Metropolitan Hilarion: Political correctness mania destroys Europe
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, speaks at a time difficult for the Church about the tendency to reject traditional morality and Russia’s special way... in an interview to Olga Lipich of RIA Novosti news agency.
Q. Many believers see the ban against the wearing of an underwear cross at working hours in Great Britain as a vivid example of growing xenophobia in Europe in recent years. It is known that the British citizens who were sacked for demonstrating their religious symbols have appealed to the Strasbourg Court. What are the developments now, and what do you think about it?
A. ...The most important thing, it seems to me, is the very posing of the question whether an employer can prohibit his employees from wearing religious symbols, especially a cross. I think it points to a very serious moral decline and a conscious rejection of the country’s Christian roots on the part of British leaders.
I believe the only parallel that can be drawn here as it naturally comes to one’s mind is the Soviet Union in which this very thing, the wearing of crosses was forbidden and a cross could be torn away from one’s neck if noticed. I myself was a schoolboy; I wore a cross and I remember the teacher, having noticed the chain, took the cross out and tore it away… If Great Britain becomes like the Soviet Union in its ideological diktat characteristic of militant secularism, then it will not be the most beneficial comparison for a country which claims to be a democracy.
Q. What do you attribute such cases to, as they have been registered one after another in recent year?
A. I think in many countries in the West, in particular in Great Britain, a kind of political correctness mania has appeared to develop with a speed of manic psychosis. This political correctness lies in this: God forbid that out of all people we, Christians, or we as representatives of a particular Western country, should in any way offend Muslims, Jews or Hindu or representatives of other religions. And to prevent religious conflicts, they propose this solution: let us remove religion from public space altogether and remove religious symbols from the life of society. Then peace and love between confessions will presumably prevail.
But we know that the religious symbols of one confession in the most cases do not cause any irritation among the people of other confessions. On the contrary, they arouse sympathy. Actually, it is among atheists and people of secular worldview that religious symbols provoke irritation. It is not accidental that among fighters against crosses we see first of all militant atheists.
Q. Can one say that a lobby of high-ranking people has been formed in European countries, who ardently support the legalization of same-sex unions and euthanasia, seeking to lift as many as possible bans which have existed in society for centuries? Tentatively speaking, there is a certain conspiracy, not just anti-Christians, aimed against all traditional religions?
A. Of course, for these people Christianity, cross and other Christian symbols are like a red rag for a bull. It is not accidental that they are irritated by these symbols: Christianity has a very unambiguous attitude to all these problems.
We have repeatedly stated, though, that in a number of Christian churches, in particular in the Church of England, these traditional notions of moral values themselves are being obliterated today. The moral doctrine fixed in Holy Scriptures, in the New Testament, in the Gospels and apostolic epistles and patristic works is being replaced by new liberal standards which get incorporated in a particular Church’s teaching on morality, modifying these moral postulates to conform to the modern secular standards.
Q. What prospects do you see then? How probable is it that this process will grow into severe persecution against the Church in the next decades, not only in England but in Russia as well? Indeed, we can see the growth of anticlerical sentiments in our society, too. There is this much-talked-of action of young women in the Church of Christ the Saviour; there is this fuss around the Primate’s flat in the House on the Embankment; there are these letters written by Berezovsky to the Patriarch – all this has grown into one big campaign.
A. We should say straightforwardly that it is not anticlericalism but anti-church-minded people who arrange these campaigns in both our own and Western societies.
But if we still move back to the West, it seems to me that this process cannot continue endlessly, at least because it is suicidal for the whole Western society. It will lead either to the physical elimination of European nations or the leaders of these states will think about it and begin to reconsider their attitude.
Why am I saying about physical elimination? Because, for instance, this godless liberal ideology, which has prevailed in many Western countries today, delivers a blow not only to religions but first of all to such foundations of human existence as family and family values.
Indeed, what does homosexuality lead to? It leads to creating an increasing number of same-sex unions who claim to be marriages, while it goes without saying that such union do not produce posterity. The destruction of traditional family ideals leads to a considerable decrease in the number of extended families. An extended family in Western countries today, just as in Russia, is a great rarity. Extended are the families of Muslims, not Christians, even less, atheists.
