"Not more than one third supports secularism"

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Why does the Church intervene into the lives of Russians

In March, the Novosibirsk Academic Theatre removed the "Tannhauser" opera from its repertoire after the claims of the local diocese. In the beginning of April, the Orthodox activists of the movement "God's will" lodged a complaint with the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office against the performance "An Ideal Husband" staged by the Moscow Chekhov Art Theater. They saw the desecration of the holy rood in the theater performance. Lenta.ru interviewed Mariya Mchedlova, Doctor of Political Science, Senior Staff Scientist at "Religion in Contemporary Society" center of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, to learn why the representatives of religious organizations think they can decide what is appropriate in art.

Lenta.ru: What's going on?

Mchedlova: We are witnessing how religion comes back to different socio-political spheres. Religion becomes a new form of solidarity. A stronger and more important one than civil and political forms.

So, we are ceasing to be a secular society?

The society is definitely reconsidering its views.

Earlier, it was believed that in the course of time, religion would end up in the periphery of public conscience and social life, but it didn`t obviously happen.

The issue of reconsidering the principle of secularism and the role of the Church is brought up more often. However, it`s impossible to say for sure how the secular and the religious will coexist in such areas as politics, social consciousness, or art, for example.

But in general, why does the Church intervene into art?

I do not think that this is the Church that intervenes and tries to dictate what to do and not to do. It would be more appropriate to speak of how human rights and freedoms are revised.

Judging by the recent events in Novosibirsk, religious sensitivities are more important for the state than the freedom of artistic expression.

I think we should not speak about whose feelings are more important. Feelings are generally ephemeral. It would be better to speak about how to find a compromise. To avoid such problems, secular and religious segments of our society should be engaged in an equal and tolerant dialogue. But we don`t have the culture of dialogue now.

An artist shouldn`t go over the line, too. This is closely related to responsibility. Once we forget about responsibility, such tragedies as Charlie Hebdo in Paris happen. Art doesn`t exist on another planet after all. There should be no all-permissiveness justified by the creative urge. And the state, in its turn, should guard social peace. As for "Tannhauser", such performances should be probably removed from the state theaters, but other theaters supported by art patrons should be created.

Perhaps, believers with their feelings should not intrude into the territory of art?

We shouldn`t reduce it to an absurdity. Absurdity is not what will help. So, I wouldn`t raise the question this way. People need the rules shared by the majority. They may be transparent, but should help the ones and the others to coexist.

But why does noone think about the feelings of unbelievers?

Not more than one third supports extreme secularism. 15 percent believe that religious organizations shouldn`t intervene into particular forms of social and political life.

I dare to suggest that the role of the Church and religion in our society is exaggerated. At least, judging by the number of believers per capita.

On the one hand, you're right. The number of the dedicated churched people is no more than four percent. Let`s add another 10 percent of those for whom parish life means a lot, too. That makes 14 percent. At the same time, about 75 percent of Russians consider themselves orthodox, when only 70 percent of them believe in God. Religious consciousness is mostly very vague: people believe in God and at the same time in the transmigration of souls, in omens, in the power of the mind, and in oneself, thus the line between believers and unbelievers is very thin. Orthodoxy for people is the same as cultural and civilizational identity.

The Church is no longer treated as a purely religious institute. It becomes a symbol of the common cultural tradition and identity.

How do religion and the Church influence public consciousness today? How does it manifest itself?

Most people treat the Church as a legitimate institute guaranteeing stability of the society. In terms of the level of trust, this is the third institute after the president and the army - 60 percent. Much more than governors, the police, political parties and courts have.

How can you explain it?

This is due to social projects, charity. Due to the participation of the Church in the spiritual and moral education of the citizens. Many people point the role of the Church in resolving ethnic conflicts.

At the same time, the participation of the Church in governing the state isn`t advertized.

There`s a very interesting situation. On the one hand, our citizens don`t want religious organizations to interfere with the political life. But on the other hand, the majority (72 percent of the orthodox, 57 percent of Muslims, and 50 percent of the atheists) will, under certain conditions, support strengthening the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in state decision-making. When it will come to state security and sovereignty protection.

But what can the Church do for security assurance?

Religious organizations are regarded as one of the forces that can prevent such a national security threat as cultural and moral degradation.

So that's the cause of our troubles. Cultural and moral degradation.

Don`t speak ironically. Our fellow citizens think of it as one of the three main threats.

What can be more dangerous?

People are afraid of a long-term conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and are very concerned about the deteriorating quality of education and health care. But I would like to stress that Russians are equally concerned about each of the three threats.

Are Orthodox believers prone to radicalism? What are Orthodox activists like?

As for some kind of organized religious groups, the Church has nothing to do with them. There is a number of movements, not massive though, they are little known, including by the youth. We have conducted a research and found that only one percent of the respondents heard or read something about them. They pursue their own interests. To think that these groups express the feelings of believers is the biggest mistake. At least, the Church does not support such radicalism.

But the Church doesn`t talk about it. As well as about the "Tannhauser" issue.

This question should be answered not by me, but by those who can voice the official position of the Church, for example, Professor Vladimir Legoyda (Chairman of the Synodal Information Department of the Moscow Patriarchate – ed.) or Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate – ed.).

Text and pictures by Lenta.ru