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XIV. SECULAR SCIENCE, CULTURE AND EDUCATION

XIV.1. Having overcome heathen prejudice, Christianity demythologized nature, thus contributing to the development of natural science. Eventually, both natural and human science became one of the most important components of culture. By the end of the 20’ century, science and technology have achieved such results and influence in all aspects of life as to become, in fact, the decisive factors in the life of civilization. At the same time, despite Christianity’s initial impact on the formation of scientific activity, the development of science and technology under the influence of secular ideologies has led to consequences arousing serious fears. The ecological and other crises that have hit the modem world have increasingly challenged the path chosen. The scientific and technological level of civilization is such that the criminal actions of a small group of people can cause, in principle within a few hours, a global disaster in which all the highest forms of life will perish irrevocably.

From the Christian perspective, such consequences have arisen because of the false principle lying at the base of contemporary scientific and technological development. This principle stipulates a priori that this development should not be restricted by any ethical, philosophical or religious requirements. With this “freedom” however, scientific and technological development finds itself at the mercy of human passions, especially vanity, pride and thirst for the greatest possible comfort, which frustrates the spiritual harmony of life with all the ensuing negative developments. Therefore, to ensure normal human life it is necessary today as never before to restore the lost link between scientific knowledge and religious, spiritual and moral values.

The need for this link is also conditioned by the fact that a considerable number of people still believe in the omnipotence of scientific knowledge. It is partly due to this belief that some atheistic-minded thinkers of the I 9th century resolutely opposed science against religion. At the same time, it is commonly accepted that in all times, including the present, many outstanding scientists were and are religious people, which would be impossible if there were fundamental contradictions between religion and science. Scientific and religious types of knowledge are completely different. They have different points of departure and different goals, tasks and methodologies. These spheres can come in touch and overlap, but cannot oppose each other, because natural science contains no atheistic or religious theories, but more or less verifiable theories, whereas religion does not deal with the material sphere.

Mikhail Lomonosov rightly wrote that science and religion “cannot come into conflict... unless some one excites strife in them out of conceit and desire to show off one’s ingenuity.” St. Philaret of Moscow expressed a similar idea: “Faith in Christ is not in conflict with true knowledge, because it is not in union with ignorance.” Noteworthy also is the incorrectness of opposing religion to the so-called scientific worldview.’

Only religion and philosophy, by their very nature, can fulfill the function of providing a world-view, which role no specific science or concrete scientific knowledge as a whole can assume. A reflection on scientific achievements and on their inclusion in an ideological system, however, can take place in a wide framework beginning from religious to openly atheistic.

Though science may be one of the ways to know God (Rom. 1:19-20), Orthodoxy also sees in it a natural instrument for building life on earth, but which is to be used very prudently. The Church warns man against the temptation to view science as a realm completely independent of moral principles. Today’s achievements in various areas, including the physics of fundamental particles, chemistry and microbiology, show that they are essentially a double-edged sword that can both benefit man and take away his life. The evangelical norms of life make it possible to educate a person in such a way that the knowledge and abilities obtained could not be abused. This is why the Church and secular science are called to cooperation for the sake of life and its proper order. Their interaction contributes to a healthy, creative climate in the spiritual and intellectual spheres, thus helping to create the best conditions for the development of scientific research.

Prominence should be given to the social sciences, which by their nature are inevitably linked with theology, church history and canon law. While welcoming the works of secular scientists in this area and recognizing the importance of studies in the human sciences, the Church does not consider the rationalistic picture of the world, sometimes formed by these studies, to be complete and comprehensive. The religious world-view cannot be rejected as a source of the ideas of truth, and of the understanding of history, ethics and many other human sciences, which have the reason and right to be present in the system of secular education and formation, and in the building of social life. It is only the combination of spiritual experience and scientific knowledge that ensures the full range of understanding and knowledge. No social system can be described as harmonious as long as it gives a monopoly to the secular world-view in making socially significant judgments. Unfortunately, there is still a danger of idealizing science, for which nations have paid too high of a price in the 20’ century. This idealization is especially dangerous in the area of societal studies that form the basis of state programs and political projects. While opposing attempts to substitute ideology for science, the Church supports the especially important dialogue with scholars of the human sciences.

