Religion clashes with science in modern Russia

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov) - The Archbishop of Canterbury circulated a questionnaire among the world's top scientists in 1936. Ivan Pavlov was among the respondents.

"Do you believe in God?"

"No," the renowned Russian physiologist replied.

Contemporary scientists of no lesser fame have gone even further. They think Russia has grown too pious for its own good. Ten leading researchers have forwarded a letter to President Vladimir Putin, calling him to take urgent action against "the advance of clericalism." The signatories include Nobel laureates Zhores Alfyorov and Andrei Vorobyev, and fellows of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Sadovsky and Sergei Inge-Vechtomov, so the president can hardly shrug off their request.

What prompted them to sound the alarm was the recent 11th World Russian National Sobor (Assembly), held under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose resolution calls on the government to add the ABCs of religion, under the name of Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture, to the list of compulsory school subjects. The Church thinks all children should be taught one Christian denomination - the one to which the majority of the population belongs.

What brought the Church to the idea was the country's current religious boom. The number of religious Russians has skyrocketed-70% currently versus 16% in 1986, according to government statistics.

Parents have lit the candle of faith after seven decades of a godless regime, and it is children's duty to tend the fire, the Church says.

Scientists have their objections. They regard compulsory religion classes as an unacceptable attempt by the clergy to become part of the secular educational system, which the Constitution keeps separate from the Church. Apart from that, they see blatant denominational chauvinism in teaching only Orthodox Christianity. "How can one hold others in such contempt?" the letter asks, meaning Russia's 20 million Muslims, and significant Buddhist and Jewish communities, to say nothing of other Christian denominations, who would also like children to learn about their faith at school from tender age.

The authors of the letter are no militant atheists. They write in the letter: "It is up to every man and woman to believe in God or not. It is a matter of personal conscience and convictions. We are not fighting religion, but we cannot turn a blind eye to attempts to put science into doubt and substitute faith for scientific knowledge."

The latter phrase refers to another demand of the Russian Orthodox Church-to add theology to the list of academic subjects recognized by the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles. The protesting scientists view theology not as a science but as religious dogma. It relies on faith alone while ignoring facts and logical proof, which puts it outside the boundaries of science, they argue.

Christian Orthodoxy is burgeoning in Russia after 70 years of cruel repression. Church hierarchs attend every secular event of importance, and politicians have become exemplary parishioners. The Church is positioning itself as a stronghold of domestic values and basic morals-in the final analysis, a force that unites the nation-at a time when ideology has collapsed and moral pillars have tumbled down with the abrupt change of social system and lifestyle.

We would all welcome the mission of the Church if it had not embarked on a course that many find threatening to secular statehood.

Everywhere you go in Russia, you see a cassock. Priests bless warships and submarines, and sprinkle holy water over ballistic missiles. The Church has even published a Businessman's Manual of Morals. It fulminates against Western liberal values as erroneous and downright immoral.

The pendulum has swung to the side opposite militant atheism, and it is now likely to upset Russia's cultural balance.

To all appearances, therefore, the scientists have every reason to protest. But then, there was another item in the questionnaire distributed by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

"Do you find religion compatible with science?"

"Yes," Pavlov replied.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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