Today in class, we had a very interesting discussion about Russia and religion. Basically, throughout its entire history, Russia’s relationship to religion has been extreme, almost bipolar. In tsarist Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only acceptable religion, due to its strong link with the tsar. During this time, Jewish people were heavily persecuted in the pogroms.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Communist Party made atheism the official belief system of the Soviet Union. This was based off Marxism, which taught that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” At this time, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was forced to go underground. Churches could only be open if a KGB officer was present at Mass. People of all faiths were persecuted during the USSR.
Then, in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church made a comeback, this time in an even more conservative form. Only religions with official historical significance to Russia were considered legitimate: Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, and Islam. Protestant Christianity has one of the worst receptions in Russia, as the ROC believes Protestants are seeking to convert their parishioners. It is common for Protestant churches to be shut down. According to the Forum 18 News Service, a Norwegian organization that reports nation’s violations of religion freedoms, Jehovah’s Witnesses are frequently targeted in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses are often denied freedom of worship, and there is a movement to ban their texts. Another symptom of Russia’s religious extremism is the rights of LBGT Russians being taken away.
Basically, Russia has existed in a pattern of a religion dominating and then persecuting the other religions. This can be seen as a symptom of the religious trauma Russia has faced. To suddenly turn from a Russian Orthodox, to an atheist, back to an Orthodox state again in less than 100 years must be traumatic for Russian citizens. The government needs to realize religious freedom should be extended to all. Once religious freedom is given, gay rights will hopefully follow. Sadly, ideas such as tolerance and equality cannot be taught.