Holy C**p: Ogden on the Pope, Russia & Georgian Sentiment


On the whole I've nothing particularly against faith and the belief in life after death. While I personally hope that the afterlife resembles something like the Viking notion of Valhalla, I don't particularly mind if some devout Georgians would prefer it to be an everlasting supra with their families; to each their own. So, Bebo (the Georgian for 'grandmother'), you enjoy listening to endless toasts about your family given by your late grandfather, I'll be in the next field spearing my celestial enemies and then rolling around on the grass with big busted Valkyries.

(I hope there's not a hell, but if there is I imagine it would resemble something like an eternal debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or reading an endless version of one of those insane and nonsensical posts from that chap Winston Davison or whoever the hell he is).

I have, however, never been foolish enough to confuse religion with belief in God. I feel I should point out that while this is indeed a problem that affects Georgia, my adopted homeland is not alone in its affliction, and at least hardcore Orthodox Christians can be trusted not to start terrorist groups and fly planes through buildings and put bombs on buses.

However, the Orthodox fervour in Georgia has become stronger and more worrying recently, as the national reaction to the visit of Pope Francis showed.

The old schism between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches was ostensibly the reason behind the demonstrations against Pope Francis' visit to Georgia, as they claimed that the Pope was intending to convert Orthodox Georgians to Catholocism, but it is likely it has far more to do with the increasing anti-European sentiment in the country.

I feel that I should also say that on a personal level, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Were it a Muslim imam coming to preach in a stadium, I might see the point of any protesting angry Georgians who have a rather mixed (putting it mildly) history with Islam, but to the layman (and from what I've seen, I can't help but think that even church-going Georgians have only the most basic understanding of their faith) the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy matter little and less. After all, both are branches of the same religion, both believe in Jesus, and since it is from him that Christianity takes its name and the beliefs are fundamentally the same, you'd think that Christians might be able to rub along well enough without too much hassle.

My doubt about Georgian church-goers' knowledge of their religion stems from the fact that few traditionally-minded Georgians I've met have claimed to read the Bible, and from hearing that those who say they do go to speak to their priests have gone to seek advice about matters such as relationships, finance and employment.

I can understand one going to a priest for clarification on matters of faith, or perhaps with understanding a tricky passage of the Bible. I cannot see how a priest could do a better job in advising people about finance than TBC Bank employees, nor can I see how a man sworn to a life of celibacy could give meaningful relationship advice beyond 'Be a good wife, it's written in the book that you should be'. I could be wrong; perhaps the Georgian priestly academy is a combination of monastery, the International School of Economics, and the Dr. Phil show.

I would be prepared to bet that most Georgians, offhand, could not say what the major differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy might be, and that the anger felt by Georgian conservatives stems from the fact that the Pope represents a foreign entity rather than a different religious doctrine. Religion and culture are so historically entwined in Georgia, a perceived threat against one is seen as endangering the other.

It seems that anti-West is synonymous with pro-Russia, hence the election of the Alliance of Patriots into Parliament in this month's election. Growing apathy and disenchantment with the West is something I can well understand, but pro-Russian sentiment from Georgians is far beyond me. Some Georgians, it appears, have selective memories of their history; the 2008 war, the Abkhaz conflicts of the 1990s, the 1989 Tbilisi massacre, the Soviet occupation, and Russia's failure to aid Georgia against its Muslim enemies in the 1800s despite military assistance being the chief term on which Georgia was incorporated into the Muscovite empire...NATO and the EU might not have lived up to their promises yet, but a little Western hesitancy pales in comparison to Russia's relations with Georgia.

Perhaps if the EU sticks to its word and grants Georgia visa liberalization with the continent in January it would go some way to restoring Georgians' opinion of the West, but whatever happens, I would love for someone to explain to me exactly how Putin's Russia would be a better partner for our country.

Tim Ogden

CARTOON: Brian Patrick Grady

27 October 2016 20:19