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pensateomnia
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« on: October 15, 2007, 12:07:21 PM »

An Orthodox balm for Europe

By Nicolai N. Petro
Thu Oct 11, 4:00 AM ET

http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20071011/cm_csm/ypetro

For decades, many social scientists had pretty much two things to say about Eastern Orthodox Christianity: 1) that like all religions, it was disappearing with the advance of modern civilization; 2) that it derived most of its support from the reactionary tides of authoritarianism and nationalism.

Those pronouncements are being proved wrong. Today, as in the parable of the prodigal son, throughout Eastern Europe people are returning to the Orthodox Church in droves, and the effect in the public sphere, contrary to most expectations, is quite benign.

Though historically viewed with suspicion by Catholic and Protestant Europe, Orthodox Christianity can actually help bridge the Russia-West gap.

At the heart of much of the miscommunication between Russia and Europe today lies the unacknowledged and untapped longing of Orthodox Christians to be recognized as part of a common European cultural family again. The latest effort to bridge this divide was Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II's remarks in France, where he spoke poignantly of how the Christian identity Europeans historically share should promote dialogue on issues like human rights and peace, even with atheists and members of other faiths.

The patriarch was pointing out that, while they may differ on specific political issues today, a profound religious bond actually underpins Western and Eastern European cultural and political values. Sadly, this common bond is rarely mentioned, in either Russia or the West. Today's Slavophile Russian nationalists seem uncomfortable recalling that, despite his uncompromising critique of Western secularism, their avatar Fyodor Dostoyevsky always regarded Europe as Russia's "mother" civilization.

In the West, this oversight has more to do with the fact that Catholic and Protestant Christianity have so often denied an equal voice to those who disagreed with them. In both instances, Orthodox Christianity is seen as part of the problem in East-West relations, instead of part of the solution, as it should be.

Western suspicion of Eastern Orthodoxy can be traced back to before the Great Schism that divided the Christian Church in 1054. One hundred and fifty years later, it fueled the Crusaders' zeal for the sacking of Constantinople. In the 18th century, it became a main theme of Edward Gibbon's influential interpretation of the Roman Empire, which was later echoed in the writings of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. And in modern times, Samuel Huntington, among others, has warned direly of the potential for clashes between "Slavic-Orthodox" civilization and the Catholic-Protestant West.

With the exception of Greece, this sad legacy has made Western Europeans notoriously slow to accept countries with large Orthodox populations into pan-European institutions. In the current expansion eastward, however, it is inevitable that the values and mores of European institutions and alliances will be shaped more and more by the traditionalist views of Orthodox Christian believers and less and less by the modern, secularized Protestant assumptions of Western European democracies. Orthodox believers already far outnumber Protestants across Europe, and by some estimates they may eventually even surpass Roman Catholics. If 21st-century Europe ever develops a religious complexion, it will be predominantly Eastern Orthodox.

In the long run, therefore, while the greatest challenge to Europe's cultural and political identity may come from the growth of Islam, its more immediate challenge is how to deal with some 40 million to 140 million Orthodox Christians who, when given a voice in European policymaking, will argue that churches should have a more prominent voice than heretofore in the shaping of social policy.

There are two ways of dealing with this challenge. One way is to stick to a narrow definition of "the West." Make modern-day secularism the gold standard of democracy and decry all challenges to secularism as examples of a "values gap" between East and West. This tried and true formula has the advantage of already being familiar, thanks to the cold war. Unfortunately, it is also a recipe for a conflict within European institutions. And, given the rapidly growing numbers, influence, and wealth of the Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe, it is a conflict Western Europeans are likely to lose.

Another way is to expand the definition of what is "Western" through dialogue with Orthodox Christians. The goal of such a dialogue would be to stress the common roots that bind various religious traditions, to encourage models of tolerance that do not presume secularism, and the different ways to balance the disparate roles of church and state, while avoiding total estrangement of one from the other.

Such a dialogue would allow Europe to build a new foundation for East-West relations that is based on the common Greco-Roman and Christian heritages. Most important, it would promote a greater understanding in the West of the Orthodox churches' de facto role as the largest nongovernmental organization in Eastern Europe. In this capacity, they inspire the philanthropy, social welfare, and civic activism that help establish a healthy civil society.