Man, as the image and likeness of the Incomprehensible Creator, is free in his mysterious depths. The Church warns against the attempts to use scientific and technological progress for establishing control over the inner world of the personality, for creating any technologies making it possible to infiltrate and manipulate the human consciousness or subconsciousness.
 
XIV.2. The Latin word cultura meaning “cultivation, breeding, education, development” is derived from cultus meaning “veneration, worship, cult.” This points to the religious roots of culture. Having created man, God put him in paradise and ordered him to cultivate and keep His creation (Gen. 2:15). Culture, as the preservation of the world around man and the care of it, is a God-commanded duty of man. After the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, human beings had to face the need to struggle for survival. They began producing instruments of labor, to build cities, to develop agriculture and the arts. The Church Fathers and Doctors emphasized the divine origin of culture. Clement of Alexandria, in particular, perceived it as a fruit of the human creative work under the guidance of the Logos. He said that “Scripture gives the common name of wisdom to all the earthly sciences and arts in general, everything that the human mind can achieve... for every art and every knowledge comes from God.” St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “Just as in subtle musical harmony every string produces a different sound, one high, another low, so also the Artist and Creator-Word, having appointed different inventors for various occupations and arts, has given everything into the possession of all those who desire it, in order to tie us by the bonds of fellowship and love of man and to make our life more civilized.”

The Church has assimilated much from what has been created by humanity in art and culture, re-melting the fruits of creative work in the furnace of religious experience, in the desire to cleanse them of spiritually pernicious elements and again to offer them to the people. She sanctifies various aspects of culture and gives much for its development. The Orthodox icon-painter, poet, philosopher, musician, architect, artist and writer-all use the means of art to express the experience of spiritual renewal they have found in themselves and wish to offer to others. The Church makes it possible to see man, his inner world and the meaning of his life in a new light. As a result, in its ‘churching,’ human creativity returns to its original religious roots. The Church helps culture to cross the boundaries of a purely earthly pursuit. Offering it a way to cleanse the heart and unite with the Creator, she opens the way for human creativity to work together with God.

Secular culture can be a bearer of the Gospel’s Good News. It is especially important in those cases when Christian influence in society weakens or when the secular authorities enter into an open struggle with the Church. Thus, in the years of state atheism, Russian classic literature, poetry, painting and music became for many almost the only sources of religious knowledge. Cultural traditions help to preserve and enrich the spiritual heritage in a rapidly changing world. This is true for various kinds of creativity, such as literature, representational arts, music, architecture, drama and cinematography. For the preaching of Christ any creative style is suitable if the artist is sincerely pious in his intentions and if he keeps faithful to the Lord.

The Church has always made this appeal to the people of culture: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). At the same time, the Church gives this warning: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (I Jn. 4:1). Man, has not always been spiritually sharp-sighted enough to distinguish between genuine divine inspiration and ecstatic “inspiration,” behind which stand dark forces making a destructive impact on man. The latter happens, in particular, when people come in touch with the world of magic and sorcery or take up drugs. Education by the Church helps a person to find the spiritual sight enabling him to distinguish between good and bad and between the divine and the demonic.

The encounter between the Church and culture does not at all mean there is always just cooperation and mutual enrichment. “The True Word, when it came, showed that not every opinion and every teachings is good, but some are good, while others are bad” (St. Justin the Philosopher). While recognizing every man’s right to give a moral assessment to cultural developments, the Church reserves the same right to herself too. Moreover, she sees in it her direct obligation. Without insisting that the Church’s evaluation system should be the only one accepted in a secular society and state, the Church is convinced of the ultimate truth and saving nature of the Way revealed to her in the Gospel. If a creative work contributes to the moral and spiritual transformation of the personality, the Church gives her blessing upon it. But if culture puts itself in opposition to God, becoming anti-religious and anti-human and turning into anti-culture, the Church opposes it. However, this opposition is not a struggle against the bearers of this culture themselves, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but our struggle is spiritual, aimed to deliver people from the pernicious impact made on their souls by dark forces, “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).

