Christianophobia in Europe vs. Religious Crackdowns in Russia

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 17, 2010 — 37 Comments

Two articles from the Reuters newswire yesterday struck me as highlighting the difference in perceptions between religious groups who hold power, and those that don’t. First, Pope Benedict XVI, in a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, took time to place special emphasis on the “hostility and prejudice” towards Christians in Europe.

“… he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places. […] The Pope put what the Vatican has termed “aggressive secularism”, such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism. […] “It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

That Benedict would put gay marriage on the same plane as terrorism says a lot about how much a post-Christian Europe, specifically a post-Catholic Europe, scares him. Confusing a slip from utter social dominance with persecution and prejudice. Meanwhile, in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, in alliance with the government, is using laws against “extremism” to target religious minorities.

When armed Russian security officers forced their way into Alexander Kalistratov’s home, he hardly imagined they were after his books. The local leader of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia now faces up to two years in prison if found guilty this week of inciting religious hatred for distributing literature about his beliefs. […] In the case against Kalistratov, activists say local authorities are really aiming at cracking down on groups that are frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nor are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only group to feel the sting of this deepening collusion between church and state, Pagan groups in Russia, including the Mari Traditional Faith, are increasingly finding themselves accused of extremism for even mild criticisms of Christianity.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

One can only wonder what Benedict thinks of his Orthodox counterparts in Russia, does he envy them their power? Does he wish he could “suggest” raids on “secularists” and religious minorities that displease him? Does he long for a time when heads of state hung on his words and depended on the Church for social control? It seems obvious to those who are religious minorities that his attack on secularism is really an attack on the freedoms of non-Christians to live without the shadow of the Catholic Church hanging over every aspect of their lives. Why else would he care about crosses in the public square, or if gay couple were allowed to marry? “Christianophobia” is about control, the kind of control the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be enjoying once again in post-Soviet Russia.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • kauko

    Despite all of the changes that Russia has undergone over the last few centuries their need to enact 'Russification' policies has been pretty consistant from Czarists times through the Soviet Union and even post-Soviet Union. I find the whole situation sad because Russia is home to a large number of indigenous, ethnically non-Russian peoples who have been fighting against assimilation to keep their cultural and linguistic heritages alive for such a long time.

  • Not to sound mean or anything, but he needs to go play in traffic…in Baghdad.

  • The Pope is right. The Catholic Church, and Christianity generally, have been under attack in Europe at least since the 18th century. Thank the Gods.

    It's called the Enlightenment.

    • Dear Enlightenment:

      Thanks for your work against superstitions and religious prejudices– I live in the United States and have benefited from it enormously. That said…I know the winters in Russia are said to be nasty, but would it kill you go over there for at least awhile? Don't outsource it to the Soviets; that didn't work so well last time.

      Again, thanks,

      • Thriceraven

        I like this concept of Letters to Historical Epochs. I've got a bone or two to pick with a few of them.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I'm a bit boggled that Benedict XVI puts gay marriage and arguments about public-space crosses on the same level. I can only conclude that what in the US is a periodic dither that confuses form for content — on a par with the annual pissing-match sideshow about "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" — is in Europe a deeply iconic matter.

    • Bookhousegal

      Why be boggled? Just cause it's nonsensical doesn't mean the Christian churches and other monotheists haven't *always* cried persecution whenever they aren't knelt to with unquestioning obedience. It's their thing.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        But this pope is a dab hand at making bizarre equivalences. In one document B16 bundled priestly pedophilia and faux ordination of women Catholic priests as equivalent offenses.

        • Bookhousegal

          Yeah, what else is new. 🙂 Like I said, it's their thing.

          Even the Catholics think Papal logic is 'special.'

          I can only assume from being at least a walking trifecta of Catholic-Church-enraging since the day I was born, that in some past life of mine, I must have had some part in making the mess, and that it all must have made sense at the time to be part of it, but, no dispute, it's just been a festival of facepalming-lose-your-faith-in-human-reason-like-an-old Pentium chip backwardsness every time that Vatican opens its mouth for centuries, now. 🙂

    • Robin Artisson

      I'm boggled that he became pope at all.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        He was a highly influential cardinal and close to John Paul II, who throughout his long papacy put his stamp on the College of Cardinals. B16 is pretty old, but his age at elevation is more typical than JP2's.

