Tolerance as cornerstone of national ideology

Spiritual leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States believe that religion should become the foundation for national ideology in the former Soviet republics that are now part of the CIS.

Delegates at the 2nd Interfaith Peace Forum, held in Moscow earlier this month, are unanimous that civil society is impossible to build without relying upon religion-whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism.

It seems a no easy task, however, to reintroduce religious values into the ideology of countries where religious expression was persecuted for over seventy years of communist rule. A survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) in August 2002 indicates that 53% of Russians oppose the idea of seeing Orthodox Christianity introduced as the state religion. These are, predominantly, people with a higher education (71%) and/or non-believers (62%). Twenty-nine percent (Christians, for the most part) welcome the idea.

Indeed, in 2002, 31% of the respondents did not classify themselves as believers; 58% said they were Orthodox Christians; 2% identified themselves as non-Orthodox Christians; 5% said they were Muslims; and 1% adhered to "other religions." A further 4% of the population said they did not know.

According to last year's findings of another national research centre, ROMIR, people who identify with some particular faith may have a rather vague notion of its tenets. Seventy-one percent of those interviewed by ROMIR called themselves Orthodox Christians, yet only 62% of them believed in God and a mere 12%, in the immortality of the soul. FOM surveys confirm this trend. They indicate that 42% of the self-identified believers have never been to church, 19% go to church once or twice a year, and 15% percent attend religious services several times a year. Moreover, 81% of Russia's Christians have never observed Lent and 60% have never read the Gospels. Indeed, 76% of Russians have chosen not to observe Lent this year.

Given the results of sociological surveys, it is hardly surprising that many people in this country would object to the Church increasing its influence on education and other spheres of public life. The same is true of all the secular societies across the CIS.

Accordingly, religious dogmas are unlikely to become part of national ideology anywhere in the CIS, but the notion of tolerance may. Russia's Interfaith Council, established five years ago, engages leaders of this country's mainstream religions in meaningful dialogue and productive co-operation. Most priests, muftis and rabbis have learned to accept and appreciate differences in their fellow spiritual leaders. Now they must teach tolerance to their respective communities.

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