What About the Other Religions?
ACCORDING to one list of church representatives attending a conference in Zagorsk, near Moscow, there are at least twenty-three other denominations registered with the Soviet government. These are allowed to hold services in their meeting places.
Among them are the Moslem, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Georgian and Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Buddhist and a few smaller religions. Of course, they are minorities compared to the Russian Orthodox Church. Put together, these minority religions represent only a few million people in the entire Soviet Union.
But the fact that these other religions are ‘recognized’ by the government shows something. It shows that they too have compromised with the Communist leaders. An indication of this is that there are other religions not allowed to register or hold meetings. Prominent among these are Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, who have repeatedly tried to register but who have been denied permission.
‘Recognized’ Religions Dying
With hardly any exceptions, though, the ‘recognized’ religions are dying. For example, Europe Since 1939 says: “Some 15 million Moslems in Soviet Asia tended in time to assimilate to the Communist style of life; under official pressures, loyalty to Islam declined along with peculiar Moslem customs.” And an American who recently visited the Soviet’s Uzbek Republic, which had been Moslem, said: “The majority of the citizens of this Moslem country have given up the practice of the Islam religion.”
Buddhism once had a hold on people in the eastern Soviet regions. But reporter Peter Grose comments that the Buddhists now “contend with rapidly depleting numbers in holy orders, the advanced age of the lamas, and, above all, the subservience of Buddhist leaders, who, in echoing Soviet foreign policy, greet fellow Buddhists from abroad with statements about freedom of religion in the Soviet Union.”
The situation of Judaism is the same. Grose states that the Soviet Union’s tactics “have dealt a savage blow to the Jewish community in the U.S.S.R.” He adds: “Soviet Jewry has all but ceased to exist as a unity, . . . the breakup of the Jewish community has been a consistent trend throughout the Soviet era.” He notes that the Jewish community is devoid of leadership. As the father of one Jewish family said: “Our rabbis have given up too easily.” Also, the young people born to Jewish parents have generally abandoned the practice of Judaism.
Yet, what of reports that tell of renewed interest in Yiddish, even among the younger generation? True, in recent years the government has allowed the publishing of a Yiddish literary journal Sovetish Heimland, the circulation of which is growing. But its chief editor is a Communist! When asked if he printed any religious articles, he apparently misunderstood and answered: “No, we print very few articles against religion.” He laughed when it was pointed out that the question referred to articles favorable to religion. “The interests of the synagogue don’t concern us at all,” he stated. Thus, whatever education is being given through Yiddish publications is in harmony with Communist goals, not those of Judaism.
The report by the Minority Rights group in London gave a “reasonably accurate” estimate of the number of synagogues still open in the Soviet Union. It showed a decrease from about 3,000 in 1917 to only 40 or 50 now. And with the recent Soviet policy of allowing some Jews to leave the country to go to Israel, it is likely that religious Jews will be still fewer in the Soviet Union as time passes.
Occasionally the foreign press carries items that seem to indicate some increased interest among Baptists. This is one of the ‘recognized’ religions in the Soviet Union. But note what the book Russia, published by Time Incorporated, had to say:
“A visitor to the Baptist church in Moscow—the only Protestant house of worship in the capital—will find it packed with perhaps 2,000 people crowded into a building designed for a few hundred. Even the temporary balconies are a sea of devout faces.
“A closer look at any congregation in the Soviet Union, however, reveals that most of the worshipers are older people who were born and brought up before the Revolution, and nine out of 10 of them are women. In provincial cities one may find a slightly larger proportion of younger people.
“But to interpret this as a sign of a mass religious revival would be misleading. As the older generation dies off, religion is likely to become even less of a force in Soviet life.”
Also, why is the Baptist religion ‘recognized’ by the Communist government? New York Times correspondent Grose gives a clue. He cites the occasions when 400 adherents of this religion became dissatisfied with it and petitioned the Soviet government for the the right to start a new religious organization. Why were they dissatisfied? Grose says: “At issue was a feeling among [the 400] believers that the Baptist leaders had shown themselves too pliable before state authorities.” But the dissenters were dispersed; some were jailed, others rejoined the national organization.
It is another example of the fact that the Soviets ‘recognize’ only those religions that are totally subservient to them. At least, that is the case up to this time.
Thus, the conclusion is inescapable: Slowly but surely the religions of Christendom and heathendom are being strangled to death in the Soviet Union.
These religions are being replaced in the minds of most people by atheism, materialism, science, economic achievements, sports, culture, and a looking to the State for progress. These things are being substituted for the natural inclination that people have to look to something higher, to God.
What has actually happened in the Soviet Union is just as a historian said: “Organized religion, apart from pockets of zeal and devotion, appeared to be a dying institution.” Indeed, it is a dying institution even in much of the rest of the world! It is more so in the Soviet Union where the clergy give no genuine leadership and where there is no proper instruction about God in the churches or in the homes of church people, and where the full might of the government has been against it for over five decades.
Does this mean that in the future the Soviet Union will be inhabited almost totally by atheists? Will it eventually be devoid of all religion? While that is the trend today, that will not be the case in the near future!