2007 September 23 Sunday
Orthodox Church Resurgence In Russian Schools

The New York Times reports on a resurgence of Russian Orthodox Church teachings in Russian schools.

Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures.

The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders, who say the enforced atheism of Communism left Russians out of touch with a faith that was once at the core of their identity.

This story is interesting on a few levels. First off, the majority of the Russian people do not appear to oppose the reintroduction of Orthodox Christian teachings. Whatever the communists taught against religious belief for at least a few generations does not appear to have stuck. The underlying culture survived and the people feel some form of kinship to the beliefs of their past. This serves as a cautionary tale for neoconservatives who still might believe that America can carry the neocon democratizing mission around the world. Cultures and beliefs of other societies are sometimes surprisingly resilient.

The reintroduction of Orthodox Church teachings into local schools is mandatory for students in some schools but optional in others. The NY Times reports that in the schools where the Orthodox teachings are optional few parents avail themselves of their right to exclude their kids from those classes. There's no big groundswell against these teachings. The parents aren't afraid of the teachings of the Church.

Second some secularists, Muslims, and Jews oppose this trend. But they don't seem to be having much effect.

The new curriculum reflects the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era and what role religion should play after being brutally suppressed under Soviet rule. Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.

Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.

Muslim objections in particular are a laugh. In a Muslim majority country they wouldn't hesitate to use the power of government to put Islamic teachings in every classroom.

As for the risk of alienating the Muslim minority: I doubt it. If the Russians seem irresolute then the Muslims will sense the weakness and move to exploit it. But if the Russians take confident positions in favor of a return of the Orthodox Christian teachings then I expect the Muslims will accept there's nothing they can do to stop it.

The Russians could, in any case, invite their Muslim minority to emigrate to Muslim-majority countries where they can live in a Muslim-oriented society that is more to their liking. If two peoples can't get along in the same society then the majority should invite the minority to leave. That's not my recipe for total world peace. But it is my recipe for less strife than would otherwise be the case.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 September 23 02:41 PM  Cultural Wars Religious

Wolf-Dog said at September 23, 2007 9:33 PM:

Just like the Serbs suddenly discovering their true identity (against the Bosnians, for example), the Russians are also trying to discover a certain form of identity to maintain and even build their own power. But once a certain mythological-mystical, magical thinking is introduced into a nation, the effect is not thinking, and there is no limit to the violence they can do. Without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but thanks to religion good people do bad things. Thus Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn may become the Russian Ayatollah. This might actually have a balancing effect against extremist Muslims, since the Russians were always feared (and hence respected) in the East... Bigotry is respected.... Always...

Kenelm Digby said at September 24, 2007 4:13 AM:

Orthodoxy has always been a very essential component of the Russian identity, ie as the average Russian sees and defines himself.
The English attempted to do the same thing with Anglicanism, which succeeded in its mission from the 16th to early 20th centuries, however these days the Church of England is little more than a bad running joke - A Monty Pyhton sketch made flesh.

Wolf-Dog said at September 24, 2007 4:26 AM:

Kenelm Digby: But unlike the Brits who have a great tradition of making jokes (at least for more than a century), the Russians have not yet developed the ability without risking their lives. The Russian version of the Orthodox church, is very mystical, full of magic, and a lot of paranoid xenophobia. A Russian Ayatullah can be generated by the Orthodox church, but such a thing is unlikely in England.

Ned said at September 24, 2007 4:52 AM:

I was just in Russia three weeks ago, and the resurgence of religion is amazing. Churches that were closed or used as museums, storage areas, gymnasiums, etc., during the communist era have been restored to their original purposes. Services are being held, and the churches are full of believers. The Russian cities look like western European cities, with fancy stores and restaurants, lots of advertising and streets jammed with imported cars. Saint Petersburg has traffic that would rival Rome, Paris or Los Angeles.

m said at September 24, 2007 8:20 AM:

"Without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but thanks to religion good people do bad things"

Then kindly explain the secular genocides of the last 200 yrs.,starting with the Reign of Terror?

To quote the cliche,people won't believe in nothing,they'll believe in anything.

P.S. the global,multicultural world is fast becoming a regionalized,localized and tribalized world.

Wolf-Dog said at September 24, 2007 9:05 AM:

m: The secular genocides such as the French Reign of Terror that you are talking about, or the secular killings by Stalin, are included above, under the first category, where the bad things are done directly by bad people without the need to use religion to justify the injustice. The second category of injustice is under religion used to brain-wash good people into doing bad things. The categorization logic was quite consistent.

Dave said at September 24, 2007 9:10 AM:

We already know from birth-rate stats that religious people in the West have more children than 'liberals', I assume this would also be true in Russia.
Russias demographic collapse is 15-20 years ahead of the West, so could the welcome return of religion in schools simply represent that most of those children are from more religious parents? rather than the less religious being converted.

Daniel said at September 24, 2007 11:07 AM:


Too simplistic. From Lenin to Castro there is not a single Communist tyrant, along with millions of ardent followers, who did not insist that what they were doing was for the "love of humanity." They sincerely believed this, too. In their minds, and in the minds of millions of followers, they are "good" people. Exemplary people. Is Fidel Castro an essentially bad man? I think not, but the fact stands that he has directly committed great and sustained acts of evil.

Robert Hume said at September 24, 2007 7:14 PM:

Don't forget Hitler's murders. Hitler was explicitly not a Christian. If anything he was a pagan but without any pagan God.His killings were secular.

