RELIGION AND DEMOCRACY: AN EXCHANGE OF EXPERIENCES BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
THE CESNUR 2003 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
The problem of the coexistence of the traditional and the nontraditional in the religious sphere has very ancient origins. The attitude of adherents of traditional religious beliefs is cautious and frequently even aggressive towards nontraditional religions.
So, Ancient Egypt, in the epoch of the pharaoh Ekhnaton (Аmenhotep IV) (1400 or 1375 B.C.) was unwilling to accept the new religious beliefs of its leader. The priests defended the traditional cults of numerous gods, among which there was the cult Amon-Ra. The national monotheistic cult of Athon, represented in an image of the sun, which was introduced by Ekhnaton, was abandoned with the death of its founder.
Christianity which was born in Palestine, establishes a hold on new territories with great difficulties, frequently representing a danger to the authorities who see in a new religion a break with already inculcated traditions.
It is possible to give many other examples, which prove the difficulties various religious beliefs experience in contacting each other while clashing on the same territory.
Religious identity which is a quality inherent in any religion consists in understanding of itself as a true religion, in the recognition of itself as the uniquely right response of man to the Sacred. From here there is a claim of exclusiveness of its own variant of the dialogue, which any religion ancient or modern carries in itself.
Any religious movement which appears for the first time on what is new territory for itself , will always be seen as "nontraditional" in relation to the "tradition" which existed before its appearance.
Only time changes priorities. The nontraditional, which manages to defend its position, obtains a more and more strong position and becomes able to compete with the tradition, which was the only unshakeable form before.
The same happened to Christianity which rushed into the bosom of Judaism in Israel, and after more then eight centuries displaced paganism in Slavonic grounds. It was the same with other religions applying for the status of "traditional" on this or that territory (as, for example, the Islamic religion in the African states, where so-called "primitive beliefs " were the original "traditional" religion).
1. Peculiarities of the interreligious dialogue in Russia
Russia gives the appearance of a huge international and intercultural space. Many nationalities, which have lived together with each other for a long time, differ in their history, cultural traditions, and religious beliefs.
Speaking about the peculiarities of the modern dialogue between religions, we agree with the opinion of M.A. Sivertsev about the increased importance of an "epoch of non-religious culture", which has its effect on the interreligious dialogue
. However, leaving apart from research such major factors as globalization and secularization, we stress the role of the "traditional" and "nontraditional" in the interreligious dialogue.
Our attention will be drawn to the experience of interaction between the "traditional" and "untraditional" in Russia, to features of the dialogue between them, to perspectives of the further development of this dialogue.
Before proceeding to this subject, it is necessary to outline the main concepts we will be dealing with. The "traditional", in our opinion, is the historical form of beliefs of the people and is determined, first of all, by the duration of its existence on a particular territory and by its close cultural interaction with the nonreligious (secular) environment. Speaking about the "nontraditional" we mean by that new religious movements, and also those religions, which have expanded to this cultural environment
The integral part of the religious life of any state is the tradition. The traditional occupies a privileged position. It is our face appearing through the layers of the centuries of culture. We apply to it for an answer, we refer to it, we search for protection in it. An attempted assassination of tradition, especially religious tradition, is blasphemy. Public speech against tradition is treated as rebellion.
In the foreword to the Russian translation of E. Barker's book "New religious movements"
it is said that the use of the term " traditional religions" needs very detailed discussion
. On the one hand, we have the right to doubt the lawfulness of the usage of this term for juridical practice. One main reason for that is the absence of the precise chronological boundaries, which allow us to refer to a religious movement as to "traditional" or "nontraditional". On the other hand, we have to take into account the mechanism of the effect of religion on culture and, in its turn, of culture on religious life
It is also important for us to underline that moment, when the tradition, as a rule, is forced not to conflict with the existing social world-order. The traditional should accept the world as it is given; and it is, to the most degree , the necessity, rather than desire of the tradition itself.