That is to say, the population crisis that has spread through Western countries, has already led to a population decrease. And it will continue decreasing if these liberal standards continue lying in the basis of legislation, forming the public opinion propagated by the mass media.
If someday the powers that be realize that it is a suicidal way and begin to take measures to change the situation, then a reversal may begin. But if they do not realize this and insist all the way, then, I would say, the Western empire is to expect the fate of many great empires which used to exist and which died due to, first of all, a moral decay as was the case with the Roman Empire.
Q. We place a great responsibility on political leaders and legislators. What else can ordinary Christians in Europe do to save the native population of the continent from extinction? And how can the Russian Orthodox Church help?
A. First, we should keep unshakable the basic doctrine and basic moral teaching we have inherited from Christ Himself, the apostles and the early Church who have preserved them for centuries even at the price of martyrdom. I think the power of the Orthodox Church lies precisely in her ability not to yield to the trends of time, to preserve both her doctrine and moral teaching without changing them to please secular liberal standards.
It concerns however the Orthodox Church as, say, an organization. If we talk about concrete believers, we should state an obvious fact: not every parishioner lives according to the commandments of Christ. And not all who claim to be Orthodox Christians are parishioners of our churches who participate in the life of the Church and her Sacraments. And the most important thing is that not all Orthodox see the teaching of the Church as guidance for action in their everyday life.
When we learn to build our everyday life on lofty moral foundations preached by religious traditions, then we will be able to say that we take religion seriously.
Q. Your Eminence, you spoke about the meaning of life. Is there some universal meaning of life which you could reveal to everyone who comes to you with such a question?
A. It would be very difficult to formulate the universal meaning of life. Had it been possible, it would have been done long ago. But I think for us as Christians there is nothing higher than the meaning formulated and the task given by Jesus Christ: seek first the Kingdom of God and the rest will be given you.
It is not easy to explain to every person what the Kingdom of God is, because usually people, even believers, image the Kingdom of God as something accessible after death and something having no direct bearing on our life. Meanwhile, we as practicing Christians can say that the Kingdom of God may be present already in our life on earth, if we wish it.
In the Church, we come in touch with the Kingdom of God, which becomes a reality of our life through our devotional experience, through our participation in the sacraments, first of all, in the sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion), when we not merely communicate with God but get united with Him spiritually and physically.
This presence of the Kingdom of God, which we experience most fully in church, can and must penetrate our life. If we make this experience of participation in the Kingdom of God our priority, the rest is built around it, the rest comes with it. I can testify from experience of at least my own life. I can testify to it from the experience of many other people as well, whom I know, my friends, my parishioners, my mother, not to speak of people of the previous generations, the saints who could live up this commandment more fully than we do.
Q. And how is the commandment to seek the Kingdom of God expressed in a person’s behaviour, apart from his going to church? What is his inner feeling – the love of God, his neighbours, life or something else?
A. Again, there is no model of behaviour to be prescribed to a person for fulfilling this commandment. Each person finds for himself some specific ways of living this commandment if he really wants to live according to it.
For instance, St. Augustine is ascribed this remarkable utterance: ‘Love God and you could do whatever you wish!’. It means that if a person really loves God, he does not need all other commandments because he will fulfil them anyway by virtue of his love of God. If he loves God, it means he will love the neighbour. If he loves God, it means he will not commit cardinal sins or even sinful thoughts, etc.
If a person puts the Kingdom of God above all, all the rest will come with it. A search for the Kingdom of God and its truth as commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the leitmotif of his life, not only religious but also private, family life and professional life.
How is it manifested? If you are an Orthodox Christian, you create a strong family, love your wife and children and have as many children as the Lord gives you. You are protector and breadwinner of your family. In professional work, you are also guided by Christian moral norms. For instance, if you are a businessman, you do not steal, refuse to be corrupted, avoid immoral actions for the sake of personal profit; you wear a cross under your clothes, even if it is contrary to the official dress code.
I am not saying now whether you should wear a cross under your clothes or on the outside; it is a secondary matter. I am saying that a person should have the right to be guided by Christian spiritual and moral norms in all the aspects of his life.