoted atheism.[13][14] The government nationalized most property of religious institutions and used it for non-religious purposes, such as cultural centers for young people. Religious literature was banned. Many clergy and theists were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic clergy were expelled in 1946, [citation needed] and Albania officially tried to eradicate religion.[14]

Authorities in the People's Republic of Romania aimed to move towards an atheistic society, in which religion would be considered as the ideology of the bourgeoisie; the régime also set to propagate among the laboring masses in science, politics and culture to help them fight superstition and mysticism, and initiated an anti-religious campaign aimed at reducing the influence of religion in society.[15] After the communist takeover in 1948, some church personnel were imprisoned for political crimes.[16]

The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate Cambodia's cultural heritage, including its religions, particularly Theravada Buddhism.[17] Over the four years of Khmer Rouge rule, at least 1.5 million Cambodians perished. Of the sixty thousand Buddhist monks that previously existed, only three thousand survived the Cambodian genocide.[18][19]

Notable antireligious people


  • Al-Ma'arri (973–1057), Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[20]
  • Thomas Paine (1737–1809), British-American writer and deist who wrote a scathing critique on religion in The Age of Reason (1793–4): "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish [i.e. Muslim], appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."[citation needed]
  • Karl Marx (1818–1883), German philosopher, social scientist, socialist. He said "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness."[21]
  • John Dewey (1859–1952), an American pragmatist philosopher, who believed neither religion nor metaphysics could provide legitimate moral or social values, though scientific empiricism could (see science of morality).[22]
  • Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), English logician and philosopher who believed that authentic philosophy could only be pursued given an atheistic foundation of "unyielding despair". In 1948, he famously debated with the Jesuit priest and philosophical historian Father Frederick Copleston on the existence of God.[23]
  • Ayn Rand (1905–1982), Russian-American novelist and philosopher, founder of Objectivism.[24]
  • Richard Dawkins (born 1941), English biologist, one of the "Four Horsemen" of New Atheism. He wrote The God Delusion, criticizing belief in the divine, in 2006.[25]
  • Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011), English-American author and journalist, one of the "Four Horsemen" of New Atheism. He wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in 2007.[26]
  • Lawrence M. Krauss (born 1954) a theoretical physicist, author of A Universe from Nothing.[citation needed]
  • Steven Pinker (born 1954), Canadian-American cognitive scientist who believes religion incites violence.[27]
  • Sam Harris (born 1967), author of The End of Faith. He said, "If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion."[28]


  • Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), Soviet leader from 1917 until 1924, who believed all religions to be "the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class".[29]
  • Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), Soviet leader in 1953–64, who initiated, among other measures,[30][31] the 1958-1964 Soviet anti-religious campaign.
  • Plutarco Elías Calles (1877–1945), president of Mexico between 1924 and 1928. During his government the Cristero War began.[32]
  • Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953), while he was the leader of the USSR he worked on ending religion in the country.[33]


  • Haruki Murakami, Japanese novelist who wrote: "God only exists in people’s minds. Especially in Japan, God's always has been a kind of flexible concept. Look at what happened to the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being a God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person."[citation needed]
  • Ricky Gervais, British comedian and actor who has been critical of religion in sketches and other comedic performances.[citation needed]
  • Bill Maher, American comedian, who wrote and starred in Religulous, a 2008 documentary criticizing and mocking religion.[citation needed]
  • Marcus Brigstocke, British comedian.[citation needed]
  • George Carlin, American comedian who frequently mocked religion throughout his career.
  • James Randi, former magician, professional "debunker" of psychics, outspoken atheist and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.[citation needed]
  • Philip Roth, contemporary Jewish-American novelist.[34]
  • Matt Dillahunty, host of The Atheist Experience and former president of the Atheist Community of Austin, engages in debates with Apologists.[citation needed]

