While in Oxford, as well as in other English universities, I became involved in many discussions with students on the situation of religion and believers in socialist (Communist) countries. On one such occasion, an Oxford student asked a question I had not encountered before: “Why are Marxists against religion? What has Marxism to do with religion?”

The question put me on the spot. I did not know how to answer it. But the essential importance of the question was such that I determined to do everything possible to find the answer. It was obvious that a dialogue on the place of a Christian in socialism must begin with this question.

It is known that Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were deeply interested in religion in their youth. They studied it seriously and wrote about it sympathetically. What caused these men to turn against religion and find it imperative to fight for religion’s destruction, its removal from men’s thoughts and lives? In attempting an explanation, one writer cites certain traumatic experiences which these leaders had with the church or Christianity in general. But this attributing of a vast social phenomenon to the unfortunate experiences of a few, even though they were the creators of Marxism-Leninism, seems to be inadequate.

Many years of Marxist studies at school and university, and ten years of political education as a teacher in a country with a Marxist government, have taught me that an idea cannot take root and become a phenomenon of the masses unless it meets with favorable social and political conditions. Therefore, applying Marxist thought to the interpretation of an aspect of Marxism, I posed this pertinent question to myself. What special historical conditions persuaded the teachers of Marxism-Leninism to consider the religious problem so important that they gave a good part of their time to it? What were they pursuing in their fight against idealism in general and Christianity as such? There must have been specific social and political conditions which determined this course of action. Whatever the personal experiences of Marx or Lenin may have been, these would have remained personal. They would not normally have been transformed into a mass movement.

Marx lived much of his life in England where, at that time in the last century, nearly two-thirds of the population attended church every Sunday. England was a country where the majority of people were at least nominal Christians, among whom were a major portion of the working classes. In England Marx discovered the mechanism of capitalist exploiters, and he worked out the pattern of revolution which would end this exploitation. He believed that the proletarian revolution must be realized in the country which had at that time the most developed industry and the largest number of the proletariat. It was at this very point that the projected revolution collided with the religious world outlook. When the working class believes in a better life in heaven and trusts in a God who punishes violence, there can be no revolution. A man who believes in a better life beyond the grave will not risk eternity by venturing into a war for happiness in this ephemeral life, especially if victory is uncertain. The person who believes that God punishes the murderer will never raise his hand against his exploiters; he will leave vengeance and his liberation from misery to God, regardless of whether these things happen now or in eternity. To the creators of Marxism-Leninism, religion was an obstacle on the road to revolution, and this above all else led the Marxist teachers to fight against Christianity.

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Their main problem was this: for a man to be persuaded to take up arms in protest against “the crude and unjust system” he first had to arrive at two psychological states. First, he needed to be a desperate man, a bitter man without any hope in an after life, one who had reached the conclusion that the present is his only chance. Second, he had to be a man without scruples, one who “knew” that God does not exist to punish (or reward) him, and who consequently was not troubled by his conscience when faced with the question of armed violence against those who withhold material goods. Marxist-Leninists believed that only atheism could produce such a man. They were convinced that a special ideology would produce a certain character in man, and this fundamental and vitally important contribution was significant for the future of socialism.

It was this conviction which led the Marxist teachers to launch their attack against religion by indoctrinating the working classes with atheistic ideology, action which they called “the ideological preparation for revolution.”

It was their sincere, incensed desire to rid the working masses of exploitation which made them begin this. The necessity for the mechanical formulation of a special type of revolutionary man made them attack the Christian faith, regardless of the truth or falsity of Christianity.

This desperate and unscrupulous man through whom the revolution had to be realized was not foreseen by the Marxist-Leninist teachers as an essential ingredient of the Communist society which would be established as a result of the revolution. On the contrary, in regard to that society they introduced another concept, that of the “new man.”

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Two major premises should be noted concerning the new man in the socialist system. First, he should not be alienated from the means of production. All means of production will be the property of everyone. Therefore, man will yield all his energies freely to the process of producing material goods for society as a whole, and by this he will discover fulfillment in the creative process. Second, freed from corruption by the strength of the socialist system, he will handle the goods honestly and will distribute them freely, taking only as much as he needs so that enough will remain for all his kinsmen. He will be a man who will yield all his forces freely for others, a totally committed altruist.

This was the dream that Marxist-Leninist teachers had of the new man in socialism, and without whom they clearly demonstrated that Communism would not be realized. They were convinced that a radical and essential change of man’s character would happen automatically once the economic, political, and social systems were altered.

Today, many years after the revolution has passed, it is clear that socialist man’s character has not changed. He has remained as he was in the capitalist society: an egoist, full of vice, and devoid of uprightness. It follows that the creation of the new man still remains today a burden to be realized, the fulfillment of which is forever encountering obstacles.

Why is it that this new man refuses to appear in conformity to all the visions and expectations? (Not wishing to be misunderstood, I must make it clear that we are not suggesting that there are no men in today’s socialist society who are altruistic, correct, or of a noble character. Far from it. Rather, I am referring to the new man as a general phenomenon of the masses, a transformation that is not happening.)

