Karl Marx’s famous declaration of religion being the opium of the masses continues to raise interesting discussions even today, as various observers debate the new role of church-and-state ties in the context of moral ambiguity and armed conflict. Russia is one of the most interesting examples, though not the only one, where the government’s professed ties to the Orthodox Church and vice versa appears unitary in some instances, but fractured and potentially contradictory in other cases. If it was communism’s failure to account for culture, religion, and nationalism in its theory for worldwide proletariat revolution, then will it be new regime’s success or future fiasco to incorporate so tightly with the religious institution? Furthermore, might the divisions exposed by the war in Georgia be exacerbated if events take a certain course during the economic crisis?
The passing of Alexei II certainly brought a number of these questions back into the foreground, as this editorial from Spanish newspaper El Pais brings to light the renewed proliferation of media outlets linked to the Orthodox Church. (The publication Foma, discussed in the article, maintains an English website here.) Keep in mind that in typical style of Spanish journalism, the argument here is very subtle and suggestive. Our exclusive translation:
The Other Opiate of the Masses
Editorial, El Pais, Dec. 26,2008
In Eastern Europe the opiate of the masses was somethingelse. In Poland, when on June 4, 1989they held the first free elections in half a century, the communist party, over100 seats in the Senate and 150 in Congress, obtained one, and this justbecause there was no other candidate. InRussia, the communist party has fared somewhat better, dressed up innationalism, but there’s nobody who has outdone the Orthodoxy, with theirexponential proliferation of religious publications.
When Bolshevism triumphed in 1917, there were 600 newspapersin the orthodox field, and all of them were closed by 1918. But today there exist no less than 500 with10,000 professionals linked to them, and 3,500 web pages. When the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church,Alexei II, recently passed away, the funeral was carried on state televisionfor a full day and the ration of documentaries shown in the following dayscould have rivaled the most extensive coverage of Semana Santa back in the daysof Franco.
And we’re not talking about a media complacent with thestate. The mini-war between Russia andGeorgia was considered a tragedy which never should have happened more than apatriotic event.
Neither have these publications always been austere diocesanpages, but rather there are abundant colorful stories like a gossip tabloid (prensa del corazón). The most prominent of all these publications,Foma, which takes its name from Thomas the Apostle (doubting Thomas – trans.),the one who wanted to touch to believe, adopts a respectful position beforereligious skepticism. It boasts acirculation of 30,000 copies, a budget of 80,000 euros monthly, and a webpageand radio show.
Today it is fashionable to have some type of relationshipwith the religious set, and likewise artists and public celebrities – the veryprime minister, Vladimir Putin – boast about their attendance to worship, theyhave icons in the home and visit famous monasteries which illustrate thehistory of Holy Russia.
The Orthodox Church, which gave its blessing the GreatPatriotic War (1941-1945) against Hitler, is now hard pressed to promote the cultof those thousands sacrificed for Stalinism to those it has been workingovertime to canonize.
Photo: Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin kisses the body of RussianOrthodox Patriarch Alexiy II in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral inMoscow December 9, 2008. Russia bade farewell on Tuesday to OrthodoxPatriarch Alexiy II at a grand, pomp-filled funeral ceremony, withspeakers praising him for reviving the nation’s Christian faith afterdecades of communist atheism. (Reuters Pictures)