It is not the new religious trends that are booming but the journalists trying to write about them
Liudmyla FYLYPOVYCH, doctor of philosophy, head of the Department of Religious Processes in Ukraine at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, executive director of the Center of Religious Information and Freedom of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies Experts
I have become acquainted with the articles of a journalist named [Vladislav] Pavlov, posted by RISU, and with the response of RISU’s director to Pavlov, and I am struggling with the question: maybe we have too much freedom, in this case, freedom of speech, thought, print and conscience?
What is and what is not allowed in the mass media? Is there a border line between an event and its interpretation and where the objectivity of a fact ends and the subjectivity of its reception begins? How to reach truthfulness and informativeness, and are they needed by Ukrainian journalism?
The ABC of journalism says that it is worthwhile approaching experts for the sake of fullness of coverage of something or someone. In general, journalists respect commentaries of political scientists, economists, psychologists, finance people, who are specialists in certain areas of life. But it is for some reason thought that the religious, spiritual sphere is universally accessible, intelligible, transparent, and, therefore, everyone is like God there. And a journalist easily sorts out, labels, describes and makes conclusions about things which are not quite obvious even for a religious studies expert.
Experience of work with the media for many years shows that, in general, experts do not get on well with the media. There are exceptions of course. But effectiveness of cooperation is the result of friendly relations with individual representatives of the journalistic family. However, the media and experts on the whole do not understand each other well, so to say, at the institutional level.
What is the reason for that? Are the experts or the media to blame for the lack of understanding? Most probably, both parties are to blame. As I represent the experts, I will express problems I have with the media and will expect their complaints in response.
But the complaints have to be of a constructive character, as media cannot do without experts and the experts may get some benefit from the media, for how can one comment on an event or make the commentary public otherwise? A journalist cannot know everything he reports about, and, therefore he/she has to use the services of people who have much knowledge within a limited circle of questions, that is, experts.
In my life as an expert, I was asked a great many questions, starting with “Can you comment on the birth of a double-headed child in India?” or “Can you prove the existence of God?” and ending with “What is your opinion of the initiative of the president of Ukraine to unite all Christians (?) in one national church?” or “What is the annual budget of the Moscow Patriarchate?” And each time I had to use handbooks, books, the Internet, interview religious leaders, fish out from my memory basic knowledge of the history of religion, dogmatic and moral theology, sociology or the psychology of religion in order for my response to sound expert, professional, based on maximally thorough knowledge of the gist of the matter, its course, all the causes and motives, classical and non-classical approaches.
Therefore, my response to the question about the body of a girl killed by Satanists, according to one (!) of the versions, is: “I have no knowledge of murders committed out of religious motives,” meaning the Satanists, in particular. And my response is true because it is based on the study of various materials on Satanism as one of the trends of human culture (yes, sirs, it is also a culture) and on my own experience when 15 years ago I was approached by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the town of Vyshneve for my expertise in the case of a young man who killed his mother and explained it by a ritual of a Satanic cult, to which he urgently ascribed himself. It turned out later that he did it on his lawyer’s advice to reduce the sentence. He was later convicted, but not for a ritualistic murder, as the murder was motivated by the mother’s refusal to give her child money for vodka and not by a Satanic cult. An expert is responsible for what he says and that is what makes him one. Another expert can have his own experience but he cannot make opposite conclusions if the information sources are the same.
And are journalists responsible for their words?
Let us take, for example, Pavlov’s journalistic text, which is rich in various fantasies, for instance, regarding “the Ukrainian Association for Religious Freedom [UARF], advocating the multi-religious status of Ukraine.”
One wonders why advocate multi-religious status, which is already the reality, like the sun or rain, the former of which shines and the latter falls. Multi-religious status require no advocating, it is observed. Nothing is going to change if some individual organizations or even the whole of mankind advocates it. However, the UARF is wrong in advocating whatever it is!
Pavlov further writes about his articles “revealing the true face of non-traditional religious organizations.”
