Russians launch dedicated center to fight ‘atheist extremism’

A worship cross, dedicated to the memory of victims of political repressions in Arkhangelsk, cut down by unidentified vandals. (RIA Novosti)

A worship cross, dedicated to the memory of victims of political repressions in Arkhangelsk, cut down by unidentified vandals. (RIA Novosti)

26/8/13

A group of activists connected with the Russian Orthodox Church are setting up a center against atheist extremism which, according to them, is promoted mainly by foreign-sponsored organizations.

The decision was announced this week at a meeting between city  residents and deputies of a district council that was held near  the pilgrimage center of the Moscow Patriarchate, in south-west  Moscow.

The atheist extremism is currently rearing its head. It is  sponsored by various funds and NGOs with roots outside Russian  borders,” reads the first statement released by the new  movement.

The group claims that their enemies are opposing citizens’ lawful  right for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, guaranteed  by the Constitution.

In particular, the activists listed incidents when certain people  protested against the construction of new churches, “creating  an artificial psychosis and pumping up hysteria by intimidating  the public”, quoting non-existent laws  and  declaring all public discussions unlawful.

The statement emphasized the fact that atheist extremists were  often acting on behalf of local residents by creating grassroots  groups, but the real masterminds preferred to remain in the dark.

The Moscow City authorities together with the Russian Orthodox  Church are currently implementing the so called “Program-200” – a  plan according to which 200 Orthodox churches must be erected  throughout the capital in the next 10 to 15 years. Russian mass  media estimated the overall budget of the program at about $1  billion and financing comes from a non-government fund. The  authors of the program claimed that after it is implemented there  will be a church for every 20,000 residents located 1 kilometer  or less from residential areas.

The program is popular among the religious lobby but it has  already met resistance. The Communists and the veteran  pro-democracy party, Yabloko, officially voiced protests against  new churches and ordinary citizens also often claimed that such a  large scale of construction was unnecessary.

In addition, the Program-200 is being carried out in times of  especially sharp discourse between religious and agnostic parts  of the Russian society. It first started in mass media but became  much more real after several girls who called themselves feminist  punk band Pussy Riot launched a short gig against the merger  between the church and the state in Moscow’s main Cathedral of  Christ the Savior.

The punks were put on trial and sentenced to two years  each for aggravated hooliganism. After the incident Russian  legislators passed a law on protection of believers’ feelings –  making any public insult of an official religion a criminal  offence punishable with up to three years behind bars.

The Pussy Riot trial and the fresh law prompted an even broader  wave of protests across the country – sometimes taking radical  forms, such as the felling of memorial crosses in several  villages. More often, however, journalists and bloggers gave  critical appraisal to the lush lives of church hierarchs and even  ordinary clerics, like the case of Hegumen Timofey – a dean of  one of Moscow churches who gained notoriety in mid-2012 by  causing a major car crash while driving drunk in a BMW Z4 with  diplomatic license plates.

In September 2012 the head of the Russian Orthodox Church,  Patriarch Kirill said in a public speech that Christianity was  under a concerted attack from forces who opposed the national  revival of Russians, noting that the alleged merger between the  church and the authorities was a deliberately created myth.

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