The present impasse, from a historical point of view, has been caused by the materialistic concept of man. Marxist teachers considered man’s character to be the product of his environment. The social systems of serfdom, feudalism, and capitalism were corrupt, based on the exploitation of man. Their social characteristics were theft, violence, and dishonesty. No man shaped within these systems could escape, and of necessity he acquired a vicious character, similar to the system which produced him. Subsequently, since a man is only the product of his environment, one needs only to create a social system founded on justice and honor to produce a man of noble character, an honest, upright man.

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Lenin, thinking on these lines, wrote shortly before the revolution in 1917 that Marxists did not consider it necessary to preach morality to the working classes: the bourgeois did this with the intention of keeping the workers in subjection. Marxists have a better way: they will change the social order, and this in turn will produce a new type of man.

There are indications Lenin realized shortly after the revolution that his hope in the spontaneous appearance of the new man in socialism was not being fulfilled. Despite the change in the social-political system, man’s character had not been changed. On the contrary, the problem of corruption and dishonesty in the socialist administration became a serious deficiency.

There is evidence that Lenin then turned to Pavlov, who on the basis of his experiments with animals produced a 400-page paper on how to create a new type of social character with conditioned reflexes. But Pavlovianism in the name of Soviet reforms achieved nothing but immense suffering and terrible tragedy for a million people. Thus the materialistic concept of man led to a socio-political mistake. Instead of bringing joy to society it brought terror and horror. It is a concept that hinders the process of formulating a new man.

So here we face a contradiction in Marxist thought. Before the revolution a specific ideology was proclaimed that would provoke a particular world outlook in a man. For a short while after the revolution it was believed that the new economic, social, and political system would produce the new attitude, the new character in man. This failure to produce a new man raised a fundamental question. What produces the character of man: social order or ideology? Is the character of man an automatic product of social forces, or is character shaped by the world outlook which inspires a man?

Evidence indicates that ideology, the inspiring concept of life and the world, shapes and forms men’s character. For example, look at the monstrosities produced by Hitler’s ideology.

Assuming this, we must ask an important question: “Since the ideology of atheism produces a character that is not essential to a victorious socialism, but on the contrary works against it, why continue to spread it?”

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In Romania there is wide acceptance of the view that education is the determining factor in the formulation of character. It was the task of the schools to produce the new man needed by the socialist state. Each autumn, in his remarks to the teaching staff, our local Party leader impressed upon us our primary responsibility of producing the new man. But why could the school not succeed in rising to the task assigned by the Party?

I once discussed this issue with the Party secretary of a school where I taught. He was a young physics teacher. I reminded him that he and other science teachers taught their pupils that life is the product of chance combinations of matter, that it is governed by Darwinian laws of adaptation and survival, and that it is man’s only chance. There is no after-life, no “saviour” to reward self-sacrifice or to punish egoism or rapacity. After the pupils have been thus taught, I am sent in to teach them to be noble and honorable men and women, expending all their energies on doing good for the benefit of society, even to the point of self-sacrifice. They must be courteous, tell only the truth, and live a morally pure life. But they lack motivation for goodness. They see that in a purely material world only he who hurries and grabs for himself possesses anything. Why should they be self-denying and honest? What motive can be offered them to live lives of usefulness to others?

After a period of silence, the physics teacher commented: “To be candid, I do not see why I should be good and honest. I know that if I don’t pull some strings or stab someone in the back, I will not advance or succeed in life. And success is everything for me.”

Recently I have asked many Marxist ideologists how Marxist philosophy endeavors to promote morality and nobility of character. They replied that the only way of inspiring the giving of self for others is to claim that the pursuit of the common good means the realization of personal good. They pointed out, however, that this motivation fails when an individual realizes that this common good is only slowly achieved, a process that may last for generations, and that by using the various levers and means available to him he can have the goods now—ahead of the majority. Once a person knows this, there is no moral principle preventing him from using every means for personal advantage, even if it is detrimental to society.

Again the socialist society finds itself in a paradoxical situation. It desires a new man of noble character, but it propagates an ideology which cannot offer men any assistance or inspiration. Moreover, it pushes men towards desperate and dishonest action, to a life-style totally dominated by egoistic purposes.

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The next question that follows logically is this one: “In light of Marxist-Leninist teaching that ideology makes the man, what ideology is capable of producing the new man of high aspiration and noble character, one who will sacrifice himself for the common good and be absolutely upright in his behavior?”

The only answer: the ideology of the one who possessed the most noble character of all, Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for the good of his fellow men. For almost 2,000 years he has not ceased to produce the finest people who ever walked the earth. As we look at his disciples in Scripture and in history, we can see that wherever the spirit of Christ’s teaching was accepted and assimilated in its totality, the result was a noble life put to the service of the common good, even at the cost of self-sacrifice.

