Russian Orthodox Church calls for morals to be taught in schools

Thursday, August 9, 2007

MOSCOW -- A Russian Orthodox Church spokesman said Wednesday that the country's schools should teach religious principles and moral values, and he accused some leading scientists of trying to impose the "ideology of science" on the education system.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin was responding to a group of prominent scientists who recently protested the church's growing influence on society.

Chaplin urged teachers to instruct children not to follow the examples of "homosexuals and prostitutes."

His remarks come after 10 leading academics wrote to President Vladimir Putin last month to protest the introduction of a class on Orthodox Christian culture. The group also opposed an initiative to give universities the power to award degrees in theology.

"The scientific viewpoint cannot be a state ideology," Chaplin told journalists at a discussion between clerics and scientists. "It never made anybody happy and failed to answer fundamental questions of human existence."

The church, he said, should play a leading role in setting moral standards for youths.

"We have to show them an unhappy homosexual in his 40s and an aging prostitute," he said. "Otherwise, in 30 years our children will turn into animals influenced by the cult of glamour and debauchery."

The Russian church has experienced a revival since the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union in 1991. It now claims more than 27,000 parishes and 700 monasteries throughout the former U.S.S.R.

Government and religion are separated under Russia's post-Soviet constitution, but some Russian atheists claim religious symbolism is as omnipresent and oppressive as atheism was during Soviet times.

An outspoken Orthodox cleric at Wednesday's conference called on the government to exercise more control over religious affairs and help the church fight superstitions spread on its behalf by poorly educated priests.

"We are ready to put part of our life under government control," said theology professor Andrei Kuraev. "The church has been living without censorship for too long."

The revival of the Orthodox church's centuries-old ties to the state, meanwhile, have prompted concern among religious minorities and scientists.

"Education of schoolchildren should be based on teaching scientifically proven knowledge," said Andrei Vorobyev, a leading medical researcher and one of the authors of the letter to Putin. "Interference of the church in government affairs [has] always been deplorable in Russian history."

Administrators at dozens of Russian schools say the class on Orthodox Christian culture will be taught in the new academic year, but attendance will be voluntary.

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