The problem of theological education and clericalization of modern Russian society

The traits of clericalism as a theoretical and ideological and socio-political platform. Discussion in the sociopolitical space of Russia about theological education and the possibility of ideological synthesis based on the ideas of post-secularism.

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The problem of theological education and clericalization of modern Russian society

Gusev Dmitrii Alekseevich

Doctor of Philosophy

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clericalism theological education society


The object of this research is the process of clericalization of the modern Russian society, as well as the main features of clericalism as a theoretical worldview and sociopolitical platform. The subject of this research is the relevant discussion within the sociopolitical space of modern Russia on theological education and possibility of a worldview synthesis based on the ideological platform of postsecularism. The authors carefully examine the relations between theologism and clericalism, tracing deep ideological and historical roots of the latter. A special attention is given to the prospects of theological education, the supporters of which, proclaiming postsecular thought as their ideological platform, secretly stand on the positions of clericalism, thus attempting to obtrude the new Middle Ages upon the society under the disguise of social democracy. Among the main conclusions of the conducted research are claims that the theological education, which bases itself upon the ideological platform of clericalism, promotes blurring of the borders between the scientific and unscientific knowledge, and to a certain extent the loss of the heuristic-rational potential and status of science and philosophy. In the current Russian political and sociocultural situation, the task of the representative of both, the scientific and philosophical thought, perhaps lies in taking up the Occam's razor and attempt to cleanse the problematic field of the modern Russian socio-humanitarian thought from essences that are exaggerated by clericalism, in order to prevent the danger of its transformation into the new maid of theology. 


postsecular thought, secularization, scientific discourse, clericalism, religious worldview, secular culture, Russian society, atheism, pantheism, ideological synthesis 

The relevance of this topic and problematic field of this work carries not only theoretical, but also social worldview importance, due to the fact that the modern Russian society being in a state of permanent crisis throughout the last three decades is being rapidly clericalized. Moreover, the process of clericalization could be recognized as socially more dangerous if compared to the process of theologization, because clericalism can be characterized as a deformed or transformed (if not perverted) theologism: the latter represents a system of ideas associated with the transcendent world, while clericalism is a political, social, and economic transformation of these ideas, with the purpose of their adjustment to the conjuncture of the immanent world [1].

For clarification of the aforementioned thesis, we should more carefully examine the correlation between the notions of theologization and clericalization. The theologization of society can be understood as wide infiltration of religious ideas into the mass consciousness, or such positioning of things where the majority of the members of society stand in their worldviews upon the positions of ideological duplication of the world into the natural and the supernatural, transcendent and immanent, under which (duplication) the events of the natural world are influenced by the supernatural world. The clericalization of society can be understood as the same wide infiltration of religious ideas into the mass consciousness, but ideas that have been formatted by the Church as an organization, firmly embedded into a complex system of social, economic, and political relations, making the interaction between the natural world and the supernatural possible only as dictated by the Church, and no other way. In addition to that, the channels, specificity, and even the very technologies of such interaction, as strange as it is, are well known, resulting in the very supernatural world also being known, comprehensible, tamed; but this is exactly the reason why in the clerical ideological settings it loses its supernaturality, seizes to be transcendent, becoming natural and immanent in essence, retaining only the supernatural form. It is this amazing duality of the clerical consciousness that gives grounds for characterization of clericalism as a transformed, deformed, and even perverted theologism.

