Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fear of God

Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Vlad Filat hosted a meeting with Moldova's two orthodox archbishops, their eminences Vladmir (of the Russian Church) and Petru (of the Romanian Church).  The purpose of the meeting, as it turns out, was to discuss the teaching of religion in schools, an idea that Filat has mentioned on a number of previous occasions.

Politically it's a smart move.  Most of Moldova's population is orthodox and is uncomfortable with the split of the church into pro-Moscow and pro-Bucharest sections.  They will applaud the sight of the two metropolitans meeting together in a common cause and this will reflect well on Filat.

Also, Filat is probably trying to ease Vladimir out of the influence of Russia and the communist party.  Working together on a religious education project may be a way to temper the (Russian) church's rather obvious links to the PCRM and the Russian government.

Constitutionally I don't see an issue with religious education (RE) so long as

  1. Atheist or agnostic parents are allowed to opt their children out into other courses (e.g. Philosophy) that would be run at the same time as the RE, and
  2. The RE progamme doesn't unfairly favour a particular faith or confession.  Filat should work hard to ensure that Protestants, Catholics & Muslims etc are included, notwithstanding their relatively small numbers in Moldova.
  3. The education focuses more on those things that various religions and confessions have in common than on their differences.
Morally, it's a good thing to do.  One of the consequences of the decline of religious faith in the West is that people have lost their fear of God.  Maybe they don't believe that he exists.  Maybe they believe that he exists, but not in the Abrahamic sense, complete with concepts of sin and judgement.  The bottom line is that most folks these days don't think they will be hit by a lightening bolt if they steal, defraud, have an affair etc.  A century ago, they did.

I'm not about to make a judgement on the rights or wrongs of religious faith, however I will make one observation:  the fear of God was a control that kept some people honest when all else failed.  This is especially so in the case of invisible, white collar, 'victimless' crimes such as corruption, fraud and embezzlement where other controls (e.g. peer pressure) were powerless.  People would refrain from committing these crimes due to the fear of an all-seeing God.

Now that fear is gone, and we're worse off for it.  Think of the massive frauds have we seen over the last decade - Barings, Enron, Worldcom, SocGen, Madoff to name just the biggest ones.  Think also of the increases in corruption levels worldwide recorded by Transparency International.

Religious education in Moldova will at the very least re-instill the fear of God into a section of Moldova's children.  It will also, one hopes, give them a basic sense of right and wrong, and of duty to their country and their neighbours.

PS:  One amusing aside from yesterday's meeting was Unimedia's publication of photos showing the cars driven by the two clerics.  Both drove BMWs.  Petru's was a bit of a banger and had standard Chisinau registration plates.  Vladimir's was a shiny new model bearing official Moldovan government plates (a clear breach of the constitutional separation of church and state).  An apt visual characterisation of the relative positions of the Romanian and Russian churches in Moldova.


  1. Well if I would want my children to know what is right and wrong, I would rather propose them an Ethics lesson. Teaching by making them fear of a red devil with a trident is not any different from what they used to do in the Middle Age.

    It would be good to see religion as a way of being nice(r) to people, by I just can't tell that of the Moldovan clerics.

    I remember how the church tried to block the Da Vinci Code movie from watched in the cinema. I also remember how a theater act was canceled because of them, thus completely violating liberty rights.

    I fear more that priests in Moldovan schools will rather try more to convince kids not to use any condoms, how the biometric passports will turn them into Antichrists and how gay people are evil and should die in the fires of Hell.

  2. Some good points as always, Corneliu. I would be interested in your ethics lesson curriculum and what role (if any) you see for religion in it.

  3. I think it's not a bad idea to have religion classes in the schools in Moldova,in the same conditions as you said.I was in a private school in Chisinau and I had a religion class for a couple of years and from my own experience it was a positive thing.It din't obligate anybody to attend ar have the same point of view,but we learned many things that we probably wouldn't learn in another way.

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