Bad Religion

August 20, 2008

Sundays about 2 p.m. I am usually busy ignoring the procession of Hari-Krishnas who sing and dance their way down my street much to the amusement of local drunks. “Any religion that expects you to perform weird things in order to celebrate your faith, looks a bit dodgy to me”, says my wife. Not just a pretty face, is she?

I can’t be classed as a church-goer myself, but some of the things God seems to want us to do (be a good person, do not murder/steal/etc) are perfectly in tune with my own philosophy of life.
If somebody uses religion as the ultimate pain-killer (my dad does that), I don’t mind. If somebody, in order to feel that their god is truly and properly celebrated, wants to be subjected to all sorts of uncomfortable rituals (my dad does that too), I don’t mind either.
I do believe, if God exists (and as I don’t know for sure, I am not denying God, why take chances?) we all are his/her holy and innocent children until proven otherwise, no matter what gods we do celebrate and how.

To me, religion starts to stink when people try and push their religious brands down other people’s throats. Isn’t it slightly odd that some think their god would like them to put on business suits and go out selling their faith door to door?

Once, after my wife and I just had a baby, we were in, waiting for health visitors. You know how it is when a new baby arrives: you don’t get enough sleep etc, so when I opened the door at the sound of the door-bell and there were two women standing there, dressed in smart navy-colored suits, I simply said: “Come on in”.
I was a little surprised when the answer was “No, first we would like just to have a little chat”, but I quickly caught on when the leaflets appeared. According to the rules of our street I had to say “Jesus *&%$-ing Christ!” (no thank you) and shut the door in their faces (it was nice talking to you, have a good day).
I swear, the expression of extreme worry when I asked them in, changed into expression of extreme relief after I told them to f*ck-off. Is it because they only know the first step of the drill: hand a leaflet, and as people are not supposed to take one, they don’t have an action plan for the next stage of conversion? Or maybe these are like ground troops or scouts, and the next stage (a visit to the prospective convert’s house for a theological discussion) is carried out by other, much higher priests?

I recall, in the mid-nineties, St. Petersburg suffered an invasion of American Evangelists. Some of them were standing next to churches handing a free copy of the Bible to every person who was going in. Apparently they were trying to convert Russians to Christianity. In English too.

Russians are one of the most Christian and god-fearing nations in the world - this is reflected in the quality and quantity of places of worship. Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities offer an exciting selection of cultural and architectural wealth related to the Orthodox Church. Russia’s monasteries, convents and cathedrals are sights that should not be missed by any self-respecting visitor. Honest, cross my heart!

Filed under: Russia - culture and people
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 11:19 am


August 14, 2008

Yesterday, although admittedly not a shepherd’s delight, was an ok sort of day. That is until I got back from work and found out that somebody had tried to deliver me a “povestka” (summons) to the draft committee - a body that, a-hem, well, oversees military drafts and such. I, being ever so slightly above draft age, am a qualified telecommunications engineer with a military rank of lieutenant. The latter was slapped on me when I graduated and every now and then I am still wanted for field-training. This rather annoying event creates all sorts of complications: being off work for a couple of weeks at a time not convenient to myself, missing out on quality time with my wife and children at the beginning of the school year and, simply, spending a fortnight in the company of strangers I would not normally choose to socialize with in the first place. As I did not sign for delivery I will not be expected to show up, so I won’t.

The army and I stopped talking a long time ago. The last face to face encounter was when I was changing my address and had to go and get my passport stamped at the draft place. I was a little worried I might be asked to complete all those field-trainings I owed them, but I guess, as any self-respecting bureaucracy, they got different departments for different things and the departments don’t communicate all that well. The chap in charge, a sub-colonel of this or the other, got mildly pissed off at the fact that I didn’t care to come and get my promotion signed some years ago. He was nice bloke though and didn’t want to let me go without said promotion put in my papers although I tried to reassure him it was perfectly fine with me. He had three pens in his possession and one by one they all failed to work, I swear I saw them running out of ink on me. He finished the job with one of them old-fashioned pens that you dip into the ink first. The tip of it broke off as he was writing. I still have this record, a four word sentence written in four different pens.

When I was a boy I dreamed of becoming a soldier. My favorite museum was the Artillery Museum. It displays articles of warfare dating back to medieval times. It also has three or four rooms devoted solely to WWII. Last summer a friend with a son came to visit and I took the boy to the museum. He loved it. I was disappointed. The magic was gone, my eyes saw nothing but piles of old junk. Directly opposite the Artillery Museum stands the Peter and Paul Fortress, an establishment I did not care for during my boyhood (apart from maybe its dungeons and bastions). Nowadays I find the walk through its courtyards quite a relaxing and pleasant activity.

The founding of the fortress is considered to mark the founding of the city itself. Its history is a gruesome affair. Many forced laborers died while building it. Its dungeons were used as prison cells. However, its Cathedral, along with other features and splendid views of the Winter Palace across Neva, make a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress a must-do. When in town, go and explore it on your own or, better yet, book one of the guided tours offered by Ost-West Kontaktservice.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 2:26 pm