See also


  1. "Anti-religion". Merriam-Webster Online. 
  2. "Antireligion". Collins Dictionary Online. 
  3. Bullivant, Stephen; Lee, Lois (2016). A Dictionary of Atheism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191816819. 
  4. Flynn, T.; Dawkins, R. (2007). The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. Prometheus. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-61592-280-2. Retrieved 2023-01-19. 
  5. Michael Burleigh Earthly Powers p 96-97 ISBN:0-00-719572-9
  6. Kowalewski 1980, p. 426, Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences: "The Soviet policy of state atheism (gosateizm), albeit inconsistently applied, remains a major goal of official ideology. Massive state resources have been expended not only to prevent the implanting of religious belief in nonbelievers but also to eradicate "prerevolutionary remnants" already existing. The regime is not merely passively committed to a godless polity but takes an aggressive stance of official forced atheization. Thus a major task of the police apparatus is the persecution of forms of religious practice. Not surprisingly, the Committee for State Security (KGB) is reported to have a division dealing specifically with "churchmen and sectarians."
  7. "Revelations from the Russian Archives: ANTI-RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGNS". US Government. "The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed." 
  8. World Christian trends, AD 30-AD 2200, p.243 Table 4-10 By David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, Peter F. Crossing
  9. "Сколько репрессированных в России пострадали за Христа?". 
  10. Yakovlev, Alexander N. (2002) (in en). A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10322-9. 
  11. (in Romanian)Martiri pentru Hristos, din România, în perioada regimului comunist, Editura Institutului Biblic și de Misiune al Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, București, 2007, pp.34–35
  12. Brezianu, Andrei (26 May 2010) (in en). The A to Z of Moldova. Scarecrow Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8108-7211-0. "Communist Atheism. Official doctrine of the Soviet regime, also called "scientific atheism." It was aggressively applied to Moldova, immediately after the 1940 annexation, when churches were profaned, clergy assaulted, and signs and public symbols of religion were prohibited, and it was applied again throughout the subsequent decades of the Soviet regime, after 1944. ... churches were either pulled down or turned into facilities designed to serve secular or even profane purposes ... the Transfiguration Cathedral (previously dedicated to St. Constantine and Helena) housed the city's planetarium." 
  13. "The Albanian Constitution of 1976". 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Temperman, Jeroen (2010). State-Religion Relationships and Human Rights Law : Towards a Right to Religiously Neutral Governance. Brill Academic/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9789004181489. "Before the end of the Cold War, many Communist States did not shy away from being openly hostile to religion. In most instances, communist ideology translated unperturbedly into state atheism, which, in turn, triggered measures aimed at the eradication of religion. As much was acknowledged by some Communist Constitutions. The 1976 Constitution of the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, for instance, was firmly based on a Marxist dismissal of religion as the opiate of the masses. It provided: "The state recognizes no religion of any kind and supports and develops the atheist view so as to ingrain in to the people the scientific and materialistic worldview." 
  15. Leustean, Lucian (2009). Orthodoxy and the Cold War: Religion and Political Power in Romania, 1947-65. la University of Michigan. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-3447058742. "One of the main aims of the regime was to transform Romania into a communist atheist society in which religion was considered the ideology of the bourgeoise. Thus in 1949, the Society for the Popularisation of Science and Culture was established. The main objective of this anti-religious society was 'to propagate among the labouring masses political and scientific knowledge to fight obscurantism, superstition, mysticism, and all other influences of bourgeois ideologies'. ...the regime's anti-religious campaign aimed to discredit the church and to reduce the influence of religion in society." 
  16. January 23, 1999, issue of the London Tablet by Jonathen Luxmoore, Published by Chesterton Review Feb/May 1999
  17. Shenon, Philip (1992-01-02). "Phnom Penh Journal; Lord Buddha Returns, With Artists His Soldiers" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  18. Khmer Rouge: Christian baptism after massacres
  19. "CRIMES OF WAR". 
  20. Tharoor, Kanishk; Maruf, Maryam (March 8, 2016). "Museum of Lost Objects: The unacceptable poet". 
  21. "Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right 1844". 
  22. "Dewey felt that science alone contributed to 'human good,' which he defined exclusively in naturalistic terms. He rejected religion and metaphysics as valid supports for moral and social values, and felt that success of the scientific method presupposed the destruction of old knowledge before the new could be created. ... (Dewey, 1929, pp. 95, 145) "William Adrian,
  23. "I think all the great religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism – both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. ... I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue." Bertrand Russell in "My Religious Reminiscences" (1957), reprinted in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell [1]
  24. Rand, Ayn (January 1999). The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. ISBN 9781101137277. 
  25. "Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!" The Guardian, 2001-10-11
  26. Grimes, William (16 December 2011). "Christopher Hitchens, Polemicist Who Slashed All, Freely, Dies at 62". The New York Times. 
  27. "[T]he Bible, contrary to what a majority of Americans apparently believe, is far from a source of higher moral values. Religions have given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers, gay-bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen, and mothers who drown their sons so they can happily be united in heaven." The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion, presentation by Steven Pinker to the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, October 29, 2004, on receipt of “The Emperor’s New Clothes Award.”
  28. "The Sun Magazine | The Temple Of Reason | Bethany Saltman | Issue 369" (in en). 
  29. "Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about the religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class."Lenin, V. I.. "About the attitude of the working party toward the religion". Collected works, v. 17, p.41. 
  30. "Anti-Religious Campaigns". 
  31. Grossman, J. D. (1973). "Khrushchev's Anti-Religious Policy and the Campaign of 1954". Soviet Studies 24 (3): 374–386. doi:10.1080/09668137308410870. 
  32. Haas, Ernst B.; Haas, Professor Ernst B. (1997) (in en). Nationalism, Liberalism, and Progress: The dismal fate of new nations. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-3109-8. 
  33. Dixon, Paul. "Religion in the Soviet Union" (in en-gb). 
  34. "I'm anti-religious ... It's all a big lie ... I have such a huge dislike [of] the miserable record of religion." The Guardian, 2005-12-14 " The Guardian.


  • Kowalewski, David (1980). "Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR: Characteristics and Consequences". The Russian Review 39 (4): 426–441. doi:10.2307/128810. ISSN 0036-0341. 

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