This article was written for the Unz Review: http://www.unz.com/tsaker/russia-on-the-long-and-difficult-path-to-true-civilizational-identity/
By now you must have heard it – Putin is “persecuting the Jeohvah’s Witnesses” in Russia. Alas, this one is true. Well, this is maybe not nearly as terrible as the Ziomedia makes it sound, but still, a pretty bad and fundamentally misguided policy.
Why did the Russian government take such a drastic decision?
The Russian Justice Department has banned the JW as an organization on the grounds that the JW were a “”totalitarian sect of an anti-Christian orientation, the teachings of which contains teachings and practices which can damage the personality and health of the adept, his family, as well as traditional national spirituality and public interests” (source). Another source report that: “The Supreme Court of Russia stated that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ church organization has systematically and through central governance infringed on human rights and trampled the freedoms of those belonging to the denomination. The sect forbids restricts families, bans many types of education and restricts medical treatments”. The same author then concludes that “So, in principle it is about protecting the rights and freedoms of Russians and on the other hand about breaking the laws governing churches’ activities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been given warnings and notices demanding that they reform, but without results. Therefore, do as the Romans do, or get out of Rome.”
Does that make sense to you?
To me it makes no sense whatsoever.
First and foremost, if the JW are really guilty of damaging personalities or health of people, or if they systematically infringe on human rightw – then take them to court for these crimes and punish them. Why should one association/organization like the JW be singled out for committing crimes when every one of these crimes can be prosecuted in court? If the JW break the law, they ought to be punished according to the law, but why banning them? Why seize their assets?
I have heard the argument that the JW are probably run by the US CIA and the rest of them “democracy-bearers”. They probably are. So what? Then force them to register as the “agent of a foreign power” and, again, if they break the law then punish them according to the law.
Then comes the killer argument: JW do not accept blood transfusions. I don’t see what the problem is here either: let adults accept or reject whatever medical procedure they want, as for the children you can easily pass a law saying that in case of severe trauma, or of an acute need for a transfusion children can be transfused without the agreement of the parents. Does that violate parental right or the freedom of religion? Well, yes, of course it does, but each society has the right to impose minimal norms of civil and human rights which trump parental or religious rights. After all, by the logic of those who say that parental rights are above all female genital mutilations should also be accepted as long as the parents agree. And yet in reality, each society draws the line somewhere, and this is why in almost all countries circumcisions are allowed but female genital mutilations are banned. Ditto for polygamy which some religions allow but which most countries ban. At the end of the day, religious groups also need to obey the law of the land where they exist and there can be no absolute and unconditional religious freedom anywhere. All the Russian government had to do in this case was to contact the main JW organizations and tell them that their kids will be given transfusions even if their parents disagree. This would give each member of the JW the time and opportunity to decide what they will do in this context.
The most important argument is, I believe, the allegation that the JW “ damage (…) the traditional national spirituality and public interests. What this argument affirms that Russia has a “traditional national spirituality” and that that which runs contrary to it must be curtailed, limited or somehow inhibited. I actually largely agree with this argument, but the devil is in the details. Let me explain.
At this moment in history Russia is primarily an agnostic country. While a majority of Russians do claim some kind of religious affiliation, only a small minority is truly religious. Officially, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are considered as the “historical” religions of Russia and Orthodox Christianity is singled out for the special contribution it had in Russian history. Seems pretty straightforward and reasonable to me: even if most Russians are not very religious, their worldview and values have been largely formed by the influence of the traditional religions of Russia. Russian literature, for example, is filled with ethical debates which clearly originate in the Orthodox faith. Another example of this religion-inspired worldview is the rejection by a vast majority of Russians of homosexuality as a “normal and healthy variation of human sexuality”: most Russians consider homosexuality to be a sexual pathology which ought not to be legally restricted, but which should not be given a “equal” status to what Russians call “natural” sexual orientations. One does not have to agree with the Russian majority view on this, or any other issue, but I submit that the Russians have the right to define what is right and wrong, healthy or sick, in their own country. Just as western nations currently have laws banning sexual intercourse with children, Russia has the right to pass laws banning the adoption of children by homosexuals. Unless one advocates the merciless “squeezing” of all of mankind into one single Procrustean cultural mold, it is rather obvious that it ought to be right of each sovereign nation to uphold whatever values it wants.
