The Iron Curtain of Censorship

The Iron Curtain of Censorship July 23, 2010

Well, it looks like we can add Russia to the list of countries where it’s illegal to criticize religion:

Two Russian museum curators were found guilty of “inciting religious hatred” for displaying a painting of Jesus Christ with Mickey Mouse’s head superimposed.
    A Moscow court ordered the two men, Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev, to pay fines of £4,200 each.
    They ruled that a 2007 exhibition in Moscow called “Forbidden Art” had caused psychological trauma and moral suffering to Christians.

“Psychological trauma and moral suffering”. You know, I always thought the Bible told Christians to be glad when they were persecuted:

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

—Matthew 5:11-12

but apparently this verse, like many others, has been left by the wayside. In the writings of the church fathers, there are stories of Christian martyrs who gladly suffered torture and even death in the service of their faith. Whatever else I might think about their beliefs, I can give those people points for toughness, if nothing else. But now, instead of welcoming persecution, modern Christians in many nations have become delicate flowers, so protective of their fragile psyches that they can’t even bear to see Jesus with mouse ears.

And no, it’s not just the state taking action to shelter and coddle Christians against their will. The church, as you might expect, took an active role in the trial:

The two convicted curators said they would appeal against Monday’s verdict, while the Russian Orthodox Church complained the fines were too small.

Well, naturally. The fines have to be cripplingly large, because if they aren’t, these two hooligans might not learn their lesson. They might even be tempted to criticize Christianity again in the future, and that would be lethal to the poor, helpless Russian Orthodox church. Their weak nerves couldn’t possibly survive another Virgin Mary sculpted from caviar!

We’re seeing something firsthand that America’s founding fathers knew well: any religion that gains secular power will abuse it, no matter how much experience they have of being in the minority. Decades of repression under the Soviet government apparently taught the Russian church absolutely nothing about tolerance of dissenting views, because as soon as they regained state favor, they immediately set about trying to outlaw all opinions they disapprove of; whether it’s this case, or a similar story from 2007 about them lobbying the government to outlaw homosexuality; or from 2005, when the organizers of another sacrilegious art show were convicted and fined.

This is the first and most important reason why every nation needs a strong separation of church and state. Russia has granted the Orthodox church special status in its laws, part of a dangerous drive by its leaders to promote nationalism, and the erosion of Russian citizens’ freedom is the obvious and inevitable result. There are still brave people in Russia, like these Voltaire-esque museum curators, fighting for human rights – but it’s all too easy to see a new iron curtain, not made of concrete or barbed wire but nonetheless real, looming and threatening to close around the people’s minds.

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