Antireligion is opposition to religion of any kind. The term has been used to describe opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. This term has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not. Opposition to religion also goes beyond the misotheistic spectrum. As such, antireligion is distinct from deity-specific positions such as atheism (the denial of belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities); although "antireligionists" may also be atheists or antitheists.
An early form of mass antireligion was expressed during the 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 revolutionary France as "organised ... irreligion...an 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state" responded violently to religious influence over society.Christopher Hitchens was a well-known antireligionist and critic of religion of the 20th century who maintained opposition to religion, arguing that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as the method of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.
The Soviet Union adopted the political ideology of Marxism-Leninism and viewed religion as closely tied with foreign nationality. It thus directed varying degrees of antireligious efforts at varying faiths, depending on what threat they posed to the Soviet state, and their willingness to subordinate itself to political authority. These antireligious campaigns were directed at all faiths, including Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shamanist religions. In the 1930s, during the Stalinist 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. 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. Up to 500,000 RussianOrthodox Christians were persecuted by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups. The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic targeted numerous clergy for arrest and interrogation as enemies of the state, and many churches, mosques, and synagogues were converted to secular uses.
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 propaganda. The government nationalised 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. Albania was the only country that ever officially banned religion.
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. After the communist takeover in 1948, some church personnel were imprisoned for political crimes.
The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate Cambodia's cultural heritage, including its religions, particularly Theravada Buddhism. 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 Khmer Rouge horror.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809), English-American author 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".
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, composer, and Latin and Greek scholar. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor and irony.
Steven Pinker (born 1954), Canadian-American cognitive scientist who believes religion incites violence.
Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), Soviet leader from 1917 until 1924, who, like most Marxists, believed all religions to be "the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class".
^"Revelations from the Russian Archives: ANTI-RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGNS". Library of Congress. US Government. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 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.
^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
^(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
^Brezianu, Andrei (26 May 2010). The A to Z of Moldova. Scarecrow Press. p. 98. ISBN978-0-8108-7211-0. 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.
^World Christian trends, AD 30-AD 2200, p.230-246 Tables 4-10 By David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, Peter F. Crossing
^Leustean, Lucian (2009). Orthodoxy and the Cold War: Religion and Political Power in Romania, 1947-65. la University of Michigan. pp. 92–93. ISBN978-3447058742. 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.
^January 23, 1999, issue of the London Tablet by Jonathen Luxmoore, Published by Chesterton Review Feb/May 1999
^"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, TRUTH, FREEDOM AND (DIS)ORDER IN THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, Christian Higher Education', 4:2, 145-154
^"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
^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 "Has the world changed?." The Guardian. Accessed 2006-01-29.
^"[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.”
^"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. Retrieved 2006-09-09.