Perhaps, the ideological and historical roots of confrontation between theologism and clericalism have its roots in the remote past. Let us remember a legendary Greek philosopher Xenophanes, founder of the Eleatic School, who became renowned for his criticism of the Olympian religion and mythology. According to Xenophanes, the anthropopathy of the Olympian gods indicates their nonexistence and the fact that they were created by human fantasy. Within the Russian historical-philosophical literature, we often come across the opinion that Xenophanes was one of the first atheists; however, he did not deny the existence of the transcendent and the idea of duality of the world, and thus could not be referred to as a supporter of atheism. By opposing his deep philosophical pantheism to the nave, anthropomorphic polytheism, Xenophanes argued against not only nave, primitive, and anthropomorphic form of religion, but also against socially and politically organized, formatted, and thus improper religious belief. In doing so, he does not appear as an atheist, but rather gives back to the transcendent its status, extends and accentuates it; makes the split of the world into natural and supernatural true in nature (rather than in shape), speaking of God as One, as a certain maximum of being, about whom we can know only that we know nothing; due to this the channels of interaction with the transcendent are not well-known, despite the statements of hierophants in the sanctuaries of Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, and others. Therefore, Xenophanes can be presented not as the first atheist, but rather the first anti-clericalist.

What is the relationship between the concepts of atheist and anti-clericalist? It would seem that it is the relationship of genus-species subordination: the atheist is always an anti-clericalist, while not every anti-clericalist is an atheist; he can be a believer. What is the relationship between the concepts of believer and clericalist? It is likely a relationship of intersection: a believer can be both, clericalist and anti-clericalist. For example the sincere and devoted believers Martin Luther and Leo Tolstoy are anti-clericalists, with regards to the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church respectively. And the other way around: clericalist can be both, a believer and a nonbeliever. The latter statement can seem strange; because at first sight, the relationship between the notions believer and clericalist are in the same genus-species subordination: the clericalist is always a believer, while not every believer is a clericalist. The latter thesis deserves some thought: does being a supporter of clericalism necessarily implies being a true believer?

Without any shadow of a doubt, clericalism can be religious (for example, true ministry), but it can also be nonreligious (for example, ministry as professional obligations and social career growth, without a true personal religiousness). One of the essential elements of the developed religious outlook is asceticism - theory and practice of a complete, conscious, and voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures (of material character) for the purpose of achieving spiritual cleansing and enlightenment. At least two of the Gospel storylines testify about asceticism as one of the cornerstones of religious outlook and the values associated with it. The first one is about a rich young man who asked Jesus Christ, what must he do to inherent eternal life? In response he heard One thing you lack: sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then pick up your cross and follow me (Mark 10: 17-22; Matthew 19: 16-22; Luke 18: 18-23). The second storyline immediately follows the first - it is the famous word of Jesus Christ that: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10: 25; Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25). The reception of the first storyline we find in the famous words of the monk Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: I cannot give two rubles instead of 'all,' and only go to mass instead of `following Him.'

Preaching the religious truths, the Church cannot remain silent about asceticism, i.e. the need to overcome desires, covetousness, and be modest and humble, as well as set an example of such asceticism for others. The church leadership represented by the ministers must in theory and practice hold the positions of asceticism. But in reality we can observe a different picture: it is a no secret that ministry in the modern Russian society represents one of the most influential social elevators: a standard career of a minister is a path to a so-called successful individual in the present day, while a minister can and must be determined to set an example of socially unsuccessful person, who purposely shares the life of meekness and humility with his neighbors: But many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30).

Let us refer to a unique testimony of an interesting Orthodox author Y. Sysoeva in her book Notes of a Priestess. Peculiarities of the Life of Russian Clergy: Citizens that are aggressively oriented towards the Church consider the priests to be hypocrites, honestly believing that the Church preaches absolute non-possession: we should wear rags and bast shoes, and live in an appliance box. As to owning a car, that is just criminal, almost the same as dealing drugs or weapons. The Church has never preached such nonsense. The issue is in the attitude towards material objects, rather than in possession thereof. Nobody is forbidden to own a decent car or a nice home, or several nice cars and homes [2, p. 134]. And this instantly raises the question - how about the famous Gospel message: sell everything you own and give to the poor? And how is it possible to own several nice cars and homes when you see thy neighbor whom you should love as yourself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27) barely making ends meet? Non-possession is one of the most important components of Christian values and views, but according to the aforementioned author it is nonsense; the Church has never preached that.

