Psychologies: Almost every day we learn about fanatics, about terrorist attacks and are faced with emotions about this, including religious feelings. Are we really driven by passion when it comes to faith?
Marina Mchedlova: When it comes to religious issues, many have a special psychological state that is not always amenable to the control of the mind. At the same time, religious consciousness and religious feeling are different things. A believer has a more pronounced religious feeling, but it can also be present in someone who is far from religion.
Therefore, the question, for example, about offending religious feelings and shrines, can also affect non-believers. For one, the insult to holy places is unbearable, while the other does not at all consider it forbidden, but even such a “Voltaire” approach may in fact turn out to be a converted religious feeling. Where rational thinking does not extend, emotion extends.
Frederic Lenoir: Here we are in the realm of the irrational. Religious beliefs are confirmed only by themselves. Therefore, in this area, the senses are very strong. For believers, the main thing is respect for their teachings and customs. But for non-believers, all this is meaningless! Therefore, discussion quickly becomes impossible.
Researchers used to see Europe as a model for what will happen around the world: religion will become an increasingly private matter, and at the same time, spirituality will spread without religiosity.
The acceleration of globalization is causing a strong culture shock. And religion is the most important part of belonging to your culture
However, in the past 30 years, we have seen the opposite. Religion, although significantly retreating in modern societies, continues to fuel discussions and contradictions, and in developing countries it not only holds its positions, but goes on the offensive.
It turns out that a neutral attitude to religion is generally impossible?
Marina Mchedlova: In principle, it is possible, but these days it is becoming more rare. If 20-30 years ago religion in many countries was on the periphery of public life, now it has returned to public space, and it is impossible not to relate to it in any way. We have to admit that over the past decades, we have not become either more enlightened or more educated.
Why are religious issues relevant again?
Frederic Lenoir: The acceleration of globalization is causing an exceptionally strong culture shock. And religion is the most important part of self-identification, belonging to one’s own culture: Christianity in the West, Islam in Arab countries, Hinduism in India.
Religion turns out to be the last political truth: people unite around a common belief in something transcendent, in an invisible whole that is greater than them. This is how religions create social bonds, a sense of community. In times of crisis, when politicians cannot get by with their own means, they always turn to religion.
Marina Mchedlova: This is the most important question, and many brilliant minds are now trying to solve it. The sociologist of religion Peter Berger, a supporter of the most rigid theory of secularization, believed that religious institutions, consciousness and practice will gradually go into the private sphere and to the periphery of society. But in 1999 he was forced to admit that he was wrong.
Political scientist and modernization theorist Ronald Inglehart has changed his views and now believes that there is no single set path leading in the end to the adoption of European values. On the contrary, there may be an increase in traditionalism, including an orientation towards religious values.
Does this value fork mean a conflict of civilizations?
Marina Mchedlova: I would not say that this is necessarily a conflict. It may be looking for a new way of coexistence. It’s another matter that such coexistence will not always be peaceful, unfortunately.
Why have religious meanings returned to society? First, we see that the principle of secularity has lost its monopoly on the description of reality. And secondly, in the global world, different cultures, in order to preserve their identity, turn to the most stable criteria of identity.
Globalization calls for the same, so it can only be balanced by diversity. And now we are dealing with the activation not so much even of the religious as of the confessional consciousness.
Please note: the contradictions between different confessions within one religion are also aggravated. And if earlier Orthodoxy and Catholicism were universal systems of views, now they are more connected with the state and ethnos.
It is generally accepted that religious consciousness plays a peacemaking role. How, then, is it to be explained that religious feelings provoke clashes?
Frederic Lenoir: Within one society, religion unites believers and helps to contain violence. But in the circumstances of globalization, it provokes conflicts between different cultural layers. The Muslim world is turning itself against the Judeo-Christian West, the West is against Islam, the Hindus are against Christians and Muslims.
The Muslim world, faced with its own political setbacks and the military, economic and cultural advantage of the West, is trying to find itself and its pride in religion.
Today it comes to attempts to create a caliphate headed by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS is an organization banned in the Russian Federation), that is, to promises to return Islam to the greatness that it allegedly had.
In addition, the moment we live in, I would call ultramodernity. It provokes the destruction of the traditional structures on which our societies were based, such as the family, the relationship between men and women. To cope with these changes, some are turning to religion, the foundation upon which customs and moral values have evolved over millennia.
Marina Mchedlova: Religious consciousness so far softens the conflict reactions. But at the same time, I would not discount the context – primarily in geopolitics, politics, in aesthetics, in the space of public discussions that are not very consistent in tone.
There is another side of the problem: the danger of sects. They use religious consciousness, manipulate religious (or quasi-religious) feeling, considering neophytes as completely obedient people or a means of enrichment.
If in the West society is more open to the changes brought about by modernization, does this mean that it is more vulnerable to conflicts that are generated by the destruction of tradition?
Marina Mchedlova: Yes, in the West, life is more adapted to the changes that modernity brings. But madmen and extremists are getting into the gaps between the traditional and the modern. Today’s extremist is inspired by traditionalism, but engendered by modernity: if there was no modern world with its conditions and logic, then traditionalism would not play the role of a catalyst for conflicts.