        • Crystal7431

          From now on can we call him the ol' B16 Bomber? Please…

  • Dennis Nock

    i agree with all that has been stated here . the catholic church and the other xtian monotheists need to get used to the concept that they are no longer in the drivers seat any longer . that us indiginous faith types are finally being recognised .and the idea that seperation of church and state is a really good idea. and ultimatly guarantees everyones religoius freedom , including thiers. Kilm a druid

    • Bookhousegal

      Actually, this may be one of those times when little distinctions between things like, "Who occupies the driver's seat," and "Who's driving this thing, anyway" may be pertinent. 🙂

  • As near as I can tell, the pope equates the Church being unable to impose its will on everyone else with the Church being persecuted. Most of us got over than mindset sometime around the age of 4 or 5. I would defend to the death the right of Catholics to believe in whatever they believe in and to practice their religion freely, as long as that doesn't force others to do anything. But I will oppose to the death the notion that the Catholics get to tell the rest of us (esp. Pagan women) what we can and can't do. Meanwhile, I'd like to humbly suggest that Ratzi take off the Prada shoes and go feed the hungry or something worthwile.

    • Robin Artisson

      "As near as I can tell, the pope equates the Church being unable to impose its will on everyone else with the Church being persecuted."

      Win statement!

      "would defend to the death the right of Catholics to believe in whatever they believe in and to practice their religion freely, as long as that doesn't force others to do anything."

      Useless Politically-Correct "good guy badge" statement!

      • Tomb

        Is is PC if you mean it and are not just doing it for the sake of politics?

        There comes into mind that expresson for rights in the United States, you can swing your fists all you want until yor fist comes into my cheek…then I can kick the living meat out of you.

        • Robin Artisson

          I'm sure she "means" it. But she's been conditioned- down to an unconscious level- by the forces of political correctness to feel and talk that way. She's associated that sort of talk with the "good guy" persona. For her, it looks pithy and heroic, noble and wise. But it isn't; it's tired, cliche, and even self-destructive in the right situations.

          • Tomb

            Wow. When did you have the time to go into her daily life and study her every descision and read her internal thougts to come to such a conclusion?!?

            I'm just following The Golden Rule like the Gods would want. Its THEIR fault for not following the Golden Rule, I don't see why we have to imitate them and follow ther example.

            "One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him." -Plato's Socrates

            "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."- Ma'at

          • Robin Artisson

            The Gods wouldn't want you to follow "the golden rule".

            Plato isn't a speaker for the Gods.

            Ma'at never said that.

          • M.S.

            'Plato isn't a speaker for the Gods. '

            Neither are you.

          • Robin Artisson

            I never claimed to be.

            I certainly hope you have a better come back than that.

    • This. And a ham sandwich.

      • Riverbend

        I'd prefer a good latte, actually, but yes, that's it. Exact same thing we get from the Protestant fundies, which is wonderfully ironic given how anti-Catholic they've been in the past. I suspect things are getting to be more dominionist vs. pluralist in both their worlds these days rather than Protestant vs. Catholic.

    • Crystal7431

      The Devil wears Prada, don't ya know. Yeah, bad pun, but I couldn't help myself.

  • Robin Artisson

    I never, ever grow tired of the beautiful, soul-soothing irony- and the vast, aeon-spanning Justice- that I see every time the pope whines about how christians are being "persecuted". Anyone who has looked into the scholarship of history (a good start is Pierre Chuvin's "A Chronicle of the Last Pagans") can see how the church, the moment it took power and for countless centuries afterward, was devious, cruel, vicious, and sociopathic about persecuting any and all other faiths that it could get its hands around. They invented full-scale and organized persecution of other religions, brought it into existence in a way that it never existed before, complete with a massive machinery behind it, a complex philosophical justification, and an army of sociopathic "righteous mongers" who did whatever was necessary to commit complete cultural religious genocide on _every_ non-christian faith that they could manage to do it to.

