Online poster reads: "Gundyayev allows", referring to Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill Gundyayev. The picture shows an Orthodox priest photoshopped next to his car and the accident he caused. Activist's website calls for people to print it out and post in public places
My most recent visit to Russia was overwhelmed by one particular notion - the country has become so materialistic that even Ayn Rand and Daniel Plainview (main character from There Will Be Blood) would've found the obsession with money to be too much. In other words, the core of the Russian society, the so-called ruling elite and middle class, has become spiritless and valueless to the point of increasing physical deaths and criminal activities. The only part of the society that still genuinely puts family values and honesty first is Russia's fast-growing Muslim population. In other words, imagine a version of The Walking Dead where "zombies" literally don't sleep, don't eat, don't drink, don't have compassion, and walk and work with only one goal - to make more money (rather than eat people). That picture describes today's Moscow (complete with FM-radio soundtrack broadcasting the lyrics that "any b..ch is just a matter of price...").
Some libertarians may argue that greed is good. However, while the libertarian "religion" is heavily advocated by Atlas, Reason, CATO, and other U.S.-based foundations, American libertarianism is from a country where people don't hide behind six-foot fences, don't drive 200 miles an hour killing school kids at a bus stop, don't display their wealth by spending 98% of their monthly income on clothes and cars they can't afford, and regularly go to church. The sheer fact that libertarian non-profits exist proves that someone in America spends money on donations and charitable giving. And even that in itself is drastically different from today's Russia, where people would easily spend $15 on a cup of tea and $20 on a tasteless desert on the go, but wouldn't give a dime to a charity that feeds orphans. In fact, Russia today has more orphans than it did during World War II, and people with the means to take the children in prefer to buy expensive dogs and provide them with fancy dog snacks and toys. Two days before I left Moscow, a drunk driver, travelling 130 miles an hour, lost control of his car and wiped out a bus stop with 14 children, killing seven on the spot. Under Russian laws his maximum sentence can be nine years in prison.
How did it happen and who is to blame? the Russian Orthodox Church and its corrupt ex-KGB, tobacco-billionaire leader are the ones to share the responsibility.
If I told you that top management of "a certain company" pockets sizeable corporate funds, drives luxury sports cars (usually in drunken condition, causing major traffic accidents and deaths), and crushes its competition (sometimes violently) - you would think I am talking about a Latin oil company or an Eastern European private bank. You would be wrong. I am talking about the Russian Orthodox Church. They do all of the above; do it regularly and increasingly. And in a society that is split into haves and have-nots, believers and atheists, Russians and non-Russians, Putinists and liberals, the need for something moral, non-materialistic, uniting is higher than ever.
Since Putin's government pulled the plug on tax-exempt status for non-profits (the law was a reform much-needed at the time when severe tax violations were real), the Russian Orthodox Church de-facto became the moral guide of the nation, empowered to educate the people about orphans, family values and moral behavior. Patriarch Alexey did a decent job at it. When he died, an ex-KGB operative "Mikhailov" (legal name Vladimir Gundyayev) became the new leader of the Russian church. Patriarch Kirill (Mihailov/Gundyayev) made his fortune abusing the same tax laws in the Nineties by using the Russian Orthodox Church's non-profit status and becoming the biggest market player in tobacco and alcohol imports. I doubt it was a conspiracy, but rather an alignment of values that made Patriarch Kirill supportive of Putin's government. That's when the church shifted its focus from "church things" to suppressing the opposition and actively advocating Putin's political party in most recent elections. As a "thank you" the government closes its eyes on the church's financial and criminal offenses. In the most recent case six weeks ago, Igumen Timofey (a head pastor of a monastery) crashed his BMW in downtown Moscow, taking out several more cars besides his own. Witnesses say he was too drunk to stand on his feet. The court dismissed all testimony and Moscow police blamed an unknown computer virus on precisely wiping out the video files of traffic cameras that captured the crash. In Russia, it surely pays off to support the government. This case is one of many.
The loss of notions of life as a valuable gift and honesty as a way of doing business has also led to the increasing number of deadly car and motorcycle crashes, wide-spread petty corruption, and the growth of drug abuse and sexually-transmitted diseases. In one conversation, my U.S.-educated Russian friend left me speechless saying that "an investment of $35,000 into bribing your way into Moscow City Government pays for itself within months; by stealing pension funds and the elderly's maintenance payments you can 'earn' enough to buy a couple condos in Miami within the first year!"
Handling of the Pussy Riot incident has shown above-and-beyond attempts of the church to not behave like a religious institution. I'll use a parable: When Nashville-based Cross Point Church was picketed by a notorious Kansas hate group, Cross Point's Head Pastor communicated via Facebook, Twitter, and email, urging people to not engage in arguments, but give water and food to the picketing haters (Nashville was above 100F and the pastor told church-goers to simply care about the protestors). At the end of the day, the hate group's picketing didn't make any news. PR-wise, there was nothing to report, and behavior-wise, the church did the right, Christian thing.
In stark contrast, the Russian Orthodox Church ensured the prosecution of Pussy Riot girls, making itself and the government look foolish, and further splitting the Russian society beyond repair. If only someone in Kirill's office was smart enough to say, "Why don't we do the Jesus thing - forgive them and pray with them to cast the pussy-rioting demons out of these girls," what a different effect could have been achieved! The news would've never reached international media, Russian opposition would've looked dumb, Putin would've stayed out of the picture, and the church would've shown compassion and leadership by example (as it's supposed to do). Instead, the Pussy Riot case was the last drop in a poisoned social stew; today, a majority of Russians straight-out hate the church. The prior orthodox aggressive strategy (supported by the government) ensured absence of the competition on the "church market" and the Russians are left with a notion that a KGB-led, drunken-driving, tobacco-selling institution is the Church.
Joseph Stalin's goal to get rid of the church was ambitious and well-calculated. A nation without moral guidance can be easily manipulated and sold the utopian idea of Communism. However, because of Ukrainian resistance, remote villages, and old believers Stalin never fully succeeded in his quest to eliminate the faith from the Russian society. Despite of killing priests and blowing up churches, Soviet people had strong family values, lasting marriages, a culture of volunteering, and understanding that wealth alone cannot be the source of happiness. Isn't it ironic that 80 years later, Stalin's dream came true? The job is being finished by church's highest leader who happens to have had a successful career in KGB, an institution founded by Stalin himself.