How confident one must be to “reveal” even “the true face!” For who knows even one’s own “true face?” The human being is such a mystery, such a surprise… We have seen many faces and how many times we were wrong. And in this case, it is the face of an entire organization… Can one judge an entire organization by just one incident? If a priest is accused of pedophilia, does it give grounds to accuse the whole of the Orthodox and Catholic churches of moral perversion?
As for unity among churches, both the Baptist and Greek Catholic ones, and not only them. You state that “representatives of certain Protestant communities, for example, Baptists, do not support” Novomedia.
The matter is not so unambiguous, Vladislav. One can hardly name a denomination where the diversity and even polarization of approaches in social matters is greater than in the Baptist church (I saw it with my own eyes in the Baptist environment just a month ago). I am saying this without joy, rather, with regret. However, if all Baptists for you are represented only by Volodymyr Khmil, then, “yes,” the Baptists are against it. But in addition to Khmil, there are over 2500 Baptist communities, whose members can hardly all agree, can they?
Now, another “truth,” which is very popular with the media and is actively used by it, but which is more probably a myth, with which it is so convenient to feed the ignorant people who swallow it. Just before the publication of this material, I received a call from a reporter of “The Day” newspaper, Heorhii, who was interested in the mentioned growing “’religious boom’ in Ukraine. Virtually every Ukrainian,” he said, “knows someone attending a non-traditional religious organization and donating a considerable part of their salary, proceeds from their business and their time.”
In my short response, I was not able to persuade Heorgii that there was no boom, therefore, my arguments as of an expert were not quoted by the newspaper. So, I have to articulate them.
Let us turn to dictionaries and learn about the meaning of the word “boom.” Boom means excessive, ungrounded, artificially created hullabaloo or sensation about a certain event or a figure, etc.
None of these characteristics could be used to describe the situation about NRT [New Religious Trends] in Ukraine.
Excessive? No, the rate of growth of NRT in Ukraine is the same as in other world countries. The specific gravity of NRT among other religions is 2-7 % (depending on the country). Ukraine has 5%. Let us not be lazy, let us use the international and Ukrainian statistics and do some simple arithmetical operations. You will get the same figure. Experts, as opposed to timid journalists, are tired of speaking about the slow spread of NRT in Ukraine, about their insignificant effect on society, that in addition to this problem, which is minor as compared to the issue of the division of Orthodoxy, or the fact that believing Christians are not affiliated to any particular church, or the politicization of religious life or interference of the authorities in the religious life of communities, there are many really spiritual problems, to the solution of which everyone can contribute. There are only 59 % of believers in Ukraine who have already decided where and under whose banners they will go! The other 41%, nearly a half, are “derelict!” And we are “stuck” on those NRT!
Ungrounded– very much grounded, it is known as the causes of appearances of NRT, which has been written much about, even by Orthodox sites.
Artificially created– by whom, the believers? Or by the special security services? Or by marginal people who lack self-realization? For how are things institutionalized in the religious sphere? A large community which has difficulties meeting the religious needs of believers or governing its life, is divided, not artificially but naturally.
You do not like the cause of that boom? – spiritual awakening, Jesus Christ, God. Yes, my dear, and it has lasted for over two millennia now (within Christianity) and will go on like that, otherwise Christianity will vanish.
Sensation!What kind of sensation? It is known to all, believers and unbelievers, Muslims, Buddhists, theologians and scholars (historians, archeologists, religious study experts, linguists, etc.): A Jewish woman who lived in Palestine in the 1st century A.D. gave birth to a son Jesus, who lived in the family, studied, attended the temple, heard Jewish prophets and priests, was baptized, began to preach, heal, for which he was condemned by the Sanhedrin and crucified by the Roman authorities, but rose again and ascended to heaven (the last two events are not accepted by everyone as a historic fact, I mean the materialists, but how many of them have remained?)
