In 1925 in Moscow there was founded an organisation called “The Godless League” with its purpose described as “systematic antireligious work”. The choice of the word godless (Russian: besboshnik, from bes bocha: without God) assumes a militant tone, of someone who does not want to believe in God, a distinct attitude of denial. Absolute denial of the existence of God can have a sceptical character, which calls upon the absence of sufficient evidence, and is described as scepticism or agnosticism. Positive atheism goes further and establishes the non-existence of god as a dogma, recognizing it as evidence in itself.

The practical atheism which was predominant amongst the Russian godless movement promoted the idea of progress without God, they accepted along with the early French materialist philosopher and hedonist La Mettrie that “the existance of God is completely unrelated to human life”. To our sense of language the word “godless” carries an unpleasant sound, suggesting something shameful and dishonourable. In the Russian language the ungodly, the infamous and the unscrupulous are branded with the same “besboshnyi”, suggesting that shameful and criminal aspects lie in a revolt against God and the denial of His existance.

For this reason many prefer the word “atheist” which carries a softer sound and has lost the connotation of evilness which it carried until the 18th century. This was the reason Mauthner prefered the use of the term atheism over godlessness (Fr. Mauthner, “Der Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendland“, Stuttgart 1923). The use of the term “godless”, “besboshnik”, has proliferated itself as the battle against religion grew more fierce. The Russian besboshniki called themselves godless on purpose in order to show that they weren’t hindered by human judgment and didn’t consider any moral or emotional concepts as obstacles, by carrying publicly a name that was widely regarded as a dishonourable.

About Olivier Corveleyn

I'm a 35 years old biochemist from Belgium with a particular interest in Russian culture, history and politics, and general slavic culture and history. This blog is intended to put the Russian Godless Movement and its main media outlet, the journal безбожник, bezbozhnik (godless) and several others in its wake which existed during the interbellum period, in an objective historical perspective. Currently I must use mostly secondary sources as the journals are difficult to locate. The blog is a work-in-progress which I mostly put together during the little free time I have. I'll try to make it not too chaotic and keep it more or less structured. Also, English is not my first language, so forgive me any grammar and spelling mistakes in advance.
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2 Responses to Besboshnik

  1. Madryt says:

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!


    • Thanks for the kind comment! It’s actually my first blog ever, so your positive opinion is very stimulating. I have a lot of material on this fascinating subject that I have yet to sort out, translate and post so there will be many more to come.


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