Wolf-Dog said at September 25, 2007 3:09 AM:

The "for the love of humanity" type secular crimes committed by people who do bad things without being intrinsically bad, do not contradict this classification. And Hitler's killings were obviously made by a secular homicidal maniac, who was bad in every way.

All I was saying is that if you let extremist religion get out of hand, then it is destined to finds its way into politics, and this is inevitable, so that in the end unlimited crimes are committed by brain-washed people. Of course, in the open society, it is impossible to make it illegal to study religion if it is originally presented in a peaceful way... For example, the original Mosques in Europe during the last century, were not politicized and the European Muslims were quite peaceful, but somehow at some point they got transformed into a political movement in Europe.

Septeus7theParanoid said at September 25, 2007 1:45 PM:

Quote: "P.S. the global,multicultural world is fast becoming a regionalized,localized and tribalized world."

Ah, it's finally becoming clear to y'all. It's called the good old strategy of the "Global Balkans." All the better to divide and conquer us with; disaster capitalism at its best. The next step is to demand that we must fix the resulting crises from our exported globalony with even more globalony. Be paranoid people, be very paranoid. Its all a great hoax and this is just first act of play and we are in for even more fun.

averros said at September 25, 2007 10:43 PM:

Russians (and I'm qualified to speak about them, being one) never actually stopped being religious and mystic - the only difference the Soviet era brought is that the mature and generally benevolent theistic religion was replaced by rabid communist eschatological, er, religion. Communism is, in many respects, a form of primitive, messianic Christianity.

The return to orthodoxy is caused by the self-destruction of the communist religion. It is also propped by the fact that ex-KGB men are running the country - so they have quite a lot of affinity with the men of cloth who used to be their colleagues (the Russian Orthodox Church was a de-facto department of KGB during Soviet times - which was the reason for the splintering of the Expatriate Russian Orthodox Church from the native one). The separation between the church and the state in Russia is a total sham, and churches are known to do their "fundraising" by means of harrassing local businesses through licensing agencies and police.

What is sorely lacking in Russia today is rationalistic tradition. The country is awash in charlatans, faith healers, "extra-sensitives", and all kinds of pseudo-science and superstitions; literacy and basic scientific knowledge are absymally low, even compared to the aftermath of US public education. This all döes not bode well for the future of this once enlightened and progressive country.

Wolf-Dog said at September 26, 2007 1:10 AM:

Although it is known that in all Asian countries, there is some degree of strong inclination towards the magical thinking, it is surprising that you said that the science education is very low in Russia. This sounds impossible, mathematics has always been in the Russian tradition, and the Soviet system simply mass-produced science education.

Audacious Epigone said at September 26, 2007 11:48 AM:

"Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion."

Who are these opponents, specifically, and what are their numbers, I wonder? This sounds more like an ACLU talking point than a position to be held by any substantial number of Russian inhabitants.

The Kremlin's return to religion may be part of a strategy it has pushed for even longer--getting Russians to have babies.

averros said at September 27, 2007 2:19 AM:

Wolf-Dog: the science education used to be rather strong in the USSR... while the last students of the Tzar-era scientific schools were still alive and teaching. Most of them are dead now, and with their disappearance the educational standards have plummeted.

As for mass-produced, heh. It spewed mass-produced mediocrity. I studied at the best university in the country in 80s, and even then only a few alumni from my year had any aptitude for their choosen profession - so years later only 2-3% work as specialists in the field. The myth of Soviet scientific superiority was promulted by the Western academia in order to scare up the politicos and get more money. The reality was much gloomier.

A lot of Soviet-era science was plain bunkum; I've seen quite a lot of it, and heard a lot of tales from my friends. What I see now is that it becames nearly impossible to hire a decent programmer out there (I'm a shareholder in a Russian software company), as recent graduates are lacking even the basic skills and ability to reason.

Wolf-Dog said at September 27, 2007 6:07 AM:

When you said that you studied at the best Russian university during the 80s, I assume that you are referring to Moscow State University. I wonder if you have met the best Russian mathematicians, but I did meet some of them in one of the best American universities. Some of them were expatriate professors teaching in the US, but many others were just visiting scholars in the US, planning to go back. I believe that Leningrad and Moscow were outstanding in math and physics. A couple of years ago, despite the chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Russian mathematician in Saint Petersburg (Grigori Perelman) was given the Field's Medal, but refused to accept the prize because he was "against materialism and that his mathematics was only for the sake of knowledge."


Maybe the Russian students who could not get jobs after graduation, were unable to do so because they were not trained to be practical and aggressive like the Americans, but in theoretical and academic areas, they were probably very good. For one thing, the entrance examinations for the science programs in the top Russian universities such as Leningrad and Moscow State, were extremely difficult by both American and also European standards. Many Russian math and physics textbooks are standard books that are highly esteemed in American universities.

averros said at October 3, 2007 2:52 PM:

Wolf-Dog - I met quite a few good mathematicans (including Kholmogorov) - my degree is in mathemathics (your guess about Moscow State U is absolutely correct:). There are always some very bright people, no matter how bas the education is, they're mostly self-taught (I certainly didn't learn much in the university - most of it I knew already, but, then, I'm a kind of a person who reads textbooks for fun). But having few smart people is not the same as having decent educational system, and Moscow State was (and still is) the place where political correctness and toeing to the Party line is more important factor in one's success than aptitude to science or talent to teaching.

(Perelman is not entirely sane... this, apparently, being an occupational hazard in the profession.)

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