The eschatological aspiration of the Christian does not allow him to identify his life fully with the world of culture, “for here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14). The Christian can live and work in this world, but he should not be fully absorbed in earthly activity. The Church reminds the people of culture that their calling is to cultivate people’s souls, including their own, seeking to restore in them the image of God distorted by sin.

Preaching the eternal Truth of Christ to people living in changing historical situations, the Church does it through cultural forms peculiar to the time, nation and various social groups. What has been experienced by some peoples and generations sometimes has to be interpreted anew to others in a way familiar and understandable for them. No culture can be regarded as the only one acceptable for the expression of the Christian spiritual message. The verbal and graphic language of preaching, its ways and means, change naturally in the course of history and vary depending on the national and other contexts. At the same time, the changeable moods of the world cannot be the grounds for rejecting the worthy heritage of the past centuries and all the more so, for consigning Church Tradition to oblivion.
 
XIV.3. Christian tradition has always respected secular education. Many Church Fathers studied in secular schools and academies and considered the disciplines taught in them to be necessary for a believing man. St. Basil the Great wrote that “external sciences are not without use” for a Christian, who should borrow from them everything that contributes to his moral improvement and intellectual growth.” According to St. Gregory the Theologian, “every one who has an intellect recognizes learning (Greek: paideusin) as a primary blessing for us. And not only this noble learning of our own, which... has as its subject only salvation and the beauty of what is contemplated by the mind, but also the external learning which many Christians abhor out of ignorance as unreliable, dangerous and diverting from God.”

From the Orthodox perspective, it is desirable that the entire educational system should be built on religious principles and based on Christian values. Nevertheless, the Church, following the age-old tradition, respects the secular school and is willing to build relations with it on the basis of human freedom. At the same time, the Church considers it inadmissible to impose on students anti-religious and anti-Christian ideas and to assert the monopoly of the materialistic world-view (see XIV. 1). The situation typical of many countries in the 20’ century, when state-run schools were made instruments of militant atheistic education, should not be repeated. The Church calls to remove the consequences of atheistic control over the system of public education.

Unfortunately, the role of religion as forming the spiritual self-awareness of peoples is underestimated in many curricula on history to this day. The Church keeps reminding people of the contribution Christianity has made to the treasury of the world and national cultures. Orthodox believers regret the attempts to borrow uncritically the educational standards, principles and curricula of the organizations known for their negative attitude to Christianity in general and to Orthodoxy in particular. The danger of occult and neo-heathen influences and destructive sects penetrating into the secular school should not be ignored either, as under their impact a child can be lost for himself, for his family and for society.

The Church believes it beneficial and necessary to conduct optional classes on Christian faith in secular schools, at the request of children or parents, and in higher educational institutions. Church authorities should conduct a dialogue with the government-aimed to seal in legislation and practice-the internationally accepted right of believing families to the religious education and upbringing of their children. To this end, the Church has also established Orthodox institutions of general education and expects that they will be supported by the state.

The school is a mediator that hands over to new generations the moral values accumulated in the previous centuries. The school and the Church are called to cooperate in this task. Education, especially that of children and adolescents, is called not only to convey information. To warm up in young hearts the aspiration for the Truth, authentic morality, love of their neighbors and homeland and its history and culture is a school’s task no smaller but perhaps even greater than that of bestowing knowledge. The Church is called and seeks to help schools in their educational mission, for it is the spirituality and morality of a person that determines his eternal salvation, as well as the future of individual nations and the entire human race.
 
 
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