Soviet propaganda posters show importance of religious freedom

A woman throws icons away in a propaganda poster which states The Bright Light of Science Has Proven That There Is No God CNA US Catholic News 10 17 12 A woman throws icons away in a propaganda poster which states, "The Bright Light of Science Has Proven That There Is No God."

Some 40 Soviet propaganda posters against Christianity will soon be displayed at Denver's Catholic cathedral as part of an exhibit dedicated to religious liberty.

"These posters remind us that societies can turn very deadly when you have a kind of radical secularism which manifests in an anti-Christian attitude … you see it in all its ugliness through the lens of these posters," Father Doug Grandon told CNA Oct. 17.

The posters displayed at the cathedral are part of the collection of Fr. Grandon, parochial vicar at St. Thomas More parish in Centennial, Colo.

The October 1917 revolution in Russia led to the atheistic, communist government of the Soviet Union which hoped to eradicate religion, and in particular the Catholic Church, from its empire.

To do this, the government produced thousands of different propaganda posters which denigrated Christianity and which the Soviet Central Committee described in 1931 as "a powerful tool in the reconstruction of the individual, his ideology, his way of life, his economic activity."

Between 1919 and 1922, 7.5 million of these posters were distributed in the Soviet Union. As many as 250,000 copies of a given poster could be made in the 1930s. The propaganda posters continued to be made through 1983.

The posters showing the Bolshevik worldview fall into three basic categories: icons of the worker, women, and the enemy. The Soviet government also produced anti-religious cartoons and postcards.

The posters contain such imagery as Lenin sweeping clergy from the earth, hypocritical priests, and Christians as sheep being fleeced by their priests.

A poster from 1965 shows a young woman throwing out her icons while she watches a satellite in space on television. The poster says, "the bright light of science has proven there is no God."

Fr. Grandon first encountered the posters at a flea market in Moscow in 1999. "When I first saw them I was fascinated by the blatant and ugly attack on religion that the posters represented," he recalled.

He believes the posters are important for Coloradans to see because they "give us a warning that this could happen again. Where you have a disrespect for the freedom of religion, a rampant kind of secularism, this could happen again."

"If we forget these horrific historical examples, and if we become lethargic in our political involvement, our prayers, in our practice of religion, our culture could be lost. It could happen even here."

The communist government of the Soviet Union suppressed the Russian Orthodox Church and appropriated control over its institutions in 1917, killing over 1,200 clergy and 12,000 laymen in the process. Fr. Grandon reported that many remaining clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church became informants for the KGB.

The Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to operate openly again in 1945. 

The Catholic Church was attacked in 1923, and by the end of the decade it had virtually disappeared from the U.S.S.R.

In 1946, all property of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, and that Church was not allowed to operate again until 1989.

Fr. Grandon described Soviet religious persecution as "not just on religion, but an attack on the human spirit, freedom, capitalism, human aspirations. It really did destroy the human spirit of the average Russian."

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He noted that even today, very few Russians practice any religion, and the country suffers from alcoholism, divorce, and devastating abortion rates.

"Communism really was devastating to the human soul, and they're still experiencing the consequences of that," said Fr. Grandon.

Fr. Grandon is on the board of the Mary Mother of God Mission Society, which works to revive the Catholic Church in Far Eastern Russia.

"Protect Freedom of Religion" will be exhibited at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, Oct. 19 from 6 to 9 in the evening, and on Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. until noon. It is being presented by the Denver archdiocese's Office of Social Ministry.

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