What else is necessary for the society which is carrying its tradition, and, therefore, its spiritual base, which assists its further development? The answer is paradoxical. Such a society needs the nontraditional to underline the importance and significance of the tradition, on one hand, and reveal deficiencies in the tradition from the other hand.
Indeed if we remember the history of religions, it is possible to see many examples, when the tradition "set up its weight" at the expense of the untraditional. Entering the polemic with untraditional views, the tradition strengthened its positions, became firmly established and consolidated the religious views of its members. For example of this is the numerous dogmatic disputes, in which the position of Christianity (theological polemic with Arias, Nestorius, Origen etc.) was formulated. And, as an opposite, the religious society which lacks the opportunity to compare itself with untraditional, loses a lot for a successful formation of its spiritual image and, as a result, had no such strong positions in the society.
What is the nontraditional? Is that something new? Yes, it is. But it is not correct to think of it as of something consisting only of new positions. The same time there can be echoes of other doctrines in it. Is that something developing? Yes, and it is developing very actively. Especially because of its rapid development on a new territory, the untraditional causes the "traditional" to fear, because it represents a dangerous competitor.
Under the untraditional we shall understand, firstly, religions, which have pe3netrated to particular new territory (for example Confucians in the Far East), and on the other hand new religious movements (NRM).
The main difference between them is that, in the first case, we deal with religions which have the status of the "traditional" on its own territory but which have extended beyond boundaries. Here we deal with religions which are rather sure of themselves. This intervention of tradition in a new foreign sphere happens taking into an account the ethnic features and social conditions of the state, to which the religion is introduced. As a shining example of it, the Buddhism of Karma Kanji' school and the Danish preacher lama Ole Nidal can serve, who is widely known in Russia and in the West due to his sermon on the Buddhism related to the consciousness of western man.
In the other case we deal with religious movements which have arisen in the last century, and obtained the status of "new religious movements".
Certainly, the nontraditional is a product of democracy. In the Russian Federation soon after the acceptance of the Law of the Russian Federation "On freedom of confessions " (1990) there was a noticeable surge of activity in religious life, which is still in process, which is evidenced by the steady growth of athe number of religious organizations (not only orthodox organizations which are accepted as "traditional" Russian, but also unorthodox).
The law "Concerning liberty of conscience and religious associations" consists in essence a number of limitations for believers of untraditional religions, but on the whole it regulates the activity of religious organizations and creates favorable circumstances for an interreligious dialogue.
What can we say about existing new religious movements? Firstly, that many of them are syncretic, i.e. they incorporate positions of different religious doctrines (from earlier up to the present day), and, secondly, they tend to various variants of a dialogue with a world . Let us explain these positions by concrete examples.
More often the new religious movement which insist on the uniqueness of its doctrine, displays a syncretic character.
So, the doctrine of the Great White Brotherhood Usmalos (the official web. site is www.usmalos.com), founded in the beginning of the 1990s in Kiev (Ukraine), which now experiences "its second birth", has the brightly expressed character of a syncretic religious teaching, since it carries in itself echoes of Gnostic doctrines such as secret mystical societies, rosencreicers, cabbalas, theosophy, ancient Egyptian religion, Christianity etc.
Another example is the Church of the Last Covenant. The tendency towards withdrawal from the world, a rejection of a war links them with such movements as fedorovzy, tolstovzy, etc. The idea of the possibility of reincarnation in the teaching of the Last Covenant approaches the Indian doctrines. And, certainly, a very strong influence on the movement comes from Christianity. Here it is " turned inside out": after twenty centuries Christ again appears on the Earth and gives a "Last Covenant" to the world
New religious movements are not connected to the world by the burden of "necessity". They are not obliged to have contacts with this world. That gives opportunity for co-existing of a various variants of their relations to the world:
1. The world is accepted as it is. All its shortages exist because they live in us. To change the world it is necessary to change yourself. An example of that is the Great White Brotherhood Usmalos, which is not world -denying , but tends "to convert" the world by "conversion" of yourself.
