August 20, 2012

Russia, Pussy Rioters, and Unreflective Enthusiasm

“To attain their aims, the former relies on personal interest and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of individuals. The latter in a sense concentrates the whole power of society in one man. One has freedom as the principal means of action; the other has servitude.”~Alexis de Tocqueville

Pussy Riot performing a “punk prayer” before the sacred altar. (Photo Credit: New York Times)

A punk music protest in Russia has caused a veritable firestorm in the Western media, no doubt giggling like naughty school boys at the band’s name “Pussy Riot.” The ladies of PR saw it their solemn duty to perform a “punk prayer” denouncing the Putin administration, all while indecently referring to the Christ, beseeching Mary to become a feminist, and bemoaning the resistance to the LGBT agenda. Oh, did I mention that it was before the holy altar of Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a Russian Orthodox parish in Moscow? The clerical leadership itself, while still criticizing the desecration of sacred space, asked the judiciary to be merciful for the feminist musicians. For PR’s blasphemous behavior, the court sentenced them to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

Progressives all over the world have leapt to defend PR and denounce the Putin administration. One particularly impetuous (and topless) activist from the Ukrainian organization Femen decided to chainsaw a crucifix in Kiev. This Orthodox cross had been erected to the memory of victims of the political repression the Ukraine. There is nothing like further religious desecration to show secular solidarity.

A Femen activist chainsaws an Orthodox crucifix in Kiev. (Photo Credit: Hungeree.com)

The conservative response has been a bit more mixed. Brendan O’Neill at The Telegraph thought, though they are insulting rapscallions, the girls of PR should be freed since true freedom depends on a kind of Golden Rule. IRD board member Janice Shaw Crouse authored an excellent analysis in American Thinker, showing that the PR hissy-fit points to Europe’s religious bigotry against Christianity. Many of my friends have been sharing the closing statements the PR band members in a kind of solidarity and admiration.

I am reminded of pre-Revolution France, except without the exciting new ideas and sans-culottes milling about. Russia has an infamously corrupt government and church. The political culture is quite stagnant. Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow has come under fire for former KGB connections and lax compliance to Putin’s every wish. Fyodor Dostoevsky himself seemed to think that Russian Orthodoxy could never coexist with the western Enlightenment’s concepts of freedom. The pussy rioters rely on the latter stance, conjuring up anti-authoritarian screeds for secularism, feminism, and pansexuality. PR and their ideological sympathizers remind one of the Jacobins, intent on sticking it to the man. This may not seem too dangerous at first, so we should look at what PR actually said in their closing statements.

Yekaterina Samutsevich inquired, “Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic?…It was also fairly logical that the Russian Orthodox Church, given its long mystical ties to power, emerged as the project’s principal exponent in the media.” She boasted, “In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch’s blessing, to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture with that of protest culture, thus suggesting that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch, and Putin, but that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia.” Maria Alyokhina offered a particularly colorful metaphor: “Russia, as a state, has long resembled an organism sick to the core. And the sickness explodes out into the open when you rub up against its inflamed abscesses.” She seemed peculiarly western when she argued that “this is yet another confirmation that people in our country have lost the sense that this country belongs to us, its citizens. They no longer have a sense of themselves as citizens. They have a sense of themselves simply as the automated masses.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova echoed such sentiments by attacking “the complete dominance of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial.” It should be noted that, at least from her testimony, Tolonnikova seems to be the brains of the trio and speaks the most Christianly.

What do we, as Westerners separated from the actual situation, make of such pro-citizenship, pro-freedom statements? First, this seems to be an overture to the Western activist community. As one of my colleagues mentioned, a drowning man will even grasp at the blade of a sword. The young Slavic Jacobins would use the language of civic participation (a serious issue in Eastern Europe) while lacking a concern for property and vibrant religious freedom. This leads to the second danger: PR seems more interested in license rather than liberty.

Please observe Alyokhina’s following statement: “Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary—in any of its documents, for any of their purposes…I think that religious truth should not be static, that it is essential to understand the instances and paths of spiritual development, the trials of a human being, his duplicity, his splintering. That for one’s self to form it is essential to experience these things. That you have to experience all these things in order to develop as a person. That religious truth is a process and not a finished product that can be shoved wherever and whenever.” These sentiments are very familiar to me, especially since they generally precede heterodoxy, heteropraxy, or both. One does not mold the faith as he sees fit without destroying the truth in the process. Personal heresies—pernicious soul-destroying lies—are the cruelties that spring from such radical individualism. Similarly, one cannot simply redefine civic law and order according to his own individual sensibilities without putting human flourishing in peril.

