Seeing this title, many will say: ‘Absurd! Russia fell into atheism for 75 years. Anyway, I know two Russians personally and they are both atheists and refuse to baptise their children. On the other hand, I know several Western people and they all go to church every week!’ To such, I simply reply: ‘You have misread the title’. Let me explain.
There are only a few places left in Europe where people still practise their Faith. Thus, there are still some believing Protestants in Northern Ireland, some real Roman Catholics in Malta and some active Orthodox, particularly in Moldova and parts of Romania. Outside that, church-going accounts at best for 1-2% of virtually any general population, whether in Spain, Greece, France, Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, the Ukraine or anywhere else in Europe.
Countries that a generation ago were still Roman Catholic, like Italy, Ireland and Poland, have long since dissolved into Secularism, which has long been the norm in Northern Europe. Ex-Protestant Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Britain have led the way and there the decline of religious practice has gone even faster, less than 1% of the population practise. The rest of the Western world is going the same way and rapidly, towards 0%, as the last believing generation dies out and is not replaced.
However, Christianity is about a lot more than church-going. That is only one indicator. Getting baptised, married and buried in church are others. Here again we can see that since the early 1960s, these practices too ceased, marriage ended in divorce, and Christian burial was largely replaced by pagan cremation in incinerators, like the Nazis used. With the Protestantisation of Roman Catholicism in the early 1960s, there is no real difference between it and Protestantism. However, the greatest indicator of real Christianity is your national, cultural values and the way of life you lead as a result of those values. The clearest example of this today is the acceptance of ‘homosexual’ marriage.
The acceptance of marriage as uniquely heterosexual was in fact the last Christian value left. ‘Homosexual’ marriage is the final stage in deChristianisation. It was introduced into the Netherlands in 2001 and through a range of other Western countries until Germany in 2017. After the understanding of marriage as uniquely heterosexual disappeared in formerly Protestant and Catholic countries in Europe and Northern America, others began to go. We can see this in the decision of the EU-appointed Greek ruling elite last week, when it in turn imposed ‘homosexual’ marriage on its population. Greeks are being asked to return to the sexual practices described by their pagan philosophers, writers and historians of the time before Christ.
After homosexual ‘marriage’, transgenderism, the result of the end and confusion of ‘traditional’ male/female roles, the subsequent breakdown of family life with the epidemic of divorce and so the absence of father and mother role-models for children, inevitably follows. Christianity in the countries which accept transgenderism is clearly more or less dead. In other words, in talking of Christianity we are not talking merely about church-going or about those who profess a mental atheism (‘I don’t believe in God’), we are talking about the way people live, their national culture.
For example, most people in Europe, from France to Russia, never set foot in any church, but they can still be divided into two categories, those who live values that belong to Christian culture and those who live values that belong to atheist culture. Despite Soviet atheism, their proportions between France and Russia are very different, in France an ever-decreasing minority belongs to Christian culture, in Russia an ever-increasing majority. In other words, it is the direction of travel that is significant. In this respect, France and Russia are like two trains which have passed by one another, going in opposite directions on different tracks.
Notably, a few decades ago we could see how in officially atheist Russia, ‘Soviet’ people professed Christian values. There homosexuality was banned and transgenderism was unthinkable, and people professed the ‘normal’ Christian values of social justice. ‘Social conservatism’ and social justice side by side. Indeed, the latter is unthinkable there today. This is what in today’s Western societies is called ‘social conservatism’, and yet for Christians it is what we call ‘normal’ and for us it is ‘homosexual’ marriage and transgenderism that are extremist.
Why the apparent contradiction between official Soviet atheism and actual practice in everyday life? Simply because although Soviet people were supposed to be atheists in their heads, they still professed the values of Christian culture in their hearts, that is, in their way of life. Moreover, when the Soviet regime fell in 1991, official atheism also fell and 100 million people got baptised within just a few years. They had not been baptised before, only because baptism had been forbidden, not because they did not want to be baptised. In reality, they had all the time been living largely according to Christian cultural values, an integral part of their national culture.
This is also clear from the fact that so-called ‘Soviet’ free healthcare, education and social protection had nothing to do with the atheist Soviet Union, but existed before it, in the Tsar’s Russia. They were simply an inheritance from pre-Soviet Russia, like literacy, which had reached a high level before 1917, or technical progress like electrification and industrialisation, which had all been developing very rapidly before 1917. Thus, the Soviet Union won the Second World War thanks to generals and officers from the Tsar’s Army and military technicians, military inventors, scientists and engineers, all trained in the Tsar’s Russia.
In other words, in Soviet Russia Christian culture survived, even though it excluded church-going, as the atheist elite had closed most churches. When atheism, a Western ideological import, collapsed there in 1991, Christian culture was fundamentally all that remained. The fact that a small minority of Russians are still atheists and their children are unbaptised does not mean that they do not profess Christian cultural values at all. What I am saying is that in Russia, Christianity has permeated the national culture so thoroughly that there is no real alternative to it and even those who are mentally atheists largely profess Christian culture in important respects.
