Marxist-Leninist 'scientific atheism' and the study of religion and atheism in the USSR today
The Marxist-Leninist critique of religion the most fundamental, the most thorough, the most widespread and the most sustained critique to which the religions of the world have, as yet, been subjected. Where governments have come into being inspired by the world-outlook of Marxism-Leninism, the educational and administrative offensive which they have launched against religion has been one of their most persistent features. Church-State relations in the Communist world have, however, been amply documented and analysed and it is not my intention to duplicate such studies as already exist; nor is it my intention to deal in detail with popular Communist anti-religious propaganda, for again such studies already exist. My intention is, rather, to look at the way in which Soviet Marxism-Leninism has developed its own distinctive Problematik and methodology for the study of religion and atheism, for I believe that this has important implications for the study of religion as a whole. The study which I present is, therefore, neither a political, nor a sociological, still less a theological study of Marxism and religion, but an attempt from within the discipline of religious studies - Religionswissenschaft - to articulate and assess the Soviet contribution to that discipline and to examine the Soviet claim that the Marxist- Leninist approach to the study of religion is the only valid one, in that it, and it alone, constitutes the true science of religion. No such study, so far as I am aware, yet exists. Soviet work in religious studies has, for sixty years, been carried out in virtual isolation from Western scholarship, and Western scholarship has been content to remain in almost total ignorance of Soviet work in this field. It is my hope that this present study will go some way towards mitigating this lamentable state of affairs. I do not, however, seek to minimise the very real differences which exist with regard to the study of religion between Marxist-Leninists and scholars in the Western world. The differences in basic presuppositions are fundamental and, I shall argue, ultimately irreconcilable - although I believe that both approaches offer valuable insights into the complex phenomenon of religion. In the conclusion I put forward my own views regarding the way in which I think 'the science of religions' should develop. Marxism-Leninism is an outlook on life which seeks to combine theory with practice.