These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.
Today’s Czech Republic is one of the most, if not the most, atheist countries in the world. I encountered people both in meatspace and on the internet who “blame” the former totalitarian socialist regime for this. Mostly such people are coincidentally also people who assign to this godlessness all kinds of moral failings of today’s Czechs and blame their lack of faith for exceedingly high divorce rates, crime rates etc.
When one looks at the actual data though, none of this does fit. Today’s Slovak Republic was under the same regime in the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, yet Slovaks are much more religious. Not to mention Poles, who are almost 90% catholic until today. The crime rates etc. are similar in these countries, only abortion rate is very low in Poland – but only because it is mostly illegal and inaccessible, during the socialist regime when abortion was legal, Poles used it at a rate that was not out of the ordinary for the time.
So my (lack of) religious experiences as a child were not to be ascribed only to the regime, but at least partially they were. It was complicated.
The regime was in fact overtly anti-religious. Priests were poorly paid state employees and private donations to churches etc. were not legal to my knowledge. Being religious was not illegal per se, but it was not encouraged either and there were some obstacles put in the way of exercising beliefs. Like all official religions had to register with the state and there were some specific religions and religious sects that were illegal (like Jehovah’s Witnesses).
My grandfather was a devout catholic asshole on whose grave I do not spit only out of respect for my father. My father became disillusioned with religion early on and possibly as an act of rebellion against it he entered the communist party at the age of 18 and was banished by my grandfather as a consequence. My father is the only atheist in that branch of the family. After I was born and my grandfather became deadly sick, my mother and father took care of him in his last years. Grandfather has obliquely acknowledged the child abuse he inflicted on my father, but he never apologized to him directly, only indirectly by saying to my mother that he wronged him yet he is the only one who cares for him on his sickbed. He died before I was old enough to know him.
So I grew up in an atheistic family and went to public school in a regime that did not acknowledge any religion as true and only reluctantly allowed people to exercise some religious beliefs.
At home, religion was never spoken about and I never felt the need to ask about anything. We had plenty of books and I was an avid reader, so I knew about the existence of religions and mystical figures. I feared the devils from fairy tales despite never believing in their real existence. Similarly I knew christian God also only as a fairy-tale father figure granting favors for good deeds. It was not before ten years of age that I learned that there are still people who really believe in Christianity, including in my family. Until that age I thought it was all over, a thing of the past just like Zeus and Hera. After I learned that my favourite auntie is religious, I was completely flummoxed and to this day I never broached the subject with her.
At school, there was some talk about religion in civics, history and literature classes. In fact a very good overview of the development of religion from polytheism to monotheism in Europe from Classical age through Middle ages to Modern era. I do not remember any overt hostility towards any religion during the lectures, only dry information about them and an occasional argument that proves false some specific claim. Later on I learned that religious parents could send children to a sort of sunday school, but I never knew anyone who did so.
Even the christian creation myth was taught – as a myth. And the gorgeous movie La Création du Monde was aired on TV and I loved it as a child.
All in all in my opinion the regime did a good job informing children about religion but did discourage indoctrinating them with any. However I do not think the Iron Curtain played exquisite or even major role in it because Czechs as a whole were seemingly lukewarm about religion for centuries. Which, again, is a different story.