It's time to rethink old assumptions about Orthodox believers and to tap the enormous contributions that they can make to the creation of a peaceful and prosperous continent.
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« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2007, 12:17:13 PM »

An excellent piece.  Now, how many folks in influential positions will actually acknowledge the points he makes here, and how many will try to actualize the integration he speaks of?
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« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2007, 01:06:09 PM »

While the Orthodox numbers seem rather inflated, I think this is due to the inclusion of the Ukraine and possibly even western Russia (west of the Ural's?) in "Europe".
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« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2007, 01:10:40 PM »

While the Orthodox numbers seem rather inflated, I think this is due to the inclusion of the Ukraine and possibly even western Russia (west of the Ural's?) in "Europe".

Geologically speaking, isn't it part of "Europe"?
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« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2007, 01:58:02 PM »

Along with Georgia, Byelorussia, Moldova.
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« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2007, 02:29:11 PM »

Where is this renaissance of Eastern Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe I keep hearing about? Doesn't anyone think the writer is getting a bit ahead of himself? Are EO Christian values really dominant in these countries among most of the population? Can they really "argue that churches should have a more prominent voice than heretofore in the shaping of social policy" when, for example, the EO churches in Eastern Europe have been unable to stem the shocking tide of abortion there? I agree about a more inclusive (pardon the term) definition of the "West," but I think this idea of EO Eastern Europe as the silver bullet to modern secularism is overstated.

Authentic Christian devotion and practice, whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or Orthodox, is what is needed. I am also of the mind that perhaps the only thing that may save the West is a great challenge akin to the collapse of Rome or the Islamic ascendancy.
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« Reply #6 on: October 15, 2007, 02:59:20 PM »

Where is this renaissance of Eastern Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe I keep hearing about? Doesn't anyone think the writer is getting a bit ahead of himself? Are EO Christian values really dominant in these countries among most of the population? Can they really "argue that churches should have a more prominent voice than heretofore in the shaping of social policy" when, for example, the EO churches in Eastern Europe have been unable to stem the shocking tide of abortion there? I agree about a more inclusive (pardon the term) definition of the "West," but I think this idea of EO Eastern Europe as the silver bullet to modern secularism is overstated. 

If this renaissance is indeed happening, then there is likely going to be a certain time lag between the beginning of the movement and the noticeable result - it will still be a number of years before abortion numbers drop, for example.
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« Reply #7 on: October 15, 2007, 03:28:21 PM »

FYI: The writer of this article is a professor of comparative politics at the University of Rhode Island. He has written a number of peer-reviewed articles and books, especially on matters related to Russian politics and Orthodoxy. Here's his personal Web site:

http://www.npetro.net/

I think we're going to book him for an upcoming episode of Come Receive the Light. Should be interesting.
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« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2007, 04:04:02 PM »

If this renaissance is indeed happening, then there is likely going to be a certain time lag between the beginning of the movement and the noticeable result - it will still be a number of years before abortion numbers drop, for example.

Well, my friend, I certainly pray there is one.
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« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2007, 04:14:58 PM »

FYI: The writer of this article is a professor of comparative politics at the University of Rhode Island. He has written a number of peer-reviewed articles and books, especially on matters related to Russian politics and Orthodoxy. 

That explains the perspective and insight then, doesn't it?
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« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2007, 07:43:48 PM »

Those pronouncements are being proved wrong. Today, as in the parable of the prodigal son, throughout Eastern Europe people are returning to the Orthodox Church in droves, and the effect in the public sphere, contrary to most expectations, is quite benign.

Where?  The most I've been seeing is that now politicians are openly Orthodox.  But, it really isn't much different than the US where a politician would never publicly be an atheist and needs to be seen seen in church before elections and throw in a few "God bless America" lines in their speeches.  A good number of these people in power today in Eastern Europe were die hard communist back in the day.   

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With the exception of Greece, this sad legacy has made Western Europeans notoriously slow to accept countries with large Orthodox populations into pan-European institutions. In the current expansion eastward, however, it is inevitable that the values and mores of European institutions and alliances will be shaped more and more by the traditionalist views of Orthodox Christian believers and less and less by the modern, secularized Protestant assumptions of Western European democracies. Orthodox believers already far outnumber Protestants across Europe, and by some estimates they may eventually even surpass Roman Catholics. If 21st-century Europe ever develops a religious complexion, it will be predominantly Eastern Orthodox.