2. The world is hostile to us and it is impossible to accept it. The vissarions (followers of the teaching of Vissarion, the Church of the Last Covenant) tend in this direction, by breaking any contacts twiththe world.
3. Indifference to the world is also rather widespread. In this case the accent in the search of a solution is directed to the internal "self". The destiny of the world is predetermined, and the main thing is the result of that struggle, which occurs in us.
One explanation of the appearance of nontraditional religions is possible to the low level of religious culture. Nickolai Mitrokhin in his article "Ethnonationalism and religious organizations: the experience of SNG" says that " the ethnicity ( the national spirit, the national originality) is not separated from the religion". However, we can see the difference between public organizations generated by an ethnic principle, and religions (from complete indifference to the designing of new religions).
Certainly, that can take place when the absence of a religious culture or its low level leads to the fact that the tradition "does not work". Therefore nontraditional doctrines are actively offered instead . However we see another reason for it. The politicization of religion frequently leads to the decline of belief. In this case untraditional religions come instead of traditional religions, which tend to awaken peoples hearts from a dream of heart and, so far , to confront a religion-free world.
4. Nontraditional and traditional: paradoxes of coexisting
Before we get down to concrete examples, we note the following. The "nontraditional" puts asignificant emphasis on the religious identity of the "traditional", which has got used to feeling itself the owner of its territory. Especially this, in our opinion, gives new impulse to the development of both "traditional", and "nontraditional" religions. It is unconditional, that in a similar situation it is impossible to exclude the impact of one on another. This or that but only joint coexisting of the "traditional" and "nontraditional" can help to reveal their full growth. The "nontraditional", which finds itself in an alien environment, is forced to underline its own special, exclusive features which distinguish it from the "traditional". The "traditional", in its turn, should be always "at its height", ceaselessly proving firmness of its position.
As main examples we shall consider the following:
1. Paganism and Christianity. A history of Christianization of the people of the North. The peoples of theNorth today.
2. Western Christianity and religions of the East. East expansion to the consciousness of modern western man. Transformation of religious consciousness.
3. New religious movements (NRM) and tradition. Coming of new religions instead of old. The criterion of "newness". Our relations to NRM and relations of NRM to us.
What are the perspectives for the dialogue of the "traditional" and "nontraditional"? On the one hand, that interaction cannot exclude the factor of the inbuilt antagonism towards each other. On the other hand, it raises the level of the self-consciousness of believers. Also the dialogue between "traditional" and "nontraditional", as one of the forms of the interreligious dialogue, can contribute to the cohesion of two different forms of religiosity which is, as a matter of fact, they are confronting a non-religious world. And , in its turn, it will encourage the growth of religiosity as a whole.
5. Paradoxes of coexisting
What influence does non-traditional and traditional have on one another ?
As a rule, the traditional relates to the traditional better than to the nontraditional.
An example. Christianity cannot ignore Islam and Judaism, as it is interested in the interreligious dialogue with them. But the same time the reaction of Christianity towards new religious movements is much worse. The reason for this frequently has a political aspect.
The nontraditional, being frequently repressed by adherents of traditional teachings, finds complicity and understanding from other persecuted nontraditional religions.
Mutual attempts at proselytism are characteristic of both the traditional, and nontraditional. But the main paradox is that the traditional needs the nontraditional as well as nontraditional requires traditional. Why is it so?
We dare to assert that a religious society which kills and in every possible way limits the nontraditional, risks to limiting its own development and risks to becoming "a lifeless river", whose stream has stopped. Waters of such a river will inevitably become stagnant and the river will silt up. Opposed to that, the tradition, which is not afraid of contact with nontraditional shares, will be filled with fresh water and there will be a constant stream from beginning to end of the understanding of God.
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15. Gustav Mensching. Tolerance and Truth in Religion. University of Alabama Press, 1971.
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