AUM SHINRIKIO SCANDAL AND DISCUSSIONS OF THE NEW LEGISLATION ON RELIGION

Deacon Andrey Kurayev, candidate of science, philosophy, dean of philosophical and philological department, Russian Orthodox University

Yet another round of discussions about the need to adjust the Russian legislation of religion coincided with the Scandal of the Japanese sect Aum Shinrikio. The Scandal highlighted three important moments. First, it appears, threat to human freedom may come not only from the atheist or theocratic state, but also from a religious community. It follows, in the first place, that society should be paying attention to the shaping of relations inside religious communities, should be interested to know what methods are used for influencing the conscience and the very life of community members, what aims are proclaimed by a particular community and what means it considers fit to an end.

Time has come to lift the tabu from the anti-sectarian polemics. For several years now the Russian Orthodox Church has been warning that Russia and her citizens have become the object of spiritual aggression in the true meaning of this word. In response, Church hierarchs and authors are accused of "fanaticism," "narrow- mindedness," and almost "of fascism." One would like to hope that the Aum Shinrikio Scandal will help to realize that both the Church and the press not only have the right, but also are obliged to watch closely the activities of various sects. There is nothing "undemocratic" in warning people of the danger brought to them by the methods and the aims of certain religious organizations.

A considerable number of sects operating in Russia prefer to be called "Christian", being in fact something else. At least four sectarian leaders of contemporary Russia have proclaimed themselves "Christian" - Seko Asahara, Vissarion, leader of the White Brotherhood Maria Tsvigun and San Sen Moon whose textbook "My World and Me" is circulated in Russia by 50 000 schoolteachers now. We should not forget the Rerikh followers contending that any "enlightened"occultist may associate himself with Christ.

In order to protect people against false Christian religions, they should be shown the precise issues in which sectarian doctrines run counter to Gospel. Frequent citation of Matthew Ch.24 may be helpful: "And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the desciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" And Jesus answered and said to them,"See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying,'I am the Christ' and will mislead many..."Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. If therefore they say to you 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go forth, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. For just as the lightening comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be."

But discussion of theological issues in the mass media brings forth the following question to the legislators: if Christians come to the TV studio Gospel in hand and explain why Seko Asahara or San Sen Moon cannot be considered Christians, would that be considered "inciting religious discord?" The question is far from being a perfunctionary one, especially in the light of the recent presidential decree "On Measures to Combat Manifestations of Fascism and Other Forms of Political Extremism in the Russian Federation"., which says about the need for more resolute struggle against activities aimed at inciting religious discord. The second important factor brought forward by the Aum Shinrikio Scandal: not only society, but the state as well should take interest in sectarian activities. The special services in Japan were able to find the trail of the poisoners within twenty four hours after the investigation was started because long before the tragedy in the Tokyo subway Aum Shinrikio was the subject of study.

Unfortunately, there is no structure in Russia now which would be able to control the observance of the secular legislation by religious organizations. Thus, in breach of the legislation, thousands of schools in Russia have become the place of divine services, meditation and religious prayers, but this fact does not attract the attention of education officials or of the local authorities. Third, in the course of the media discussions of the Aum Shinrikio activities, the reports were confirmed that the sects in Russia enjoy the support of high state officials. Although state leaders appear close to the Patriarch from time to time, providing the pretext for invoking "state religion" in Russia, they in fact render their support to the anti-Orthodox religious movements. In Russia Aum Shinrikio have gained the recognition in the higher echelons of the state power structures, profiting from protection of influential personalities who gave the "green light" to the sect over the wide expanses of the Russian land...The coming of Aum Shinrikio to Russia is directly linked to a closest associate of the President of the RF, who is quite influential among Russian political upper structures. He is Oleg Lobov, the secretary of the Security Council of the RF (S.Agafonov, Strange Connections of "Kremlin Dreamers" with Japanese Sect Aum Shinrikio", Izvestia, March 28, 1995).

It should be noted that Lobov's support for Aum Shinrikio is not a mere episode in his state activity. What we have here is a strategy which was defined by Lobov's deputy in the Security Council Vladimir Rubanov as "national identification of Russia through the ideas of Russian cosmology," i.e., through turning towards neo- paganism. Vladimir Rubanov also emphasizes that his citing of the need of "post-Orthodox conscience" for Russia is far from incidental: "the post that I hold is such that no incidental comments come from me." Lobov's deputy would not answer directly the question of who in the Security Council shares "the passion for cosmology," but he implied that the ideas meet with support in the political power structures." ( Oleg Zhirnov, There's an Idea! National Idea., Moskovskaya Pravda, March 14, 1995 ).