It is not the NRT that are booming but the mass media coverage of NRT. And here we can see all the characteristics in place: the excessive, ungrounded, artificially created hullabaloo about the presence of NRT in Ukraine. There are signs of a steady tendency, policy, someone’s order: every channel considers it necessary to kick the new religions. Especially active are ICTV, the New Channel, 1+1, Ukraina, and even the 5th Channel have taken up a task of determining if Jehovah’s Witnesses and charismatics are totalitarian and destructive sects. And why aren’t journalists making such noise about the rate of drug addiction, alcoholism, child prostitution, corruption of power and lawlessness? There seems to be only one subject for shows and articles, the NRT!
But let us return to Pavlov’s articles and his conclusion that “the great number of religious organizations wipes away the borders between the main world religions, thereby promoting globalization.”
Do you see Buddhists anywhere turning into Muslims or Protestants turning into Orthodox or Catholics? There exist individual cases of such syncretism, but they have been known from the 15th-16th centuries (Uniates, the so-called “Eastern churches,” there are about 20 of them, and Sikhs). That is the first thing one can think of. International experts, as opposed to the experts of the newspaper “Dielo,” [for which Pavlov writes- editor] do not expect merging or unification of any religions in the nearest future.
For instance, there are 7 000 various religions in Africa now, every ethnic group has its own. And no one is going to change their ancient beliefs for the sake of some universal religion. Christians themselves admit that there are over 40 000 various Christian trends. “And the diversity of Christianity will continue to grow.” (Kevin Kelly). The problem is not that they exist but that they do not coexist peacefully. And no Masons, who have been reported to play a special role in the establishment of such reconciled religious groups, have been able to reconcile them for nearly 300 years now. True, such attempts have been and will continue to be made. But what are the results?
He further writes about the “desire to gain profit from the unstable religious situation in the country, for the churches themselves are not complete, as they include various trends.”
Why do you think the situation in Ukraine is unstable? Everyone, the experts, apart from those of the newspaper “Dielo,” Ukraine’s president and political leaders, the government and the religious organizations themselves think that stability in religious life has been achieved. Believers do not fight (on a mass scale), they do not change jurisdictions (at the level of communities), the number of new communities is growing at a predictable rate, according to the size of the churches. For instance, the UOC-MP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate] increased in 2007 by 271 communities, the UOC-KP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate] by 141, the RCC [Roman Catholic Church] by 29, the UGCC [Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church] by 55, the Baptists by 25, the Evangelicals by 30, the Full Gospel Church by 25, the Mormons by 1, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses by 13. What is wrong with those figures. Where is the danger? A normal development of the religious network. And the fact that there are people with different views in any church is also normal. Look, are all Catholics or Orthodox unanimous? And this is not a tragedy. When everyone agrees to everything this a tragedy called totalitarianism! But it is present not in the real life of religions in Ukraine but, probably, in the editor’s office of the newspaper “Dielo.”
“Hundreds of millions of hryvnias circulate in the Ukrainian religious environment. It is virtually impossible to count them, as no one is accountable to anyone for the church’s proceeds.
I used the same words in an interview to a correspondent of an economic newspaper. But why does everyone calculate only the income of the churches, and almost no one talks about their expenses? Let us assume that the Seventh-day Adventists raise 20 million a month, but no one asked how much they spend and on what. What is their average standard of living? Are they becoming fat? Judging from such limited information, one can have an impression of the great wealth of churches which are not willing to share their money with the state, which has paid one and the same gas debt to Russia for the third time, or with the poor, who give their last kopeck to Pastor Sunday [Adelaja, head of the Kyiv-based Embassy of God Church]. Didn’t it occur to the journalists that the Christian faith is based on ideas of asceticism, equality, justice? This should be true of each Christian, even the Orthodox patriarch or the Pope. Why do journalists always expect to see an evil, immoral, greedy, envious, criminal and primitive face of a believer? Is it difficult to imagine that a believer does not steal or slander or envy or kill or do things like that not because he/she is afraid of the media or police, but because observing these requirements is their natural state, which should be normal for any, even an unbelieving person? And for a believer, it is supported also by the authority of God, faith, conviction, getting firmly established as a Christian or a Muslim.
And I am prepared to witness about this to all the media and every journalist.