Matthew Henderson

college station, tx

Book Review: The Plot to Kill God

Apr 27, 2016

In his book, The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization, author Paul Froese explains the aims of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party regarding the destruction of religious faith, and reveals their utter failure in attaining that goal. He begins by examining a set of six assertions, developed by a number of philosophers and upheld by Soviet secularist proponents, regarding the nature and origin of religious belief. Each of these assertions are examined in the first chapter, which lays the theoretical groundwork for the reader to better understand the historical record of Soviet attempts to develop supporting policies, whose results were believed would approach a completely atheist state. According to Froese, “the Secularization Experiment tested the extent to which religious vitality or decline are a product of ignorance, ritual activity, social institutions, social rewards, salvation incentives, and church-state relationships” (24).

In the following chapters, Froese documents some of the important policies, historical events, and records pertaining to the Communist goal of eradicating religious belief within the Soviet Union. He begins by discussing the often militant nature of the Communist party’s scientific atheism, and provides specific examples of how the platform of atheism was advanced by the state. There is ample documented discussion of the substantial widespread and long-ranging difficulties inflicted on Christian believers by Soviet authorities. According to Froese, this “repression, at the very least, rid religious groups of [what he terms] free riders… [and any individuals] who remained openly religious in the Soviet system demonstrated that their commitment to their faith did not depend on social rewards” (32). Persecutions ranged from significant social pressures, to imprisonment, commitment to psychiatric wards, and even death. If it weren’t for the inhumane cruelty of the Communist leaders, Froese’s readers might even find themselves amused at times by their various futile attempts to destroy religious faith. For instance, in their effort to remove all public religious observance, Soviet leaders are depicted as virtually compelled to establish an alternative set of new traditions comprised of purely secular rituals — more evidence of their deep misunderstanding about the nature of genuine Christian faith.

A number of important observations are also presented regarding the Islamic faith under Communist rule. He reveals that “many Muslim leaders viewed participation in Communist and even atheist organizations as a way to strengthen Muslim power” (95), and “[i]n many bizarre instances, self-identified Muslims publicly advocated atheism” (111). This was possible in part because of “specific religious rules that allow Muslims to abandon activities in religiously hostile environments” (110). The result was that while “Soviet Communism began its occupancy in many Christian regions by actively assaulting the local churches and religious leaders… within Central Asia, Soviet Communists first appealed to the interests of Muslims before later attacking their traditional religious institutions under the banner of modernization” (100).

Froese is a good writer who presents this very broad and difficult subject with clarity in an interesting way. This important work is academic in nature, and does demand an elevated level of resolve and attention from the reader to complete. However, the payoff in usable knowledge is well worth the effort. Froese’s conclusion about the Soviet experiment in secularization is that ultimately the “data highlight[s] the failure of scientific atheism to establish committed followers. In other words, atheist education and propaganda had no lasting effect on the belief systems of most Communist citizens” (126). In support of this conclusion, the author gives a great deal of convincing, well-researched evidence through documented sources, and includes a number of useful tables, charts and graphs. Of final note, The Plot to Kill God was recognized by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) with their 2009 Distinguished Book Award, and would be a valuable addition to any library.


The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization. By Paul Froese. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 248 pp. Hardcover.

Philippines 2019 Aug 19, 2019

June 2019 Jun 01, 2019

May 2019 May 01, 2019

April 2019 Apr 01, 2019

March 2019 Mar 01, 2019

Team Us Feb 26, 2019

February 2019 Feb 01, 2019

December 2018 Dec 19, 2018

July 2018 Jul 01, 2018

June 2018 Jun 01, 2018

May 2018 May 01, 2018

April 2018 Apr 01, 2018

December 2017 Dec 03, 2017

November 2017 Nov 05, 2017

October 2017 Oct 01, 2017

Bandina Week May 31, 2017

Book Review: The Plot to Kill God Apr 27, 2016

John (10 song series) Apr 27, 2016

Song for Songs Dec 31, 2015

Falling Away Aug 26, 2015

Easy README Files on Your Mac Jan 28, 2015

Word Clouds from the Gospels (and Acts) Sep 30, 2014

Lord of Your Life? Sep 21, 2014

Search the NY Times Archive Jul 24, 2014

The Farthest Peak Jul 08, 2014

Red River (When You See Me) Jun 26, 2014

Mapping shapefile polygons May 10, 2014

Using git to publish a website Sep 05, 2013

Roads We Don't Choose Aug 30, 2013

Killswitch/Mute Pedal Jul 09, 2013

Hold Out Jun 23, 2013

Muddle-headed Tyranny Jun 11, 2013

Arduino Arcade Controller May 13, 2013

A Place We Have Not Met May 04, 2013

Remember the Little Things Mar 27, 2013