|Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society|
|The Twilight of Reason|
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- Good morning, Yuriy Nikolayevich!
- Hi, Nikolay Il'ich!
- Happy holiday!
- Happy holiday? Thanks. But what holiday, if it's not a secret?
- How can it be you don't know. Merry Christmas.
- Ah, that. Well, you know, I'm not a religious person and, you'll excuse me, but I'm indifferent to these kinds of holidays.
- You're kidding! Well, I honestly wasted my time. Now all Russia now officially celebrates Christmas by presidential order. But I'm sure the former communist in you is speaking. No way can you get rid of this Marxism in you. But it's about time!
This conversation took place on a frosty December morning between two old men at the doorstep of an institution where they both had the good luck to work. It could be called luck because, as a rule, people of that age not only were already not accepted to work under various plausible pretexts, supposedly due to a reduction in staff or conversion of production, but there were attempts to be rid of the heavy burden of wages. But these two had managed for the time being to avoid the fate of many of their contemporaries. However, good fortune had mainly touched Nikolay Il'ich, who had managed during the privatization of state enterprises to fall into a group of privileged shareholders and retain the right in this capacity to the position of chief of supplies. But after reaching retirement age Yuriy Nikolayevich barely managed to avoid a layoff in his scientific institute. He lived for some time on his pension alone and feeling that this was difficult, remembered his habits acquired in home and dacha work and the strength left in his hands and contracted to the firm headed by Nikolay Il'ich which was not far from his home. The pay he was given was laughable but this is why the position of carpenter turned out to be vacant: young people were not attracted by such wages.
Here at the entrance to this firm a zealous worshipper of Christ had caught up with Yuriy Nikolayevich, so joyfully greeting the latest anniversary of His birth, pardon, Christmas. It is curious that Nikolay Il'ich had began to observe and demonstrate his religiosity comparatively recently, but before then, being for many years a fervent Party member, he zealously followed Party attitudes and was for that reason not only a convinced, but a militant, atheist. After the mass exodus from the Party by his co-workers and sympathizers as a result of well-known events, Nikolay Il'ich was in no hurry, kept his Party card, and continued to pay his membership dues to the last moment, telling himself and his wife, "You can never tell whether or not everything will suddenly return". He remained one of the last until those to whom he had delivered dues left the sinking Party ship.
Yuriy Nikolayevich received the accusation of an ineradicable attachment to the Bolshevik world view with a sad smile, for he had noticed not for the first time how people were not troubling themselves to think, or through ignorance, raising the banner of equality between the words "atheist" ("a godless person", "materialist") and "Communist", although, as is well known, people with atheist convictions lived before our era in ancient Greece and Rome when there was no mention of Communists and feudal lords.
He had never been in the Party himself. And not because he was against the idea of the Communist way of life where everyone worked according to their abilities and health and received everything necessary as required. He didn't see anything bad in this procedure if everyone was very conscientious and therefore everyone worked to the limit of their ability, was not lazy, took only what was needed, but not overdoing it too much in order that the surplus not be thrown in the trash. A normal, average pupil of the institutions of socialist society for most of his years he, like an overwhelming majority of his countrymen, thought that the Communist idea had no theoretical flaws and would eventually be translated into practice, although in the distant future, unfortunately. Back then he didn't guess that this beautiful idea was utopian for it was incompatible with human nature, an inseparable feature of which is a personal, private interest in the results of [one's] labor which Communists denied and suppressed in every way.
In his youth Yura was a Komsomol member, of course, and it seemed was not at all passive because when after graduating an institute he went into production and after a year and a half he had already noticed and elected to the Komsomol bureau and a year later it was suggested that he lead it as permanent secretary. Possibly he would head it, yet he hesitated. Work in a personnel post promised a release of at least a year from an interesting specialty and being submerged in the little bureaucratized world of Komsomol instructions, summaries, event plans, reports, and routine paper rubbish. Moreover, he had not yet observed any particular enthusiasm in the Komsomol environment and therefore with an alarm bordering on horror he imagined himself as the plant Komsomol chief having to fight to increase its dying level of activity with the aid of a collection of pompous phrases and arguments which had become unconvincing even to himself.
The issue was decided at the Rayon Committee Bureau. When, in spite of long persuasion and the threat of a reprimand, Yura positively did not agree to work as a secretary excused from his main work, vexed at his stubbornness, the members of the Bureau, brought out the heavy artillery: the question of expelling a candidate for Komsomol boss from the Komsomol was put to a vote. The calculation was that at the last moment Yura would flinch and yield. But the stubborn man was silent, staring at the green cloth of the desk, and the matter was decided. An expulsion could have been appealed since Yura had had no infractions or offenses previously. But then he had to appear again before a Bureau, now of the City Committee, and again fight off insistent persuasion and, throwing up his hands, Yura stopped objecting. Comparatively recently such actions could have cost a young person big trouble and, to put it yet more politely, to his good fortune the Khrushchev thaw had already come and the organization had to survive "the loss of a fighting man" without unfortunate consequences for him.
Then Yura moved to another city and a new workplace where no one knew of the "shameful" fact of his past and he could have even sought entry into the Party. But for some reason he didn't want to anymore. Looking at his surroundings, he saw that among the honest workhorses with whom he sympathized few were in the Party. Most of those in it and getting into it were all kinds of loafers and windbags, shirkers and careerists, and they took them in without any special impediments, after which they surfaced in various supervisory positions or, leaving the first candidates for these positions in their jobs, they enjoyed the special favor of the bosses.
However, already working in a department of a higher educational institution, Yura spoke out against giving a favorable recommendation for Party membership to one of his colleagues who not only had not distinguished himself in his work and public life but had been caught falsifying the results of scientific research. Nevertheless, the other members of the department who were already in the Party, including the chairman, saw no obstacle to letting their colleague into the "vanguard of society" and issued a recommendation.
When Gorbachev's perestroyka began and the youthful General Secretary talked of the need to purge the Party ranks from the rostrum of a Party Congress, having acquired the right by this time with light gray hair to be called Yuriy Nikolayevich, Yura was inspired and decided that he would actively foster this process by joining the Party. However the Party group united and covered for one another, sensed an outsider, and did not support his request even as far as putting him on the list for admission to the Party which existed for the intelligentsia (if not on the list they were taken only "from the shop bench"). But he did not ask any more, quickly calculating that putting the intentions of the Party leader into practice was impractical (assuming they were genuine), even theoretically, for the majority of the Party would have had to expel itself.
So here our hero stayed on to gray hairs, remaining unembraced by the world Communist movement, which only now was happy since it had shed a significant, but unfortunately not all, share of the responsibility of the older generations for the crushing failure in which the country had found itself. But, not being associated with the formal responsibility to be an atheist written in the Bolshevik charter, nevertheless Yuriy Nikolayevich was one by the deep internal conviction instilled in him by his family, books, education, and the natural science social atmosphere and work requiring unquestioned common sense. He knew well why "home sapiens" is called a thinking man, is capable of reflection and analysis, and does not let himself believe in something BLINDLY, that is, without proof. But this is what all religions, churches, and sects require of the inhabitants of the planet who are endowed with reason; from their very first steps a mass of puzzling questions arise. Clerics and other "spiritual" pastors look for persuasive answers to them in vain, for that is why religious faith is FAITH, which requires submissive, servile, and unreasonable agreement with everything which so-called scripture teaches. For Yuriy Nikolayevich, who had given many years to scientific experiments and even at times their unexpected results were believable only when they were repeatedly reproduced experimentally, it was absolutely unacceptable to agree with some often poorly-educated long-bearded man in a priest's cassock demanding that his interlocutor call him "father", much less "parson" or even "my lord" that everyone on Earth and in space comes from the will of a God who rules everyone and everything, seeing and hearing everything. How can one believe what they cannot be convinced of once, much less repeatedly? What religions are trying to pass off as reality is easily inserted in the framework of the well-known fairy tales, stories, myths, and fantastic tales which people know from early childhood. But no one tries to force adults to believe in the reality of the kidnapping of brother Ivan by cunning swan-geese or in the amusing adventures of Puss in Boots. But the stories described in similar, but possibly just older, collections of fables are called "the Bible", the "Vedas", "the Tripitaka", and "the Koran" and they suggest quite insistently that one believe in them even as far as the threat or use force, for which there are many examples in history and modern life, from the burnings of the Catholic Inquisition to the bloody outrages of Islamic fundamentalists.
Until recently it seemed to Yuriy Nikolayevich that all this was so obvious that it could not be the subject of doubt or discussion. Nor was there anyone to discuss it with, because from early childhood to recent times he had been surrounded only by such atheists as himself. No, there were also believers remaining in society, but they were mainly the few poorly-educated old women who could be seen at the approaches to the rarely open churches and houses of prayer when there were services. The impression was created that religious faith in the country was gradually dying out and had no future. And besides, it was officially prohibited to believe in God (except those who were Communists, but this prohibition was not imposed on them by law, but by themselves). Functioning churches, mosques, and other religious institutions existed in more or less all large population centers whose doors were open to anyone wanting to enter them to pray or simply out of curiosity, but priests grumbled under their breath that no young people came to them. But what grounds did they have to count on an influx of young laymen if even the system of compulsory general secondary education acquainted children not at all badly with the principles of the natural sciences, not to mention higher education, through the millstones of which millions of inquisitive and happy young men and women tried to pass? Could they seriously count on filling the ranks of the Church flock with those people to whom it had been clearly and convincingly explained for many years behind both a school desk and a student bench, without requiring blind faith, that they themselves and the entire world around them were material, physical, and chemical, and that everything in the world, beginning with the birth of the stars and planets, including Mother Earth, and ending with the course of the history of Mankind as a whole, the Soviet and Russian people in particular, found a conclusive scientific, and not a fairy tale-mystical, explanation?
