Propaganda posters exhibit speaks for religious freedom
By Jean Torkelson
This 1965 Soviet poster, titled “God’s Servant is Baptized,” warns that infant baptism leads to illnesses and infection. Communion, fasting and circumcision are also condemned as leading to infections and health breakdowns, both physical and mental.
In the late 1990s, while rummaging in, of all places, a Russian flea market, Father Douglas Grandon found a discarded treasure. It was an anti-Christian poster churned out by the propaganda machine of the former Soviet Union. Using powerful and compelling imagery, the government’s message was clear: God is a dangerous myth and the Church needs to be eradicated.
What a “beautiful” find.
For Father Grandon, then an Episcopal missionary priest working in the newly rebuilt Russia, the artful remnant appealed to his sense of history and culture.
“I bought my first poster because it was beautiful and interesting and historical and had something to do with religion,” said Father Grandon, who converted to Catholicism in 2003 and is now assigned to St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial. “The reason other people should be interested is because it shows the lengths to which a secular religious mindset will go to attack religion and destroy it.”
On Oct. 19-20, much of Father Grandon’s collection, which has swelled to about 60 posters, will be shown in an exhibit dedicated to religious freedom. The colorful, vibrant posters—disturbing and malevolently eloquent—will be displayed at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St. (See box for details.)
During four decades of domination, the Soviet Union distributed thousands of the posters to reinforce the idea that religious faith was dangerous and needed to be eradicated. Government policies followed: churches were seized, religion suppressed, and millions of believers, clergy and laity, were imprisoned or executed.
Religious freedom easily lost
In the posters, priests are depicted as thieves, and holy water fonts are infected with poisonous bacteria. Christians appear as addled sheep. One poster that depicts a heroic Soviet worker raising his hammer to bludgeon biblical figures to death is captioned: "We’ve finished with the earthly kings, now we’ll take care of the heavenly ones.”
The exhibit is sponsored by the archdiocese’s Office of Social Ministry, which recognizes religious freedom as being essential to Catholic social teaching, said director Al Hooper.
The Soviet War on Religion
What: An exhibit of 40 posters produced and distributed by the Soviet government from 1917-1983 to eradicate Christianity. From the collection of Father Douglas Grandon.
Where: basement, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St., Denver
When: 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Oct. 20
“When Father Grandon came to the Archdiocese of Denver he mentioned that he had collected these posters,” Hooper said. “At the same time the U.S. bishops established the new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Freedom to address the growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. From these two simultaneous developments the idea of the display emerged.”
When he began to build his poster collection in Russia, Father Grandon wasn’t necessarily thinking about its application to religious freedom in America. Yet a short decade later, America has moved from restrictions in public displays of religion, to being pressured to accept government mandates that restrict religious and personal beliefs about abortion, contraception and family life.
The rapid change shows religious liberty must never be taken for granted.
“If we’re not vigilant in protecting every freedom that is in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights we could easily lose them,” Father Grandon said. “We must be diligent in reminding people that it is very easy to lose one’s freedom, and that most societies that exist on this planet do not enjoy the freedom we have today.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister