Arts / Entertainment

Martyred in the USSR: How religious persecution could happen to us too

A new documentary sets out to tell the cautionary tale of the communist state's attempt to eradicate all believers

Even the most rookie evangelizer of the Catholic faith has come across the conversation-ending statement that religion is responsible for the majority of the wars and international atrocities throughout history.

This comment is typically tossed out by people who have walked away from what they see as an authoritarian structure hellbent on the motto of “conversion or death.” They point to the Crusades and the Inquisition, or for that matter 9/11, and demand to know who would want to associate themselves with a religion that would carry out such terrifying actions in the name of a God who is supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving.

On the surface, the argument seems to make sense, but it’s specious. At the very least, a little fact checking is in order.

First off, it’s critical that we evangelizers acknowledge that there have been atrocities carried out in the name of God, whether sanctioned by the Church or not. Brushing those cases aside as though they were just a few bad characters behaving badly doesn’t do much for our credibility. We should take ownership of the bad things that have happened during Church history, providing context when it matters.

But we should also be ready to calmly ask our friends, so familiar with those stories in distant history, if they are equally as informed about the great atrocities and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the more recent 20th century, when an estimated 109,000,000 people were murdered by secularist governments and atheist regimes. No one murdered by Stalin, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh (and too many others) died a victim of religion.

With that in mind, a documentary called Martyred in the USSR is in pre-production and looking to spread this message. This film, directed by Kevin Gonzalez of 12 Point Productions, is set to tell the story of the intense persecution carried out against Christians and Jews in the USSR, an attempt to eradicate all believers from the atheistic communist state. The producers hope that by shedding light on this subject, we can readily demonstrate that when God is pushed out of the public square and the social conscience, the results are staggeringly grim.

The persecution of the faithful under totalitarian regimes stands before us like a blinking light, urging us to turn back before it’s too late. John Das, a Catholic student-physician who is volunteering as the Lead Archivist of the film, encourages people “to learn about the persecution of the Church under atheist communism…so few people are aware of the crimes committed against our brothers and sisters living in the former Eastern Bloc.”

We shouldn’t shy away from recognizing the reality that atrocities have indeed been carried out in the in name of religion in the past; our willingness to admit to it matters, because it could be a model of witness by which our atheist friends become willing to acknowledge what has been done not in God’s name, but in the name of those who would not have God mentioned at all.

Information about the film Martyred in the USSR can be found at http://martyredintheussr.com. Catholic Christians can visit the website and see how they can help with the making of the film.

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Tommy Tighe

Tommy Tighe is a Catholic hipster, husband and father. You can follow him on Twitter @theghissilent.