There is a scene in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, sort of a novel within a novel, where the Grand Inquisitor is interrogating Christ upon his return to earth in 16th century Seville. The Inquisitor accuses the Christian messiah of misleading man with the gift of free will. Man is actually rebellious, and naturally would choose damnation. For his own good, man must be denied free will in order to save his soul.
"Did you forget that a tranquil mind, and a tranquil death, is dearer to man than freedom in the knowledge of Good and Evil?" the Inquisitor asks. He then presents 1,500 years of history to support his case and goes on to predict the victory of faithless materialism. "Do you know that centuries will pass, and mankind will proclaim … that there is no crime, and therefore, no sin, and only starving people? 'Feed them first and then demand virtue!' That's what will be written on the banners with which they will destroy your temple." Jesus is thrown into prison and sentenced to burn.
In order to understand Dostoyevsky's piece, one must understand where he comes from. He was among the Slavophiles in 19th century Russia. Unlike the Westernizers of the previous generation, the Slavophiles did not see anything to gain from western European knowledge. They had a genuine disdain for western culture--especially western Christianity. Many of them believed in a pan-Slav movement that would encompass Russians, Serbs and Bulgarians.
Those of you who have read this far are beginning to wonder what Dostoyevsky's Russian chauvinism has to do with anything today.
Because part of Russia, including its capital Moscow and second city St. Petersburg, are located in Europe, there is a tendency to view Russia as a Western nation. That view is wrong. Russia, although European, is culturally, politically, and religiously Eastern. The West is the Catholic Church, and the subsequent Protestant denominations whose roots lay in the Church of Rome. The East is Orthodoxy.
In the West, there is a tendency to try and prove God's existence. Belief in God stems from the proof He exists. In the East, one just believes, there is no need for hair-splitting theology. It was the western need for proof above faith that so disgusted Dostoyevsky. Catholicism offered unity without freedom, and Protestantism offered freedom without unity. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, delivered freedom in unity and unity in freedom.
One need look no further than in the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has affirmed the ties of ethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics to the motherland (see Hitler; Sudetenland; 1938). While this may seem like no big deal, the populations of Estonia and Latvia respectively contain 32 per cent and 36 per cent ethnic Russian minorities. Both these countries are applying for NATO membership. Russia is opposed, believing that Russia, and not NATO, possesses the right of hegemony over the Near Abroad, as the former republics are known. And while Putin has expressed support for Dubya's war on terrorism, he and many Russians are concerned about the presence of American troops in the Caucasus, again former Soviet territory. If that is not enough to worry about, Russia manipulates the oil and gas supplies of some of the former Soviet republics in order to ensure pro-Russian policies.
The presence of American troops in the Caucasus, and the possibility of NATO expansion into the Baltics is making the Russians slightly paranoid. For them, NATO is not some benevolent organization, but one that bombed their fellow Orthodox Slavs, the Yugoslavian Serbs. Remember pan-Slavism still exists in Russia.
Don't be fooled by photo-ops. Putin may have signed an agreement with Dubya to reduce nuclear warheads and Russia may be attending the g8 summit, but it is not part of the West. We deal with them because they are big, have lots of natural resources we want access to and they have nuclear weapons that can blow up the planet. When you are out in the street protesting the g8 summit, remember Russia is much closer in culture, politics and economy to the nations the other seven are accused of exploiting.
By the way, the Inquisitor releases Jesus from prison and Jesus kisses him on the cheek and forgives him. He has to. He's Jesus.