Yes, the Putin regime and the ever-intertwined Russian Orthodox Church have serious problems. However, do we renovate and restore the ancien regime, or do we seek its overthrow? The dangerous thing about revolutionaries is their tearing down of all that lies in the path of their vision of the future; this includes the church. The means of desecration, sacrilege, and assaults on religion are justified by ends of a morally-neutral utopia—which from my meager observations looks something like this.

As for the actual proceedings, I stand ill-informed. Few news outlets seem interested in reporting on actual Russian jurisprudence on the matter. I don’t know what laws and statutes say about staging an insulting protest on church property without permission. I don’t know if one can be legally prosecuted for this, but it seems to be the case. I remain ignorant of the actual fines and censures for such behavior. As long as PR has received a fair trial and proper enforcement of said laws (which really don’t seem that harsh or unjust to me), I don’t know why everyone is hopping on to the advocacy train.

In short, this situation is, as is often the case with Russia, a big mess. There seems  little to be redeemed in this debacle. Perhaps we should be more reticent on our supposed expertise on the issue, or at least be willing to refrain from uncompromising judgments. The crankier among us may well comment, “A pox on both houses.”


7 Responses to Russia, Pussy Rioters, and Unreflective Enthusiasm

  1. teresa says:

    There is a law forbidding the disturbance of Church service in Germany: StGB 167 and a law which punishes the insult of religious communities StGB 166 (but only insofar the insult disturbs the public peace).

    The supporters of Pussy riot disrupted yesterday a mass in Cologne Germany and they will be accordingly prosecuted. The Cathedral personnel have already filed a complaint against them.

    The Pussy riot supporters in Marseilles were arrested, detained and fined because they were wearing face-coverings and thus violated the French law which forbids the niqab (full face veil of Muslim women).

    Religious freedom and freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to insult. But it seems to be interpreted by progressivists to so.

  2. teresa says:

    Sorry, I meant to write “prosecuted”, if anyone is moderating, please correct the mistake I made above. Thanks!

  3. Donnie says:

    Funny how they always pick on the safe religion, eh?

    Sad to think how far we’ve degenerated. My grandparent’s generation went to WW2 and fought proudly for our country. This generation interrupts church services and cuts down crucifixes while topless. God help us! Literally.

    Protest outside the Kremlin, but don’t cut down crosses and interrupt church services. There is a huge difference between civil disobedience and hooliganism. I oppose the jail sentence for PR, but I oppose the acts of some of their most vocal supporters as well.

  4. cynthia curran says:

    I think Pussy Riot is showing disregard for religious feelings and has George Soros to help them out. As for Orthodox Culture against the State tried the 6th century exaggerated but interesting work the Secret History by Procopius. Yes, even in the late Roman Empire Procopius criticized both Justinian and Theodora merging church and state and general corruption during their reigned.

  5. cynthia curran says:

    Well, there is some good news out of the Orthodox Countries Greece keeps the anti-preaching law on the books but its not enforces. Also, Orthodoxy while small in the west has some western converts, sometimes just as anti-west in theology worst though is history blaming the west back prior to the 4th Crusade which Orthodox will remember. Some of its understable given that the west tended to side with Turkey over Greece or Russia.HOwever, the converts are new blood and might lead to a different development on thinking on Church and State which might influence the churches in the East more.

  6. none says:

    Philip Jenkens has an excellent editorial on what the Pussy Riot event means to the people of Russia.

    Here’s the difference between America and Russia. Americans have a difficult time seeing beyond the legal definitions that protect the despisers of culture, The Russians, because they are emerging from a deep period of statism that imposed a breakdown in morals and culture, understand more clearly that the the Pussy Riot crew hold the values that sustain culture in contempt and seek to weaken them.

    Jenkins editorial here: http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/the-rise-of-the-militant-godless/

    I discuss the cultured despisers and how their profaning of important cultural symbols is an attempt to undermine culture in an editorial I wrote a while back about Chris Oliffi, the artist who smeared elephant feces on an icon of the Virgin Mary that was hung in the Brooklyn Museum. See: The Artist as Vandal.

  7. Aneliya says:

    The cross that was cut down in Kiev/Kyiv wasn’t Orthodox. It was erected by Catholics (in this case the Ukrainian ‘Greek Rite’ or Uniate Catholics, part of the RC communion).

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