Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time's Interview of Russia's Putin Includes Q&A On Religion

Time Magazine has named Russian President Vladimir Putin as its "Person of the Year". Time editor-in-chief John Huey and managing editor Richard Stengel conducted a lengthy interview with Putin. In the full transcript, Putin answered several questions regarding his religious beliefs, and the role of religion in Russia. Here are excerpts:

TIME: One of the issues that is being discussed in our presidential election is the role of faith in government.... What role does faith play in your own leadership and what role should faith play in government and in the public sphere?

PUTIN: First and foremost we should be governed by common sense. But common sense should be based on moral principles first. And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values. I will not expand, as I don't want to impose my views on people who have different viewpoints.

TIME: Do you believe in a Supreme God?

PUTIN: Do you? ... There are things I believe, which should not in my position, at least, be shared with the public at large for everybody's consumption because that would look like self-advertising or a political striptease....

TIME: Earlier you used the phrase, Thou shalt not steal. Have you read the Bible?

PUTIN: Yes, I have. And the Bible is on my plane. I fly frequently, you know. And on the plane I use, there is a Bible. I also have an icon there with some sewing on it. I fly long distances. We're a vast country. So I have time there to read the Bible.

TIME: I understand that you don't want to be public with your religion. But is there some way we can characterize your faith?

PUTIN: You could say that it is my deep conviction that the moral values without which humankind cannot survive cannot be other than religious values. Now, as regards a specific church or other establishment, that's a separate matter. As somebody said once, if God exists, he does know that people have different views regarding church.

TIME: Now the situation is emerging whereby the Russian Orthodox Church is apparently becoming a dominating force in Russia. It's the only church that has signed official relations on cooperation with the Ministry of Defense, law-enforcement agencies and the Foreign Office....

PUTIN: .... Our law recognizes four traditional religions in Russia. Our American partners criticized us for that, incidentally, but it has been defined by our lawmakers. These traditional Russian religions are the Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.

TIME: .... [I]t's still hardly proper in a secular country for the top military brass of the General Staff under the command of their Chairman to hold a service together with the top hierarchy, as occurred at the Orthodox Church at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet nuclear bomb.

PUTIN: Well, I would say that if those General Staff brass were Jews, Muslims or Buddhists and would have chosen to celebrate this wonderful event at other religious shrines, I would welcome that. So you cannot talk about the inequality of any of those religions. But still some 80% of the Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, which makes the Russian Orthodox Church the largest of them all.