Russia has decided that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are the traditional religions of Russia which play a central role in the “traditional national spirituality”. Fine. But at the same time, there still remains a formal separation of religion and state in Russia and the Russian Constitution even bans the adoption of some kind of official state ideology. Furthermore, the Constitution also proclaims the freedom of religion. How do you combine such apparently completely contradictory laws?
In truth, you can’t. Russia is stuck with laws which she inherited from the “democratic” 1990s and the gradually formulating modern social consensus. Religion is hardly the only example. Take, for instance, the death penalty which Russia suspended to be accepted in the Council of Europe. Problem: most Russians favor the death penalty, especially if used against corrupt individuals, like they do in China. I could multiply examples of contradictions between the legacy of the 1990s and today’s Russia.
The real choice Russians must make is between two fundamentally different social and political orders: one, which like the Islamic Republic of Iran, subordinates majority rule/people power/democracy to a set of higher values (in this case, Islamic laws and spirituality) and one in which the will of the people is totally unconstrained, free from any moral, philosophical, religious or ethical precepts. And please do not be shocked or mislead by my reference to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Take for example the US Declaration of Independence which includes the famous words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. These words are accepted as axiomatic, as truisms, words we cannot be abolished or ignored even by a popular vote. Most Constitutions also have this double function of 1) proclaiming certain core beliefs and 2) limiting the scope of what is permissible. Of course, in the USA there still is the possibility of a Constitutional Convention, but you get the idea: modern Russia does not have any form of supra-democratic values or traditional national spirituality, at least not one protected by the law.
What does all that have to do with the JW ban? Everything.
Russians see the JW as a foreign entity, one whose values and actions are in contradiction with the traditional Russian norms. They also correctly perceive, even if they do not fully understand, that foreign religious organizations are very often used by various hostile powers (mostly the USA and Saudi Arabia) to infiltrate the Russian society with, let call them, “sympathetic agents” whose real loyalty (and often paycheck) depends on hostile foreign interests.
The Russian definitely have a point here. What they lack is a sound strategy on how to deal with that problem. Let me give just one example: the proclamation that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are Russia’s traditional religions. Great – but which brand/version of, say, Christianity or Islam deserve that status? Does that include the Latin and the Wahabis? Even inside Orthodoxy there are many different jurisdictions the ‘official’ one (the Moscow Patriarchate) being only one of them, even if it is by far the biggest one, courtesy of the (often violent) support of the secular powers both during and after the Soviet era, hardly a criterion of true spiritual legitimacy. Do the Russian Old Ritualists, for example, deserve to be considered as a “traditional Russian religion”? If you look at history, I would submit that they have even more of a claim to being the Russian traditional version of Orthodoxy than any of the ‘New Rite’ (aka “Nikonian”) jurisdictions. As you see, this all gets complicated very fast.
Finally, I would argue that state interventions in religious matters has a pretty disastrous record in Russian history, especially for the past 300 years or so. But how does a society set social norms without involving the state?
These are tricky matters which do not yield simple solutions.
Russia was born as a principality, then she became a monarchy, then an empire, then a union of Soviet republics, then a pseudo-democratic plutocracy and now she is a rather bizarre mix of all of the above trying to impersonate a modern democratic federation with, however, traditional values. No wonder the result often looks like a total mess! No wonder that along the way Russians commit some rather ridiculous blunders.
The mess with the JW is clearly such a blunder and I hope that with enough time the Russian society will become more mature and sophisticated at how such matters are dealt with. Right now we are probably going to see more such generally well-intentioned PR disasters made worse by a fundamental lack of ability to explain to the general public, especially in the West, the real nature and intention of the legal measures adopted (for example, most folks in the West still mistakenly believe that homosexuals are persecuted in Russia).
Yes, Russia did screw up, but I don’t think that it is fair to harshly blame her for her admittedly clumsy attempts at recovering a true civilizational identity. At least she is still trying when so many others have simply given up and caved in to the hypocritical and fake system of pseudo-values of the AngloZionist Empire. I wish all the countries on our suffering planet had the courage and opportunity to re-discover their own civilizational identities.