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Confronting The Politics of Atheism

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Confronting The Politics of Atheism

Negotiations, boycotts, threats—nothing seems to tame the Russian bear. Why?

by Mathuresa Dasa

The possibility of a summit meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Andropov has raised cautious hopes for deescalating the nuclear arms race. Some of us anticipate such a conference with great interest, and some with great skepticism. All of us, certainly, are horrified at the prospect of nuclear war, but with the SALT I and SALT II accords disintegrating and the INF talks in Geneva moving at a snail’s pace, one wonders if negotiations with Moscow will ever pay off.

In the twenty years since the construction of the Berlin wall, the Soviets have marched into Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, crushed Poland’s nine-million-member Solidarity trade union by proxy, and slapped thousands of Russian dissidents behind bars. In the face of such brash aggression and disregard for human rights, can we really expect an arms-control treaty to hold up for long? And as for other strategies, we’ve learned the hard way that trade sanctions, boycotts, empty threats, and other cold-war tactics are useless.

Military confrontation, of course, is out of the question: even downright hawks shudder at the prospect of a conventional war escalating into a nuclear holocaust. Therefore, since neither diplomatic, economic, nor military strategies seem effective, the United States and its allies would do better to confront Soviet aggression on a more fundamental platform—the platform of ideology.

We can begin to understand communist ideology by looking at the Soviet Union’s denial of religious freedom. Karl Marx, the father of communism, assumed that religion of any kind is a product of the imagination. He claimed that since oppressed people, especially the exploited working class, are unable to realize happiness in this life, they worship a nonexistent God and aspire for an eternal heavenly life beyond the grave. Absorbed in the pursuit of this illusion of otherworldly satisfaction, the workers neglect to fight for an improvement in their socioeconomic condition in this world.

Thus religion, according to Marx, is a capitalist tool for keeping the workers complacent in their poverty while an elite—bankers, merchants, and industrialists—enjoy the true satisfaction of worldly wealth. Only when the workers have completely rejected religion can they overthrow the capitalist free-enterprise system and transfer their devotion from God to the communist state and its leaders. In other words, the role of supreme protector, provider, and friend—the role normally attributed to what Marx said is an imaginary God—devolves, after the revolution, upon the communist state, which becomes the recipient of all previously misdirected faith and devotion.

Marx likened the socioeconomic bondage of the working class to a chain, and religion’s illusory promises to artificial flowers decorating that chain. Captivated by the artificial flowers, the workers forget that they’re bound and make no attempt to break the chain and pick the real flowers of worldly happiness.

Marx predicted that with the overthrow of the capitalist system, religion would automatically vanish. He further predicted that material science, which explains reality without any reference to spiritual existence or an all-powerful creator, would strip human society of any vestigial religious misgivings. The abolition of religion would thus be the natural result of communist revolution and scientific advancement.

But religious faith in Russia did not die after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. In applying Marx’s philosophy, therefore, Soviet leaders, beginning with Lenin, took a stronger stance against religious practices. Lenin held that before the revolution could be successful the state would have to eliminate belief in God by force. The struggle against God, he said, was inseparable from the struggle against socio-economic bondage; both would have to be executed simultaneously. Ever since Lenin, therefore, the Soviet government has been militantly antireligious. In fact, atheism is so integral to Marxist-Leninist ideology that the active suppression of God consciousness is essential to the stability of the Soviet state.

The United States, at its roots nominally God conscious—”in god we trust,” “one nation under god”—is the natural opponent of communism. Although the U.S. and Russia regularly trade blows on the political and economic levels and threaten each other with nuclear annihilation, their conflict is grounded in this most crucial ideological disparity: the communist bloc officially denies the existence of the Supreme Lord, while the Free World officially acknowledges Him.

And what is the basic principle of freedom but the right to recognize our subservience to the all-powerful and all-perfect Supreme Person? As Marx correctly observed, when we deny that God is the ultimate proprietor, master, and friend, the powers and privileges normally recognized as His are up for grabs. And they are grabbed, as we have seen, by men who use the advantages of absolute power for their own corrupt, selfish purposes. This is the essence of totalitarianism. To the degree that both leaders and citizens recognize the supreme leadership of God, a nation remains free of the dictatorship of ordinary, fallible men.

This is not to say that the United States and its allies are free of corruption. It is a question of degree. The U.S. doesn’t openly and categorically deny the Supreme Lord; therefore the corruption is not as total, the disregard for human rights not as prominent, as behind the Iron Curtain. But as Marx predicted, the atheistic leanings of modern science induce people to reject God. Especially in America, the luxuries of modern technology have fostered hedonism. This atheistic inclination is the greatest danger to the Free World, because to remain strong the Free World must keep a firm footing on the ground of God consciousness. How can you throw a good punch if you’re standing in quicksand?

While the Kremlin vigorously propagates Marx’s dialectical materialism, which logically and methodically denies God and spiritual existence, the U.S. shows no eagerness to spread the counterpropaganda of God consciousness. Nor do the religious traditions of the West have the philosophical depth and spiritual strength necessary to counter atheistic communism. The West’s strategic position, therefore, is weak.

The Krsna consciousness movement suggests that the deep logical and philosophical understanding of the science of God consciousness presented in the world’s oldest scriptures, the Vedic literatures, is the best weapon against Soviet expansionism. The Vedic literatures provide us with elaborate descriptions of the Supreme Person and His inconceivable qualities, powers, and activities. While other scriptures merely state that God created the cosmos, the Vedic literatures describe how, giving more than enough detail to satisfy today’s scientifically-minded readers.

The more than seventy books written by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada—translations, with commentary, of essential portions of the Vedic literatures—establish theism on an unassailable scientific foundation and expose atheism as foolish and untenable. In the foreword to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes that simply by a careful reading of these books “one will know God perfectly well, so much so that the reader will be sufficiently educated to defend himself from the onslaught of atheists. Over and above this, the reader will be able to convert others to accepting God as a concrete principle.”

Srila Prabhupada’s books are well known in the West, and to the dismay of the Soviet leaders they are also becoming popular contraband behind the Iron Curtain. By establishing the Supreme Lord as a concrete principle and by establishing the imperative of placing Him in the center of all facets of society—political, economic, social, religious, and so on—Krsna consciousness indeed poses a threat to the Soviet Union.

Interestingly, the Soviets consider the Krsna consciousness movement primarily American in origin. Last year, one Soviet newspaper published by the Communist Party’s Central Committee warned Russian adherents of the movement that “they have allowed themselves to succumb to alien influences, swallowing the lure cast out by our ideological foes.”

Although both Krsna devotees and U.S. officials will deny that the Hare Krsna movement is American, it’s true that America, by its tradition of religious tolerance, has inadvertently helped foster a powerful “ideological foe” of Marxism-Leninism. The United States and its allies, in looking for new strategies to contain Soviet expansion, would do well to take a closer look at the theistic ideology of the Hare Krsna movement.

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