Religious conflicts have nothing to do with religion
The rural backdrop of recent events with transitions and seizures of parishes for some reason surprises nobody. Journalists usually come for one day, interview participants and leave to tell their viewers about religious nature of the conflict.
Religious conflicts remain on the agenda, being exaggerated, and soon you catch yourself mumbling something about the “holy war” or even worse – the “crusade”.
But, fortunately, reality is right here. And viewing the controversies over parishes through “rural” optics and not through the prism of the media and social networks, you realize that these conflicts are not entirely religious. And often they are not religious at all.
Why is it in rural communities that the conflicts arise? In urban parishes they make their “coming-outs” in a much less common and in not such a pompous manner. The explanation is simple: in the cities, there is no such a deep history of relations between the faithful parishioners.
I can tell everyone who does not like novels and stories by Ukrainian classic writers dedicated to “unfortunate village”: the classic literature, of course, is boring, but, as befits the classics, it is true to life. Living for a few years in a small “village without the village council”, which has, besides, a very poor history due to repression and deportation, I heard a lot of stories worthy of Stefanyk’s pen.
Between any two adjacent yards, two families (even within the same family), there is some “secret life” that sometimes goes back to a depth of several generations. There, on the bottom of the well, there can be a controversial border, a shot dog, a cut down cherry, adultery or something worse. To an outside person, it is almost impossible to understand what causes this or that person suddenly commit some wild action, explode – for no apparent reason – with a stream of curses, throw a dead rat into someone’s well or pour the wax from a dead man’s candle on somebody’s threshold. Asking questions does not make sense. In response you will hear just “it is a kind of people ...” Sometimes it seems that they do not know well enough why it is right to do so. Or they know, but would not say.
Psychology of our village is a subject for a separate study, and, if possible, by a specialist psychiatrist. It is surprising that no one has researched and written about what happens in our glorified “crystal springs” to the people born in the countryside who have not been able to eradicate this countryside from themselves.
If there were science in Ukraine – psychology, for example – our village might become a bottomless source of not just rhetorical “spirituality”, but rather of quite practical examples of social and psychological deviations.
Religious conflicts in the rural areas are just a particular instance of this latent hostility. I might disappoint many people, but I dare assert that in a huge number of cases of religious conflicts in the villages the religious affiliation of a church or a parish is largely just an excuse to settle scores with everyone. It jumps out at you even for no apparent reason. If there is a reason, it literally becomes winged. All accounts are taken out of the grandmother's coffers and are thrown back in the faces of offenders.
Characteristically, our clergy is not only do nothing to bring these demons to heel or somehow to restrain them and maintain control over them, and finally, purify souls from them. No, God forbid. Churchmen often use these demons to their own advantage. If Christ cast out the evil spirit from the possessed and settled them in a herd of pigs, for some of our rural fathers this is the evangelical flock that they benefit from using evil spirit which abides in it. The only question is who will be able to retain control over the most of the flock.
It is necessary to understand this, and everything will be back in its place. Why does the Church avail of the worst sides of human nature in its struggle for temples? Because it is the law of the market: if you want to make money fast, you have to appeal to the vices and not the best human qualities. Showing the best qualities always requires effort, while the worst ones burst out and develop independently, bringing dividends to their “investor”.
Then the key words and signals are used: “Moscow” (in all versions and cases), “split”, “anathema”, “Russian world”, “Gundyaev”, “our guys in the ATO”, “Bandera”, “holy war”, moving pictures of children in embroidery and wreath who obediently stand at the liturgy in the newly reclaimed church (the photo reeks of manipulation), chilling video of beating of a woman in a kerchief (installation is made so carelessly that you would want to rip the director’s arms off ).
In support of words, the “combat troops” – “titushkas”, “seminarians”, “Right Sector guys”, “veterans” and other visiting guest performers are being involved, and their main task is to transfer the conflict from the stage of screams and pushing to stage of genuine full-scale fighting in all its physiological deformity (deformity is a very important detail, the viewer is greedy of fresh blood). Sometimes at this stage the villagers themselves start feeling strangers at their own feast, but the wheel has spun and has to go all the way. Few people remember and those few who remember will not believe what was at the beginning.
But sure at the beginning was the word, because this is the war of words. The war of spells, of the words that have nothing to do with either prayer or the Gospel, for the category of “soul” in the context of this war does not have either meaning or place.
All this, as you know, concerns not only the village – these very laws are applicable at the level of Ukrainian society.
In this context it is not so important that over ten years of the UOC-MP has infected the brains of its parishioners with the bacillus Russian spiritual hegemony, that it has sown the minds with hatred of “dissenters” and “Uniates”. Each party to the conflict somehow tried to react, not to give up in this essentially propagandist war, and a generation of people has grown up on this willing to support the discourse of religious hatred, reflexively reacting to certain signals. At the right time these signals are to resonate with the socio-political crisis or habitual hostility to the neighbor and the degree of unreasonable hatred soars to the heavens.
