The Cultural Legacy of Marxism-Leninism
of "Gullible Cynics"
Totalitarianism produced a strange kind of human being: the gullible cynic. By the 1970s, the Soviet population was starting to understand that despite its claims, Marxism-Leninism answered none of the fundamental questions about the meaning of life; at the same time, there was no possibility of finding out about alternative belief systems. Post-Soviet man therefore combines corrosive cynicism about the official ideology with a readiness to lend credence to almost anything else.
Walters quotes a Christian from St. Petersburg who wrote: "There are no irreconcilable ideas for the average Soviet man. He has no religious hierarchy, no taboos, no religious discernment only the hated Soviet ideology and the rest." Because of this, many contemporary Russians have no way of distinguishing true from false, good from evil. Meanwhile, Western organizations are flooding into Russia with their money, marketing skills and conflicting ideologies. While some are good and beneficial others are harmful. This is the maelstrom in which Russians find themselves today. (Walters, "Current Developments in Russia and the Response of the Russian Orthodox," Christianity After Communism, Westview Press, 1994, pp. 85-86.)
The Post-Gulag Theological Challenge
Moscow scholar Sergei Lezov notes that just as it is impossible for Western Christianity to be the same now as it was before Auschwitz, so one might expect that it would be impossible for Russian Orthodox theology to be the same now as it was before the Gulag. His conclusion is not encouraging: "There is, however, no Orthodox thinking through of the Gulag... There is no post-Gulag Orthodox theology, for the simple reason that there is now no Christian theology in Russia at all." The same might be said about the lack of a post-Gulag Protestant theology. (Walters, Christianity After Communism, pp. 94-95.)
Atheisms Lingering Legacy
A Moscow journalist noted that many former scientific atheists, remaining in their research posts, somehow became transformed into scholars of religion, while others, quite suddenly "found the faith" and are "now the loudest singers in the choir. The tragedy for Russia, he observed, is that students are getting their religious education either from people who are entirely incompetent in this field or from people pursuing their own religious agenda. (Mikhail Gorelik, "In the Wake of Atheism," The Moscow Times, February 19, 1995.)
Distinguished author Tatyana Tolstaya notes that Russians have "mocked the English with their machines, the Germans with their order and precision, the French with their logic, and finally the Americans with their love of money. As a result, in Russia we have neither machines, nor order, nor logic, nor money." Boris Grushin, a leading Russian public opinion specialist, identifies five clusters of public opinion in his country ranging from the most retrograde fascism to libertarian democracy. He goes on to note that because these clusters of opinion are in pitched battle with one another, Russias future remains very much in doubt. None of the five groupings can be readily identified with any particular social faction, Grushin concludes, "because each exists to a greater or lesser degree within each and every Russian" (Quoted by Jerry G. Pankurst, "Sociological Models of Religion in Post-Communist Societies," Christianity After Communism, pp. 82-83).
The challenges for Western Christians working in Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union are formidable. The legacy of Marxism-Leninism has been destructive beyond the reach of our imaginations; this destruction, together with the complexity of the Russian character shaped by a history full of tragedy, calls for a humble and discerning attitude on the part of all who seek to assist Russians in the moral renewal of their country and the construction of a civil society.
Dr. John A. Bernbaum