Is The Position Of Atheism Growing Stronger?/Chapter VI

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Let me repeat that the chief basis of my estimate consists of statistics that cannot be controverted. All Communists in Europe are Atheists, and from Great Britain, where the old anti-clerical tradition of Labor has been abandoned for the sake of enlarging the party, Socialists are with few exceptions Atheists. In Austria, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium, Socialism is under the ban of the ruling Church, and religious workers do not adopt it. I have, however, made allowance for whatever proportion of theistic workers there may be in the Socialist bodies of Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland by almost ignoring the very large amount of non- Socialistic Atheism. These figures we have further checked and confirmed wherever possible by the explicit professions of unbelief registered in the Census publications. We have thus found the historic law of the growth of Atheism fully verified in our own age. Where there is freedom of expression and a sound system of education Atheism spreads rapidly. Outside the countries which I have so far covered we find the people generally in a lamentable condition of illiteracy, but we have now to see how even amongst these, in proportion to the dissemination of knowledge, there is a rapid growth of Atheism.

1. The Spread in Asia[edit]

For many years there has been in Moscow a center for the training of missionaries of Atheism as well as Communism, and these, spreading over the world as far as South Africa and Latin America, have met with a far more abundant response than the missionaries of the Christian faith ever did. Even where the Communism has not been very widely accepted, the anti-religious gospel, coinciding with influences that had been at work for many years, has had remarkable results. One of the most surprising is the rapid spread of Atheism amongst the African people. It illustrates the dishonesty with which the interests of the Churches are promoted that neither press nor writers on religion ever refer to a fact which seems to people, when you draw their attention to it, one of the most singular developments of our time from the religious viewpoint: the fact that in the official publication of the last Census taken in the Union of South Africa of a total black population of about 5,000,000 more than half, or 3,062,669, are described as of no religion. I collected evidence years ago that skepticism was spreading rapidly amongst the natives through their contact with Europeans and their cynical experience of the Christian religion. Here—the figure will be found in the 'Statesman's Year Book'—we have a definite proof for one part of Africa. The movement spreads up the east as far as Egypt and there is a parallel movement in west Africa. A colored friend with mining interests far in the interior of west-central Africa, which he knew well, assured me that if I would accompany him, the chief would gladly have me give scientific and atheistic talks to his people, and students in colleges in the coast-provinces have written me in appreciation of my Little Blue Books. I will not even attempt to suggest a figure in the case of Africa. It is enough that here is a development of Atheism, running to millions, which a quarter of a century ago would have seemed impossible.

Nor can we suggest even an approximate figure for the millions of Atheists in Asia. Every reader will remember the alarm of American missionaries a few years ago when Communists inspired by Russia took over a whole immense province of China, and the people burned down Christian chapels and Buddhist or Taoist temples with equal satisfaction. The No-God Movement spread through the cities of other parts of China, but I find it impossible to learn what the situation is in the chaotic China of today. A family of adventurers in Peking won the support of white nations and the missionaries by being "converted" to Christianity, and they and the missionaries are now smoothing the way for the Japanese. We can say only that the Atheism which has for centuries been the general attitude of the educated men both in China and Japan is being adopted by millions of the people as education reaches them and literature in the modernized Chinese characters is provided.

From China, India (where already a large proportion of the educated were Atheists), and Asiatic Russia the stream flows in all directions. French writers find the new thought threatening their position in the sphere they control and admit; as the English do in India, that their occupation is only a matter of time, and their Christian missions will then go up in smoke. An article in the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' (practically a Catholic magazine) in June, 1934, on the situation in Annam admitted that the province was full of Communism and hatred of the priests. The Viet Nam Con San Dang (the Communist party of Annam) is so successful that the governor, Varenne (himself a skeptic), said: "I feel easy only about two elements—the missionaries and the soldiers." To describe this and other Asiatic movements as a seething of the more ignorant natives, as is often done, is dishonest. The writer of this article admits that the schools and colleges are the centers of the ferment, and the teachers are the chief leaders. The movement is, of course, atheistic. I trust I tell enough to stimulate some leisured Atheist to make a more thorough and detailed survey of the world from our viewpoint, but here I have space only for a word about Turkey. In the 'Militant Atheist' I gave month by month some account of progress in Turkey under the skeptical President who now calls himself Kemal Attaturk. Without persecuting or depriving Mohammedans of their mosques he struck such blows at religion that travelers in the cities reported a remarkable decrease of mosque- going. The rapid spread of secular education is extending this work. It is necessarily slow in the provinces, for as late as 1927 only 9 percent of the people (14,000,000) could read and write. Now the Soviet authorities are cooperating amicably with Turkey and progress is faster. Anti-clerical laws continue to appear. Last summer (June 13, 1935) a new law forbade a minister of any religion or a nun to wear a religious costume out of doors. Numbers of religious schools have closed down, and the monks and nuns have departed. By another law all children of Turkish parents must receive their primary education in the secular schools of the Republic. Atheism spreads apace,.