It seemed that it would always be so. But here orthodox Communists had to leave the heights of the state Olympus to be replaced by graduates (in the literal sense) not of their same ranks, but those who called themselves democrats and Yuriy Nikolayevich was unpleasantly struck by how sharply the attitude on the part of the authorities, the mass media, and part of the public, in particular, scholars of all kinds, changed toward religion and the church.
The first task of the Russian and Moscow governments was not the restart of production at idle plants and factories but the restoration of the capital's Cathedral of Christ the Savior which had been blown up by the Bolsheviks and it was erected in record time from the chlorinated waters of a swimming pool, after which a wave of repair of old and construction of new religious edifices began to roll throughout all of Russia. The restored churches, as in the olden days, began to sparkle with gilded (from what possible sources?) crosses and filled neighborhoods with the sound of bells. Eminent government figures, beginning with the President, began to patiently stand at solemn church services. The day of Jesus' birth was declared a non-working holiday. A blessing by their "parsons" became virtually obligatory when putting completed civilian or military facilities into operation. Not only did this not encounter any resistance but the penetration of the Church into the army and places of imprisonment was welcomed and supported materially. Newspapers have reported that talks were being held with the Patriarch about the restoration of the institution of the Church in the Navy as was the case before 1917 when each ship had its own chapel and priest. The Church was reborn even on the floating memorial of the Bolshevik coup, the cruiser Avrora. Statements by churchmen rang out with pretensions to teach "God's Law" at government schools and church schools appeared. Churches were opened at several higher educational institutions in St. Petersburg. The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which had functioned for many long years in the Kazan Cathedral building, was turned into just the Museum of the History of Religion by someone's wish, changing and sharply reducing its display and the area occupied as though a natural science view of the surrounding world counter to religious views had not and could not have any history.
"The other world is possibly real", read one national newspaper, choked with enthusiasm. "In 1996 European scientists made a great discovery, throwing off the cloak of matter before mankind. Behind it is an immaterial, probably even, anti-material world".
Inspired by the support of the "mass media", the Church decided that it had received the right to act in the name of all the people. On the day the remains of the Czar's family were interred, limiting its grief only to those who "were tortured and killed for faith in Christ", it declared that this brought repentance for the sin of apostasy from the faith in the name of all Russians, meaning, in the name of Yuriy Nikolayevich and those like him who didn't ask for this and were not entitled to it. This was the latest (and far from the first) attempt to create the impression that there were no atheists left in Russia.
Yuriy Nikolayevich was not indifferent to all this. Born into a family of atheists and having lived to gray hairs in an atheist environment, he was used to antireligious propaganda not simply, as they say, taking place and having a right to exist, but dominating religious propaganda, not allowing it to splash beyond church entrances and the thresholds of monasteries, seminaries, and academies, or even semi-underground sects. All this time he had not at all thought that religion needed to be completely prohibited. He did not want to deprive those people of the psychotherapeutic help they began to find it in faith. Sometimes looking out of curiosity into ordinary little churches (enjoying tourism, he had quite often visited the best old churches in Russia and abroad quite often thanks to his familiarity with art), Yuriy Nikolayevich tried when looking at those praying to imagine their thoughts and feelings during those minutes, but experienced nothing but bewilderment and pity. "Are they in their right minds?", he thought, breathing in the familiar air of a city street with relief after being suffused with the odor of incense and the hot candles of the church atmosphere, and came to the conclusion that if their common sense was more or less in order they had an obvious shortage of welfare and happiness. And if prayers helped someone reduce their spiritual pain and a visit to a church gained contentment and confidence, then the means by which people achieve inner peace was their purely personal affair. Some preferred cold arguments of reason and others fervent supplications directed to Heaven. But, in recognizing the right of believers to their faith and the freedom of religious worship, Yuriy Nikolayevich thought that if it is publicly displayed, moreover throughout the entire country, then it ought to also be accompanied by a public response by atheist opponents. As a curious person he had always displayed an interest in such discussions, naturally rooting for "his side".
In reality in recent years something quite different began to occur. The voice of those who openly declared they did not believe in God completely disappeared from radio and television. On the other hand, expressions of the opposite kind, mainly from various representatives of the creative intelligentsia, rained down as if from the Horn of Plenty. One popular radio station especially thrived in proclaiming such revelations. Quite often discussions between radio journalists and celebrities invited to the studio - singers, musicians, writers, legislators, public figures, and the like were included in its air time in addition to news and music. Among the others things which came up in the conversations was the obligatory theme of the attitude toward God, and there was no case where a guest or guests of the program did not avow their belief that they had revered the Almighty since the cradle. Hearing these confessions, Yuriy Nikolayevich was struck by how deftly these people born in a country of almost total atheism had concealed their religious convictions from their contemporaries during their school years, Young Pioneer childhood, and Komsomol youth. Otherwise, at that time they would not have avoided the sneering and alienation of those around them.
Examples of a hasty repackaging of yesterday's godless into true believers showered down as if from a Horn of Plenty.
The President of one of the former Soviet republics, once its main Communist, became quite anxious after a recent unsuccessful attempt on his life, publicly offered thanks to Heaven for the miracle of saving his life. The poor fellow did not consider that there was no sense in a mythical God saving his recent rabid antagonist, for whom there is a place in Hell.
Famous satirists recognized as "the kings of laughter", whose welfare directly depend on their popularity, having noted that a campaign of hostility toward non-believers had developed in the mass media, began to maneuver. A sad young woman asked one of them during one of his performances at a television studio theater:
- You make fun of everything, but do you believe in God or do you also regard him with mockery?
And instead of honestly confessing: "I don't believe in what doesn't exist", the sharp-witted creator of happy monologues replied with a phrase obviously created for such an occasion:
- I believe, of course, I believe! But I don't go to church because I prefer to address God without intermediaries.
Another representative of the school of satire, in response to a question of a TV host about the sources of his sparkling talent, flashed a brief smile and without thinking long, blurted out:
- It's from God. Everything in the world is from God!
A religious note rang out even such a matter so far removed from religion as television advertising. A young boy asked his grandfather whether it was true that the Moscow Kremlin was the heart of Russian and heard in reply:
- No, the Kremlin is the head; the heart should be in the Church.
The last time he heard this Yuriy Nikolayevich thought, not without sarcasm, that this advertisement had an undesirable subtext for its clients: it turned out that the head, that is, reason, has no place in church; their people there are brainless and unwise.
One other curious child was interested in whether AIDS was God's curse on people for their sins. And the schoolteacher replied with a sigh:
- Oh, I don't know, my dear, I don't know.
This elementary little scene was called upon to impress that now even a school, whose duty is to carry the light of scientific knowledge to the kiddies, was far from sure that there is no God in nature.
And how is it, the school, not to be in doubt if radio broadcasts that the latest science does not only not contradict religion but directly aids it. A journalist penetrated the cell of a nun and the latter lectured to her:
- Only a madman, that is someone without reason, says that there is no God, for now science strengthens us believers. Earlier there was only classical mechanics which stated that we come to the knowledge of the whole through knowledge of the parts. But now, thanks to God, quantum mechanics has appeared which directly proves the opposite and this completely agrees with God's word.
A journalist raised no objection to the interlocutor - whether she was unable, having ended up less grounded in quantum science, or she didn't want to, having thereby agreed that people like Yuriy Nikolayevich are madmen.
In still one more advertising spot a popular actress, reflecting piety in her face, reflected over the phrase, "We are giving money for the Church". Lifting her eyes to the sky, she reported in a quivering voice:
- We don't give, but [rather] God gives us an opportunity to give money for the Church.
It is a little thing to simply give money for the restoration of a beautiful church, which even a non-believing admirer of old Russian architecture can do, but one still needs to think servilely that you have come to this decision not with your mind but from inspiration from above, having thereby recognized the existence of God.
If in his youth Yuriy Nikolayevich had encountered believers, chiefly among the very old, whose childhood and youth had passed in conditions where it was much more difficult to know about the workings of the world than to hear Biblical nonsense in church, and they were mainly lonely people crushed by the adversities of the life of an old woman, then now, when he himself had already entered his seventh decade, quite young people who had doubtless already taken a school course in natural science had started to sometimes become his opponents in views about religion. If their own insufficient diligence could keep these young people from learning the substance of this course, then teachers of a type, from the commercial, who actually incline pupils not to believe very much in what was written in the textbooks about the surrounding world could. How otherwise could one explain the reaction of one older pupil in whose presence Yuriy Nikolayevich joked that, inasmuch as Jesus Christ was born in the family of the carpenter Joseph, then he should have been called Jesus Josephovich. None of the adults objected to this "heresy" but a youth, deciding that Yuriy Nikolayevich was uninformed, began to seriously explain to him that Jesus had no physiological human father since he was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit.
- Such things need to be known, Mister, - he concluded with a reproach.