The reason Orthodox nations are only slowly being brought into European society is how backwards they are.  Russia is a menacing bully with an uncertain future and Belarus is a dictatorship.  Orthodox nations are consistently behind Western European nations in human rights and other important issues.  Economically, Orthodox nations rank among the poorest (i.e Moldova) in Europe, so there is no real benefit at this point to dumping millions of Euro in aide when local Orthodox populations are strongly anti-EU anyway. 

This author is working under the old myth of godless Europe.  There are some very religious parts of Europe - Poland, Bavaria (outside of Munich), rural parts of the Netherlands.  On the other hand, the nations he is proclaiming as "Orthodox" have very high abortion rates, very low church attendance rates and seem to lack anything more than a nominal attachment to Orthodoxy.

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In the long run, therefore, while the greatest challenge to Europe's cultural and political identity may come from the growth of Islam, its more immediate challenge is how to deal with some 40 million to 140 million Orthodox Christians who, when given a voice in European policymaking, will argue that churches should have a more prominent voice than heretofore in the shaping of social policy.

Huh?  Christianity has a very strong voice in many areas of European policy.  Look at abortion laws in states dominated by practicing Catholics.  And this creates few problems, Poland has a good relationship with the EU - one that will only get better once the current PM and President are gone.   

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There are two ways of dealing with this challenge. One way is to stick to a narrow definition of "the West." Make modern-day secularism the gold standard of democracy and decry all challenges to secularism as examples of a "values gap" between East and West. This tried and true formula has the advantage of already being familiar, thanks to the cold war. Unfortunately, it is also a recipe for a conflict within European institutions. And, given the rapidly growing numbers, influence, and wealth of the Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe, it is a conflict Western Europeans are likely to lose.

Again, huh?  IME, the typical urban Eastern European (from an Orthodox country) is far more secular than a typical American. 

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It's time to rethink old assumptions about Orthodox believers and to tap the enormous contributions that they can make to the creation of a peaceful and prosperous continent.

This whole article is nothing but assumptions and fairy tales about Orthodox countries with a strong dose of Islamophobia. 
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2007, 08:23:13 PM »

Where?  The most I've been seeing is that now politicians are openly Orthodox.  But, it really
This whole article is nothing but assumptions and fairy tales about Orthodox countries with a strong dose of Islamophobia. 

I've also observed some of what you've written; but what is your basis for dismissing all his conclusions out-of-hand?  It isn't as if he's ignorant of what is going on - ISTM it's his job to keep track of this stuff.  So where do you think his methodology is going wrong?
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« Reply #12 on: October 16, 2007, 01:11:24 AM »

So where do you think his methodology is going wrong?

He hasn't taken into account the role of religion in the formation of national and/or ethnic identity.  For instance, being Lutheran, Catholic or nothing at all makes one no more or less German.  So if one doesn't feel particularly religious there is no incentive one way or another to declare oneself a member of a religious group.  For groups that are right on a religious fault line (and almost every Orthodox group in Europe straddles a religious border), it is much more likely that religion (regardless of one's personal observance of it) is intrinsic to one's ethnic and/or national identity.  Hence someone who is born in Russia (and feels that it is important to express his Russianess) and doesn't feel particularly religious is relatively likely to be at least married in the Orthodox church and attend services on Easter rather than declare himself non-Orthodox.  Hence seeing Putin or Lukashenko (who are both former communists - and that is using the word former rather loosely for the latter) being openly Orthodox means something entirely different than for a French, German or English leader to be so overtly religious.  Since the author of that article doesn't take this into account at all, that is why I am questioning his conclusions.  He also doesn't seem to want to make a distinction between political and nationalist Orthodoxy opposed to the more religious kind - it seems that the former is dominating in Russia.  The probably that this sort of Orthodoxy will have any impact on European institutions, much less a positive impact is low.  And his contention that Orthodoxy is behind the huge cultural divide within Europe is unfounded - the responsibility lies in the way Putin and Lukashenko are running their countries (and interfering with other nations), not religion.   
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« Reply #13 on: October 16, 2007, 08:32:13 AM »

Interesting.  That said, even if the majority of, say, Germans don't identify themselves as religious Germans, does it still stand to reason that they don't see the apparently religious Russians as strange, and their apparently dominant Orthodoxy as a stumbling block?

