Background: The Marxists had complicated relationship with religion. On the one hand, it was an outdated relic of past society. On the other hand, its adherents could not simply be ignored. As the GDR developed, it became slightly more sympathetic to religion, even while maintaining its atheistic Marxist stance. That is demonstrated by the change in the treatment of atheism and religion in the Kleines politisches Wörterbuch (“Brief Political Dictionary), issued in various editions over the years by the SED’s publishing house. The definition of religion became slightly more sympathetic between 1967 and 1988. Religious citizens were now viewed as allies in the GDR’s social policies, even if they held to an outdated worldview. This is part of a developing set of pages on the GDR and religion, on which Calvin student Kevin Wuest is working with me.
The source: Kleines politisches Wörterbuch (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1967, 1988).
Atheism – The term for all worldviews that define the world in its own terms and therefore reject religion. Atheism is as old as philosophical thought. Its beginnings lie with the Ionian natural philosophers Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander. The most important atheistic thinkers of Antiquity were Epicurus and Lucretius, who developed crucial tenets for a scientific critique of religion through materialistic philosophies. Atheistic thought made great progress during in the epoch of the war of the revolutionary bourgeoisie against the societal structure and ideology of feudalism. Atheism developed in close connection with science and materialism, and served progressive forces as an ideological weapon in the class struggle against the secular and clerical aristocracy. Bourgeois atheism was worked out and grounded by the materialists Diderot, Holbach, Helvetius, and Lamettrie. Atheism played a significant role in the ideological preparation for the French bourgeois revolution and had a lasting influence on intellectual life in other countries. The materialist philosopher and religious critic Feuerbach made further progress in the development of atheism. Despite the significance of bourgeois atheism in the struggle against the religious worldview, it could not overcome certain limitations, since it did not understand the social foundations and roots of religion. That would first be possible with the development of dialectic and historical materialism. Marx and Engels created with their worldview a qualitatively higher form of atheism. Lenin built upon the foundations that Marx and Engels laid and developed Marxist atheism under the conditions of imperialism. As the classic thinkers of Marxism-Leninism worked out the social foundations and epistemological roots of religion, they showed how religious consciousness can be overcome, both practically and theoretically. The decisive conditions for this are the elimination of antagonistic class social structures and the construction of a socialist society free of exploitation and repression, under which religion loses its social foundations. Furthermore, systematic scientific-atheistic education and enlightenment and training that are closely connected with and judged by the process of labor are necessary to help mankind toward a scientific worldview that makes them fully aware of their social role and historical mission.
1988Atheism: The term for all worldviews that explain the world in its own terms, and reject faith in a “god,” “gods,” or “supernatural” powers. Atheism is as old as philosophical thought. The most important atheistic thinkers in antiquity were Epicurus and Lucretius, who developed important foundations for a scientific critique of religion through their materialistic philosophies. Atheistic thought advanced during the epoch of the war of the bourgeoisie against the surviving society of feudalism and its ideologies. The atheism of the middle-class was grounded and developed through the French materialists Diderot, d’Holbach, Helvetius, and La Mettrie. It played an important role in the ideological preparation French bourgeoisie Revolution and also had a lasting influence on the intellectual lives of other countries. The greatest development of bourgeois atheism and religious critique came from Ludwig Feuerbach. Despite the significance of bourgeois atheism in the struggle against the religious worldview, it could not overcome certain limitations, since it did not understand the social foundations and roots of religion. This was first possible with the emergence of dialectical and historical materialism. The scientific worldview of the working class developed by Marx and Engels led to a qualitatively higher form of atheism, revealing not only its epistemological roots but also the social foundations of religion. They showed how religious consciousness can be overcome, both practically and theoretically. The decisive conditions for this are the elimination of antagonistic class social structures and the construction of a communist society free of exploitation and repression. “Then people will for the first time be conscious, true masters of nature, because they will be masters of their own socialization. The laws governing their social activities, which were until now foreign to them and which stood in opposition to the laws of nature, will then be applied and controlled” (Engels, MEW, 20, p. 264). Marxism-Leninism is foreign to all narrowness. It calls on atheistic and the religious citizens, based on their common interests and mutual confidence, to cooperate in the fight for peace as well as in the shaping of socialism. The policies of the SED are directed at fortifying the future political-moral unity of the people of the GDR, and at deepening the bonds of trust between the SED and every worker. Its actions are guided by the principle that “each worker, independent of social origin, worldview, and religious faith is to be involved in the solution of social to include themselves in the social needs” (Honecker, XI. Party Congress, p. 77).
[Translation by Kevin Wuest and Randall Bytwerk. Page copyright © 2008 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.
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