Is there such a thing? If so, is it good or bad, desirable or not? From Orthodox Russia, the following assessment came from Bishop LONGINUS of Saratov and Volsk a couple years ago:
The ideology that used to be the Church’s foe for a century exists no longer, the ‘ghost of communism’ that Marx wrote about has now more or less dissolved. But it’s being replaced with something just as frightful – the ideology of militant secularism: the Church and everything that is connected to the spiritual, religious life of an individual is steadily driven into some kind of underground existence, there are ceaseless attempts to make them marginal in a person’s social life, so that religion wouldn’t be the basis of a person’s social and private life.
His Grace’s use of the phrase “ideology of militant secularism” is important in seeing his perspective, because in Russia Communism was often referred to by its religious foes as “the ideology of militant atheism.” Many in the Former Soviet Union honestly perceive little difference between the two; many also point out that both originated in “the West.” A related view comes from Father Sergei Sveshnikov in Oregon (I don’t know where he was born), of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR):
The fact of the matter is that Western European culture, since ancient times, was Christian. For this reason, laws and traditions are based on religion, which until fairly recently did not need to be defended or explained. Since the time of the separation of church and state, the latter is undergoing a gradual de-Christianization, when the remnants of Christian underpinnings and traditions (for example, prayer in schools, Christian symbolism, traditional marriages, etc.) are attacked one after the other through the courts and removed, since there is no foundation for them in a godless society.
Another Russian source I recently read alleged – with some justification, as I thought about it! – that beginning with the French Revolution, the first target of every (small-R) republican regime, after overthrowing a monarchy, has been religion.
Is “separation of church and state” good for either? for society? Obviously it’s not so good for the formerly-established religion! What if what’s established is heresy? Of course, Orthodoxy considers all non-Orthodoxy to be heresy (at best), and wishes to be free to evangelize everywhere. So does everybody else! Is it better for Orthodoxy to exist in a devout but heretical society, than a “militantly secular” one? Should Orthodoxy defend “civil religion,” even when it is predominantly Protestant? Some Orthodox see the alleged secularization of the West together with the growth of Orthodoxy here, and say that after all, we too reject Catholicism and Protestantism. Is Orthodoxy’s task of evangelization easier or harder in a “secularized” society? Many “seculars” feel they’ve heard the Gospel, and rejected it. But I’m under the impression that more converts to Orthodoxy (not by marriage) are from devout heterodox Christianity, than from atheism or other religions.
The Fathers of the Church have never considered non-Orthodoxy to be “undifferentiated darkness.” Some heretics and sects are closer to the Church than others, and perhaps than non-Christians; (continuing) Jews, and possibly Muslims, might be closer than polytheists and atheists. Then there are those born into sects and heresies not by their own choosing. But living in a non-Orthodox society is traditionally considered spiritually tricky for Orthodox. And living among Christian heresies, which can be very tempting, can be even more dangerous. Orthodoxy prefers an Orthodox society and culture, though it’s not necessarily inimical to freedom of conscience therein.
Should Orthodoxy form common cause to defend “religion,” even “Christianity” (or “Judeo-Christianity”), in the First and Second Worlds, or only itself?
Good question, if I do say so myself.