Russia – Lenin, Bolshevism And Religion

LENIN is one of the most realistic men have ever met : he speaks straight out, quite indifferent to the effect his views may have on his hearers. Talking to me about religion he said : “Do not class me as an agnostic, am an atheist.” I smiled and replied : ” Very well, as you please : to me your idea of life is only the Christian way of living.” He believes superstition and the worship of what is called the unknowable is responsible for keeping people in ignorance and contentment. Outside the Kremlin, on a wall facing the most sacred shrine in all Russia, the following indictment of religion is written :”Religion is the opium of the people.” This one act of the Soviet Government has earned for it the most severe condemnation from all sorts and conditions of people. Tolstoyans and other dissenting bodies think the statement much too sweeping, though all agree it is a true statement if organised religion alone is brought within the scope of its condemnation. To those who still adhere to the orthodox Church, the statement is of course rank blasphemy.

One of my chief desires in going to Russia was to discover how much truth there was in the statements that the Bolsheviks had abolished the Church and destroyed religion. I tried to see the Patriarch r! ikon, head of the Russian Church, as I hoped to get a message over his own signature for the Archbishop of Canterbury and other dignatories of religion in this country, but His Eminence refused to see me, pleading he was living under domestic arrest.

I called at his house and could find no sign of imprisonment, no soldiers or police, and afterwards discovered that domestic arrest means that the Patriarch must give the Soviet authorities notice whenever he attends a conference or addresses public meetings. He

perfectly free to hold services and preach sermons, as often as he desires. The ‘limitation on his activities re meetings is due to the fact, which is beyond disproof, that some bishops and priests have used their high office to under-me the authority of the Government. The secretary of the Patriarch was good enough to give me an introduction to a leading priest in Moscow who could speak English. I found him not so much angry as hurt. He seemed to feel humiliated that it should be possible for anyone to think of religion as opium for the people. So far as he was able to judge, the men responsible for the statement—that is, men like Lenin, Trotsky, Luncharsky and others—were all honourable, clean living, decent men, alienated from the Church in what to him seemed quite an inconceivable manner. Yet as we talked on, he himself touched the core of the whole matter, when with tears in his voice he admitted that in the days of the Czar the Church was nothing more than the handmaiden of autocracy and tyranny of the worst description. She had failed in her mission because she had been tied hand and foot to the powers of the State, never daring to raise a voice of protest against the infamies of Siberia or the terrorist metahods associated with the dungeons of the fortress of Peter and Paul. Now was the day of travail and sorrow both for Russia and the Church. Perhaps what there was of true religion would now able to find better expression because the Church, no longer tied to Governments, could with freedom deliver her message of peace and brotherhood.

This priest was one of the sanest, fairest critics of the Government. When I asked him, ” Are you quite free to carry on the work of the Church? ” he replied without the slightest hesitation, ” Yes.” When I asked if the Government had persecuted and killed priests, he hesitated, and finally replied that he did not think the Government desired either the persecution or murder of priests, but there had been both. At the same time whenever any case was brought to the notice of the Government steps were immediately taken to bring those responsible to book. He was quite emphatic that Lenin and his col-leagues, in spite of their own theories about religion, did desire that everybody should have perfect freedom of conscience and the right to follow whatever creed they chose. This fact is borne out by what can be seen at all hours of the day in the streets of all the towns and villages. The churches are open, people go in and out by the score, and on Sundays by the hundreds. In addition, individual men and women stop to cross themselves and pray out-side the innumerable churches to be found everywhere. In these circumstances it is extraordinary to me that any Christian people should be worried about the position of the Church in Russia. She has perfect freedom to preach her gospel, conduct her services, and worship God in her own way.

The real thing that is wrong from the official standpoint, is not that the Government is what it is—frankly materialist—but that the preaching of one form of religion is no longer financially endowed by the State. The Church has been disestablished and disendowed : all able-bodied men and women must now earn their own bread or else get maintenance from those who choose to give voluntary subscriptions. In adopting this policy the Bolshevik Government has but followed the lead given them by M. Clemenceau in France, who led the campaign which ended in the disestablishment and disendowrnent of the French Church and the abolition of religous houses in Francie. And of course they have followed in the footsteps of the Right Honourable David Lloyd George, who was the chief protagonist in the struggle which has ended in the disestablishment and disendowment of the Welsh Church, and, as the right honourable gentleman puts it, has set up in the principality a new descendant of ” St. David.

It is extraordinary how circumstances and conditions can confuse and colour our judgments. No one thinks of Clemenceau or Lloyd George as anything but highly respectable members of society a the one is more or less a free thinker in addition to his other qualities, described as those of the ” tiger.” The other is a nonconformist whose first step on the ladder of faine was taken in support of the cause which some Christians in England and elsewhere call ” robbing Cod ” when applied to Russia.

My friendly priest also discussed the marriage question with me. He is not a bit upset that the marriage rite is a civil matter, and here I must point out that in compelling marriages to be registered in a State or Communal registry office the Bolsheviks are only doing exactly what has been done in France and America for very many years. In our own country tens of thousands of people are married by the civil authority. In fact no marriage is legal in England except those which take place in an Anglican Church, unless a registrar is present. No Roman Catholic or Free Church service is recognised ; always it is the civil functionary whose presence gives legality to the proceedings. So why people should lie about Russia and say the Bolsheviks have destroyed the sanctity of marriage I can-not understand. A couple, desirous of being married, notify the proper civil authority, and if afterwards they desire to go through the religious ceremony which to them makes Of their marriage a sacrament, they are perfectly free to do so.

