Monday, January 28, 2013

Re: Russia

We talk about Russia a lot here. There's are reasons for that.

First, it is the de facto leader of Eastern Orthodoxy in the world. Depending on who you ask, it could be appropriate to say that the Russians were the last of the Orthodox to break from the Church. As things stand today, if they were ever re-integrated with Rome, the rest of the East would almost certainly follow.

Second, it is the most dangerous of the Eastern churches from the standpoint of oppressing our Catholic brethren. If you don't believe me, ask Metropolitan Hilarion, who asserted that Stalin's liquidation of the Eastern Catholic communities was perfectly legitimate.

Third, especially now in the days of Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Orthodox are the only group worth ecumenical efforts, since Protestants lack central authority to deal with on such topics.

With that out of the way, I highly recommend that everyone look at this article from Reason and brought to our attention by Haskovec. If you read our prior posts on this subject, you'll find that our greatest fear has been the return of imperial Russia, backed by the most powerful force in Orthodoxy. This is the picture painted in the article. Which is bad.

We've always known that Patriarch Alexei II was a KGB puppet. Now, it looks like the current patriarch, Kyril I, had just as many ties to the agency. This all makes sense considering just how married he and Putin appear to be these days.

In case you wonder about where the Russian Church's influence extends and what use it has in larger Russian society, consider the following:

Abortion, which is as unacceptable in Orthodoxy as it is in Catholicism, remains not only legal but free at public clinics. In 2011 the Patriarch’s plea to end government funding for abortions was briskly dismissed by the ruling United Russia party, and legislation introducing some restrictions, such as spousal consent for married women, died in the Duma (the Russian parliament); the only actual policy change was tighter regulation after the first trimester. Church advocacy on this issue has been fairly low-key and deferential; when Kirill raised it in his meeting with Putin, it was to concede the pro-choice tilt of popular opinion and beg for better incentives for women to make other choices.

The effort to bring Orthodoxy into public education has yielded mixed results at best. A few years ago, proposals to make “the basics of Orthodox culture” a required subject for middle school students met with a strong backlash, including an open letter from a group of concerned scientists whom the church assailed as relics of militant Soviet atheism. Then Putin’s docile Duma nixed a resolution condemning the critics, and Putin himself warned that religious indoctrination in state schools would be illegal. As if on cue, church spokesman Chaplin made a conciliatory statement calling for a pluralistic approach to religious studies. The solution was a class in “secular ethics and world religions” (which recently became mandatory nationwide after a two-year pilot program), with several options from which parents can choose. So far less than a third of students have enrolled in the Orthodox track, compared to more than 40 percent for secular ethics and 20 percent for world religions. The Patriarch blamed the church’s comparative failure on “the liberal press.”

When do you hear the Russian Church's voice the loudest? When it's backing Putin and talking about how awesome he is. Or when it's denigrating the West, in general. That tells you just about everything you need to know.

Right now, it seems the secular world and media don't have much of a grip on how much religion, beyond Islam (and sometimes Judaism for stories in Israel), shapes events. They've missed this boat when it comes to Anglicanism in the Global South, and they're missing it again when it comes to Eastern Orthodoxy. There is a lot of dangerous potential in Russia right now, and a refusal to understand how the Russian Church (and even the See of Constantinople) plays into all this is a grave, grave error.


Titus said...

You know, a return to Imperial Russia wouldn't really be the worst thing in the world. I think English frenzy over the czars in the 19th century was rather overblown. So what if they get influence in Afghanistan, or even talk the Port into letting them use the straits? It clearly wouldn't have been the end of the world.

Of course, that's a genie and the bottle thing. The Russian Orthodox Church, never a fiercely independent thing, is exactly what is described here, sadly. And the current strongman government isn't exactly made up of a bunch of pious hemophiliacs. So in this universe, the resurgence of Russia is probably a bad thing. I mean, how stupid do you have to be as a country to maintain, simultaneously, a demographic bomb so big you have prizes for having babies and a wide-open abortion law?

Throwback said...

Yep, and this universe is all we have. Imperial Russia under a benign regime wouldn't be so bad.

Now, it would be a government run by what might be the worst folks possible.