Arrival in Moscow

When I deplaned in Moscow, a reception was already taking place for the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexy II. Most of the the fifty or so guests had already had a bite to eat, but there was still plenty left. Alexy II was holding an informal press conference. Here is a photo of him in the television light. I had the unexpected honor of being introduced to him afterwards.

The Conference begins

The opening session of the series of about 70 conferences took place on a day following in the congress building in the Kremlin. It looked to me like the population of my town could fit in there. It was not a full house, though. I'd estimate about 3/4 full. In the 112-page program booklet, I was listed to speak Wednesday, the 30th of January, 2002 on Scientology in the mass media. The picture to the left is of the opening speakers at the conference series. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch is sitting in the center dressed mostly in white from this angle.

Why me? lists a few places the thesis can be found that I did last year on the press and public relations policies of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. One of the series of lectures the Russian Orthodox Church was giving concerned "the Mass Media and Totalitarian Cults." Because Scientology is considered to be a totalitarian cult with its far-reaching doctrines, I had been invited to Russia to speak at that particular conference as an official guest of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Orthodox Church persecuted for 70 years

Up until about fifteen years ago, the Russian Orthodox Church had been mercilessly persecuted for a period of about seventy years. By persecuted, I mean much of its property has been confiscated and/or destroyed with the backing of the government, its members have been jailed and occasionally killed, and the general population has been fed a steady diet of propaganda saying that only old, poor ignorant people would do anything like belong to a church [1]. Several years after the Russian government realized that it could get along much better with people if it also got along with their religion, the US Congress belatedly passed a law called the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.

USA took action against religious persecution after the fall of the Iron Curtain

According to a letter from Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the "great untold human rights tragedy of this decade is that Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and other religious minorities are being persecuted in great numbers around the world. Killings, rape, imprisonment, torture and abduction are commonplace for many religious believers in many countries." The IRFA "established the Office of International Religious Freedom headed by an Ambassador at Large whose primary responsibility is to advance religious freedom abroad and recommend appropriate U.S. government responses where this right is violated. If a country is found to engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom, the President is to impose at least one of a number of listed measures, such as economic sanctions ..."

US law provides a unique opportunity for "totalitarian" cults to set their agenda

One of the problems exacerbated by the belated US decision to enforce acceptance of US religion was that many US-based cults saw the fall of the Iron Curtain as a potential pot of gold. Scientologists, Unificationists and Hare Krishnas swarmed eastern Germany, Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries to corner their share of the market. The problem in eastern Europe in the early 1990s was of a similar magnitude to the problem the USA had in the 1970s before some of the major cult leaders received prison terms. Besides the fact that cults are more sophisticated now than they were in the 1970s, almost anything Western was at first warmly welcomed in the east. However certain health, education and business practices introduced by professional, corporate cults were rejected just as quickly. You can see how this related to the US Congress' IRFA if you glance through, for example (or read my comments on it at The law that was supposed to protect religious freedom now effectively focuses on the rights of religious corporations, especially Scientology, to proliferate in foreign countries* with subsequent, unrecorded transfers of wealth out of those countries.

* "Make money. Make more money. Make others produce so as to make money," Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard once wrote. "However you get them in or why, just do it."

Europe and USA disagree on issue of religious freedom for destructive cults

One participant of the conference explained this belated, backward phenomenon by saying that in the USA, religious freedom refers to protecting the rights of the almighty corporation to exploit members in the name of religion, while in Russia and Europe, religious freedom refers more to protecting the rights of people to practice religion without, in effect, being defrauded or having their social, political and familial relations dismantled. This theory is born out by the fact that dozens of European countries have established government offices by which information can be collected on totalitarian cults, while in the USA, cults are held up as proof of American tolerance, or at least American cults are. Cults that operate on a similar, wider scale, however, are sometimes also called "terrorists" by virtue of their foreign origins. Followers of Hubbard, together with followers of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, are widely recognized in Europe as members of totalitarian cults.

Room for discussion

Therefore it was with much interest that I was heard by about 200 people at a "round table" meeting that Wednesday in an auditorium at the Russian Orthodox publishing complex. Here is what I said. In the picture to the right, I'm sitting in the center following the written text, while Alexander Dvorkin, the conference organizer, stood and read my presentation in Russian. Mr. Dvorkin is the chairman of the Department of Sectology of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Institute and the chief editor of Prozreniye ("recovery of sight") magazine. On the left is Archpriest Mikhail Redkin, director of the anti-cult work in the dioceses of Moscow Province. Here is a presentation by Archpriest Alexander Novopashin, the dean of the Cathedral of Holy Prince Alexander Neva. About a dozen speakers made their presentations between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. that day in the conference. They included both religious and secular journalists from cities such as Moscow, Novosibirsk and Ekaterinburg, not to mention a member of the Moscow city Duma.

I'd go back

Despite the fact that Moscow was a big, strange city to me, I felt strangely at home. This was most likely due to the people there. Even if the Scientologists would have shown up at my presentation and tried to make a scene, it would have seemed perfectly normal to me. I was informed afterwards that the probable reason they took no action this time was that a member of the Russian Ministry of Justice was present, and this was one of the people that approves or disapproves applications to be recognized as a religious corporation in Russia.

[1] I wrote this as a result of talking with some people I met in Russia, including one whose acquaintance was "shot while escaping" prison in 1978. I didn't ask him exactly what happened, but "shot while escaping" is also a euphemism in totalitarian regimes for "murdered." Subsequently I've received some e-mail which seeks to further clarify the word "persecution." It seems the period 1917-1944 needs to be separated from the years 1945-1988. Citing the e-mail, "It is estimated that between 1917 and 1944 over 500,000 bishops, priests, monks and nuns were murdered, often after unimaginable torture (buried alive, drowned in bags, crucified, thrown down mine shafts, cut to pieces, etc.) Many more died in prison camps and as exiles. In no other period of history were there so many Christain martyrs in one time in one place. Another killing field, one of many, has recently been discovered just south of Moscow, where about 40,000 bishops, priests, monks, nuns and ordinary believers were shot and buried between 1935 and 1940. Today a simple wooden church stands there, dedicated to those martyred at the hands of the Bolshevics."

Including the period after 1944 now, in addition to the losses inflicted upon humanity, survivors were officially segregrated and discriminated against, intimidated to the point of losing their jobs and being jailed. Activities such as religious education, charities, publications, etc, were strictly prohibited, while church services were officially permitted, but only within the four walls of the remaining churches. Losses inflicted upon property included the confiscation of all land and buildings, including the churches where services were held. The main difference between the two periods is that mass murders occurred only during the former.