I have dealt with the case of children else-where. I need only say in passing that the abolition of all questions concerning legitimacy or illegitimacy and the clearing out of the vocabulary of the wretched word ” bastard ” is not altogether approved by the Church, but from all I heard from friends and foes of the Church in Russia, I do not think the standard of sexual morality has ever been very high. The lives of celibate and married priests have at all times left very much to be desired. In any case, all of us who think have long ago given up the idea that, it was our duty to assist the Almighty in visiting the sins of the parents upon the children, if for no other reason than that no child is responsible for his parents. I certainly did not choose my parents, neither did my children choose theirs.

The divorce law is very simple. If two persons being married agree that they cannot any longer live together in peace and harmony, they may be divorced without further enquiry, but if one partner objects then enquiry must take place. Divorce is granted on equal terms : there is not one standard for women and another for men. I think we shall all make a mistake if we imagine that on questions of sex there can be one rigid rule for all nations or even for all people within a nation. The longer ~ live the more convinced monogamist am, but, and it is a very big hut, I have seen so much downright misery, so much deceit and lying makebelieve by married people trying to make the outside world believe they love one another, when indeed they loath and detest each other, that I support any rational means whereby such people may secure freedom from a tie which only degrades them both. The period of marriage which must elapse before a divorce can be applied for is six months. This sounds a very short time, but I am not convinced this is important. If people find themselves totally unfitted, unsuited to each other, the sooner it is realised and acted upon the better. In Russia and elsewhere the Church considers marriage a sacrament and binding for life ; so do I, but this cannot be imposed by a law or a Church ordinance or by a priest saying it is. Only by the conscious intelligent assent of men and women is such a decree binding, and the vast multitude of marriages are just marriages, sometimes for convenience, sometimes for love, very very seldom does the question of religion or sacraments enter in.

So far I have dealt only with the relations existing between the orthodox Church and the Government. Like everywhere else, there is within the Russian Church a revolutionary movement which bids fair to undermine the theories of Lenin and, his friends, that religion plays no part in the life of a people. The following statement shows that with the coming of the Socialist republic the dry . bones of theology have begun to stir and that once more the teachings of Jesus are going to have a chance. I have verified the truth of the report as I give it here and can vouch for its accuracy. may say it has been circulated throughout the whole of Russia, and as is usual in such cases, the Bishop of Penza and his fol-lowers have been. excommunicated :

” An event which will lead to great consequences has occurred in the Russian Church. A Conference of Russian priests took place some months ago at Penza, which was presided over by Bishop Vladimir. At this conference the priests decided to break with the Greek Orthodox Church and establish a new Church on lines, as Bishop Vladimir expressed it, that would more closely approach the purity of the primitive Church and abolish, the pomp and glory of the great princes of the modern Church. The significance of this event is that it proves that the Russian revolution is finally rooted in the soil of Russia. The structure of the Church, like the whole superstructure of society, as Karl Marx taught, is based upon the economic foundations of a given society. The development of commerce, which was later to load to capitalism, was accompanied by a revolt against the Church. One might say that Protestatntism is the religious expression of liberalism and commercialism. It is significant, therefore, to observe that what appears o be the beginning of a” Reformation ” in Russia, aims at the primitive Christian Church, which, as is known, preached Communism. It will therefore he quite in keeping with social laws that in so far as the belief in God is still maintained by the Russian people, the worship of this God will take the form that is adapted to the economic conditions of Russia. Communism has come to stay in Russia. and will he expressed in the religious beliefs of the Russian people.

It may be said one swallow does not make a summer, but those of us who know the tremendous effect the work of Fathers Conrad Noel, James Adderly, Lewis Donaldson, Gobat, Widdrington, the late Canon Scott Holland and others, working through the Church Socialist League, has had on the English Church, may understand and appreciate the sort of influence Bishop Vladimir and his friends will have on the outlook of the Church

Russia. If Christianity is to live in that country, it must become the exponent of the new social order, and such it appears to me it will inevitably become.

The net result of all my conversations with people of varying opinions is to convince me that in Russia there is for everybody perfect freedom to worship God. No sect is favoured at the expense of another, no creed will be supported against another. Each and all are obliged to depend on the freewill offerings of disciples and friends. The cathedrals and churches remain sacred for the purposes for which they were erected. Those beautiful towers, one or two in number, injured during the revolution are to be repaired at the expense of the Government. It is the Church which must now make good. After centuries of sloth, during which her Bishops and leaders have been the servants, not of God but of the Czars, she is now free. In Moscow itself there are 1600 churches, or at least something approaching that number. There is but one statement written up by order of the Government declaring ” Religion is the opium of the people.” What will the future say of a Church which fails in its mission by refusing to accept the great tasks which lie before it, and refuses by its works to endeavour to prove the falsity of the charge laid at its doors.

Long years ago a prophet of Israel looked over the valley of dry bones and cried out, “Can these dry bones live? ” Often in Moscow, driving and walking about the streets, seeing the beautiful churches and the people making obeisance to the Ikons, these words would come flooding into my mind, and remembered some other words : ” Not by might but by My spirit saith the Lord.” Surely Christians will ultimately judge the Bolshevik dealings with the Russian Church and religion in the spirit of these words, and surely also we who think there must be a religious ethical basis for life will believe that the Russian Church shall ,rise purified and sanctified from the troubles of to. day and with a whole-hearted purpose join Lenin and his comrades in recreating the moral and material life of the great nation which for nearly six long weary years has been the prey of war, pestilence and famine.