At a young age it was already unforgivable to be mistaken in questions of childbearing and Yuriy Nikolayevich, without offending him with the tone of a mentor, taunted:
- Yes, yes, young one, you're right. Now I remember. The Virgin Mary actually was not pregnant from her future husband and not even from a man, but from a little bird, a pigeon, in the form in which the Holy Spirit is reflected in icons. This is why the poor carpenter so quietly endured the unfaithfulness of his bride and, hardly thinking and "roused from sleep", took a pregnant woman for a wife. It's only strange that Christ doesn't look anything like his real father. There ought to be some hereditary feature displayed, if only a hooked nose.
But one more schoolchild to whom Yuriy Nikolayevich suggested that she read the satiric anti-clerical works of Leo Taxil, replied indignantly that one ought not make fun of religion but revere it greatly if only because "if there is no faith in God then there will be no music, architecture, sculpture, and painting". It was felt that one of her teachers whom she respected had managed to instill this dubious argument in her.
- Since all this was inspired by religion, including Christianity, it assiduously laid out some precepts - if something has existed for 20 centuries then it's hardly a fable. But even if it's a fable then it's so beautiful that to make fun of it is like soiling Raphael's "Madonna".
It is felt that it will not be easy to make such children change their impressionable minds with such massive ideological pressure in the circumstances of freedom of speech in which various radio uncles and TV aunts who have taken it upon themselves to mutter about faith in God with the same energy as they previously exerted about faith in Communism have began to exert on their unformed minds.
Here on the TV screen is the author of a historical and literary essay, angrily stamping those who, just think, "not long ago permitted themselves to write the name of God in lower case". And an actor who became famous by creating credible human roles on the stage and screen suddenly reported that his greatest dream was to play the role of Jesus Christ whom he supposedly once saw with his own eyes during filming: "I was looking and He was flying through the sky all in white".
But not long ago Yuriy Nikolayevich heard a conversation on the radio with the writer Semyon Laskin who had just published a novel in one thick journal about the tragic fate of an innocent artist who had died in a Stalinist torture chamber. The heroine of the novel was not the fruit of the writer's imagination but a real person who had lived; however, the account had not been entirely documented because few documents had been preserved and much had to be creatively invented. But the writer had not considered it possible to candidly admit this to the readers and he thought up a means by which he supposedly managed to acquire information which didn't really exist. It's hard to say that the means is new, having long been out of style (the genius Leo Tolstoy helped it along a great deal, mercilessly making fun of it in his "Fruits of Enlightenment"), and therefore it is half-forgotten by contemporaries. The name of the means is spiritualism, that is, addressing the spirits of the dead with the aid of "specially gifted" people, so-called mediums. And here Laskin said in the novel that he contacted his heroine living in the next world through mediums and she told him everything, even as far as how the Gulag executioners took away her life. Since the denunciation of Stalin's cult of personality much has been written about the victims of his bloody regime and evidently yet will be written, since the dramatic fates of these people is worthy of pages of literature in the highest measure. In the process, as a creative person, a writer has the right to think up a more or less felicitous form of his work, the jacket in which he prefers to clothe what is being described. So Laskin went this route and everything would have been acceptable if the radio interview that Yuriy Nikolayevich heard where the writer reported that his conversations with the deceased were not an artistic invention but a real fact as proof of which he was ready to demonstrate nothing other than...a tape recording of the artist's reply to one of his questions. The journalist who was talking with Laskin strongly played up to the writer and before the playing of the recording, her voice breaking with emotion, she informed the listeners that they were now about to witness a history-making event signifying mankind's breakthrough into the immense world of a "parallel", that is, immaterial life. Then the text about the relationship of the deceased to Laskin's intention to describe her life was heard spoken by someone for a minute or two. To give the voice an "otherworldly" character the woman spoke in a monotone, pausing for each word, as if demonstrating how difficult the process was to overcome time and space and switch from an immaterial substance to a material one.
Of course, Yuriy Nikolayevich had no grounds nor a desire to believe in this obvious nonsense. In Laskin's words he also initially regarded the newly-found mediums as charlatans "like a Soviet materialist". But as soon as this muffled voice rang out in the secret apartment where he had been invited he wrote, "all the dogmas of materialism which I had conscientiously professed for decades turned into nothing in a moment". From the above quote it followed that, first, Laskin was far from being a materialist by conviction but rather from Soviet tradition, and, second, he turned out to be a victim of quite skillful hypnotists and ventriloquists whose influence was so strong that even after coming out of the spell, coming to his senses and admitting in the book that he was hearing the voice of the living human medium sitting right next to him, he continued to believe and state that he had heard the voice of a long-dead person. But if Laskin had changed his philosophical convictions under strong psychic influence then a request from him was no more than from a victim of tricksters. It is another matter that the editorial board of the magazine which published the novel without comment that it was not obligated to share the author's changed point of view of materialism. It turned out that it shared it and had identified with it. The editorial board went even farther than the radio, which had arranged a spectacle at the microphone with a playing of the tape recording of the "otherworldly" voice. Only those people could act this way who either deeply believed in the "ventriloquism" or were carrying out (probably not unselfishly) the instructions of those to whose advantage it was to deceive people, which in conditions of freedom of speech is not prosecuted by the law.
One day poet Andrew Voznesensky, who is in favor, confidentially informed the readers of a newspaper how he had become free to create in new conditions because now the fancies of his works "were not dictated by the government but....by God. The fate of the creator was coded by Heaven". It turns out that the dictate remained as it was, only now the sovereign sits still higher than before, up in Heaven.
Well, a poet is still a poet. The tradition to consider poetic creativity as inspired by God was not thought up by Voznesensky but has deep, or as a poet would say, profound roots. Literate person can more or less write without rhythm and not "well", but in the hand of a real poet who is able to transmit thoughts, feelings, moods, and emotions, putting words into verse it flows; many, particularly poets themselves, say it is not unlike a supernatural force.
Yuriy Nikolayevich remembered how once, being with his granddaughter at a children's theater, he became witness to a discussion which arose between the heroes of a fairy tale and the pre-school audience. A Poet broken with grief complained that he didn't expect any more good from life, for only a miracle could help him, and there were no miracles in the world.
- What do you there aren't any? - his interlocutor Barabashka said in amazement, turning her gaze to the audience. - There are many even now!
- No, they don't happen, said the Poet, standing his ground.
- They do, they do! Right, children?
And here the entire group of youngsters, including Yuriy Nikolayevich's granddaughter, began to chant with conviction:
- They do, they do, they do!
- What kind of Poet is he if he doesn't believe in miracles? - the optimist summed up the brief world outlook conference.
Well, it's not surprising if silly little children believe in miracles. They are for children; otherwise fables would be pointless. But when the awareness of adult uncles and aunts remains at the level of a school child this is already abnormal, bordering on what psychologists call infantilism.
One day Yuriy Nikolayevich had to participate in a sad funeral ceremony for a beloved actor. He was not personally acquainted with him and Yuriy Nikolayevich's idea of the deceased was based only on an impression from the happy roles he had played in comedy shows. He thought the same of the actor in real life and his relatives and theater colleagues also had the same picture. Therefore it turned out to be a surprise to him when on arrival at the cemetery the casket was not placed in the room for civil ceremonies but in the cemetery's chapel and placed in a row with two other caskets, in one of which lay an old woman and in the other....an empty man's suit, testifying how destructive unnatural deaths are at times. Out of respect for the memory of the actor and courtesy Yuriy Nikolayevich patiently endured the tedious ceremony during which a young but somewhat balding priest, hiding his face in a book of Psalms, hastily and inarticulately mumbled some mournful texts but the masters of the artful word tried in vain to understand what this "master of the spoken word" was saying. The people in the church themselves were not supposed to speak, so they had their say at the grave. And here it was Yuriy Nikolayevich's fate to be surprised a second time when the theme of their speeches was not so much grief about parting with a talented colleague and dear person as much as delight that "now it's already good for him, for his soul has already ascended to Heaven and he is looking down on us and smiling". There was much false, feigned, and bad acting, somehow frivolous, and it was even pitiful for the deceased who could not protest and defend himself.
Remembering now all these instances of the public's suddenly full-grown religiosity and superstition, genuine or affected, Yuriy Nikolayevich thought that it was becoming ever harder for him to find people like himself with whom he could share his bewilderment about such a strange social metamorphosis which he had not expected. Even Tamara Faddeyevna, his wife, who had never earlier displayed an interest in the church, began to suddenly wear a cross on her neck and paint eggs for Easter. But one day the couple, examining a storeroom in search of a paint solvent, stumbled on an unlabeled bottle with some colorless, odorless liquid. He recalled in vain when and in what circumstances he had put this bottle here and even tentatively took the trouble to check the nature of its contents. Moreover, he didn't care for alcohol and had never intended to hide it. Without risking testing the unknown liquid by tasting it, Yuriy Nikolayevich turned to query his wife. She initially made an expression like she didn't know anything but then admitted that she had received the bottle as a gift from a girlfriend. It contained water, not ordinary, but water blessed in a church. It is not be out of plase to keep at home "just to be on the safe side" and moreover it doesn't take up much space and doesn't claim attention. As regards the cross and the Easter eggs, then in the opinion of the inconsistent atheist, in our days they were all just "elements of folk ceremonies" and nothing more. But as far as arguing with a woman, moreover one's wife, it's a bad business; he had to leave her alone with her new views on folk art.