And what is interesting: the people which are far from the Church get involved in this discourse of hate. How many of them are there – practicing Christians who regularly listen to the sermons – whether seditious or not? A quarter of the population that attends church on Easter and Christmas – this is the unrealistic number of regular consumers both of the “Moscow” and “patriotic” propagandist rhetoric. This is despite the fact that most of the fathers, to their credit, do not politicize their sermons.
For example, I was initially surprised to hear that the UOC MP was accused that it had inculcated the concept of the “Russian world” in Donbas. I beg your pardon, how and where? No, I have no doubt that many fathers tried to implement their instructions from A to Z, but to whom? How many parishioners were there actually in the UOC MP in Donbas? In Donbas, where the traditional Church had nothing to boast of except of another half empty temple built for the money of some local boss, where the religious situation has never been good and the religious practice all the more so, where statistics and polls has consistently shown successes of everybody – starting from the Protestant movement to oriental cults – but not of the traditional Churches?
So why has the “canonical Orthodoxy” become the banner of separatism? Because it is the political – if not geopolitical – brand that has been promoted in this area for a long time and, as we see, it has had a success exactly as a political brand, because it includes the word “group identity” that has nothing to do with the Church or even religion. “Negative” identification, by means of which one group of Ukrainians is being bluntly opposed to another. Simply put, is this a switch of hatred. Religion as such has nothing to do with this hatred. This is not a religious conflict. This is a conflict of social, ideological, political or whatever nature, but not related to a religious faith.
I would like to write “to the Church”, but have not the heart to do it, as it is the Church – intentionally or unintentionally – which has been serving a political demand to maintain hostility in society for years and has learned to benefit from this dividend – at least as switcher parishes.
Why do I believe and do not believe at the same time in the statements from both sides like “the community met and voted” or, say, “decided not to give up,” etc.? Not only because I have had an opportunity to observe in detail and even participate in rural conflicts and know how it works. Mainly, because in terms of Christianity it is foolishness and lie. If the members of a Christian community have decide that they will pray in another language and with another priest, they invite a priest and pray and do not start a fight for the temple. The priest, when invited to serve at a parish, does not set terms like “only if you seize the church,” he will come and serve, even in the open field. The priest, of course, if he serves God, and not a different agency, will not become a pretext for a fight. And if our priests act otherwise, then there is something of a different world in their departments.
You can hold it as a response to a brilliant statement made by Mykola Danylevych, spokesman of the UOC MP, claiming “why should we give up the church if it belongs to us?” To “you” means to whom? Who you are"? And who are “we”? Where is the watershed and who maintains it? Into whom you turn when you maintain it? What on earth mans “yours” and “ours”? How far are you willing to go so as not to give up what is “yours”? And most importantly – do you understand that this is the rhetoric of hate and war? Why do you think it possible “not to give up the church”, even at a price of blood, but call “to stop the war in Donbas at any price?” What’s the difference? Stop the slaughter for churches – “at any price” - then we will believe in your pacifist sincerity.
But I would not like that criticism seemed biased to you. There is no positive role of the UOC-KP in this conflict. In this conflict, there can be no positive role at all. As there are no “heroes” in the civil war, and there is always a suspicion that the winner is just the greatest scoundrel. Further on the winners will write the books claiming that the war was “in the name of justice” or, say “it is the luminous ideas of the Communist Party”, which were worthy of atrocities the people committed for them and became the victims of atrocities themselves. And maybe once they will write about us, it's all done in the name of canonical Orthodoxy or, for the release of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from under the Moscow yoke. But we all know that in reality, as always, here the poor simply want to “give a good drubbing” to the rich, that the disadvantaged simply want to wipe feet on the strong, everyone is just trying to take revenge on his neighbor for something that is not related to the subject of the dispute. And there is someone who just managed to shove the desired to people, counting on a jackpot. This is the role our venerable religious institutions play. And by the way, I deliberately write in this case “the Church”, not “separate Dioceses” or even “parishes,” as it all happens with the connivance of the center. No high-ranking hierarchs at Kyiv level ever said a word of criticism to their fellows whatever they did.
Let me emphasize again and until your fingers ache: religion, religious affiliation is not a cause but an excuse here. The alleged “religious conflict” is not based on matters of faith (in which our average citizen, including parishioners, to put it mildly, are ignorant). There are underlying diseases of social-psychological nature. Mistrust of everyone and everything, inability to communicate, loneliness, uncertainty, frustration, fear, dissatisfaction of all kinds. These social diseases should be treated, or at least their aggravation should be countered. But it is no use to anyone, including to church institutions. Why eliminate things that bear fruit to you personally?
In addition, religious conflicts raise the quotes of churches on the political market. Every conflict is presented by clergymen as fact which confirms their “influence in society.” In fact, the whole effect is reduced to the knowledge of several popular memes to their ability to use them appropriately – manipulate the information and appeal to human vices. In the words of Father Brown, a priest is well versed in sin, as it is part of his daily work. The question is how he uses this knowledge and why. If he uses it as a trigger for a conflict, then the priest is rather socially dangerous than “influential.”