What has happened in France? How valid are the conclusions made by the US authorities about the religious situation in Russia? Deacon Andrey Kuraev, professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, answers these questions in his interview to Aleksey Sosedov, Interfax-Religion observer.
- First the US State Department published a report on the situation of religious organizations in the world including Russia. Then the American congress demanded that Russia observe religious freedoms. How far do these assessments and conclusions reflect the real state of affairs with regard to religious life in our country?
- Well, this is the same as discussing the discrimination against the poor Arab rebels in Paris. These people were born and raised in France. But if they have not learnt French and spent in discotheques the time they should have spent in classes, if they have not mastered a trade, then why should they burn cars belonging to native French and claim to be discriminated? They had a chance to become masters of their destiny. They refused to use it. Resentful people can be found in any country. This is what the Soviet television did when shot footages on the theme of ‘New York - a city of contrasts’.
The question is what did they look after. If they looked after resentful people they found them. But our question is who hurt them and why. And generally all these lamentations boil down to one thing: the state does not offer some religious organizations the same partnership relations as it is building now with the Russian Orthodox Church. If I am not invited to work for the Kremlin administration or to run a talk show at the main Russian TV channel at a prime time, it does not at all mean that I am subjected to severe persecution.
For instance, a Baptist pastor can be invited to a prayer breakfast given by the US president, but an Old Believers priest is not. But it is not a reason for crying out that religious minorities are oppressed. The Orthodox, for instance in Germany, can hardly enjoy the same privileges as the Catholic Church does.
The state should guarantee to people a certain set of rights and opportunities. Beyond that the state has the right to determine which educational or cultural projects to support and which projects should be given an opportunity to develop on their own. The same applies to the filed of religion. If a state is democratic, that is, if it listens to the voice of the majority - and in Russia the majority is naturally oriented to Orthodoxy - then it cooperates with Orthodoxy.
The same is true to television. We have a state-run TV sports channel. Just as other TV channels, it often broadcasts matches played in the Russian football championship, but not field hockey. A Field Hockey Association may be hurt and may demand equal terms, but the terms are not equal because mass viewers are not interested. People have a lot of questions to ask of the Orthodox Church, but there is no demand for the Adventist preaching. If an Orthodox priest comes to television, he does it not to create a demand, but to answer the existing questions. And there are no questions at all to some new religious organization. Alas, sectarians in our country tend to confuse rights and obligations. They have the right to preach, but state functionaries are not obliged to let them in audiences which are controlled by the state, such the army, school and state-run mass media.
So, before making accusations of intolerance, one should consider the scale of ambitions shown by religious minorities. Besides, it is necessary to formulate clear criteria for religious intolerance. The question is what are the criteria of partiality and impartiality, tolerance and intolerance. Indeed, sometimes one can feel reluctant to conform to them, as in the case of gay movements. Some religious organizations tend to play their game putting on the mask of the persecuted in order to get funds from Western humanitarian and human rights centers. Any person or organization can judge the situation in a particular country. But we, naturally, have the right either to ignore this report or to give a well-reasoned response.
- The developments in France - do you think they can be repeated in Russia?
- Such events do no happen without organizers. It means that somebody want them. Who is this somebody? And will these people want something similar to be repeated in Russia? How many times did we read various fairy tales about little cuckoos, when you give shelter to a stranger and this stranger’s appetite comes with eating? First he would demand participation in the household and with time would claim the role of absolute master. It is in this way that the voice of immigrants in Europe has grown stronger. Besides, let us not forget that in Islam, unlike it is in Christianity, politics and religious life are not separated. Political ambitions may be suppressed and temporary compromises may happen, but the aims will be realized at the slightest opportunity.
But there are no reasons to believe that there is a war between the crescent and the cross for the simple reason that there is no cross. There is no Christian civilization, nor are there Christian countries. France is not a Christian country. The French government cannot be said to be motivated in any way by church commandments, interests or ideals. For over two centuries France has been destroying her Christian past and with great success. I have been to many countries in the world and everywhere I wore my robe - in Arab countries, in the Soviet Union, in Israel, but nowhere did I feel such a cold attitude as in the streets in Paris. The two hundreds years of anticlerical masonic education tells very vividly. So, France is a de-Christianized country, and what happens there is more like a confrontation between belief and non-belief. Naturally, belief will win, simply by laws of psychology. Anyway, one can say that it is a confrontation between the crescent and Hollywood, the mass culture made in America over against the equally vulgarized, simplified and militarized Islam.
The political Islam is lethal for the European world. It would be a different matter if Europe were Christian, even if Christians were a minority. Take myself, for instance. It is not dangerous for me to live in an Islamic country, because I am a Christian and thus the Koran protects me as a person who confesses a religion. The Koran forbids atheists and heathens to live in a Moslem state. Thus, people who do not confess a religion of Revelation, that is, non-Jews and non-Christians, will not be tolerated in a Moslem state. For this reason it amazes me to see the tranquility of today’s liberal humanists, who now and then read heathen horoscopes and speak about political correctness but actually do not seriously believe either in God or in devil. They are those who will have a hard time when the allegedly hurt Moslem teenagers whom they praise so much will mature and get the levers of power in earnest.