A widowed neighbor, who dropped in Yuriy Nikolayevich's home from time to time "to hang out" and discuss various large and small problems with him on which they usually quickly came to a "consensus", began to unexpectedly argue with him on the issue of the value and usefulness of the Bible to mankind. Yuriy Nikolayevich himself, who was acquainted with the main Biblical topics from other sources, had not read the entire text but recalled that once during a business trip to the Far East he had roomed in a hotel with a colleague who had taken a thick volume of the "Old Testament" with him to read in his spare time and "eliminate his religious illiteracy". He did not read it aloud but as he got deeper into the text he began interrupt the reading more often and indignantly exclaim:
- Well, what's this bloodthirsty God gone and done! He seeded the Earth with people and then he began to kill them left and right himself, not one at a time, but en masse, like a shameless fascist. Here again it is written, "And He killed them". But it was unclear for what.
Having told his neighbor about this event, Yuriy Nikolayevich expressed bewilderment at how believers could consider this ancient semblance of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" wise and sacred. The neighbor smiled but did not agree with this radical comparison, noting that although he himself had not especially studied the Bible he had encountered references to it as a "font of wisdom" and "Book of books" which has no equal in the editions, the number of reeditions and languages into which it has been translated and is considered a reference book for a good half of mankind. This took Yuriy Nikolayevich quite aback inasmuch as he knew of other, quite authoritative opinions. For example, in contrast to our debaters, the British lord and minister Bolingbroke who lived in the 18th Century mastered the Bible after which he came to the conclusion that "this is a pitiful weaving together of fables in which each word is or above laughable or beyond horrifying". After becoming familiar with the parables and wisdom of Tsar Solomon the great thinker Walter declared that "one has to devoutly fight the natural repugnance which reading them incurs". In his opinion, the Hebrew people "are seen in the pages of the Bible as the bearers of awful superstitious prejudices, vile depravity, brutal plunder, impenetrable stupidity, and pious bloodthirstiness". The caustic Leo Taxil was crushed that "people read the Bible too little! To read it means to stop believing in it and to hold it in contempt".
What a surprise Yuriy Nikolayevich had afterwards when he noticed that in the school textbook for upperclasses [it said that] the Bible was treated like the humanistic values of European civilizations, for "reading it would help one see a worthy goal in life and illuminate the path to it with a bright light". Long quotations were cited in the textbook as confirmation. Now the unexpectedly frightened attitude of young people toward religion became explainable. Evidently they were very diligent pupils of school historians, who had hastened to surrender their materialist positions after increasing their pedagogical mastery at the St. Petersburg academy which published this textbook. How proud the church, which dreams about teaching "God's Law" in the school, must have been.
After such a turn of events in a secondary school it was naturally interesting how the topic of religion is now being handled in higher education and what view university philosophy instructors have about this problem. Thinking it over, Yuriy Nikolayevich dared to go to the main and oldest St. Petersburg university where this is not only a department, but a whole college of philosophy.
It was the summer holidays and the doors to most college rooms turned out to be locked. Finally one of them yielded and Yuriy Nikolayevich saw two young women behind it, a blonde and a brunette, who were drinking tea.
- "Dear ladies, unlike you, I'm far from being young and passed my exams in philosophy back in Soviet times and strongly suspect that now this subject is taught, to put it politely, somewhat different. With whom could I talk about this subject? Are you instructors yourselves?"
- "No", replied the brunette, "we have just finished philosophy and have temporarily found jobs as lab workers".
- "Well now, that is even better", the uninvited guest rejoiced. "In that case, as recent students could you possibly, if you remember, tell me about the lectures about materialism?"
Yuriy Nikolayevich very much hoped to hear in reply, "Sure we remember, for materialism is a basic philosophical subject". Instead a pause fell in the room during which the women exchanged inquiring glances. Finally, when she had completely remembered, the blonde said:
- Materialism? It seems this is something connected with Karl Marx? But, excuse me, I don't remember anything more. You'd be better off turning to the department of ontology. Its instructors lecture in non-philosophical colleges.
Luckily, the door to the ontologists also turned out to be unlocked. Having found how what problems were of interest to the guest, a young man looking through papers behind a desk in a corner of the room, who it seemed was also a temporary lab worker, politely suggested that Yuriy Nikolayevich familiarize himself with the program of the university course on the fundamentals of philosophy and even allowed him to take a brochure home for a couple of days. Impatiently opening it on the steps of the university staircase Yuriy Nikolayevich was quickly convinced that he had never had the philosophy course that they were teaching current students.
When he was a student he attended lectures, spoke at seminars, and took examinations on a subject briefly described in a schedule of institutional subjects with the abbreviation FML, meaning "fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism". Knowledge of any other philosophical concepts except the one described under this name was not provided in lectures and was not required on examinations. This was also repeated when taking his candidate's examination in graduate school. The philosophical knowledge appeared quite boring to Yuriy Nikolayevich and he did not return to it after the second examination. But the conviction in the primacy of the material world which was just recently intelligible was reflected in the realization of a category secondary to matter which existed for this reason and which had strongly implanted itself in Yuriy Nikolayevich's head, and to that day he continued to openly laugh at the so-called idealists who had said that nothing of which we see, hear, touch, and smell exists in reality but is nothing more than the fruit of our imagination. He considered this just an entertaining fruit of someone's not very healthy fantasy, a nonsensical hypothesis, inasmuch as real life had never given and never could give normal human reasoning any confirmation of this. At the same time he saw features in this hypothesis which related it to religion and suspected that it had been raised because it was required by the latter to give it a scientific cast. It was necessary to somehow justify the Biblical statement about the origin of all that exists, reading better than "in the beginning was the Word" (that is, not matter).
And here, having opened the brochure, Yuriy Nikolayevich noticed that its pages were festooned with words and phrases testifying that today's pupils of the old Petersburg alma mater had been called upon to absorb and carry into practice the school [of thought] where many of them had been fated to work, which was far from just the materialistic-atheistic world view. Along with practical means of learning the world it was required to render homage to the "spiritual" means, to adopt "a religious world view and forms of religion", to delve into the essence of "faith in the supernatural" and "the idea of God". The words "spirit" and "soul" were encountered much more often in the text of the program than the word "reason". Having become acquainted just in passing with dialectical materialism, it was required to also get to know "dialectical theology". Those who drew up the program did not avoid the concept of "theodicy" which was unknown to Yuriy Nikolayevich. Back home, glancing at a dictionary, he found out that it means an attempt to justify the simultaneous existence on Earth of a good, just God and evil. From time immemorial millions of believers who turned their gaze to Heaven have asked in vain, "Gracious God, why do you, who can do everything, allow crimes to be committed on Earth and people's blood spilled?", and since the non-existent Person addressed by their prayers remained silent, church "philosophers" took it upon themselves to think up a reply. And now one could find this and much else out from the field of theology from the university philosophy course, having grasped at the same time what the difference is between "flesh" and "soul", what "acts of spirit" and "the philosophy of the spirit" consist of, and how to successfully overcome the vexing discrepancy between "the sciences of nature and the sciences of the spirit".
Having studied the program and sensed the entire depth of his backwardness in the philosophical knowledge of the world, Yuriy Nikolayevich understood that he could not avoid another visit to the university, and not just because he needed to return the brochure. He needed to hear the stimulating word of a very competent person. And he got lucky - besides the lab worker he had met he caught a youthful professor in the department who was giving a candidate's examination in the graduate school with another colleague. When the examination concluded it turned out that the professor needed to drive his daughter, who was sitting quietly in a corner of the room, somewhere. Therefore he virtually talked to Yuriy Nikolayevich on the run.
- "But what personally surprised you in our program?", he grinned. "Right now a great many philosophers in Russia have left primitive materialism, including yours truly. In the past century an idealism prohibited in the USSR advanced farther with the works of mainly Western intellectuals and now seems much more consistent and logical than during your youth. Hardcore materialists have been kept in our college as relics only in one secondary department and besides they usually keep quiet. And all the same we have devoted two entire lectures to dialectical materialism in our principles of philosophy course. Are you sad that the level of atheist propaganda has fallen? But it simply corresponds to the number of atheists who remain. As regards myself personally, I am indifferent; I don't care about the subject of faith in God. And, in general, whether to believe or not is a matter of conscience for each person individually, a right established in our Constitution. Why have you decided that the growth of religiosity in society is slowing the development of science? The overwhelming majority of scientists in the world believed and believe in God and this does not in any way impede them from learning the secrets of nature. They include Charles Darwin, Mendeleev, and Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, and our contemporary Natal'ya Petrovna Bekhtereva. There's a new dictionary of philosophy on sale now where you will find answers to many questions".
