Russian Orthodox Church calls for teaching of morals in school, deplores 'ideology of science'

Moscow, Russia - A spokesman for the Orthodox Church said August 8 that Russia's schools should teach religious principles and moral values, and accused some of Russia's leading scientists of trying to impose the "ideology of science" on the school system.

The church spokesman, Father Vsevolod Chaplin, was rebutting a group of prominent scientists who recently protested the church's growing influence on Russian society.

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

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

"The scientific viewpoint cannot be a state ideology," Chaplin told journalists at a round-table discussion between clerics and scientists August 8. "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 youth.

"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 USSR.

Government and religion are separated under Russia's post-Soviet constitution, but some Russians who consider themselves atheist claim that religious symbolism is as omnipresent and oppressive as atheism was during Soviet times.

An outspoken Orthodox cleric at August 8'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," Andrei Vorobyev, a leading medical researcher and one of the authors of the letter to Putin, told journalists. "Interference of the Church in government affairs have 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.