    Beginnings contain omens. They stained their hands at their start; they invested in persecution; that's how it will end for them. And it isn't some flaw in the world; it isn't the cruelty of others, or the intolerance of others that now pursues them; it is the Goddess Justice. She demands exact returns- always has, always will. Praise Justice!

    No one gets to go from being a ruthlessly efficient machine of complete, open, and socially-accepted intolerance, condescension, and persecution, to being a apologetic sweetheart organization that has a right to complain when they themselves are persecuted. Doesn't work that way. And how sweet it is!

    • Hmmm… I believe I agree with your argument here. Can't remember the last time that happened!

  • Tea

    The Pope is just mad at European governments for finally looking into the Catholic Church's organized sexual molestation of children. The gay marriage and abortion business is just a diversion tactic.

  • Tomb

    The Papal States are just freaking out because they no longer have such political and social control anymore over the stretch of Europa.

  • thehouseofvines

    You'd think the Pope would have heard the story about the boy who cried wolf. You start hootin' and hollerin' over every little thing and people just aren't going to listen to you when the truly bad stuff comes down the shoot. Maybe the best course of action right now would be for him to just grin and bear it. Maybe work on rehabilitating your image for a while. Do some good in the world. Reevaluate whether some of those hard-line stances are absolutely necessary. Get rid of the bad apples and see if you can wipe away some of the stains they left behind. Then, perhaps, folks will start taking you more seriously. Memories are short, after all.

    Just to clarify: pedophilia isn't the least bit funny. But it is damn funny – and sad – that anyone takes the Catholic Church seriously at this point when it's used its wealth to defend sexual predators or worse secretly moved them to other parishes instead of defrocking the bastards and handing them over to the civil authorities.

  • MertvayaRuka

    Sometimes Ratzinger just makes it really difficult to forget that he used to be a prefect in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Formerly known as the Inquisition.

    • Robin Artisson

      It's impossible to forget that. He was known for that office for 25 years before he was pope, worldwide and famous for it. No one's attempted to hide it. Of course, the modern inquisition doesn't do what the old one did for anyone except the church itself and certain theologians- in other words, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith doesn't "police" anyone or hunt for heresies in any place except among the clergy or among high-power catholic theologians and writers that have the power to shape the opinions of catholics with their writing.

      • MertvayaRuka

        Which does a wonderful job of maintaining their homophobic, misogynistic, child-molester-protecting, greedy and power-hungry status quo, of course.

        • Robin Artisson

          Naturally. But when homophobia, misogyny, child-molester protection, greed, and power hunger are framed by them as "upholding natural law", "upholding God's pre-ordained roles for man and woman", "loyalty to the Church", "zeal for the kingdom of heaven", and "spiritual leadership" (respectively) you have a whole different emotional reasoning.

    • gitana

      People tend to get upset, aggressive and defensive when they face looming irrelevance/loss of power.

      The Vatican has a few spots left where they still rule with an iron fist; the third-world countries, mostly in Africa and South America. As those nations progress, the pattern of rationalism superseding ignorance and parental-like authority will emerge there, too, as it has elsewhere.

      It certainly does appear that the majority of socio-religious troubles – for a couple of thousand years now- are overwhelmingly originating with the three major Judaic-based religions, doesn't

  • Verac1ty

    WTG, Pope Benedict XVI, you have just equated anyone who disagrees with your church with persecuters of your church. I would equate that with a child who claims to be abused because Mommy said, "No."

    I will admit it's rather hard to see your point of view when I live in a community where the wrong answer to the question "Where do you attend church?" (or my answer, which is to ignore said question) is considered at best a gross social faux pas and at worse outright blasphemy. Now, once again, would you be so kind as to look up "persecution" in the dictionary for me?

    • Bookhousegal

      Yep. Demand total obedience and submission, then invert the narrative about who's persecuting people. That way, they can have people do anything to anyone and think it's 'defending.' That's what they do.