The aforesaid arguments are sufficient to justify a thesis that the concepts clericalist and believer are not in relation of genus-species subordination, as it can seem at first, but rather in relation of intersection: the clericalist can be both, a believer or a nonbeliever.

If, for example, a church minister is rich, has housekeepers, participates in politics, runs a business, etc., is he a true believer? The Gospel directly forbids all of the above. If he truly believes in the Last Judgment, wages for actions, and eternal life, can he then do everything that he does? He cannot! If he does do it, it would mean that he does not believe in the existence of supernatural world and thus is an atheist. Such conclusion seems fairly logical; however, it is possible that the situation is much more intricate: he truly believes in the existence of the supernatural world, but because of his clerical consciousness, he in some mysterious way, assumes that can negotiate with God (as we mentioned before, clericalism is no stranger to the channels and techniques of the link between immanent and transcendent), the same way we can agree with everyone about everything in this natural world (and the higher the social position, the more options the person has for negotiation). Thus, in some unique paradoxical way he extrapolates the peculiarities of the natural world onto the supernatural, dissolves the transcendent in the immanent; his clerical-corporate consciousness plays a bad trick on him - in a system of his worldview orientations there is no longer a principle religious duplication of the world, and in this sense, he becomes a nonreligious man, nonbeliever and an atheist, but unknowingly. Therefore, clericalism can be characterized as a hidden form of atheism.

As a matter of fact, the hit film of a talented director Andrey Zvyagintsev Leviathan (released in Spring of 2015) has its main idealistic orientation towards the anti-clerical theme: the creative embodiment of the author's concept is called to demonstrate the position of things, in which the conformist-corporate consciousness in both, the area of political administration, as well as the clerical sphere, unavoidably intertwined with the conviction that it would be possible to negotiate with the divine authority in the same way we could negotiate with the earthly authorities, and thus avoid retribution. The realistic possibility to negotiate and escape punishment in the natural world leads the clerical consciousness to the illusion of the possibility to negotiate in the supernatural world, and as if avoid the unavoidable retribution.

All of the above was dedicated to the substantiation of the thesis proposed at the beginning of this article on the danger of clericalization of society and clericalism, which, being a controversial and inconsistent worldview construct, a certain split consciousness, and carries the possibility of a form of social schizophrenia, and can become the source of social conflicts and disturbances.

The processes of clericalization also send their impulses in the areas of the philosophical and scientific discourses. In this context, there are few significant events: the recognition of theology as a scientific discipline in Russia based on the VAK (Higher Attestation Commission) recommendation in January of 2015 and VAK's introduction of the new diploma in Theology in October of 2015, as well as emergence of the scientific creationism, theistic evolutionism, and theological education, which makes active attempts to be implemented into the general system of state secular education [3-5].

At one point, the scientific atheism was subjected to heavy criticism as an internally contradictory logical construct; but currently, the fact either remains unnoticed (which is highly unlikely) or consciously kept quiet that scientific creationism is just as internally contradictory of a concept as scientific atheism.

If we base ourselves on the belief that theism and atheism are both forms of religious consciousness (atheism is just another religion, but with a backwards symbol), then we must recognize that both, atheism and theism, and the creationism associated with it, cannot be in the same framework of rational knowledge, being built upon mostly unverifiable and falsified positions. Nevertheless, due to the already mentioned clericalization of the modern Russian society, such constructs are beginning to be viewed as ones that can be included into the philosophical and scientific discourse, which in turn provokes blurring of the lines between the scientific and unscientific knowledge, and to a certain extent - science's and philosophy's loss of their heuristic-rational potential and status.

In the current Russian political and sociocultural situation, the task of the members of both and scientific and philosophical thought probably consists in taking up the Occam's razor and attempting to cleanse the problematic field of the modern Russian socio-humanitarian thought from essences that are exaggerated by clericalism, in order to prevent the danger of its transformation into the new maid of theology [6].

