Whittaker Chambers on Atheism and Communism

This Easter weekend might be a good time to share some of Whittaker Chambers’ insights on the central role of atheism in the Communist Party.

I’ve just been reading Whittaker Chambers’ autobiographical book Witness. Chambers joined the Communist Party in 1925. When he left the Party in 1938 he had to go into hiding for several years to keep from being killed. Years later his testimony put Soviet agent Alger Hiss in prison.

In the book, Chambers talks at length about Communist antipathy toward religion. “The Communist vision,” says Chambers, “is the vision of man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.”

The “Communist challenge,” he says, is “Faith in God or faith in Man?”

Chambers says that the America of his generation was “at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself,” because “two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgement, two irreconcilable moralities, proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved.” He was making reference to Lenin’s statements about morality. Lenin in 1920 said that Communists rejected any moral code based in a belief in God, and that the Communist definition of morality is anything that would further the cause of world Communism.

In the book, Chambers points out that Communist hostility to religion was not specific to Christianity. Members of his espionage group were just as hostile to Judaism. He describes the attitude of his boss in the Underground, an ethnically Jewish Russian named Boris Bykov: “Bykov was Jewish, but he was a violent anti-Semite. His hatred of rabbis was pathological. If we passed a rabbi on the street, Bykov, who was otherwise so careful, would stop dead and stare while his face worked with anger.”

Chambers’ journey from Communism to anti-Communism started one day when he was watching his firstborn child sitting in her high chair eating. “She was the most miraculous thing,” said Chambers, “that had ever happened in my life.” “…My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear – those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by an immense design’.”

These thoughts were heresy to a Communist, and were the start of his conversion.

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