That is to say, even if his predictions are wrong (that Orthodoxy will have this major impact on Western Europe), could his observation still be correct (that the Western Europeans need to make a change in the way they view the Easterners and, in particular, Orthodoxy - which to them seems like a strange religion in comparison to mainline Protestantism and Catholicism)? ISTM that even if the people of Western Europe don't identify themselves as religious, and even if they are very religiously permissive, they still probably look upon Orthodoxy with suspicion because of centuries of difference and conflict and, most importantly, distance.  And even if the people of Eastern Europe aren't really all that committed to their Orthodoxy, just the fact that it can appear that they are should make Orthodoxy another variable to be factored into any plan for progress.
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« Reply #14 on: October 16, 2007, 04:22:48 PM »

Interesting.  That said, even if the majority of, say, Germans don't identify themselves as religious Germans, does it still stand to reason that they don't see the apparently religious Russians as strange, and their apparently dominant Orthodoxy as a stumbling block?

I just don't see that as being the stumbling block to better EU-Russian relations in anything that I've read from Western Europe.  The problems are political in nature - EU fears about how Russia is using gas as a political weapon, people turning up with Polonium in them in European cities, Russian re-militarization.  To be honest, I don't think the average person sees Orthodoxy as anything much more than a nationalized type of Catholicism with icons, more incense and longer services.  Europe already has several very Catholic nations, and relations really haven't been a major problem with them.   

Quote
ISTM that even if the people of Western Europe don't identify themselves as religious, and even if they are very religiously permissive, they still probably look upon Orthodoxy with suspicion because of centuries of difference and conflict and, most importantly, distance.  And even if the people of Eastern Europe aren't really all that committed to their Orthodoxy, just the fact that it can appear that they are should make Orthodoxy another variable to be factored into any plan for progress.

It is going to be a LONG time before Russia, Belarus or Moldova will have any greater European integration.  Ukraine is still some way off.  As it stands now, Orthodoxy really hasn't presented any problems with the entrance of Romania and Bulgaria in the Union (nor with Greece for that matter).  So I don't understand why people are seeing some conflict where none really exists. 
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« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2007, 04:39:43 PM »

I just don't see that as being the stumbling block to better EU-Russian relations in anything that I've read from Western Europe.  The problems are political in nature - EU fears about how Russia is using gas as a political weapon, people turning up with Polonium in them in European cities, Russian re-militarization. 

Interesting.  Thanks for the info!  Do you have a few links handy where I can read more about this?
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« Reply #16 on: October 16, 2007, 05:18:11 PM »

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Interesting.  Thanks for the info!  Do you have a few links handy where I can read more about this?

I don't have any links handy.  The best way would simply be to do a search on European news websites and view articles about the recent tensions with Russia.  Start with the BBC to make it easy.  If you read French and/or German you'll observe about the same (some of their media outlets have English pages, but they aren't always the same in content as the French/German pages!).  Compare the pages talking about uneasy relations with Russia and Belarus to pages about Albanian or Turkish integration - the contrast is obvious.  The ones about Albania and Turkey immediately talk about Islam and the problems it raises in relation to European identity.  Nicolas Sarkozy has made some very frank comments about Turkey in particular.  The same type of rhetoric is hard to find about Orthodoxy (and the fact that their are four Orthodox majority countries in the EU, plus Latvia and Estonia with large Russian minorities, and this debate is largely absent from the public sphere shows that Orthodoxy isn't really an issue. 

As for Orthodoxy being important in public policy - is it important right now in forming public policy in Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria?  It is debatable, but it doesn't really seem to be radically different than nations with different faiths (Ireland and Poland being the two most obvious examples).

As for my line of thought in thinking that areas on borders or with less stable political conditions will cause people to assume identities they otherwise wouldn't: Balkan Idols by Perica and assorted works of Ger Duijzings.       
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« Reply #17 on: November 09, 2007, 07:26:32 PM »

Just thought some people on this thread would like to know that Dr. Nicolai Petro, that author of the article that started this bruhaha, is the featured guest on this week's episode of Come Receive the Light, the national Orthodox radio program.

You can listen to his comments on the growth of Orthodoxy in Europe at www.receive.org.
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