Let us notice the articles of D. A. Tsyplakov - a theologically and clerically oriented professor from Novosibirsk [3-5], which are particularly valuable as illustrations of the clericalism that is currently advancing on the Soviet positions. Even though the author says that his methodological base consists of postsecular approaches in the history and sociology of religion, it is clearly evident that the articles are written from the brightly expressed clerical positions. Unfortunately, this is precisely what makes the main ideas and conclusions of the author almost completely vulnerable and unable to stand up to constructive criticism in the conceptual orientations of the philosophical and scientific discourses. His works would have been much more resilient to criticism if their base was at least theological, but not clerical. We have already mentioned the difference between theologism and clericalism: clericalism in its nature is corporative and conjunctive, unlike theologism, which is the reason the latter can easily hold a worldview discussion unlike the clericalistically oriented thinking.

The general idea of Tsyplakov's works consists in the statement that at the present time, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, socialism, scientific communism, and atheism, the religious (including clerical) worldview is no longer being attacked, and it would be good if it positively affected the socioeconomic, political, and cultural life of the country; and most importantly - that the theological education would actively interact with clerical education, interlink and synthetize. Considering that in the author's opinion Orthodoxy became dominant religion of a greater part of the country's territory, it seems strange that such situation did not find an adequate institutional reflection within the modern Russian society. In other words, the author believes that such institutional reflection should exist. But, what institutional reflection are we talking about? Perhaps the one proposed by the State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina in 2013 - to indicate in the Constitution of the Russian Federation the special role of Orthodoxy, which in her opinion is the basis of the national and cultural uniqueness of Russia? May be in this case, the Constitution should be rewritten, and Russia should be declared a religious state? But will it be - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Islamic, Buddhist, or Judaic? Probably it will be best to declare Russia a pantheisticnation. In this case no one is offended, and everyone is pleased, including atheists, materialists, evolutionists, and Scientists; since pantheism represents a worldview model, which is able to incorporate all possible -isms, thus promote consolidation of society and even become a real national idea (however, the latter is rather doubtful, because pantheism is in one or another way associated with cosmopolitanism, which, in turn, is poorly compatible with patriotism; contrariwise, we could consider, for example, the possibility of cosmopolitan patriotism or patriotic cosmopolitanism that is quite close to Giordano Bruno's noted heroic enthusiasm; and once again, it points out the extensive heuristic and worldview capabilities of pantheism).

As long as the Constitution exists in its current version, it is difficult to speak of the institutional reflection of religion's role in the life of the country. In accordance with the Article 14: 1. The Russian Federation is a secular state. No state or obligatory religion may be established. 2. Religious associations shall be separate from the State and shall be equal before the law.

Let us ask ourselves - is education part of the government? If talking about compulsory education or state higher education facilities, then definitely yes. However, the author bewails the fact that education remains divided into secular and the provided within the framework of religious organizations; and the religious disciplines did not (and do not) find place even into the curriculum of humanitarian education. It rightfully raises a question about why (or rather, based on what) should the religious disciplines have place in the educational curriculum? Based on the Law on Freedom of Conscience, we can conclude that the state educational facilities can hold the religious disciplines in form of an elective course.

Therefore, the foundation for interfusion of the secular and theological education currently does not exist. Nevertheless, the author notes a transition towards the active model adaptation, when the Russian Orthodox Church set a course for integration of its educational work into the Russian national educational system, but also underlines the resistance of official structures which see the accreditation of seminaries as a threat to clericalization of society. Here we should point out that the official structures have a reason for such resistance, because the transition of the Church to the active model of adaptation is a constitutional violation. Clericalization of society can lead to social and political disturbances in the spirit of the Reformation; the disturbances that have exhausted the modern which has been in a state of permanent crisis over the last three decades. This is namely why the legislated secular character of the state and state education can be viewed as a certain guarantor of social security and sustainability.