Yuriy Nikolayevich noticed this dictionary in a university kiosk and did not refrain from searching the page with the word "soul" right there at the counter , wanting to find out how the authors regard its immortality. It turned out that the authors did not describe their point of view on this or other questions, maintaining complete neutrality like a university professor. About "the soul" it said that it is an "immaterial substance" which "exists immortally in the next world (Christianity, Islam) or migrates endlessly from body to body (Buddhism)". And there are no comments about whether this is correct or nonsense. Reader, accept the idea of the "soul" which is more to your taste or reject this very concept. In another section of the same dictionary "soul" is interpreted as "the accumulation of psychological characteristics of the personality", that is, practically the same as the word "psyche". Here there was no longer an imaginary immortality, not a next world, and such a meaning completely suited materialists but the dictionary did not at all force this on believers. A total of five proofs of the existence of God are presented in the booklet such as, for example: "God exists because faith in Him by all the people of the world exists", but neither the irrefutability nor the absurdity of such "proofs" is confirmed at all. Well, this is completely logical for a dictionary, thought Yuriy Nikolayevich. It should not promulgate one-sided propaganda; this is not its genre, so to speak. It's another matter for a textbook published for a secular educational institution which is obligated to convey scientific knowledge to people. Here scientists should have their authoritative say and rebuff religious obscurantism.
a search for fresh textbooks on philosophy written after the elimination of Communist censorship Yuriy Nikolayevich went to more than one city library until he stumbled on a 2-volume work published by a Moscow academy bearing the name of an outstanding Russian Marxist. The foreword inspired Yuriy Nikolayevich with quite a bit of optimism in which it said that the textbook had been prepared in accordance with State requirements. If the State itself had meddled in the matter, the miserable atheist delving into the text was about to decide that here there should be only real science and no religious view. How mistaken he was!
Having noted that not only the greatest thinkers of the past but also a certain number of modern researchers are believers, the authors expressed "regret in connection with the suppression of the influence of the idea of God on the development of scientific knowledge" and stated that this idea "was productive for the development of scientific ideas, and the existence of the divine ideal pushed naturalists to search for the reasons for harmony in Nature". It turns out that science and religion have always marched and hardly shoulder to shoulder "helping man to make sense of the surrounding world, filling him with the meaning of his earthly existence, and giving the hope of immortality". Here's even how! But in spite of the fact that religion graciously allows science to be its competitor, scientists ought not be especially seduced for "the scientific understanding of the world is not able to refute the truths of religion". Occupied with the analysis of individual elements of the real world science supposedly cannot give complete knowledge about the world at the same time as religion does this successfully "by understanding God". "A familiar idea" - Yuriy Nikolayevich recalled the statement of a nun from a cell. "It's interesting who's stealing from whom - the recluse from the poor excuses for philosophers or the other way around". The authors of the textbook explained the vexing atheism of part of humanity not by the successes of the natural sciences but by "the psychological feelings of people due to the abandonment of the world by God". Doubt was expressed that "in fencing off God from the real world, science deprives itself of the opportunity of addressing Him". What a nice LITTLE statement after the fanfares about walking shoulder to shoulder!
And such a publication obviously suitable for a church, and even more as a university textbook, came to light not only without resistance from but actually with the blessing of the State. The suspicion had long arisen with Yuriy Nikolayevich and now was strengthened that, as occurred during the total domination of the Communist Politburo when all ideological campaigns were conducted according to "covert"1 instructions from Moscow and immediately and rapidly supported and approved throughout the entire country, so now a religious inundation is taking place not without the participation of the new Russian authorities. There was the sense that a secret directive had been distributed throughout the country to promote the rebirth of religion and the Church and not even mention anywhere in the mass media about the presence of atheists in society, to introduce an unspoken censorship on radio and television, and to let on the air only those who agree to state their faith in God.
But if such a secret directive actually exists then where can one find out about its existence? But what about launching a trial balloon if only to clarify who ordered the word "atheism" removed from the name of a popular St. Petersburg museum.
Without thinking for long, Yuriy Nikolayevich set off to a museum on his next day off. He had not been in this building for quite a long while. Having satisfied his intellectual curiosity two or three times and bowed his head to Kutuzov's grave he didn't feel a great need to make new visits here, preferring the other innumerable art, cultural, and memorial museums in the city. He entered a cathedral free of charge, in contrast to past visits. It turned out that now the wide area in front of the former altar had been returned to the Church, had been separated from the museum by a low barrier, and here services had been resumed. There were few visitors on both sides of the "border" at this hour and the tour guide was bored waiting for those who desired her services. The interest that Yuriy Nikolayevich displayed in the fresco "Secret Vespers" situated above the altar wall enlivened her. She engaged him in conversation, and smoothly switched to the problem that the museum was experiencing not the best of times, to put it mildly. The museum workers had long reconciled themselves to the clerics' demand to leave the walls of the Cathedral but the repair of the secular building which was to be moved was going slowly because of a lack of money. Considering this, the church hierarchy had agreed for now to allow the museum to stay in the church but several years ago its existence literally hung on a thread when a group of believers appeared who had assumed the name of "the community" in which there had settled so-called "Cossacks of the Nevsky Stanitsa2" (not only in their conduct but masquerade appearance in formal dress). Threats of a forceful resolution of the problem rang out: kick the museum out of the church, distribute the exhibits suitable and pleasing to God to churches and other museums, but throw the rest in the dump. It was then that all the museum workers who were scared to death decided at their meeting to reduce part of the display due to the excited clergy and "reduce" the name of the museum, leaving out the word in it that was "hateful to God".
"But this is not the only reason we have broken with atheism", the interlocutor continued. "The thing is that we are still a State museum. According to the Constitution the State guarantees each citizen the right to profess any religion. How can we can as a State organization propagandize the rejection of God and faith? This would be a violation of law for us. It's another matter if someone created a private museum of atheism; then he would be expressing not the point of view of the State but of the museum's owner, that is, a private person who is not prohibited from antireligious propaganda according to the same Constitution. I don't know why, but those who make the laws didn't decide to use this word in the text and it's written there that it's permitted to disseminate not only religious but 'other' convictions. It would seem clearest that other than religious convictions would be included, firstly anti-religious, that is, atheistic views, but this was not directly stated and there is a possibility of two interpretations of the law but the Church and believers have a formal basis for disputing the name 'Museum of Atheism'. Meanwhile, philosophers commonly have a broad and less radical term than "atheism" to express a critical attitude toward religion, 'free-thinking', which ought to be preferred. But meanwhile there is no such museum, alas".
"But it seems to me", Yuriy Nikolayevich objected, "that to be consistent the State ought not show only religions exhibits in its 'own' museum. As a result it turns out that we still have a kind of single State church in the city. But this is nonsense, you must admit, for according to the law the Church is separate from the State".
"No, our museum is not a church although all the exhibits in it are related to it. We are one of many historical museums in the country revealing one of the faces of the common history of Russia and mankind - the history of religion. Read our written comments in the exhibit. Is there really even the slightest hint in them of an exhortation to believe in God? We let a visitor understand that we don't care at all what attitude toward religion he has when he comes and when he leaves. Meanwhile there are both believers and atheists on our staff. By the way, I am one of the latter".
"And all the same I don't understand", Yuriy Nikolayevich said without conceding. "How it is possible to tell visitors about the history of people's attitude toward God and mention only that part of mankind which believes in God and be completely silent about atheists as if there never were any in history. Strictly speaking, the history of religion and the history of atheism are two sides of the same coin; they cannot be artificially separated. It's just the same as reporting the actions of only one of the warring sides when talking about the course of a military battle. And why in an exhibit about the history of religion does the Church need to be shown without fail only in a rosy light, keeping silent about the sufferings and misfortunes which spreading a blind faith in God among people caused? For are not the religious wars and persecutions which befell free-thinkers, even as far as the tortures and bonfires of the Inquisition, and manifestations of religious extremism - pages of the history of religion?"
"Yes, this is also its history and we are trying to reflect it as best we can. For example, we plan to mention the fact that some clerics served the German occupiers in Soviet territory seized by the enemy. But we do not have any or nearly enough exhibits about the "black" pages of the history of the Church. We need to hang something on the walls and in the showcases but mainly we have books whose display is the business of libraries and not museums. But all the same after the move to a secular facility possibly we will show the history of religion more objectively than it is now".
"Tell me, are there no exhibits or where have they gone? For earlier there were pictures and models and the tools of the Inquisition's tortures, a weapon which the Church used as arguments in the struggle against religious dissidents and atheists. Have all these really been destroyed?"
"No, we have something lying in storerooms...But, pardon me, it seems that work is calling me; a need for a tour guide has appeared".
Nothing was left without comment by Yuriy Nikolayevich as the interlocutor adroitly used a convenient pretext to beat a hasty retreat. But he didn't take offense, since he understood that in the heat of discussion he had begun to ask questions, almost provocative ones, which were too difficult from the point of view of the museum's current situation. How was the museum lady to know that a real ordinary atheist stood in front of her and not a person sent by the Church to get an excuse to accuse a State museum of antireligious propaganda, moreover, on Church "territory".
Thus, everything was more or less all clear with the museum. One could not count on its objectivity in educational work at this time and the future was concealed beyond a sort of distant horizon. Not without reason did the tour guide, a woman who was still young, half-jokingly note that she dreamed of surviving until the museum moved to a new site. But Yuriy Nikolayevich had not forgotten about the main purpose for which he had come to the museum - to detect the existence of unspoken pro-religious pressure on it by State authorities. He did not achieve this goal because if there were such pressure then the museum was not guided by it. It had repudiated atheism out of fear of ruining relations with the owner of the "living space" and being thrown out onto the street. The State could be blamed only for not displaying sufficient vigor in defending the interests of "its own" cultural institution.
