The reason I bring it up is because I was just reading a collection of Soviet jokes linked to by P.Z.Myers, and in the footnote of joke #1.7 I learned an interesting little factoid I thought I'd share. Apparently one of the "commonest statements of the official propaganda" of the soviet union was the phrase:
Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall live.Which immediately triggered my few remaining Catholic brain cells to regurgitate the phrase:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.So, you ask: what the heck is a messianic promise doing in Stalinist propaganda? Aren't they supposed to be heartless godless atheist materialists with no belief in the supernatural? Did they really believe in the Second Coming of Lenin?
On the one hand, you could say that the phrase "Lenin shall live" was meant to be a metaphorical reference to the restoration of pure Leninist ideals - but you could just as easily turn around, as some liberal theologians do, and say the same about "Christ will come again." But on the other hand, just as the majority of Christians believe the statement literally, you can also bet that the Lenin Prophesy was, at some point and by some people, also taken at face value. With any written, canonical formula there will always be a spectrum of interpretation, from the literal to the figurative and everything in between. And so, ultimately, we see Lenin being treated as a religious figure despite the explicit atheism of his prescribed world order.
Highly dogmatic ideologies cannot help but coalesce around a central, charismatic figure who takes on the trappings of a god. This shouldn't be surprising. The Soviet people were forced to place their trust in Lenin, in the world he described and in the polity he shaped, even long after his death. Because if they didn't believe in Lenin's great vision, their already dubious society would crumble. But what happens when a large group of people put their faith and trust in a non-existent entity? He becomes a god. A god is not a god only because of his ontological status as a supernatural being (one who cannot be seen and who could make all our lives better in the blink of an eye but somehow never does). A god is also the receptacle of the wishes, hopes, faith, and trust that people place in him. And because the god can't speak for himself, he is what people say he is.
EDIT: From a piece of reading I did for a class this afternoon: on the subject of relics (material remains cum magical, religious objects) Stanley Tambiah has suggested that the charisma (in the Weberian sense) of a religious leader is or can be systematically concretized into his relics post mortem.1 Thus, the Embalmed Body of Lenin plays the same functional role as the Shards of the True Cross, Shroud of Turin, the Eucharist etc.: they are all posthumous repositories for the aura of personality that accrued to the 'holy man' both during and after his life.
1. Stanley Tambiah, Buddhist Saints of the Forest (1984), 335. Cited in John Strong "Buddhist Relics in Comparative Perspective," in Embodying the Dharma, ed. Germano and Trainor (SUNY, 2004), 38.