DOES THE STATE BELIEVE IN GOD, by Deacon Andrei Kuraev, Trud, 13 August 1997

The advisibility of adopting a new law on freedom of conscience became evident long ago, in 1993. The current law was adopted in 1990. Its goal was splendid and clear: to liberate the life of religious organizations from state interference. But very soon it became clear that freedom of religious organizations is only one facet of freedom of conscience. It seems that it is also necessary to defend people from religious organizations.

And another thing has become evidence in these years. In 1990 it seemed that freedom fo religioon is a freedom that very few people need. Journalists then emphasized that the state should not struggle with its old folk and that elderly women had earned the right to go to church peacefully in their old age. In 1990 the deputies who were unbelievers and convinced communists voted for the principle that "politics should be economical": it is necessary to stop devoting energies to a struggle with the past; let it live out its own days as it wants, but our energies belong to the future, to perestroika.

Today the question about religious freedoms is a question about youth. That is, the question about religions is a question about the future. And not just about the future of small "marginalized" groups. It is a question which affects the future of the entire country.

In the spiritual region the future of the nation never depends upon the majority. All people are equal before the law and before God. But there is a covert inequality in talents. Some come into our world gifted with the talent of love, some are talented physicians, and some are good conversationalists. From the gospel parable about talents it follows that not all people equally possess the ability of spiritual response. Not all are able equally to experience spiritual thirst and to reconstruct their whole life in a way that the soul satisfies its yearning for Eternity.

Sociologists confirm this gospel affirmation. Irrespective of whether an atheist regime, or theocracy, or a policy of state indifference toward religion dominates in society, only ten to fifteen percent of the population is able to make an autonomous religious choice. These are those who received "ten talents." These are people who from the start are more gifted religiously than the others. Perhaps their fellow citizens are more gifted in other areas (music, leadership, family life), but the talent of faith is especially clear among this fifteen percent.

The remaining 85 percent are ready to be led in the religious sphere. They do not realize when their faith is formulated for them by someone else and they simply say: from now on we all believe thus. Tell them "you are atheists" and they agree: "Yes, really, the priests deliberately hid from us that we are descended from monkeys." Then tell them: "You have forgotten the faith of your fathers--we are Orthodox" and they again agree: "So we listened to the fairy tales of these communists and we became masses who forgot our heritage." And if you tell them: "Wait; Christianity is a foreign religion that Jews deliberately thought up in order to replace our indigenous shamanist faith and force us Slavs to worship their Christ instead of Krishna" and again the crowd will obediently respond: "Yes, how can they hid from us our native shamens and magicians."

In the religious sphere the fate of nations depends on the choice which is made by the ten to fifteen percent of religiously independent citizens. That means that a missionary does not need to convert the majority of the population. It is enough to attract the attention and minds of those who are seeking religious truth for themselves. And then this ten to fifteen percent with transfer their experience and convictions to the rest. But this is if the task is a positive and global one, the conversion of a whole people. But if the task is purely negative, to divide a nation, then it is enough for this fifteen percent to be divided into twenty groups of a half percent each and the national organism will be spiritually beheaded. And this is what sects in Russia are doing today.

Thus state policy in the religious sphere is needed for three reasons. First, because today it is a reality that directly affect the fate of millions of Russians. And among these millions are thousands for whom contact with the religious sphere has destroyed their fortune and has not by any means healed their souls. Where the interests of many, many citizens are affected the state must, simply by virtue of its mandate from the voters, see that the freedom of some will not cause harm for others.

Second, because religious choice today is being made much more actively and clearly by young people, and that means by people who have relatively little experience and information but on whom the life of our country soon will depend.

Third, the state must choose a religion policy on the same bases as it develops cultural, educational, or nationalist policy. Because the state is created by people in order to assure that tomorrow will not be worse than today. (tr. by PDS)

Russian text: Verit li v boga gosudarstvo.