Furthermore, we should make an accent of the fact that the authors attempts to underline significant difference between the concepts worldly and secular and present secularism in form of postsecularism. The term secular for the author mean nonreligious, atheistic, and one who rejects the interpretation of reality from the theological perspective. But we can disagree with such understanding of secularism. Secularization (from the Latin s saecularis - separate) represents an ideological separation of a person from God, natural from supernatural, civil life from church life, etc. Religion (from the Latin religio - connection, union) is a worldview combination or a link between these worlds; while secularization is a disruption of this bond. Let us highlight that it is nothing more than a disruption: it is no accident that the secularization of Modern Era followed the double-truth theory and Occam's razor that take roots in the darkness of the Middle Ages - secularization and secularism is therefore not a denial of religious ideas or a fight against them, but merely acknowledgement of the possibility of peaceful coexistence and equality of both, the religious and nonreligious interpretation of the world and human. In worst case scenario, secularization would represent idealistic and political persecution with regards to religion, which has not really been the case during the Modern Era, or the Contemporary Era (excluding the ideological space of the Soviet society).

Namely from this perspective - peaceful coexistence of religious and nonreligious perceptions does the author presents the concept of worldliness; but based on the aforementioned, secularism and worldliness can be viewed as equal notions and not draw the imagined differences between them, as it is done here by the author. Thus, the Constitution could simply say that the Russian Federation is a secular state , which would mean not atheistic, but rather neutral character of the Russian state and society with regards to the worldviews. The constitutionally proclaimed worldly (or secular) character of the Russian state means that it stands as if on the other side of all religious worldview contradictions, and does not take part therein primarily due to their orientation towards the supernatural or transcendent, which basically impossible to somehow establish on the level of legal consciousness or level of the immanent world.

The postsecularism that the author attempts to present as a notion that is equal to the notion of worldliness, can be interpreted as one of the elements of the overall postmodernistic worldview paradigm. If postmodernism represents the new metaphysics, not as denial, but namely absence of all metaphysics, an idealistic indifference of sort, epistemological anarchism (Paul Feyerabend), a neutrality that is taken to the extreme, which was described even by the ancient skeptics, then postsecularism is namely indifference, passionlessness, or a situation where we just do not care: weary, wise, and possibly delayed overcoming of all isms - be it religious ideas or atheistic, or passionate demand for their equality in form of secularism. If the author's works were built upon the positions of postsecularism as he claims, they would probably not even come out, as postsecular thought is basically indifferent with regards to whether or not religious and atheistic ideas can peacefully coexist, and whether or not the interconnection of the worldly and theological education is possible. Do whatever you want, it does not matter and changes nothing; everything is equally as believable, but the truth about things is not as unknown, as there is no truth - that is the quintessence of the postsecular thought, and if we may - ontology of the postmodernism. The works of D. A. Tsyplakov are based not on postsecular ideas, but on passionate clericalism, which is the reason why the author seems to be not indifferent towards the ideas and conclusions that he attempts to defend.

Based on the proposed distinction between secularism and worldliness, the author claims that the state education must shed the secular, but maintain its worldly character, in other words, education should not be done from the (latent) atheistic positions, but should also not mandate that the students accept some sort of religious dogmas. In this case, we see a fully substantiated unification by the author of the concepts of secularism and atheism. Secularism represents not atheism, but namely equality of religious and atheistic ideas. But if we talk about state education , that according not only to the Constitution and the Law on Freedom of Conscience, but also the general logic of the cultural-historical development of mankind, the worldly character of education in any case proposes that education (note - higher education!) can and must be conducted from the positions of materialism, evolutionism, and scientism. The latter is somehow linked with atheism, which gives the author an opportunity to speak of education from latent atheistic positions, even though we should distinguish atheism that is worldview combative and atheism that is methodologically pietistic. The former is the same religion, but only with the reversed symbol; the latter - a logical continuation of the secular and worldly character of the Russian society and state. The famous answer of Pierre-Simon Laplace to Napoleon's question why he (Laplace) never mentions God in his works - I did not have the need for such hypothesis - is not atheistic in its worldviews, but represents merely a manifestation of the methodological Occam's razor: if the world can be explained only by natural causes, there is no need to refer to the understanding of supernatural causes, even though the actual existence and nonexistence of the supernatural world is not only unknown to all, but more importantly - is not a part of the scientific discourse and is thus irrelevant.