2. The Revolt in Latin America[edit]

Most Americans probably plead that domestic affairs have been sufficiently exacting for the last six years to excuse them from taking an interest in these movements in remote parts of the globe. The excuse hardly applies to Mexico, but here one can imagine a man pleading that it is as difficult to discover the truth as it was to learn the truth about Russia a few years ago. I have before me three articles on Mexico—probably only three out of dozens—published in America in the last few months. One appeared (August 24) in the magazine which rather ironically calls itself Liberty: the magazine which lately allowed E. Price Bell to explain how pained the Pope is by misrepresentation of his attitude on the Italo-Ethiopian trouble (and he does not condemn Italy even in this). The article, 'Untold Secrets of Catholics in Mexico,' which is all splashed with red ink and full of atrocity-stories, is by F.V. Williams, who was Al Smith's publicity-manager. The second article, an interview with a New York businessman, had already appeared in the New York 'World-Telegram' (June 8) and discredited all the atrocity stories in advance, "I saw no persecution except of law-violators," Mr. J. Austin Smith said, after two years in Mexico, and he "heard more about trouble with the Church in New York than in Mexico." "The Mexican government is in the saddle to stay," he said: and, apart from its playful way of preventing foreigners from exploiting the people, he had nothing but admiration for it. And the third article, 'The Holy War in Mexico' (in The Forum), is by a Catholic who throws the entire blame upon the Catholics of Mexico, with whom he was thoroughly disgusted. Under his eyes the Catholic rebels, having taken the train in which he was, committed atrocities on the peons, not caring whether they were Catholics or not, which smells of savagery. So they have acted since 1926 and "more often than not the victims of their attacks were innocent Roman Catholics." This wholly agrees with what I saw in Mexico in 1926.

But there is no space here to deal with atrocity-stories. We are concerned with the growth of Atheism and will take up the behavior of Atheists in a later number. Williams says that the situation is that 1,500,000 Atheists dominate 14,500,000 Catholics. We smile when he adds that if the atheistic one-tenth are "allowed" to continue in power, Mexico will become a Communist country. Allowed by whom? By Wall Street and Washington, of course. Notoriously the clergy have for years organized the armed revolt of the Cristeros—Williams' own article is full of the fact—yet these "nine-tenths" of the nation can do no more than commit outrages and raids. The Catholic writer in the Forum, Moreno, is more illuminating. He says that the opening of the campaign against the Church in 1926 was "accepted by the people with extraordinary calm"—I was there and can confirm this—for the simple reason that a very large part of the Indians had never been Catholics. They had remained under the surface pagans, and many Were glad that they no longer had to pay priests. The truth is that, as I found, three-fourths of the urban workers were Atheists in 1926 and forced the middle-class Atheists of the government to take action against the Church. The rapid extension of schooling to the peons and the relief from clerical exactions of masses who were never deeply Christian has given anti-clericalism a solid basis in popular sentiment. Educated Mexicans are in the large majority Atheists: the Church may boast that it still has the large majority of the illiterate.

With less yet very considerable success the movement has spread from Mexico to every part of Latin America. There the middle class has for decades been largely skeptical, and the new development is the rise of a very self-conscious body of workers who eagerly adopt Communism and Atheism and often have cultivated men supporting them. The leader of the Apra (Associacion Popular Revolucionaria Americana) in Peru, once regarded as the last stronghold of the priests, got 100,000 votes for the Presidency in 1921, and the party has carried several revolts. In Chile, the twin clerical Republic, an Atheist-Socialist government had power for a time in 1932. In Brazil and Argentina Atheism spreads equally. Only the fact that the middle class and wealthy have a common interest with the clergy in opposing it, on account of its general alliance with Communism or Socialism, keeps it, in cheek. Trade unions, missionaries complain, are sometimes so aggressively atheistic that they will not admit a Christian worker. In 20 years between 10,000,000 and 20,000,000 Atheists have appeared in Latin America. The Church frantically appeals for violent suppression or, as in Mexico, bloody revolt, but the movement spreads year by year.

3. The Grand Total and the Future[edit]

One of those skeptical writers who, of course, accept no creed but regard Atheism and Materialism as crude and superficial, Dr. C.M. Joad, has written lately on "The Return of Dogma." In a Rationalist magazine he says, dogmatically, that "the intellect of the contemporary world is being submerged beneath a wave of belief" and that "the movement of contemporary intellectuals into the Roman Catholic Church has achieved the dimensions of a stampede." You possibly have not noticed the stampede in America and think that maybe it is in England, France, and Germany. Well, the stampede of "intellectuals" in England consists, it seems, of Chesterton, Waugh, Lunn, Knox, and Hemingway; in France of Coeteau; and for Germany he mentions only Hitlerism, which has smashed the Catholic Church. He reminds me of a similar American writer who, illustrating the stampede of intellectuals back to religion, gives the names of Eugene O'Neill, Sheila Kaye Smith, J. Maritain, and Compton Mackenzie!

This is the only kind of "liberalism" that is allowed expression in our press and magazines and gets its books honestly reviewed and adopted in the circulating libraries. And it is extraordinarily ignorant and misleading. Dr. Joad, for instance, is a man of high courage and integrity, and one has no alternative but to think that he is remarkably ignorant about the religious situation on which he writes. For in spite of the desertion of science, in spite of the abandonment of the traditional anti- clericalism of Labor in many countries, in spite of the disowning of its great skeptical pioneers by the feminist-movement of our time, in spite of an alliance of the clergy with violence and all the maneuvers I described in the first chapter, Atheism has made a hundred times more progress in the last 10 years than any religion ever made. I have not in this small space been able even to glance at every country. While I write I hear, for instance, that at the Census recently taken in Australia about 800,000—one-seventh of the entire population yet, presumably, all adults wrote themselves as having "no religion." Central and west-central Canada, New Zealand, and the other, British colonies and dominions add to the total.

Given the conditions for the operation of the historic law—freedom and knowledge—Atheism will in this century be the common attitude of civilized people. Non-Christians are the great majority in every free country today. Atheists number tens of millions, quite apart from Communist activity, in such countries. Let us get those facts recognized before it is too late. Sooner or later the despairing Churches will try to get a world-alliance with something like Fascist tyranny to check the growth of Atheism. It is their one hope. Let our young folk act in defense of the liberties that have been won for them and break up this fabric of lies.