"But what did I generally take away from this", Yuriy Nikolayevich suddenly was thrown into doubt, "that the State has a need to support the Church? Why do the authorities, which consist for the most part of yesterday's Communist atheists, do this? It cannot be that they suddenly genuinely believe in God and have taken His side". According to studies by research psychologists who have sought to solve the phenomenon of sudden religious conversion, it is most often preceded by a feeling of sin and guilt, a spiritual crisis, moral and ideological explorations, dissatisfaction with a previous way of life, and conflict with society and those around them. From all this bouquet what applies to the government is only a possible feeling of guilt toward the people for gross mistakes in carrying out economic reforms, leading to their impoverishment and expressions of protest. But this feeling could hardly have forced the State to seek friendship with God and turn to a celestial office for aid.
Among the known reasons for a sudden search for God are such cases as when people previously indifferent to God are seized by deep emotional breakdown caused by misfortune, depression, or irreplaceable loss, accompanied by a feeling of loneliness and defenselessness. Thus, Yuriy Nikolayevich found out from literature about the case of a famous St. Petersburg female academician mentioned by a university philosophy professor. The granddaughter of an outstanding Russian psychoneurologist, Natal'ya Petrovna had achieved great results herself in the research of human brain activity. Who else but her, it would seem, would know that so-called spiritual or, which is the same thing, mental activity is nothing other than a physiological function of the brain and contains nothing supernatural and immaterial. Yet nevertheless this very person, standing on the very edge, so to speak, of scientific knowledge of nature came to begin to fervently pray in church. An "altered state of consciousness" caused by the deepest personal tragedy, the simultaneous death of the two people closest to her, her son and her husband, became the reason for this as is evident from a book written by the new believer herself. "Something happened which directly showed me that there is a World Beyond", she wrote after the spirits of the dead began to appear to her.
And if at the end of the 20th Century the Russian government had become closer to the Church than one who was two centuries earlier an inveterate atheist, the Prussian King Friedrich II, none other than by reason of an "altered state of consciousness". But what could have served as a jolt for him, what ghosts and phantoms? By now they were not mystical, for the post-Communist authorities did not believe in the supernatural. But political [authorities], perhaps. The shades of various historical figures who lost political power, from French Emperor Louis XVI to the last Russian Czar, at times along with their heads, as a consequence of insufficient popularity with the masses floated before the eyes of those who were already in power or just striving for it. Any figure of the modern Russian political arena firmly knows that he will be doomed to failure without playing up to the mass of voters but that there are quite a number of people among them who take pro-Church positions either genuinely or under the influence of fashion. Exactly how many? The Church itself, which was interested in this number being as impressive as possible, obligingly hinted at the answer in one of the newspapers. The paper stated that "in the Moscow Patriarchate they gave us information that Orthodox believers in Russia comprise 60% of the population". And this is only the Orthodox, for there are other religions. In such a situation, to display coldness toward the Church means denying oneself a hefty part of the electorate and accordingly not to have enough support for the future. What government or contender for power wants such a fate for themselves? This means that if the reason for playing up to the clerics is not obvious, then it is veiled and there is one all the same. Even the Communists understood this who hastened to drop the requirement to be an atheist from their charter and their leader even began to outdo the President in congratulating Russians on Christmas and Easter.
As the next step in a search for manifestations of the State's presumed playing up to clerics Yuriy Nikolayevich selected those publications which had taken firm natural science, that is, anti-religious positions in the years before perestroika as a test of the attitude toward religion. Inasmuch as at that time one could not talk of private property, much less information media, all the newspapers and magazines were published at state expense or their lavishly subsidized public organizations. For example, the Nationwide "Znaniye [Knowledge]" Society, which was financed out of the State pocket, published a popular science journal, "Nauka i Religiya [Science and Religion]", which enjoyed great reader interest. But for some reason in recent years Yuriy Nikolayevich had stopped finding it on the shelves and in the kiosks of periodical merchants. What could have happened to it? Did they really stop publishing it? Yuriy Nikolayevich went to his favorite place with this question - the public library.
This remarkable Russian science library had borne the name of Russian writer Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin not long ago and was proud of this. But it suddenly became nameless, having been turned into simply the Russian National (as distinct from Russian State, the former Lenin Library) Library. It's impossible to say in general that Yuriy Nikolayevich immediately noticed that quite strange fact. It was strange, because Mikhail Yevgrafovich was not among those for whom Russians could make a political reckoning and cross off a list of those to be read. But in the context of the latest events Yuriy Nikolayevich unwittingly thought about the possible reason for this renaming. It was recalled that someone had instructed that several city hospitals, and not even old ones but those built recently, be given the names of various martyrs, doubtlessly to please the Church. Thus, is it possible that the renaming of the library had been prompted by the Church which had some complaint against the famous satirical writer? To his shame, Yuriy Nikolayevich knew Saltykov-Shchedrin's works only in the context of his schoolwork and could not recall whether persons of holy orders were among those at whom satirical arrows were shot. Glancing at the Encyclopedia he found out that Saltykov-Shchedrin had shared the views of Belinsky and was his philosophical disciple. But in such case what was "Neistovy Vissarion [Violent Vissarion]"'s attitude toward religion? And here it is, the outstanding critic and journalist was also a materialist philosopher and accordingly did not regard priests with favor nor enjoy their sympathy and could not have failed to pass this on to his philosophical successor.
Having entered under the arches of the public library with such thoughts, Yuriy Nikolayevich turned to the bibliographer on duty with a question about the reason for renaming the library. Without pausing, she called up the text of the appropriate document on a computer screen. It turned to be no more or less than a Decree of the President of the country himself where, instead of the word "rename" stood the word "change", and there was nothing about the reason for the renaming. That being the case, Yuriy Nikolayevich's hypothesis that the renaming of State institutions in Russia was becoming the same thing as an approach the Church would like, preserved its right to exist.
Well, but all the same what had happened to the magazine of the national society? After the collapse of the USSR the publisher ceased to be mentioned in the publication data of the magazine but the magazine itself, down to several double issues, remained. Sure of this, Yuriy Nikolayevich was amused: "It means that there was left in a country set by someone against the progress of natural science, consciously or without thinking, at least one platform for expressing common sense about nature and the damage of religious idiocy". His mood was even more improved when he saw in the heading "A word from the editor" the caption, "We save face in any weather!" This promise and the preservation of the word "science" in the name and, what's more, before the word "religion", spoke well of the magazine henceforth remaining intent on being the voice of materialist scientists. But, alas, Yuriy Nikolayevich's happiness did not last long. He found out from the text of the article, underneath the caption with many promises, that complaints had come to the editor about the change in policy of the magazine, which had begun to indoctrinate readers in a religious spirit. Readers who had subscribed to the magazine for many years informed it of their refusal to continue their subscription. So, what "saving" and what "face" was the editor writing about in such an event? It turned out that some time ago the magazine had decided to change its orientation to a "policy of pluralism of the opinions of atheists and believers in various religions and of the opinions on questions of the informational forces of the universe". The editor calmed down those who begged the magazine not to change its face with the cheerful exclamation, "We're not changing!" It was easy to be convinced that the magazine had switched to almost exclusively religious articles under this banner even without reading the texts of the articles carefully but just by looking at the titles and illustrations. All that was left of real science in the magazine was the very same thing that was also in the museum, the history of religion. But then there appeared pseudoscientific articles which had the goal of giving religion a "scientific" foundation. For example, a supposed capability inherent to people (meaning their "soul") of traveling in space and time, experiencing the feeling of going beyond "I" and "returning to the cultural and historical past of mankind and the world" was explained in the framework of a theory of so-called "transpersonal experience", which states that man is not simply material but is the "unity of the material body (biomachines) and the endless field of consciousness". In an article by one doctor of economic sciences concurrently "People's Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Culture", openly titled "The Lepton Concept of the Universe" it reported that the soul, because it supposedly has the capability of passing unhindered through any walls or bodies, is a quantum hologram of a person, his "standing lepton wave". Right after the hypothesis about the existence of the lepton souls of people, the author proclaimed the existence of a lepton God whose "energy information power is directly proportional to the number of people who believe in him and the strength of their faith".
"Even this is practically a verbatim repetition of one of the 'proofs' of the existence of God which I found in the dictionary of philosophy", thought Yuriy Nikolayevich. "Only the clerics thought up that and this is presented as the fruit of the philosophical reflections of a people's academician of economic sciences". It is still good that the author recognized the need to verify his "theory" with experiments, although it was completely possible that it was done in order to give it greater scientific veneer. "But what of it? If it has become possible to talk about God and the soul from the standpoint of the latest science, it means this is not so mystical, it means there's something to it", people without firm materialist convictions could think without even noting that they had already fallen into a net spread out for them by sharp-witted religious preachers.
Yuriy Nikolayevich visibly imagined how happily that nun from the cell was rubbing her hands with pleasure while reading the magazine. Now, she decided that she had a still greater basis for calling atheists madmen if not "clinical idiots", as was expressed more elegantly in an interview by a wordsmith who had won notoriety for digging up the remains of the last "God's anointed sovereign" on the Russian throne. "Since they themselves, perhaps, are not very like real believers", thought Yuriy Nikolayevich, "they should take an example from their idol and regard dissidents patiently, considering them 'sheep who have gone astray'. But here are such loud, vulgar accusations in an absence of intelligence throughout the entire country from those very people who decide the question about God for themselves in an intelligent way on the basis of reflection and not blind fanaticism. After this, who are the real madmen?"