Supporters of clericalization and active integration of theological education into the system of secular state education attempt to substantiate practically unsubstantiable position on matching the unmatchable - peaceful coexistence, interconnection and synthesis of the secular and theological education is impossible! In the worst case scenario, we would have to acknowledge oneness of the transcendent and immanent worlds, unify the philosophical advantages and idealism, evolutionism and creationism, theism and atheism; accomplishing this would be same as creating a triangular circle, or drawing a circular square. Nevertheless, amazingly enough such synthesis is possible, but it is only possible based upon the ideological platform of the aforementioned pantheism.

So, if we talk about the possible synthesis of secular and theological worldviews or secular and theological education, then it would seem reasonable to explore the possibilities of the heuristic and methodological potential of such philosophical model as pantheism. The latter can also be understood as the fourth philosophical picture of the world, after materialism, idealism, and dualism; a picture that crosses the boundaries between materialistic and idealistic, matter and consciousness, creationism and evolutionism, which would allow to refer to pantheism as the philosophy of unity . The criticism of the philosophical notion of matter and materialism as a philosophical concept would lose its logical power if the matter as substance (arche) was explained in the pantheistic spirit. Moreover, such explanation of matter is first of all fairly possible, since pantheism basically excludes the transcendent, and thus - the creationism in its mystical dimension, and secondly - has much broader possibilities for construction of evolutionistic and synergetic cosmological concepts. For example, the explanation of matter in the famous Dialectics of Nature by Friedrich Engels can certainly be characterized in the pantheistic sense, thus in the place of dialectical materialism could be pantheistic materialism - a terminological metamorphosis would not affect the content of the concept, but would rather give an additional options for the answer to the question of how the unintelligent and not even living matter can be capable of creative self-development. In addition to that, pantheism as a philosophical and methodological model, which has greater flexibility compared to theism or atheism, has much broader interpretational capabilities (nonconformist pantheism of Xenophanes , fatalistic pantheism of the Stoics, emanational pantheism of Neoplatonism, theological pantheism of N. Kuzansky, naturalistic pantheism of G. Bruno, moral-ethical pantheism of L. Tolstoy, the aforementioned possible pantheism of dialectical materialism, and finally, the modern astrophysical and cosmological evolution-synergetic pantheism, etc.).

Coming back to the discussion on the possibility of theological education in modern Russia, let us imagine, for example, that integration of theological education into the system of higher education has succeeded and is complete. Let us, alongside the supporters of such integration, ask the question whether the pantheistic ideas can be considered theological? Certainly. Then, in the context of theological education integrated into the education system, someone creates a research (dissertation, monograph, article, etc.) based upon the idealistic platform of ontological pantheism; what would be the fate of such research? Would it be accepted by the Russian theological educational community as one that has the right to exist? Perhaps as an alternative point of view to theism and clericalism? Could such dissertation be defended, and monograph published, receiving a theological degree? All of these questions are rhetorical. Most likely, the theologically and clerically oriented representatives of the social humanitarian knowledge will say that pantheism will not fly , even though according their own claims they stand on the positions of worldliness and postsecularism. This pantheism will not fly is the very manifestation of the fact that under the veil of secularism there is confessional clericalism and new Middle Ages, which attempt to infiltrate the liberal-democratic, postmodernistic and postsecular world, to reformat it and proclaim the single truth in an era of absence of truth.


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