Serving the Eternal: Ogden on Church and Politics


Whenever the Patriarch sticks his oar into politics, it causes a mad scramble in Parliament that I’m sure upsets a few tables and chairs and causes papers and folders to be sent flying in every direction as the dutiful MPs hurry to show how seriously they’re considering the words of His Holiness. Whether this is due to a sincere desire to serve the leader of their Church (which goes to show they aren’t fit to be politicians in the first place) or a fear of being seen not to jump to the Patriarch’s every wish really makes no matter.

Every Georgian is aware that going against the Church is the political and social equivalent of diving into a dustbin full of used syringes. One only has to remember the words of Giga Bokeria, a politician widely renowned for his intellect, who said that the Church and its priests should keep out of politics. While I don’t doubt that Bokeria is as clever as they say, his remarks were comfortably within the realms of common sense. The backlash, however, was astounding; nobody seemed to consider his comments, and instead just enjoyed being outraged at the fact that he had dared direct criticism at the Patriarchate.

Nor does anybody seem to be able (or willing) to acknowledge the Patriarchate’s blatant contradictions. The Patriarch has said many times that “Georgia belongs in Europe”, despite the Church’s rejection of Western values. Tolerance and equality come to mind; the attacks on gay rights activists in 2013 were led by priests, and though a few were arrested long after the event, they were released without charge. With every political party currently enjoying tentative support from the public at best, it is hardly surprising that the majority of politicians don’t have the stones of Giga Bokeria to criticize the Church; why, according to a recent poll, the Patriarch is the most trusted man in Georgia!

This week, Ilia II decided that life sentences should be abolished, as, apparently, “nothing in this life should be endless. Only God is eternal”. We’ll ignore the fact that His Holiness seems to have missed the fact that since life itself has an end, so a life sentence is far from eternal, and concentrate on the relatively few life-serving prisoners in Georgia. After Bidzina released a large number of inmates in a general amnesty in 2012, there are not all that many people still serving a life sentence (providing they weren’t released and then banged up again). Those still left inside are probably there for a damned good reason, and while I appreciate that my own beliefs and politics are somewhere to the right of Louis XIV, Georgia’s prison reform programs have hardly been effective.

I had first-hand experience of this when I met the uncle of one of my former partners. He had shown his criminal mastermind by threatening a taxi driver with a knife, which had resulted in a prison sentence of about ten years (I’m a big fan of Georgian harsh justice; Britain’s soft sentences have damn near crippled the country’s justice system: I know, I was raised by criminal lawyers). He was later released, professing to be a changed man and talking to a priest every day. Exactly what he and his friend the priest were talking about is anyone’s guess, but soon enough he went on a rampage that resulted in an overturned car and an assault on an innocent bystander. Perhaps the priest was trying to show him what kind of things they got up to at the anti-homophobia rally.

You’ll have gathered that I don’t have much time for the Church (or any organized religion) as an institution, but I’m not against personal faith. I’ve just never been stupid enough to confuse religion with belief in God. If Georgia is to have any future as a democratic society, the Patriarchate’s meddling in state affairs must stop. Whatever your belief on life imprisonment, to accept that it is the Patriarch’s place to comment on issues such as this is nothing short of willful ignorance or extreme stupidity. Let the priests contemplate the divine hereafter, dunk babies and put crowns on married couples’ heads, and let the government decided the fate of criminals.

Personally, I’d put them into Dinamo Stadium with some swords, shields and spears and let them fight it out. There is a distinct lack of gladiatorial games in the modern world.

Tim Ogden

24 March 2016 20:53