Defending the new orientation of the formerly anti-religious magazine, its fervent supporter wrote, "How little does one need to respect a person in order to think that a religious article will plunge an adult, thinking reader into a fantastic faith?". It's like it had never occurred to this person that, in the first place, not all readers were adults and, second, not all who are resort to the aid of reason on the question of faith in God. The problem is that in this case many of them are guided not so much by reason as by emotions. "Genuine faith", Yuriy Nikolayevich read a moral teaching of the author of the latest "scientific" article, "is an ardent faith", that is, it relies not on intellect but on feelings. This is why among believers there is a predominance of people with high emotionalism: women vs. men, and representatives of the creative intelligentsia ("lyric poets") vs. technical people ("physicists"). Most commonly, the impetus is a suffering to which people of genuine faith are subjected (not to be confused with a hypocritical one dictated by fashion): illness, misfortune, and what is called "blows of fate". One deeply believing contemporary writer, concerned with the decline of morals in Russia, declared: "For a person to remain a person he needs the Church and for a soul to be churched it needs suffering". In other words, if you don't want to become brutalized, if you wish "become churched", but try to experience negative emotions for this, suffer. But if you're fortunate, happy, satisfied with life, and want to sing and not pray, then your morals are ruined and you only have one option, to the world of depravity and crime. Having read this discovery, Yuriy Nikolayevich, whose "soul" for many long years never had "been churched", began to size himself up with alarm – whether he wants to become a highway robber. But no, for some reason he had not even managed to secretly shove a fistful of soap into his pocket in a self-service store. And, growing up in an atheist family, educated in an atheist school, atheistic society, and what is more only recently, atheistic literature, how had he managed from childhood to master the basic principles of normal human morals like "do not kill" and "do not steal" without the aid of the Church, having learned that the Church was ascribing the authorship of these principles to God who had apparently inscribed them on the stone "testimonies" given to the leader of the ancient Hebrews?
From books by psychologists Yuriy Nikolayevich found out that besides the suffering itself religious conversion is also facilitated by a premonition of suffering and the fear this causes. Hence a feeling of personal uncertainty and vulnerability, a slavish desire to remove responsibility for one's life, deeds, and mistakes from oneself and shift it onto all-powerful God. Thinking over this, Yuriy Nikolayevich came to the paradoxical thought that the most "sworn" atheists – the Communists ("sworn" in the sense that when joining the Party they swore not to believe in God) had greatly contributed to the fact that people were now addicted to religion. It was they who for many decades had weaned Soviet Man from independence in making vital, fundamental decisions. The famous phrase "The Fuhrer thinks for us" from the satiric couplets of the war years making fun of the Nazi dictatorship was also fully employed in the idea of the life of the average Soviet citizen, who had become accustomed to someone thinking and deciding for him "in the name of the Party and government". And when a new, democratic government allowed the people to flounder about independently in the market maelstrom, depending only on their hands, minds, and capabilities, many of them, especially those with higher emotionalism, were lost and remembered about the Church and God: "If now it is impossible to expect anything from the government, we'll start to ask Heaven". And although the effect was the same, they stubbornly continued to await manna from the clouds. But the mass media, which evidently is not paid badly for this, had convinced them that one could wait with the aid of prayers, that everything terrible had also become market-oriented, that is for sale in the literal sense of the word.
It suddenly came to Yuriy Nikolayevich, "Perhaps here is the reason for the stream of religious consciousness that has rushed into the heads of poor Russians. The reason is in the constitutional freedom of conscience and the market economy". Any ideology, except one that is openly misanthropic, including religion has become a commodity which can be advertised and, if there is demand, sold. But the demand for religion is ensured by the low level of the material and psychological condition of the public. Thus, the soil has been prepared and one can proceed to scatter the seeds. The question is only of who exactly is paying for propagandizing religion, who would hire it. The State, as Yuriy Nikolayevich had suspected until now? No, most likely it limits itself to not interfering with this propaganda and rendering the Church moral support and returning its former places of worship. But evidently the Church itself and its wealthy private protectors are paying. And, of course, following the words of the popular literary hero, "those abroad will help" us. Not for nothing (though, just as a gift, free for Russians) a wave of preachings of foreign missionaries accompanied by free distribution of "the Gospel" and other religious literature rolled through the largest auditoriums of St. Petersburg and other large cities. But the fact that for some time counterpropaganda, that is atheist enlightenment of the people, has not been heard is easily explained by the complete lack of a desire by wealthy "private businessmen" to help atheists, especially financially, whom they have groundlessly equated to their Communist ideological opponents without bothering to delve deeper into history. It is even not precluded that the resurrection of religiosity in post-Soviet Russia was occasioned by a feeling (again, a thoughtless feeling, not the fruit of sober reflection) of historical vengeance against Communists by society.
Having thought about the "resurrection" of the Church as one of the consequences of a broad, if not national, reaction against the Communists which led to their loss of a monopoly on power and about the revolution in the area of human rights, Yuriy Nikolayevich came to the conclusion that the reason he was dissatisfied was often a matter of his own doing. For he, at one time indignant about what incredible effort Soviet Man needed to achieve even those meager rights which the law gave him, initially joined the poor little stream of lone seekers of justice who tried to find justice with the aid of written appeals to the organs of power and the press and then joined the ever-expanding democratic movement. This and his vote helped adopt the new Constitution which endowed each Russian with the whole spectrum of rights and freedoms accepted in the rest of the civilized world. What was there now to be surprised at and rail at now that the new State, acting in accordance with a new law, turned a blind eye at what earlier even had not been officially forbidden, but also not welcomed? Among the people they say, "what he fought for has been his undoing". In participating in brewing a democratic "kasha" Yuriy Nikolayevich had not expected that it would have the deep aroma of church incense. And now he was deeply grieved that together with the intensification of religiosity there would be a recoil from scientific enlightenment on its wave which carried the danger of the retardation of his intellectual development if not repression.
What to do now? Keep silent and docile, giving the appearance that nothing is happening and if it is then it is other people, younger and more energetic, who will live after us and who should be more concerned than we that their life be reasonable? No, the conscience of a citizen and intellectual could not permit Yuriy Nikolayevich to take such a position. It means that it remained to foster the antireligious education of the public as much as he could, without letting him utterly exhaust himself. But what could he do alone in these terms? In order to really counteract the mass duping of the people with the aid of the press, radio and television, he needed to have no less access to them than the clerics already did.
Yuriy Nikolayevich addressed a letter to the popular television journalist Vladimir Pozner, who leads a discussion on one of the national channels on various topics of public importance, as a trial balloon. Besides admiring his intellect and erudition, tact, humor, and sincerity a phrase that he had once let drop prompted Yuriy Nikolayevich to write to him: "I am a nonbeliever". The phrase was delivered in passing since the topic of the program was not people's attitude toward religion at all. Yuriy Nikolayevich bemoaned the complete lack of such TV programs on this topic in his letter.
He wrote, "Because of the fact that atheists have become completely unheard, the impression is being created that there are none of us left in society. But we haven't died off like the dinosaurs, there are quite a few of us left (along with you) and we also want our point of view to also be heard. This leads to my suggestion: start a series of TV programs in which the arguments of both sides are heard equally at the same airtime. But I see you as the moderator and your skill in forcing people to at least think and in including your reason in your work and not mindlessly agree with the religious propaganda thrown at Russians at a time when their conscience has been subverted by material difficulties and an ideological vacuum.
Not long ago a priest waxed indignant in a newspaper that the antireligious propaganda, in his opinion, which was expressed in a showing of the film 'The Last Temptation of Christ' was a violation of human rights. But is not the one-sided Church propaganda in the mass media without presenting the other side also an attack on our rights in equal measure?"
Having sent the letter, Yuriy Nikolayevich did not entertain himself with the hope of getting a reply for this had already happened more than once. And so it was this time. But when a month later Pozner expressed his dislike of religion yet more forcefully in one of his latest programs, Yuriy Nikolayevich entertained the thought that this was an echo of his letter, a unique reply to it.
In a studio the question of cases of those condemned to death, the untreatably ill, and people suffering terribly who turn to a doctor with a request for euthanasia was being discussed with public participation. And here, an academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences [RAYeN] who was in the studio, commenting about this problem, reported in passing that not only did he believe in a world beyond but was presently engaged in research connected with this phenomenon. Another participant of the discussion, an eminent doctor, testifying not only for himself but for all those present and absent, categorically declared that "we are all educated in the Bible". Both statements had no direct connection to the topic under discussion and the moderator could have ignored them. But he was not silent and softly reminded them that there are people with other views.
"Gentlemen, I respect your right to believe in God and a world beyond, but don't refuse me, a nonbeliever, the right to be an atheist".
Then a man dressed as a priest took the floor and a small duel of words broke out between him and Pozner.
The priest: I want to note that it is pleasing to me as a servant of the Church that such a Bible and Gospel situation rules here. As regards the topic of our conversation, then I am resolutely against the right of a person to go to the world beyond at their own wish. This is a great sin. All people are from God. He grants us life and only He can take it away.
Journalist: But what if I don't share your faith?
Priest: If so, then you are mistaken. This is the work of the Devil in you.