The opening of the "Institute of Neocosmology" by the Ministry of Defense of the RF is quite symptomatic. It took place November 9 at the constituent meeting held in the former Political Academy of the Armed Forces. The institute has been entrusted with "analysis of the theosophic outlook upon personal development and individual's spirituality." The academy rector took part in the seminar held October 4 to 7, 1994, at a suburban mansion of the Ministry of Defense. During the seminar Moon's Unification Church was offered to write the textbook "Soldier's Inner World."

The involvement of the Russian state structures in sect activities is very much evident not only in the metropolis, but in provincial centers as well. Thus, in Yekaterinburg ( a city that is quite important for the nowadays Russia's political elite ) the administration was only marginally interested in the "Totalitarian Sects" seminar held by the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, education department head Nazarov having attended for only 10 minutes. Concurrently, the education department held the seminar "My World and Me" for school teachers and directors. "My World and Me" is a textbook of etics and history of religion, compiled by the Moon sect. The logics of the sect's religion teachings are taught in 70 schools of Yekaterinburg. ( Vercherny Yekaterinburg, March 29, 1995 ).

The Aum Shinrikio scandal has shown the urgency of the need to elaborate the principles of state policy with regard to religion, and the nature of those principles. It should be noted first of all that religion policy is merely based on the existing legislation, determining the confines of cooperation between the state structures, for example schools, and particular sects, but that policy cannot be limited to that legislation. It follows that what we need is criteria to provide a basis for such cooperation. First, since state bodies are maintained with taxpayer money, in their attitude to a particular religious organization they should be guided by the relative voter representation of that organization. Second, the civil servant should remember that equality of all religions before law is not tantamount to their equality before the history and culture of Russia.

Proceeding from these two principles, the state should publicly announce its attitude to various confessions. A list should be made of all the sects, the activity of which in Russia should be prohibited apriori. The decision about prohibiting a sect should be taken by a court of justice if it has been established, for example, that it violates basic human rights or preaches and practices clearly immoral ideas. Since most sects come to us from abroad, we should consider other countries' experience in determining our attitude towards them. For example, if the "Children of God" sect, practicing child sex, is prohibited in Western Europe, should we not ban its branch in Russia named "Family."

In case the state does not consider that a sect presents social or personal danger for its citizens, but it has reasons to treat it with caution, it should state that it does not want to cooperate with the said religious organization. The state should recommend its civil servants to abstain from providing support to such sects, should prohibit mass media from circulating their teachings, and should prohibit to schools, libraries and cinema theaters to provide audience space to them or cooperate with them at all. For example, even if the court in Japan justifies the "Aum Shinrikio" sect, and the court in Russia does not find substantive evidence for banning it, the state should recommend its structures to stay away from it.

It would be desirable for the state to conclude clear cooperation agreements with the confessions which are traditional for the peoples of Russia - Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism. Cooperation in this field should provide for: coordinated school curricula ( in cases when school subjects deal with the teachings and history of those religions ); free TV and radio time for preaching; cooperation programs in the armed forces , prisons and hospitals; coordinated state participation in the restoration of churches, mosques and synagogues which are culturally and historically valuable. Such cooperation programs should also be adopted with regard to local confessions in regions populated predominantly by peoples of contrasting religious traditions. As to the other confessions which have decent reputations but which are not traditional to Russia, the state should create the conditions necessary for their independent activities. If they wish, they may buy TV and radio time, cooperate with state schools with parent, teacher and pupil approval, to rent state audience space at their own expense ( except schools ) for divine service meetings, lectures and discussions. The above principles are aimed at further development of the Russian state policy with regard to religion, the elaboration of which was started by the adoption in 1990 of the law "On Freedom of Conscience," and they do not call for any serious changes in that law.

As to the law "On Freedom of Conscience" as such, I propose only one amendment to it: if a religious organization pursues political aims, it should be regarded as a political organization. We consider a religious organization as political if it sees its final task in establishing a certain new order on earth. Among such religious-political organizations we find, for example, those para-Christian sects which preach the idea of "haliasm" ( a "millennium" Kingdom of Christ, to be established till the end of time and specifically on earth ), primarily the sects "Witnesses of Jehovah" and "Unification Church." According to the Constitution and Russian legislation, such religious organizations should be deprived of state support and of the right to receive financial support from abroad.

http://jengate.thur.de/religio/dialog/295/295sA.html (Aum Shinrikio)