Documentation: Onward Christian Communists!

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from the remarks of K.S. Karchev, self-proclaimed atheist and chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs in the Soviet Union. This is translated from the Russian newspaper La Pensee Russe, published in France.

We, the party, fell into the trap of our own anti-religious policy of prohibitions and shake-ups. We cut the priest off from the believers; but the believers, because of that, did not begin to put more confidence in the local party organizations, while the party and state progressively lost control over the believers. As a result, we see the appearance of un-spirited believers, that is, those who fulfill their rituals and remain indifferent to everything. And the main point is that they are indifferent to communism.

Now what is more advantageous to the party: an unspirited, or a sincerely believing person? It is harder to control the un-spirited. A paradox, but there is no contradiction. There is an amazing phenomenon before us: in spite of all our efforts, the Church survived, and not only survived, but it is beginning to undergo a renewal. And so questions arise: what is more advantageous for the party: a person who believes in God, a person who doesn’t believe in anything, or a person who believes in God and in communism?

I think that of two evils we should choose the lesser. According to Lenin, the party must keep control over all the spheres of the citizen’s life, and since you can’t just get rid of the believers, and our history proves that religion is something serious and here to stay, then it is better for the party to make a sincere believer believe also in communism. And so here is our challenge: the education of a new type of priest. The selection and appointment of priests is the party’s job.

Let’s take the question of child education. Whether you like it or not, you can’t take the children from the believers. Even though it is forbidden for children to assist in church — and, by the way, the Russian Orthodox Church strictly keeps to this — in the other confessions we have no way of controlling their influence on children. In Lithuania, 20,000 children are learning catechisms — of course, underground. When one of these kids asks why the shades are pulled down and he can’t tell anything to anyone, the adults reply: “That’s the regime of the Antichrist and they won’t let you learn the eternal truths of good.” Now you can just imagine what kind of attitude this kid will have towards the Soviet regime when he grows up.

I understand your bewilderment. I’m against teaching religion in the schools, too, but what are we going to do? In Central Asia, hundreds of underground Muslim schools exist, with teaching on a medieval level and a shady attitude towards the regime and infidels. I took this question of education to the top and got rapped on the head: “Now we’ve seen everything. In the seventieth year of the Soviet regime we’re going to have Sunday schools! Are you out of your mind? What are people going to say?” I ask you to understand me correctly. I’m against Sunday schools, but we have to do something.

Another point of Lenin’s decree: the Church does not have the right to be a legal person. But we pick up this same Lenin and read: “Every social organization has the right to be a legal person.” If the Church is not a social organization, what is it? In Jerusalem from the time of Tsar Alexander, there are Church properties. We say: “This is the property of the Soviet people — give it to us.” They reply: “No objection; just name the person it belongs to.” I repeat again: I’m not trying to argue against the contents of Lenin’s decree, but I want to remind you of Lenin’s idea, that politics begins when you talk about millions. The party’s politics regarding millions of believers must be conducted with maximum advantage.

Again the slogan: “The Church is separate from the state, and the state from the Church.” How are we supposed to understand that? Separated how much? A priest is also a Soviet citizen. He regularly casts his ballot in the box for us. And all these Committees and Funds — for peace, for culture, for children —everywhere you find these guys seated at the table. I have to say, too, when they started to show them on television, my phone started ringing from all sorts of people, and party veterans among them: “Why did you let them film those guys? That’s religious propaganda.” I replied that I didn’t seat them there. We have to change our thinking regarding the Church and its ministers. If someone close to us becomes a priest, we should not look on this as something abnormal.

We can draw the conclusion that there is now an intensive process of the Church penetrating into state politics. And take a sober look at this: whether we want it or not, religion has entered into socialism, and hasn’t just entered, it has rolled in as if on rails. Since we have all the power, I think it is within our means to turn those rails in one direction or another, depending on our interests.

When we began to acquaint ourselves with the experience of the Hungarian communists, we were shocked: you’ve got priests in your parliament. And we got the answer back: that’s what parliament is for, to represent everybody without exception. During my lifetime I can remember only one occasion when a priest was elected to a regional council of deputies for the workers — I think it was in the Baltic area somewhere. By the way, he did a lot of good.

Let’s take the following aspect of the law on separation of Church and state: the prohibition of philanthropic work. Right now in Moscow, and in all the big cities in general, there is a catastrophic shortage of unspecialized workers in the hospitals — just plain practical nurses. In Moscow alone we need 20,000. Church activists applied to us with a petition to permit them some philanthropic work. What are we supposed to do: grant permission or not? If you give permission, then they can carry out the bed pans. Under these conditions, what will the political and moral image of the communist be, when a dying man dies with the thought that the Soviet regime couldn’t even bring him a bed pan?

Another reason we can’t permit philanthropic work is that right away the Catholics would take over (the famous Mother Teresa has already offered her help), along with the Protestants, Baptists and Adventists. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church is in such a demoralized condition that at present it doesn’t have the resources for such activities.

Lots of problems, comrades — lots! And every step you take is a new problem. I’m not in favor of the Church and state growing together. Right now our main challenge is how to exercise real control over the Church in the party’s politics.


  • K.S. Karchev

    At the time this article was published, K.S. Karchev was a self-proclaimed atheist and chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs in the Soviet Union.

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