Sunday, September 3, 2017

Moscow Increasingly Imposing a Religious Test on Senior Officials, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – In Soviet times, anyone who was religious could not hope to occupy a senior government position; now, in contrast but in a pattern increasingly typical around the world, only those who show piety and only to selected religions have a chance to do so, Sergey Shelin says.

            The Rosbalt commentator says that public religiosity is increasingly a requirement for senior officials in many countries and that requirement has the effect of officializing religion and excluding followers of other faiths and denominations even if it does little or nothing to promote a genuine flowering of religious faith (

            What is happening in Russia and in some other countries as well, he says, is “not so much a renaissance of living faith, which in essence the bosses don’t need because they can’t control it but rather the clericalization of the state system, in part by law and in part by informally introducing a hierarchy of confessions.”

            At the top in Russia is “the all-national state religion (Orthodoxy of the ROC MP), a regional religion (Islam), two faiths, Buddhism and Judaism, indulgently recognized officially as ‘traditional’ in Russia, and a mass of ‘non-traditional’ confessions among whom there is a gradation from the more to the less tolerated.”

            Being Orthodox or in some cases Muslim or at least acting as if one is a follower of one of these is required of anyone hoping to become or stay a mid-level or senior official, Shelin says. Being Jewish is possible but not advisable for those who want to rise; and today it is “almost impossible” for a practicing Baptist or a proclaimed atheist to get a top post.

            This doesn’t mean that one must be a believer but rather give the impression that one is, he continues.  It is a matter of “good tone” to attend services regularly and very publicly, as President Vladimir Putin has shown. 

            But it is critical to recognize that this development is “not so much a response to demands from below as part of [the state’s’ ideological construction” because in Russia as elsewhere, “religiosity is part of the propagandistic costume of autocracy.” 

            Some observers, Shelin says, think this is just a passing fad; but that may not be the case. If one examines the situation in many countries, one sees that “more than one regime having passed through a state of utilitarian use of religion, has become genuinely fanatic in the course of the following generation of citizens and rulers.”

            Of course, he continues, “the term ‘secular state’” is “allegorical” because “religions and churches never have anywhere been completely separated from the administration, policy, laws, state ideology and educational system.” But those governments that insist on secularism tend to move in a different direction than those that don’t.

            “In the 20th century, secularism was on the march almost everywhere,” and only in the place where it was born, Western Europe, did it begin a retreat. But now, in many countries, including Russia, that retreat has become a rout, either because people feel that modernism has betrayed them or because they want an authoritarian state.

            This striving after traditional values, Shelin says, “almost everywhere has gone over to a counter-attack and seized the world. In our country [Russia,] this has occurred in approximately the same way as in others but in false and grotesque forms.”  As a result, there is reason to be worried about the new religious tests: they don’t point to a positive outcome.

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