|CLERGY VS. MADONNA
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov)
Tuesday August 8 was yet another triumph for Madonna. The star will have
her first-ever concert in Russia on September 11, and tickets went on sale
yesterday. Young Muscovites started queuing as early as Monday night, and
four thousand tickets were sold within a few hours.
Madonna will sing at Vorobyevy Hills, one of the city’s most picturesque
spots, known to all sightseers who come to Moscow. The event will require
250 metric tons of sophisticated equipment, which will come by 57 huge
The upcoming pop spectacle has come up against fierce resistance from the
Church, and religion unexpectedly proved to have none of the formidable
public impact ascribed to it—or else the concert would be banned.
The Church’s leaders have been busy for the last several weeks shouting
invectives more embittered than those they might use against the
Antichrist. Calls on the flock to boycott the concert descended from the
pulpits. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, second in command of the Moscow
Patriarchate external church relations department, came down on the singer
for the Christian symbolism which abounds in her shows. Father Vsevolod
says she uses it to quench her sinful passions, and says that Madonna
would be better off giving her confession to a priest.
All Christian denominations, and other religions for that matter, bear
grudges against the star. Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, for one, accuses her of
blasphemy, while a group of distinguished rabbis fulminate against her
cabbalistic hobby. The Russian Mufti Council went even farther, saying a
woman ought not to appear on stage in outrageous attire—meaning her
trademark black tights plus crown of thorns. While wearing all that,
Madonna was raised high on a crucifix at each of her European concerts to
advertise Confessions on a Dance Floor, her latest CD. Muscovites will
certainly see the sacrilegious stunt on September 11.
Meanwhile, boys and girls in Russia and Western Europe joyfully extol
their idol, never mind the clergy, showing that something is wrong with
the Church’s attitudes towards the younger flock. Madonna’s triumphs
indicate that the piety sweeping the Old and New Worlds alike is not so
profound as theologians may assume.
The latter point is especially true of Russia. Religion went through
several appalling decades of Communist rule here, with houses of prayer
turned into stables and pigsties. Now is the time of religious
renaissance—yet that turns out to lie only on the surface. Churches may
be chock-full of worshippers on Sundays, and Christmas may have become a
national red-letter day, with the president and other VIPs in the
congregation. Statistics may be right when they say the number of people
who consider themselves religious has grown more than threefold since the
late 1980s: 16% of the population in 1986 did so, as opposed to the 50-80%
offered by the latest opinion polls.
Be all that as it may, the percentage of true practicing
Christians—people who regularly go to confession and communion—remains
the same scanty 1.5–2% it was before Mikhail Gorbachev launched his
perestroika. In fact, the rediscovered Christianity of an overwhelming
majority is no more than a social whim compensating for our recent godless
Church attacks on Madonna come to us Russians as dÊjÁ vu. Communist
reprisals against cultural figures and events are fresh in our
memory—suffice it to recall an avant-garde art show bulldozed in Moscow,
or a cruel campaign against Boris Pasternak after he dared to publish his
Doctor Zhivago abroad. Paradoxically, the Church has now adopted secular
authorities’ ways to strangle free artistic expression. Many see the
Madonna story as an alarming sign that the clergy is trying to rule the
public mind in a country whose Constitution has freedom of conscience
among its pivotal guarantees.
The crazy laser effects in Madonna’s concerts spotlight the weak points
of current religious life. The generation raised on mobile phones and the
World Wide Web regards the Church as something archaic. Rock, pop and rap
are far closer to the young soul than sermons. Many Russian Orthodox
Church leaders are aware of that. For instance, Metropolitan Cyril often
has lively discussions with rock-music crowd.
Meanwhile, clerical wrath will only serve to give Madonna some free