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Specificities of Religiousness in the Population of Ukraine

07.04.2009, 20:23
The period from Ukraine’s independence to the present is characterized by a booming development in the institutional structure of various religious trends.

Maksym PARASHCHEVIN, candidate of sociological sciences, research worker of the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

The period from Ukraine’s independence to the present is characterized by a booming development in the institutional structure of various religious trends. At the time of the Soviet Union, the religious sphere was under considerable pressure from the state. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Union attempted to uproot religion by force by destroying churches, confiscating religious objects, destroying the church infrastructure (priests, religious education institutions, etc.). During and after WWII, the approach was changed a little: the church received some autonomy and the forced influence on it was considerably lessened. The struggle transferred to the sphere of ideological, informal pressure on the believers, and the realization of religious needs remained quite complicated. Eventually, after all these drastic changes, at the time the Soviet age was flourishing and at its end, the ideal of an atheist society appeared to be almost reached. However, this state proved to be very unstable and deceiving; the destruction of the system of state atheism struck a destructive blow on the atheism of the population as well. After the limitations regarding the religious life were lifted and the freedom of worship was ensured, religiousness returned to our country in an explosive manner. This is indicated both by the level of personal religiousness and the dynamic of changes of the religious network of the country.

At the same time, during this “religious renaissance” arguments continue as to its depth and fullness. Representatives of churches emphasize the large scale return of people to religious spirituality. On the other hand, various politicians (both religiously engaged and unbelievers) periodically voice doubts as to this return, argue that this return to religion is superficial, that it is used as a magic tool rather than a way to self-improvement and self-purification. Such doubts appear as a result of the mass population polls, which are conducted in our country from time to time and which describe the character of religious behavior (frequency of prayers and church attendance) and religious beliefs (attitude to God and perception of religious dogmas). We can use today the results of one such survey, which was conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (ISSP) on 11-20 October within the framework of the International Social Survey (ISSP). On the basis of random selection, 2036 respondents were questioned, who, according to all the demographic, educational, and regional attributes represent the adult population over 18 permanently living in Ukraine. Using the results of this survey, let us again return to the mentioned problems of the boundaries of the “religious renaissance.”

In general, the poll indicated a very high level of religiousness of the population. The share of those who can be called religious is about 90% on average for the country, with noticeable religious differences; namely, a gradual decrease in the number of religious people moving from the west to the east of the country. The mentioned regions are the extremes. That is, the west is the most religious and the east is the least religious region. However, the characteristic “the least” is relative as the number of religious people even among the residents of the east is nearly 85%. One can also note that the precedence of the residents of the west is retained regardless of the confession; namely, not only Greek Catholics show stronger firmness and more depth in their beliefs. Orthodoxy in the west is also more, so to say, intense in its religiousness than Orthodoxy in other regions. Therefore, one can assume that such peculiarities of the west are conditioned not only by the psychological specificities of the residents of the western region but also historical ones. In particular, these are: 1) the fact that the western regions were part of states with different confessions (Catholicism), which pursued active assimilatory policies. As a result, religiousness became a mechanism of preserving local identity; 2) shorter period of the western regions being part of USSR with its atheist policy; especially, since the entrance into USSR took place after the end of the most aggressive period antireligious policy.

At the same time, the information about the practical components of religiousness confirms the thought about secularization and individualization of religious ideas. For a considerable number of questioned Christians (who constitute the vast majority of believers) do not believe in some of the main elements of the Christian doctrine. In particular, 31% of Christians do not believe in life after death (15% expressed full disbelief and 16% were inclined to this disbelief), 29% do not believe in the existence of Heaven, 30% do not believe in the existence of Hell, and 25% do not believe in religious wonders. If we merge the different levels of faith into one position (that is to combine into one group those who strongly or are inclined to strongly believe with those who do not believe or are inclined to not believe), it would show that only 30% of the questioned Christians believe in all the four components and 17% do not believe in any of these components of religious life.
Taking into account also the belief in the ideas of other religious doctrines (belief in reincarnation, nirvana, and supernatural capabilities of the dead, which are not in line with the Christian doctrine at all), the, so to say, “Christian fundamentalists” will constitute 4% of the total number of people who consider themselves Christians. Many others are characterized by selectiveness in objects of faith.

