Antireligion is opposition to religion. Antireligion is distinct from atheism (the absence of a belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities), although antireligionists may be atheists or antitheists. The term may be used to describe opposition to organized religion, or to describe a broader opposition to any form of belief in the supernatural or the divine.
According to historian Michael Burleigh, antireligion found its first mass expression in revolutionary France in response to organised resistance to "organised ... irreligion...an 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state."
The Soviet Union directed antireligious campaigns at all faiths, including Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Shamanist religions. In the 1930s, during the Stalinist period, the government destroyed church buildings or put them into secular use (as museums of religion and atheism, clubs or storage facilities), executed clergy, prohibited the publication of most religious material and persecuted some members of religious groups. Less violent attempts to reduce or eliminate the influence of religion in society were also carried out at other times in Soviet history. For instance, it was usually necessary to be an atheist in order to acquire any important political position or any prestigious scientific job; thus many people became atheists in order to advance their careers. Different sources disagree on the results of all this, with some claiming the death of 21 million RussianOrthodox Christians by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups or persecutions without killings, and other sources stating that only up to 500,000 RussianOrthodox Christians were persecuted by the Soviet government, not including other religious groups.
The atheist state of the People's Republic of Albania had an objective for the eventual destruction of all religion in Albania, including a constitutional ban on religious activity and propaganda. The government nationalised most property of religious institutions and used it for non-religious purposes. Religious literature was banned. Many clergy and theists were tried, tortured, and executed. All foreign Roman Catholic clergy were expelled in 1946. Albania was the only country that ever officially banned religion.
The Khmer Rouge attempted to eliminate Cambodia's cultural heritage, including its religions. In the process, its acolytes killed nearly 1.7 million people.
David Hume (1711-1776), Scottish agnostic philosopher, known for his skepticism, who wrote that human reason is wholly inadequate to make any assumptions about the divine, whether through a priori reasoning or observation of nature.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809), English-American author and deist who wrote a scathing critique on religion in the The Age of Reason (1793-4). "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish [i.e. Muslim], appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit".
Vladimir Lenin, Soviet leader from 1917 until 1924, who, like most Marxists, believed all religions to be "the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class"
^World Christian trends, AD 30-AD 2200, p.230-246 Tables 4-5 & 4-10 By David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, Peter F. Crossing NOTE: They define 'martyr' on p235 as only including christians killed for faith and excluding other christians killed
^"Dewey felt that science alone contributed to 'human good,' which he defined exclusively in naturalistic terms. He rejected religion and metaphysics as valid supports for moral and social values, and felt that success of the scientific method presupposed the destruction of old knowledge before the new could be created. ... (Dewey, 1929, pp. 95, 145) "William Adrian, TRUTH, FREEDOM AND (DIS)ORDER IN THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, Christian Higher Education', 4:2, 145-154
^"I think all the great religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism – both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. ... I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue." Bertrand Russell in "My Religious Reminiscences" (1957), reprinted in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell
^Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful! The Guardian, 2001-10-11 "Has the world changed?." The Guardian. Accessed 2006-01-29.
^"[T]he Bible, contrary to what a majority of Americans apparently believe, is far from a source of higher moral values. Religions have given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers, gay-bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen, and mothers who drown their sons so they can happily be united in heaven." The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion, presentation by Steven Pinker to the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, October 29, 2004, on receipt of “The Emperor’s New Clothes Award.”
^"We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.", S. Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 2006.
^"Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about the religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class."Lenin, V. I. "About the attitude of the working party toward the religion". Collected works, v. 17, p.41. Retrieved 2006-09-09.