In the West all is different, because for nearly a thousand years there have been two cultural spheres, one secular, the other religious. In other words, over nearly a thousand years of Western history the religious has progressively dissolved into the secular, like a religious flask that has emptied through percolation into a secular flask, through a millennial drip-feed. It is this that has resulted in modern Western Secularism. Here there is then a long-established inherently Western alternative to Christian culture – Secularism.
In Orthodox Christianity, as in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese Confucianism, indeed in all world religions, civilisations and cultures, except in the Western, there is no separation into the religious and the secular. There is no separation of ‘Church’ and State. In the Orthodox context, the national culture is Orthodoxy. Thus, Russian Communist Young Pioneers said that: ‘We are all more or less Orthodox’, even as they were stopping people from going to church. The Belarussian President Lukashenko says that he is an ‘Orthodox atheist’. Unbaptised Serbs tell me that they are ‘Orthodox’. Greeks tell me that: ‘You go to church? You’re a better Orthodox than we are’. I emphasise the last three words ‘than we are’.
All these people are Orthodox by national culture, they cannot be anything else. If they are not, they denationalise themselves, like some Russians did to themselves in the 1990s and as homosexual Greek couples do to themselves today. Some who left Orthodoxy come back to Orthodoxy, saying that they cannot do otherwise because otherwise they renounce themselves. (This does not mean that they go to church. They will tell you that they are put off by money-grubbing priests, who are ordained by money-grubbing bishops – so am I, and I suffered at the sharp end of such for many, many years. That we do not care about money has always made our churches popular). However, in Orthodox societies once you are baptised or received back into the Church, it is for life. You cannot renounce that culture. You can sin, you can stop practising, you can even blaspheme, but you cannot renounce it. It is in your soul, it is in the culture which you belong to.
The question then is: Why is Western civilisation different from all others? Why does it have a secular alternative? What happened nearly a thousand years ago, when Secularism was born and made the West so different from all other faiths, civilisations and cultures, which have no secular alternative? Of a host of unanimous Western historians of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries, English (Dawson, Southern, Morris, Brooke, Brown, Moore, Bartlett), French (Le Goff, Pognon, Feller, Poly, Bournazel) German (Tellenbach, Fichtenau, Leyser), Spanish (Fontana) and others, none perhaps has summed it up so well as Tom Holland in his 2008 work Millennium:
‘The three decades that preceded the showdown in Canossa (in 1077) and the four that followed it were…a period when the ideals of Christendom…’changed in almost every respect’. Here…was the true making of the West…Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085) was…introducing to the modern West its first experience of revolution…In truth, there existed no precedent for the upheaval exemplified by Canossa – neither in the history of the Roman Church, nor in that of any other culture…there was only one break in the evolution of the West… a cataclysm without parallel in the annals of Eurasia’s other major cultures…the defining characteristic of Western civilisation. That the world can be divided into church and state, and that these two realms should exist distinct from each other: here are presumptions that the eleventh century made ‘fundamental to European society and culture, for the first time and permanently’…Certainly, to a pious Muslim, the notion that the political and religious spheres can be separated is a shocking one – as it was to many of Gregory’s opponents…Not that it had ever remotely been Gregory’s own intention to banish God from an entire dimension of human affairs…A piquant irony: that the very concept of a secular society should ultimately have been due to the papacy; Voltaire and the First Amendment, multiculturalism and gay weddings: all have served as waymarks on the road from Canossa. (Pp. xviii- xxii).
In other words, fatally split Western civilisation has for nearly a thousand years had an alternative to faith, and that alternative is inherently culturally Western. This alternative is called Secularism and it began nearly a thousand years ago when, ironically, the anti-people, pro-elitist Papacy decided to split its world into two spheres, the religious versus the secular, the compulsorily celibate clergy versus the people. This meant that, ironically, it was the Papacy with its new philosophy of ’scholastic theology’, which created an alternative to the religious – the secular, since it gave up on the concept of sacralising or incorporating the secular into the religious. And this philosophy claimed to be rational and reasonable.
In any case, today this Secularism dominates and predominates to such an extent that the religious sphere is dead and dying throughout the Western world. Moreover, the West has always aggressively tried to export this Secularism and impose it on the rest of the world. So far, outside the Western world, once the West had overthrown the Russian monarchy, Russian society fell to it for a time, but eventually it came out of Secularism because it was alien to its national tradition. Now, the Westernised Greek elite has fallen to it, though not the masses of the people. Other Orthodox too may fall to it, but in the end it will all be rejected. As for the future of the Western world itself, it has only one chance of survival. This is to return to its values of the First Millennium before the fatal choice of inventing Secularism that it made in the eleventh century.