Uncertainty and individualism of the Christian religiousness are also obvious in people’s views on the center of the Christian faith, the God. For, even though the majority of the Christian respondents are firmly confident in the existence of God (more than half of them declared absence of doubts in this question), there are also groups of considerable size, who failed to define their beliefs unambiguously. About 10% of the Christians declared their faith in God as a Supreme Power (and not as a personified person) and nearly one fifth of them occasionally have doubts as to the existence of God. The information regarding the continuity of faith in God is also interesting. Only a little more than 60% of the Christians noted that they have always believed in God, whereas about 15% failed to define whether they have always believed or whether the faith came with time.

Church attendance is also very limited. According to the results of the mentioned survey, more than half of the believers (57%) attend church rarely (to be more exact, about 41% attend church several times per year and about 14% once a year). About 20% never or almost never attend it, and only 8% of the believers are regular church goers. The situation regarding praying is similar: people who not pray often barely constitute a majority. The total combined share of the believers who pray rarely, very rarely, never, or almost never is 53%, whereas 47% of the believers pray often or very often.

One can notice the fact that religiousness is conditioned by the environment in which a person is raised. The available data indicate a high level of heredity in the fact of the religious faith as such and identification with a certain religious organization, in particular. If a person is raised in a religious environment, the probability that the person will be religious increases considerably. And vice versa, upbringing in a non-religious environment increases one’s chances to be irreligious. And even if a person brought up in a non-religious environment independently comes to the faith, they will become a, so to say, independent believer rather than join a particular church. This religious heredity most probably will continue, as the families of the modern religious Ukrainians are quite monogamous in terms of religion (people marry mostly representatives of the same faith).

Therefore, one can assume that to a considerable extent, the religiousness of the population of Ukraine is independent already, as a person decides themselves what to believe, what postulates or requirements of a religion to accept or reject, to observe the church’s requirements or not. And for a considerable part of the members of church organizations, their affiliation is rather a tribute to the tradition, or the church is used as a community where one can communicate with like-minded people and receive moral support. For instance, most of the respondents agreed that the religious views and activity can help people to find inner peace and happiness, find new friends or meet righteous, descent people, and receive support during hard times. Most of the respondents stressed the support of religion in reaching inner peace and happiness (65% of the respondents) whereas only 47-48% stressed the support in finding new friends and meeting descent people.

Therefore, one can state that the modern religiousness of our population mostly is not in line with the ideal ideas. Of course, one can ask if such ideal religiousness has ever been a reality. Modern historical studies regarding the countries of the Western Europe give grounds to state that in the medieval times and the renaissance period, people rarely attended church and their cult was aimed mostly at a number of spirits or supernatural forces, of which only some were recognized by Christianity. O. Murrey, in his study of the medieval religious life of the Italians, concludes that considerable strata of the population in the 13th century hardly attended church at all. E. Daffi noted that a large share of the village parishes did not have a priest for a long time[1]. One can find similar statements about Orthodox Russia as well. [2]. However, one cannot deny the fact that religiousness was an integral part of people’s lives for centuries. Nearly all the questions of everyday life of both an individual person and social communities were viewed through the prism of the religious instructions; whereas today, there is a division between everyday life and religious life even in the consciousness of believers. Separate spheres and time are assigned for religious life. Therefore, one can assume that the antireligious struggle of the Soviet regime proved not to be fruitless as it made a deep impression on the character of religious beliefs. As long as the strict control over the beliefs of the believers and the system of religious education existed, the people believed in what the clergy stated. When this control and system were disturbed, the people began to modify their religious ideas according to their spiritual and secular likings and values.

If a believer is considered to adhere only to the doctrine of his religious organization, the beliefs of many Ukrainian Christians can be called eclectic. However, religion is not a stiff unchangeable structure. Some of the elements of the Christian doctrine, which are conventional today, were once considered heresies. Therefore, the process of religious search is quite natural and it cannot be considered correct to negate the religiousness of some particular believers due to their different understanding of the content of the doctrine.

1 Stark Rodney Secularization, R.I.P. (rest in peace) // http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SOR/is_3_60/ai_57533381/
2 Sinelina Y. About the criteria of definition of religiousness of population// Sociological research. –2001, – №7. – p. 89-96.