Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Is the ROC Policy the Consolidation or the Collapse of the Country?

from Kentavr, the popular science supplement to the 23-25 July 2007 issue of Novaya Gazeta

To V. V. Putin, President of the Russian Federation

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!

We have been watching the ever-growing clericalization of Russian society and the active penetration of the Church into all spheres of public life with increasing concern. The Constitution of the Russian Federation proclaims the secular nature of our country and the principle of separation of church and state. We appeal to you with this letter as the highest official of our country, the guarantor of the observance of the basic provisions of the Constitution.

The XI World Russian People's Conference was held in Moscow in March of this year. Among its decisions the resolution "The Development of the Russian System of Religious Education and Science" caught attention. The name is somewhat strange. If religious education is an internal matter of the ROC then why on Earth is the Church concerned about the development of science? And does science need such concern? Everything becomes clear from the subsequent text. The resolution proposes requesting that the RF government "add the specialty of theology to the list of scientific specialties of the Higher Accreditation Commission [VAK] and to maintain theology as an independent scientific field".

As regards attempts to add theology to the VAK, they hardly began today. But previously the VAK felt strong pressure not evident to outsiders. After the Conference it was no longer concealed. But on what basis, one may ask, should theology - an amalgamation of religious dogmas - be listed as a scientific discipline? Any scientific discipline operates through facts, logic, and proofs, and not at all through faith.

The Catholic Church, among others, has practically almost completely abandoned interference in matters of science (in 1992 it even admitted its error in the case of Galileo and "rehabilitated" him). In a conversation with Academician V. A. Arnol'd (in March of 1998) Pope John Paul II admitted that science alone is able to establish truth, but religion, in the words of the Pontiff, considers itself more competent in the assessment of the possible use of scientific discoveries. Our ROC holds to another point of view: "A dialog of government and the public is needed so that the monopoly of the materialist view of the world which developed in the Russian educational system during the Soviet period ceases once and for all" (from the Conference resolution).

Generally speaking, all the achievements of modern world science are based on a materialist view of the world. There is simply nothing else in modern science. The well-known American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate S. Weinberg expressed himself beautifully on this subject: "The experience of being a scientist makes religion completely irrelevant. Most scientists I know simply do not think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists". (New York Times, 23 August 2005). So why then do they suggest that we change "the monopoly of the materialist view of the world"?

But let us return to the Higher Accreditation Commission. The inclusion of the Church a government body is an obvious violation of the country's Constitution. However, the Church has already been inserted into the armed forces and the mass media advertise religious ceremonies baptizing new combat equipment (surface ships and submarines being launched must be baptized but, alas, it does not always help). Religious ceremonies involving high-level government representatives etc. are widely covered. All these are signs of the active clericalization of the country.

There is one more insistent request contained in the Conference resolution mentioned above, "recognition of the cultural importance of teaching the principles of Orthodox culture and ethics in all the country's schools and including this subject in the appropriate section of federal education standards".

The hierarchs of the ROC are calling upon the government to introduce a required subject, the Principles of Orthodox Culture, in all Russian schools. It needs to be said that the idea of thrusting religion into the country's schools was hatched long ago. In Aleksiy II's Circular N? 5925 of 9 December 1999 sent to "all bishops", it noted that "we are not tackling the mission of the spiritual and moral education of the future generations of Russia if we ignore the system of public education". In the conclusion of this document it said, "If difficulties are encountered with teaching the Principles of the Orthodox Dogma call the course Principles of Orthodox Culture; this will not provoke objections from pedagogues and the directors of secular educational institutions who were educated atheistically". It follows from the cited text that they are trying to introduce theology to us (again circumventing the Constitution) under the guise of "Principles of Orthodox Culture".

Even if one assumes that this is actually about a course in the Principles of Orthodox Culture then it has been said more than once that such a course cannot be introduced in a multinational, multi-faith country. And nevertheless the Conference thinks that "students in our country, where the Orthodox comprise an absolute majority of the population, need to study the Principles of Orthodox Culture". If you count all Russian atheists as Orthodox then you would probably get a majority. But if you do not count the atheists then, alas, the Orthodox would probably end up in the minority. Of course, this is not the problem. Can other faiths be treated so contemptuously? Is this not reminiscent of Orthodox chauvinism? Finally, it would be good for the Church hierarchs to think about where such a policy is leading. Is it to the consolidation of the country or its collapse?

In the European Community, where Interreligious differences are displayed in all their glory, after long discussion they came to the conclusion about the need to introduce a course in the history of monotheistic religions in the schools. The basic argument is that a familiarization with the history and cultural heritage of other faiths will promote an improvement in mutual understanding between the representatives of various ethnic groups and religious convictions. It did not occur to anyone to demand, for example, the introduction of the "Principles of Catholic Culture". In previous Christmas Readings A. A. Fursenko, the Minister of Education and Science, reported that work was finished on a textbook, "The History of World Religions". Orthodox lobbyists greeted the report with open hostility. Meanwhile the textbook, written by officials of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of History (it is called "Religions of the World" and intended for 10th and 11th grade students), is well balanced and contains much information which every person who considers himself cultured ought to know.

But what do we have right now? A year ago a St. Petersburg student named Masha and her father went to court with a demand to include the theory of the divine creation of Man (creationism) in the middle school biology curriculum instead of "outdated and mistaken" Darwinism. An absurd situation developed: for some reason the court had to decide whether the Theory of Evolution, which states that life on Earth developed more than three billion years ago, was correct or the theory of creation is correct which unlike evolutionary theory cannot present one fact and nevertheless states that life has existed on Earth for a few thousand years. It would seem that this question is only within the competence of science. However, Masha and her father received support from Patriarch Aleksiy II, who declared at the Christmas Educational Readings, "There will be no harm to a schoolchild if he knows the biblical teachings about the origin of the world. But if someone wants to think that he is descended from an ape, let him also think so, but not force it on others". But if one removes any proofs in school, forgets about elementary logic, and completely eliminates the last remnants of critical thinking and switches to rote learning of dogmas, there will also be no harm? By the way, in order that everything be accurate neither Darwin nor his successors ever stated that Man was descended from apes. It was only said that Man and apes have common ancestors. And the Church does not just have a problem with Darwinism. For example, what is the relationship between "biblical teachings about the origin of the world" and facts which have been firmly established by modern astrophysics and cosmology? What is to be studied in school, these facts or "biblical teachings" about the creation of the world in seven days?

Whether or not to believe in God is a matter of the conscience and the convictions of an individual. We respect the feelings of believers and do no set a fight with religion as our goal. But we cannot remain indifferent when attempts are made to cast doubt on scientific knowledge, remove the "materialist view of the world" from education, and undermine the knowledge accumulated by science with faith. It ought not be forgotten that the policy of innovative development proclaimed by the state can be accomplished only if schools and higher educational institutions equip young people with knowledge achieved by modern science. No alternative to this knowledge exists.

Academicians of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Ye. Aleksandrov
Zh. Alferov
G. Abelev
L. Barkov
A. Vorob'yev
V. Ginzburg
S. Inge-Vechtomov
Eh. Kruglyakov
M. Sadovsky
A. Cherepashchuk

Translated by Gary Goldberg