Vital Signs

The Revival of Russian Paganism

"The predisposition to religious belief," wrote sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, "is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature." Christians would agree with Mr. Wilson, but it is his fellow atheists, not Christians, who have dominated the religious (though not the truly spiritual) life of this unfortunate century. Like Emile Durkheim, modern barbarians see religious ritual as a means of consecrating the group, the party, the class, or the race, the "core of society" as Wilson put it in On Human Nature, and not as a liturgical mechanism for mediation with the Almighty. The intoxicating mix of myth and ritual serves to subsume the individual in the collective, to bond him together with other adherents of the secular faith, the Party hierarchy (Orwell's Inner Party) guarding and interpreting the sacred writings of the Prophet (Lenin, Mao, Hitler), the Leader (Duce, Fuehrer, or Vozhd in the case of Joseph Stalin) himself serving as the High Priest, the remote keeper of the keys. Holy relics (Lenin's mummified corpse comes readily to mind) are put on display and serve as the focus of public rituals. The aura of the mystery of faith is retained.

The 20th century, no less than the time of the Crusades or the turmoil of the Reformation, has been one of religious wars and revolutions. Ideologues...

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