Journalist: But if I don't believe in either God or the Devil. I am a supporter of Darwinism. Don't I have the right to this?
Priest: You have the right, but when God created Adam and Eve...
Journalist: Well, you know, this very much reminds me of the dialog of Ostap Bender and your famous colleague.
And with these words Pozner forcefully removed the microphone from the ears of his interlocutor, cutting off his attempt to recite religious propaganda to television viewers for free. Such an act by a television journalist seemed a sharp contrast to the plethora of Church-friendly programs on the air. But Pozner did not give the impression by his action that there was a crowd of supporters behind him. He did not even permit himself to use the word "we" instead of "I". Evidently, he was not confident that the situation and the public mood gave him this right. It's as if the letters of atheists like Yuriy Nikolayevich wrote did not come to him very often.
Not satisfied with the low effectiveness of his individual actions, Yuriy Nikolayevich searched for active supporters in order to either join an association, if one already existed, or suggest creating one in order to take further actions jointly and not singly.
The search was not easy, since there are incomparably fewer opportunities for atheists to advertise than the producers of chewing gum and sanitary napkins. All the same the television helped: the participation in Pozner's program of the RAYeN academician who had left atheism suggested the idea to Yuriy Nikolayevich of turning to one of the local, St. Petersburg representatives of this constellation of the best naturalists of the country. The fact that a person in this respected scientific institution appeared to seriously and not jokingly to study the phenomenon of "life after death" did not shake Yuriy Nikolayevich's confidence that the overwhelming majority of luminaries of natural sciences were sickened by the wave of religiosity which had arisen in the country at least no less than he, an ordinary mortal. He was disturbed only that they had been silent for some reason. What was the reason? Gathering his courage, Yuriy Nikolayevich turned to a famous physicist with this question who had become an academician of the RAYeN comparatively recently.
"I doubt that any of us were intent right now on openly speaking out from an atheist position", was the reply. "Now is not the right time to dispute the existence of God, but to repent. You yourself are convinced what it costs to just mention one's atheism; they'll hang the label of 'Communist' on you. Scientists don't want this, so they keep silent or declare their indifference. And I am telling this to you myself. As long as God doesn't interfere with my work then, as they say, 'and God be with him'. Moreover, our indifference to faith is such that there are even people among us who are ordained".
"But what do they do?", said Yuriy Nikolayevich with interest. "What field of science do they represent? Is there really a branch of theology in the RAYeN?"
Instead of a reply the interlocutor got an English-language scientific journal from a bookshelf and pointed to an open page. The author of the article was a full member of the RAYeN, a bishop, the abbot of a Russian monastery, by education a doctor. The article was entitled, "Medicine and the Bible". The titles "The Role of Physics in the Creation of Noah's Ark" or "Chemistry as God's Industry" could have appeared with the same success in its place. From Yuriy Nikolayevich's point of view, a comment here would have been unnecessary.
A month later he was shown a small-format newspaper which granted the favor of squeezing in an open letter from a group of leaders and full members of the Russian Academy of Science [RAN], the main3 one of the exceptionally propagated Russian scientific academies, printed in small type between sensational articles about various paranormal phenomena. Having expressed timid concern in connection with the public's attraction to "occult sciences" and the hope that the scientific community would make a statement about this, the scientists did not use a single word about either religion or the Church.
Continuing his difficult search, Yuriy Nikolayevich finally went to the famous writer Mikhail Chulaki, whose atheist article he had unexpectedly noted in one of the city papers. He sent him a note and they soon met.
"The majority of the earth's population and, unfortunately, Russians, too, have now become attached to religion", the writer informed him. "Today the fashion is for religion and any fashion develops, as is well known, along a sinusoid, and we are on its rising path. The broad scope of belief in God is a consequence of the fact that a majority of Mankind is stupid and criminal. Would intelligent people really start to destroy one another in wars and ruin nature? And with the terrible situation on our planet I would have been, however paradoxical this seems, even distressed to find out that a majority of people on Earth were atheists and accordingly it was their doing. This is not heard right now because of out relatively small numbers in Russia. Besides, atheists are shocked and suppressed. Therefore the situation in the university college of philosophy does not surprise me. Since there is no state ideology right now and each secondary and university instructor has the right not only to follow any philosophical teaching but also to propagandize it among his students. No one now is obliged to teach dialectical materialism. And as regards books like the Bible, which are no more than collections of myths, they do not propagandize belief in God in themselves. Do you start believing in Greek gods when you read the myths of ancient Greece? The more people read the Bible the fewer will believe what's written in it. Money is needed to publish atheist literature and it is not available. I personally don't see much sense in creating some sort of voluntary society. I myself, when it comes my turn to speak, including on the radio, am not ashamed of expressing my negative attitude toward religion. I support your idea of creating an atheist program on St. Petersburg television and when the occasion presents itself I will raise this topic with its management".
"So you think that atheists ought not unite?", said Yuriy Nikolayevich in surprise. "Why so? The forces in society which are propagandizing religion are organized, cohesive, well-supplied, entrenched, and financed, and have government (customs) privileges which allow them to trade profitably (even alcoholic beverages and tobacco), a mass of buildings, not counting the number houses of prayer, their own press, publishing houses, and even film studios, but should atheists have each of these? No, I don't think so. At a minimum, we need to know one another and exchange information. And then get a platform in the country to conduct science education work for which, you're right, money is necessary. It means, moreover, not just a circle of people needs to be created who limit themselves to telephone contact but an official organization which is a legal entity having a bank account where prosperous atheists can send the money needed for publication of a newspaper or pay for airtime, for example."
"Well, then", Mikhail Mikhaylovich smiled. "I see that you are quite decisively inclined. In such case try and turn to Moscow where the steps you are talking about have already been taken. They have already begun to publish a new magazine there. If you would at least subscribe to it, as I have done, then you'll be helping the atheist movement. Good luck!"
Inspired by the information about the magazine, Yuriy Nikolayevich ran off to the public library. Of course, he was still only dreaming, drawing up plans, but it seems in the country there were already people who had begun to translate such plans into reality. Who were they and what were they writing in their magazine? And here he held in his hands the first issues of the new periodical, although still only a quarterly. The appearance and format were quite modest; it felt like the "freethinkers" did not yet have much money. In return, the subtitle sounded both sensible and appealing: "A magazine of skeptics, optimists, and humanists". In its first address to readers it said:
"Science grew from common sense and has become its continuation. The constant companion of common sense is humor. Fanatics and dogmatists don't fear anything as much as humor. Let the magazine join together everyone to whom truth is precious and fact even more so, who is open to search and who leaves room to doubt".
Criticism of various forms of fanaticism, mysticism, traditional and untraditional forms of religious ideology, superstitions, other unscientific ideas and practices, and the publication of corresponding literature were some of its first areas of activity of the society publishing the journal.
All this agreed with Yuriy Nikolayevich's views completely and therefore that very evening he sat down to write a letter to the humanists to offer his participation in their noble cause and sat up until midnight...
But a dream came to him before morning. He was sitting in his former scientific institute in the office of the chief, reporting about the results of an experiment which had been conducted in which something unusual had yet been found which had not been observed before. The boss looked at the oscillogram intently for a long time, wrinkled his brow, and finally uttered with exhaustion:
"The Devil knows, I cannot understand what's wrong here. But miracles don't happen, my dear fellow. Try to vary the frequency and amplitude of excitation. There's no telling what might happen; possibly some reason will surface.
Evidently in vain did the aforementioned Horned One rejoiced in Yuriy Nikolayevich at that moment because instead of silently going off to carry out the boss' instructions he suddenly boldly replied with a challenge:
"God help you! It's a sin to say that miracles don't occur. Of course they do! For everything in this world is in God's hands. He, our Creator, only needs to wish it and there will be a miracle at once; just be in time to study it. Our science hasn't and won't have it any other way."
The startled boss threw an amazed look at Yuriy Nikolayevich and wanted to say something but only helplessly mumbled and began to tap on his inkstand with a pencil which was shaped like a bell. And the sound coming from it was indeed like a real bell:
Satisfied that he had artfully made a fool of the chief, Yuriy Nikolayevich started laughing, after which the boss found his voice and muttered in the voice of his wife Tamara:
"Yura, what's the matter with you? Wake up!"
Leaning across the desk, he so painfully poked Yuriy Nikolayevich in the side with the sharp pencil that he cried out loudly...and woke up.
Opening his eyes he noticed his drowsy wife next to him angrily turning her face away from him toward the wall.
Bong-bong-bong! rang out the bell of newly-restored church not far away. And from the kitchen speaker which had not been turned off for the night the voice of a pastor ring out:
"The whole universe obeys the word of God! Let our trust in the Lord be complete and constant so that He will not say to us 'Where is your faith?'"
Having silenced the priest, Yuriy Nikolayevich went to the television and, turning down the sound so as not to disturb the household catching up on their sleep on their day off, he pressed the button. A handsome old man appeared on the bright screen cheerfully explaining something and holding an Orthodox Church calendar in his hands.
Snow fell outside the window. One of the last winters of the 20th century was passing. The nights were long and, in spite of the morning hour, twilight was still freely seen in the sky and on the city streets.
Unfortunately for Yuriy Nikolayevich, in the minds of many of his countrymen, too.
2 Stanitsa is a large Cossack village
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