2005-12-13 14:05:00

Statement by the Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations on recent documents adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted in early October Resolution 1464 (2005) on Women and Religion in Europe and Recommendation 1720 (2005) on Education and Religion. These documents need a response from the Russian Orthodox Church as they touch upon important principles of religious worldview as well as the life of believers in society and a state.

Our Church shares the ideas set forth in Resolution 1464 aimed at ensuring the civil rights of women and their equal status in society and the state. We have always shared this attitude proceeding from the biblical teaching on the equal dignity of man and woman.

Paragraph 6 reads that the states ‘must fight against religiously motivated stereotypes of female and male roles from an early age, including in schools’. Thus, religious convictions protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are described as nothing more than ‘stereotypes’, which in fact reflects a contempt for the views of millions of believers.

It follows from Paragraph 4 that among the forms of ‘intolerance and discrimination’ is patriarchal culture, ‘which holds up the role of wife, mother and housewife as the ideal’. The document calls to reconsider the traditional views of millions of people concerning ideal categories. At the same time, the authors of the document seem to overlook a great number of today’s problems making thousands of women miserable. These are sexual exploitation, traffic in people, problems involved in women’s self-fulfillment in family and motherhood conditioned in many ways by economic and social situation in some countries. Incidentally, the Church and other religious communities have been actively involved in solving these problems.

Paragraph 7.6 points to the need to oppose ‘any religious doctrine which is antidemocratic’. In this context the freedom of religions and respect for culture and traditions are viewed as no more than ‘pretexts to justify violations of women’s rights’ (Par. 7.4). Thus, the political ideology of the Resolution reserves for itself the right to urge for a change in the convictions of believers without their consent or even against it. Thus, Paragraph 7.1.1 affirms that what the document declares to be violations of women’s rights should be protected ‘regardless of the nominal consent of the victim’.

According to the logic of the Resolution, its approaches are to be regarded as having such a self-sufficing value that to observe them European countries should ‘guarantee the separation between the Church and the State’ (Par. 7.3), ‘refuse to recognise foreign family codes and personal status laws based on religious principles which violate women’s rights (Par. 7.1.2), ‘take a stand against any religious doctrine which is antidemocratic or disrespectful of human rights, especially women’s rights, and refuse to allow such doctrines to influence political decision making’ (Par. 7.6).

It is evident from the above that the Resolution is built on an unobjective understanding of relations between various rights and freedoms, which together make up not only a harmonious whole but also the same subject of protection. The authors of the Resolution actually call to introduce an ideological control over people’s convictions, ideals and hence life, which is tantamount to a propaganda of totalitarianism, ‘liberal’ in this case. This approach cannot but lead ultimately to growing instability in society. We are well aware of this because we have an experience of life in the Soviet Union where a ‘universal’ ideology was imposed on people ‘for their benefit’ by force, persuasion and political manipulations without leaving any room for different people’s conviction.

Recommendation 1720 (2005) on Education and Religion reflects in many respects the real picture of religious education in Europe characterized by a shortage of qualified teachers (Par. 10), dying-out knowledge of religion (Par. 3), a poor competence of the mass media with regard of religion (Par. 4).

At the same time it is rightly noted that ‘a good general knowledge of religions and the resulting sense of tolerance are essential to the exercise of democratic citizenship’ (Par. 1). We cannot help welcoming some affirmations of the Recommendation, such as: ‘Governments should also do more to guarantee freedom of conscience and of religious expression, to foster education on religions, to encourage dialogue with and between religions and to promote the cultural and social expression of religions’ (Par. 6). We are gratified by the willingness of the Council of Europe, in developing new educational programs, to consult ‘all partners concerned, including representatives of the religious faiths’ (Par. 14.6).

At the same time, the document sets forth a negative attitude to the study of a particular religion and puts emphasis on the need for a comparative study of religions (Par. 8). It should be observed that the practice of the teaching of a particular religion has brought positive fruits in various states in Europe, enabling the younger generation to familiarize itself with the cultural heritage of its people and to make a conscious religious choice at will. It is inappropriate therefore to give decisive importance to religious comparative studies alone, offering knowledge ‘in an objective manner’, while giving it at the expense of studying of a particular religion.

Moreover, the demand in Par. 14.2 that the curriculum ‘should include, with complete impartiality, the history of the main religions, as well as the option of having no religion’ is unfeasible since there is no completely objective approach to religion in principle. The objective approach cannot be identified with those based on such worldviews as materialism, syncretism, agnosticism or atheism, which, along with religion, are only versions of an ideological option and cannot be imposed in school without alternatives. We are convinced that it is only a free choice made by children and their parents, not any doctrine imposed from ‘above’, that should determine the education in religion and worldview. This is affirmed by the norms of international law gained through a long experience.

In connection with the above, we call upon representatives of various Christian Churches, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as well as secular humanism to think over the themes raised by the above-mentioned documents. The aim of our dialogue is to review the attitude of international structures to religion. Indeed, if the approaches aimed to oust faith from the life of society are not changed, the world will not avoid a conflict of the civilizations.