When an individual accepts Christ, he experiences fundamental change. Drunkards and adulterers forsake their ways. Those weak in character grow in strength and in integrity. Drug addicts are delivered. (Government studies show that delinquency and crime rates among young people in our churches are virtually zero.)

The apostle Paul coined the concept of the “new man.” He began by declaring: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). He later introduced the precise terminology, “the new man,” to show those united with Christ their mode of life as it should be in him. Paul’s concept was not an innovation. Christ himself enunciated man’s need of a radical transformation he called “the new birth.” One who trusts in him becomes a new creation, a new man after the likeness of Christ, who is the new man par excellence.

Far from denying the value of religion, modern science shows its indispensable character for a wholly integrated human personality. We are told that man is born with certain inherent structures. One of these structures is religious in nature. Without religious life, man has a sense of incompleteness, a feeling of inner emptiness that leads him to believe he is unfulfilled, his destiny unaccomplished. If socialism seeks the complete fulfillment of human personality—and this is its declared intention-then it must take note of the religious dimensions of man that seek to be realized.

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Why has Christianity in its 2,000 years of existence not achieved the ideal Christian society? How is it that in the name of religion so many atrocities have been committed over the years? An answer is found in a historical look at Christianity. As time passed, Christianity’s original source of truth was neglected, and preference was given to thought-forms foreign to the Gospel. With Christianity’s acceptance as the state religion of the Roman Empire, emphasis shifted from the power of Christ to change individuals and society to the power of the church to decide the fate of men’s souls. The situation encouraged a life free from restraint or care. Thus institutionalized, religion lost its revolutionary power.

The advent of Protestant Christianity restored the centrality of the Bible. It was placed in the hands of the people, where they could read it for themselves and develop their own spiritual lives. Brought face to face with God, the individual became responsible, and this resulted in transformation of life. When this experience became general on a national scale, the improvement in societies like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England was immense.

Decline and abandonment of religion in Protestant countries began with the widespread acceptance of the theories of Charles Darwin. Many theologians capitulated to the new explanation of origins, and they tried to make their peace with science in other areas. Moral standards plummeted.

Scholars no longer are as sure as they once were, however. Materialism has created an immense spiritual vacuum. As long as the scientific world was shielded with a conviction of absolute knowledge, the emptiness was not felt. But in moments of tragedy when science could no longer give a confident answer, the emptiness was felt. Man’s soul can never be satisfied with purely material and cultural goods. Man thirsts for a spiritual world and cannot be satisfied with less than a living contact with it. Spiritual hunger, aspirations after the transcendent, and an avid seeking of religious experience is the new, dominant characteristic of the younger generation in both the West and the East.

Do Protestant Christians have any role as Christians in a socialist society? Is a Christian accepted as such by society? Will he be given the trust that will enable him to work in any employment at any level?

Legally, Christians in Romania have the right to assess and practice a religious belief, but in practice believers here and in other socialist countries are treated with great mistrust and are discriminated against.

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Socialist policy on religion is centered on the theory that religion will vanish with the disappearance of the older generations of believers. An East German theologian at a Lutheran convention in 1972 had the courage to comment publicly on this theory. Analyzing the position of Christians as a result of this policy, he described it as one of “toleration to vanishing point.” He said Christians had been granted a period of grace until they were snuffed out. Every regulation, prohibition, and restriction of religious freedom of the churches was imposed with the purpose of accelerating the hoped-for disappearance of religion in socialism.

In reality, religion has not faded away in socialism. Instead, there has been a deepening of religious phenomena. Even among the young people of Romania today there are signs of great spiritual hunger. The fact that religion is not vanishing under socialism but rather growing in strength must cause, sooner or later, a revision and an alteration of the Communist party’s attitude toward this aspect of the individual and social life.

Socialism is fighting against its own interests when it maintains the war against religion. Socialism needs the new man, the moral man. This new man cannot be created by slogans or moral codes of behavior or laws. Only the spirit of Christ can revolutionize a man, transform him, and make him a new kind of person.

Che Guevara, the passionate revolutionary, said: “If socialism does not mean the transformation of man’s character, it does not interest me.” Socialism has tried many ways to achieve this end. Why does it not allow Christ the opportunity to prove his power to transform men? Jesus Christ is not the enemy of this society; he is its only chance. Let socialism give him a free hand to manifest his revolutionary and character-transforming power.

We believers have a place in the socialist state. God chose us to follow him from within socialism. He wants us here. God is at work here. Evangelical Christians are increasing rapidly despite opposition. God has set the Christian within socialism and given him a mission to socialist society. Our task and mission is to present God’s solution to mankind. God has replied to man’s problems, both individually and socially, by giving his son Jesus Christ. He is God’s solution, God’s unique and final response to man’s need. The evangelical Christian is a Christ-bearer, one who reveals Christ and offers him to others. The believer does this joyfully, even if it brings suffering, discrimination, deprivation, or even death.

The divine task of the evangelical Christian living in a socialist country is to lead such a correct and beautiful life that he both demonstrates and convinces this society that he is the new man which socialism seeks.

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