Thursday, February 28, 2013

Meteors Across Russia

FOR REFLECTION: "Meteors fired across the Russian bow"

 "There are more meteors where that one came from!"
An observation on religious faith, in Russia, past and present:

Meteors fired across the Russian bow
By Gene Owens
      Heaven seems to be firing a few shots across the Russian bow. How else would you explain the series of meteor explosions or whatever they are that have rattled windows and injured hundreds over the space of a century or so.
      The latest was the explosion over Chelyabinsk, a city of a million people just east of the Urals. The area was rocked Feb. 15 by an intense shock wave following the appearance of a mysterious light.
      Russia’s Interior Ministry estimated that 1,200 people, including 200 children, were injured, as windows imploded in schools and other buildings.
      It was reminiscent of the Tunguska event of 1908, when a powerful force shattered the stillness near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. For years, the cause of the devastation was a mystery.
      Some speculated that either a comet or an asteroid had struck the earth. Others figured that some deuterium from outer space hit with an impact great enough to create a natural thermonuclear explosion the natural H-bomb theory.
      Someone else speculated that a small black hole had passed through the earth.
      Now, it’s generally accepted that the 1908 event, like the 2013 event, was the result of a meteor’s explosion as it hit earth’s atmosphere. The meteor of 2013 appears to have been composed of hard metal, which fragmented as it entered our world, sending meteorites all over the place, like an ICBM with multiple-targeted warheads. Estimates of its diameter range from 10 feet to 50 feet, and its weight from 10 tons to 7,000 tons.
What struck me about the latest event was the reaction of many of the people. They thought it might be the end of the world.
     The idea of an end of the world in our time is a religious concept, and many are convinced that the end is at hand.
      The events at Chelyabinsk and Tunguska certainly provide evidence that the heavens contain an arsenal perfectly capable of terminating life on our planet if a supreme being were inclined to use them for that purpose.
     But what struck me was this: People nurtured on communist atheism were willing to entertain the thought that this was a god-sent catastrophe.
Atheism was drilled into Russian heads for 75 years, but a cruel and authoritarian state was unable to drum God out of their minds.
     “God forbid you should ever have to experience anything like this,” wrote one Russian blogger.
     During a trip across the old Soviet Union in 1983, I visited several Russian Orthodox churches in Siberia, and found them oases of color in a drab, monochrome landscape. I remember the shabbily-dressed babushkas “little grandmothers” who thronged the churches to absorb the beauty of the interiors and, presumably, to assure themselves that God was still there.
     During their 75 years of hegemony over Russia, the Soviet communists had reached a modus vivendi with the Orthodox church. A priest explained it to me and a group of journalistic colleagues during our visit to the monastery at Zagorsk near Moscow: The government allowed them to achieve their religious education and to practice their faith in exchange for total loyalty. During our visit, the priests lectured us on the American government’s insistence on building up its nuclear armament and threatening the peace-loving Soviet government.
     At a Baptist church in Moscow, I got another look at religion under an atheistic Marxist state. The congregation there was allowed to conduct its services in an unpretentious building that it occupied by the permission of the state.
     “We have freedom of worship,” one clergyman told me, but not true freedom of religion.  They could not educate their children in church-supported schools and they could not perish the thought proselyte.
     Both the Orthodox priests and the Baptist clergymen as well as the Moslem clerics I met in Soviet Asia acknowledged that you could not belong to a religious organization and be a member of the Communist Party.
     That meant that to hold any position of responsibility in politics and society, you had to sever your religious affiliations.
     It occurred to me that the people worshiping at that Moscow church had to be doing so for one reason: a belief in and a love for God.
     That love had survived decades of repression, and it was ready to bounce back once communism lost its hold.
     Religious freedom is still a precarious thing in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. When Soviet armies overran Eastern Europe, many worshipers were shipped off to Siberia, into the system of prison camps that Alexandr Solzhenitzyn called the Gulag Archipelago. Out of the gulags came thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, determined to continue the proselytizing they had carried on surreptitiously under state ban. The Russian state has tried to cap their activity, and the European Court of Human Rights has delivered a number of opinions in their favor. Still the state hangs tough, and still the Witnesses proselyte.
Maybe I’m reading too much into some impromptu comments from those who experienced the latest heavenly event that came through Russian skies.
     But I’ve seen the gray and wrinkled babushkas go to their knees and rise without even touching their hands to the floor. They weren’t doing that for Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader of their day. And I’ve seen ragged women lining the sidewalk near an Orthodox church in Novosibirsk, Siberia. An Intourist guide told me they received pensions from the state but were begging for money to buy vodka.
     Whatever their motive, they were seeking compassion from people who came to worship God, not from those seeking to expunge him.
     Putin should pay attention. There are more meteors where that one came from.

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