by Greg Spearritt
The Age tells us that it will soon be law in Russia that anyone “ expressing clear disrespect for society” and “offending religious feelings of the faithful” can face up to a year in prison and a fine equivalent to almost $10,000 Australian. If you do it in a church it’s three years and around $16,000.
It’s no surprise given Russian history, and particularly with egotist and former KGB agent Putin in charge, that authoritarianism should be again ruling the roost in Moscow. Putin’s current collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church – an institution for so long ‘disrespected’ in the most thorough-going manner by the State – is of course ironic.
Dissent is not in Putin’s interest and any challenge to the new-found power of the Church is not taken kindly by its hierarchy. The two forces are aligning in ways that spell trouble for societal – and, I expect, for ecclesiastical – reform in Russia. A current example is the Canute-like push to repress gay rights: open discussion of homosexuality in public fora (or anywhere that children can access) will soon be a criminal offence.
The freedom to challenge authority has been one of the main factors in outing child sexual abuse in religious and other institutions in Australia. We should cherish the fact that Australian Churches and religious figures have by and large lost the authority they once had, and their influence on public policy is greatly diminished. Australian religious ‘glasnost’ – though still unpopular with some churches – is a civilising force: openness and transparency are antidotes to festering secrets and hidden social and political influence.
Religious groups and figures who support this openness – and there are many – are helping us forge a fairer, more decent society.