There are two main dangers: one is fanatics and religious communities, the other is consumer materialism.
To be modern, you have to be light and mobile, but to be traditional, on the contrary, you have to be heavy, sedentary, hierarchical. The extremist is modern in his tactics, strives to be everywhere and nowhere, to be in motion, in fact elusive, but at the same time uses such important elements of tradition as religious consciousness for his tactics.
Do the changes that take place in the global world affect everyone equally, or does each country experience them in its own way?
Frederic Lenoir: In France, the brutality of the religious conflict is especially evident. Our political system was formed in the struggle against Catholicism, the final act of which was the separation of the Church from the state.
In other countries, it was the opposite, especially in the United States: religion participated in the establishment of a new political system. She was a part of everyday life, and Americans, even non-believers, have deep respect for her. For them, respect for the feelings of believers is as unshakable a principle as freedom of speech.
Marina Mchedlova: 75% of Russians believe that we are a special civilization. This determines our specificity: in Russia, polyconfessionalism is recognized as a special value, therefore, inter-religious conflicts are considered a threat to national security by only 5% of the population.
In addition, Russian society remains predominantly secular, which also does not allow religiously tinged conflicts to grow. It should be noted, however, that the constitutionally enshrined principle of secularity does not necessarily imply that society is irreligious.
For example, after the execution of the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo, 85% of us considered (with complete rejection of the means) that this reprisal was psychologically explainable. More than 89% believe that under no circumstances should the feelings of believers be insulted.
How to find a balance between religious and secular consciousness?
Frederic Lenoir: It is very difficult to find a balance here. On the one hand, one must continue to criticize religion and in no case succumb to the imposed censorship.
But, on the other hand, I believe that there is no need to add fuel to the fire, and I urge you to refrain from provocations leading to dangerous clashes. As our attitude towards Muslims becomes more respectful, we can better combat fanaticism.
But the laws must also be applied firmly and consistently, especially with regard to the prohibition of wearing full-body robes in public or using religious symbols in school.
Marina Mchedlova: Having remembered, including at the legislative level, the feelings of believers, we lost sight of other segments of society. We need to develop rules of community in a world where there is not only the secular, but also the religious. Now there are many concepts of how to reconcile the religious and the secular, to work out the forms of their relationship.
For example, the sociologist Ulrich Beck believes that a person should live, always bearing in mind that there are Others, not like him. Anywhere he will collide with other people of his convictions, and this should become the norm – namely, that I always deal with others. And this world, in which there are others around, should be comfortable for me as well as for others.
Is it safer in today’s Russia to be a member of some confession than an atheist?
Marina Mchedlova: Probably, being a believer and positioning yourself as being within a confession is really calmer. After all, then there is a cultural tradition behind us, and even the law is on our side. Over the past decades, we have changed the structure of human perception: if earlier, when we were asked “who are you?”, They meant the sphere of activity, now they mean nationality or religion. Not everyone dares to say “I am an atheist”.
Do religious divisions threaten the well-being of society?
Frederic Lenoir: The main danger seems to me, on the one hand, fanatics and religious communities, on the other – consumer materialism. They have one thing in common: the cult of the outside. In religion, these are dogmas, rituals, a sense of belonging. Consumerism has appearance, possession of material values. In both cases, we forget about the soul.
True freedom contains its own limiter, which distinguishes it from lawlessness
Quoting the philosopher Henri Bergson, I would say that today’s world needs “more soul.” It is necessary to abandon quantitative logic, the cult of the external, from domination and rivalry in order to come closer to the qualitative dimension, to solidarity, tolerance, to the values that I would call “feminine”, as opposed to “masculine”: violence and predation that destroy our societies and the planet. This is the key to changing the world.
Marina Mchedlova: The feeling of discomfort arises not at all because of the difference in religious beliefs, but because of the differences in the way of life. We need to find a common denominator for different lifestyles. We in Russia have a unique historical experience of the interpenetration of cultural and religious traditions, which is very tangible, for example, in the Volga region. This traditional religious tolerance has largely built the very Russian civilization.
Tolerance, respect for other people’s feelings have not yet taken root in society. How to teach our children tolerance and respect for others?
Frederic Lenoir: It is not enough to convey secular morality as a religious dogma. You need to make you think. And this is the task of philosophy. Why should we respect each other? Why should you be tolerant?
In addition, we often preach the correct values, but we ourselves do not live in accordance with them. Let’s teach our children to reason for themselves. Let’s develop their sensitivity, their emotional intelligence. If we succeed, there will be a revolution in consciousness in the coming decades. I am deeply convinced of this.
About the experts:
Frederic Lenoir – philosopher, former editor-in-chief of the magazine “World of religions” (“Monde des relogions”). His “Prophecy of the Moon” was published in Russian (Eksmo, Domino, 2011).
Marina Mchedlova – Doctor of Political Sciences, Scientific Secretary of the Center for Religion in Contemporary Society, Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences.
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