Putin’s Church Enjoys Privileges in Austria
The Russian Orthodox Church must be stripped of its status as a legally recognized religious organization.
The fact that organized religion is first and foremost an instrument to rule a country or empire can be regarded as common knowledge. An ideological monoculture is politically much easier to manage than the polyideological societies of the 21st century with their enriching plurality and their identitarian sense of entitlement.
The power of secularized religion to homogenize a population culturally has been rediscovered again and again in history – from the Roman emperors Theodosius and Constantine in the fourth century and further in the past to Vladimir Putin or Narendra Modri in the present.
In the 20th century, political leaders with a totalitarian slant had seen through the essence of religion to such an extent that, acting in accordance with the first commandment (Ex 20:3), they tolerated no gods at all beside themselves (or the party) and took the third commandment very literally: For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God: with those who are enemies to me I pursue the iniquity of the fathers against the sons, against the third and fourth generations (Ex 20:5).
Stalin, Hitler, Mao or Kim Il-Sung de facto handled it this way; and they generated their own political religions and mythologies.
It would be completely absurd to see National Socialism, Bolshevism, Stalinism, Maoism or the North Korean Chuch’e ideology as a consequence or in the spirit of the Enlightenment, just because they displaced religion from political rule. Essential features such as freedom of individual self-determination, basic civil and human rights are diametrically opposed to totalitarian ideas. John Gray sees rather the parallelism of ideologies: “National Socialism was a political religion based on pseudo-scientific theories on the one hand, but also fed on myths on the other.” (quote from my book “Ohne Bekenntnis”)
In my book, I devote a chapter not only to these political religions, but also to the resurgence of religion in Eastern Europe, but especially in Russia. In hibernation mode, state-imposed godlessness was sat out by subcutaneous religiosity for three quarters of a century, in order to be able to use political stages again with Vladimir Putin.
God does not punish directly, but he uses a willing state to enforce Godliness by force. Even in Russia, after the removal of the communist regime, there was a new embrace between the republic and religion. A close relationship that is celebrated by President Vladimir Putin on frequent occasions and is based on reciprocity. (quote from my book “Ohne Bekenntnis”)
The Russian Orthodox Church under former KGB associate and Putin vassal Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has re-established itself as a compliant auxiliary of an autocratic regime that, among many other injustices, does not shy away from locking away young women for years who have committed no crimes and caused little more than a bit of a ruckus at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
Putin thanked the Russian Orthodox Church for its benevolence in full world publicity with a show trial of the members of the Pussy Riot collective. After their punk prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which may be considered a peaceful form of protest with mild noise pollution and a handful of expletives, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina were locked away in Russian prisons for two years in 2012 after months of pretrial detention and a public trial. (quote from my book “Ohne Bekenntnis”)
The Russian Orthodox Church has been a legally recognized church in Austria since 2013 and thus enjoys (almost) the same special rights, benefits and tax breaks as all the other 15 religious organizations with the same status. Of course, in a republic that is serious about neutrality towards culture, worldview, ideology and religion, it would only be appropriate to dispense with these privileges completely.
In the face of the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine and its eloquent support by the Russian Orthodox Church, however, a minimum of consistency would be appropriate toward at least this variety of Christianity by stripping it from all privileges.