The Wall of Education 2: Religion and Church


Vahram Tokmajyan

In my previous article on the problems of education we spoke about the deadlock situation in the field of reading. While writing my previous article it didn’t come to my mind that reading would make me create a series of articles on the problems that generally block the advancement of education.

In this article I will touch upon a controversial topic called religion and church. We have many times heard the statement that religion prevented destruction and saved the Armenian nation, and church substituted the state system when it didn't exist. This statement is at least unsubstantiated if not ridiculous. It has been obliged on us in the result of Church Historiography. Armenian Historiography has three tragedies: Church, Bolsheviks and Revolutionary Federation Party. I don’t even want to consider or debate over the above mentioned statement. I will merely bring one argument. Since the adoption of Christianity Armenian Apostolic Church has had its entire contribution to the destruction of all the kingdoms in our country. Let’s go ahead and consider some historical events related to education and church.           

Historical Information

Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece were unique in this sense. Even during the stage of slavery outlaw slaves had the right of education. That was so because the basis of civilization was an individual with his various manifestations. The situation in Armenia was different. In the pre-Christian period the prerogative for education belonged to pagan priests, their heirs and the sons of free people. Education of broad masses was executed in the theater which was a public phenomenon, but there were restrictions concerning literacy and teaching, and the right for education was hereditary. When Christianity was established in Armenia, the first thing they did was to destroy the pagan priests’ class and their heirs and closed down the theaters as they considered it idle men’s occupation.

Let’s stop for a while and consider some conceptions concerning religion.

·         Religion moulds human thinking (at least two out of all the world religions: Christianity and Islam)

·         Interprets phenomena in its own way.

·         It doesn’t admit dissent.

·         A man, who thinks independently and deviates from religious conception, is considered a foe to religion or church.

·         Many religious principles have been taken from people’s everyday life and misrepresented.

·         It is not the sober or alert mind that prevails but the belief in mystery.  

And so church took control of education in Armenia and a little later in Europe, and education became unaffordable for wide masses and affordable only for the smart set. It is not contingent that the period of absolute power of Catholic Church is called the dark era by experts. Taking control of education Papal Church persecuted all those who acted independently in this or that approaches. The stage of inquisition emerged which was the the worst period of torture in the history of mankind. The progress of science was only in one direction: what other tools to invent to torture people more thoroughly. Armenian Apostolic Church didn't fall behind. There appeared Paulician and Tondrakian movements who rejected the ideology in those days and suggested alternative ideas and directions (in educational, social and world perception questions ). That is why they were declared to be sects. Of course unlike Catholic Church, Armenian Apostolic Church displayed humanism in torturing people. For example, they branded foreheads with red-hot metal. Sometimes they tied up the four limbs to four horses and set the horses free. Let’s leave this to the dictates of church conscience and go ahead.

      Speaking about ideological bonds created by church let's turn to the brightest example, Gregory of Narek. Nowadays many authors, who study Renaissance, claim that the era of Renaissance begins not in Italy but in Armenia as Gregory of Narek was the first to return to man, to human beauty. And how did the church treat Narek? It is known that he was judged three times for being heretic. He wasn't sentenced to death but he died when was still young in unexplained circumstances.

Anania Shirakatsi was persecuted because he had the courage to be engaged in astronomy which contradicted to the ideology of the church. The examples are so many, and we can turn to them in volumes of books, but let’s consider the issue of education. The church created parish schools and catechisms. We can look through the list of subjects taken at medieval Armenian universities catechisms and get incomplete information about their content. There was a definite border beyond which one couldn't pass. And who was granted the right to teach? It was granted to those who had the title of Vardapet (archimandrite of the Armenian Apostolic Church). So anybody out of the system could not be engaged in teaching. That meant monopoly in education. Education is a huge political tool. Taking into account the fact that in medieval ages the church considered to be equivalent (and according to the church doctrine even superior) to the state, the one who had that tool acquired  superiority. And that superiority turned into absolutism in the absence of state. At a later stage this way of governing changed into farce. Let’s take an example which refers to the great Armenian educator Khachatur Abovyan. When Abovyan was ascending Mount Masis with Parrot’s expedition, he was accused of sacrilege, considering that one mustn't ascend the sacred mountain. Furthermore, Abovyan was accused of causing a devastating earthquake in Akori. The farce of the episode is quite clear but I can't help bringing a small argument about it. Declaring Masis to be sacred is a result of mistranslation. The corresponding extract in the Bible doesn’t state that Noah's Ark descended on top of Ararat, but states that Noah’s Ark stopped on the Ararad Mountains. Armenian Highlands is called country of immortality or Ararad, and therefore, the mountains of Ararad or the place where Noah's Ark stopped, could be any mountain, beginning from Aragats and ending with Khustup.                 

Tsarism and Bolshevism

In the era of Tsarism, the tsarist court, outwardly leaving education at the care of church, was pursued another policy. An alternative in the form of secular schools was suggested everywhere. Here we had another extreme: adoring Slavonic culture and the Russian language. The elite of the time, «культурные люди», was supposed to have had an education at Russian schools. The positive side of this was that the church was deprived of monopoly. Its final formation was completed during the Soviet era. Schools finally became secular. Of course, now it is not our subject matter to discuss atheism or similar philosophical  approaches which were taught at Soviet higher educational institutions. Simply let's state that the Soviet power made literacy and the model of education, called public education, affordable for everybody. The church, certainly, could not put up with this and made attempts to restore its monopoly. But for that it took the structure 70 long years.     


We can read the following statement in Article 4 of the law on public education of the Ministry of ES of the Republic of Armenia: “It is forbidden to carry out political activities or propaganda at educational institutions. Religious activities and preacher are forbidden at educational institutions except in cases established by law.” The formulation in itself is beautiful. But let’s come to the state of things. In 2002 a contract was signed which allowed to introduce a new subject in the school curriculum, “The History of Armenian Church”. The curious thing here is not in the subject name; it is in its content. The course not only violates fundamental human rights and freedoms but it also contradicts to the principle of our national spirit proclaimed by the same system. The content of the course begins with extracts and rather big passages from the Old Testament which is only mythology of the respectful Jewish people. So the Armenian learner has to study Jewish tales and legends before turning to the history of his own country. And everything is delivered as universal or absolute truth. Now the state of things is that the middle school learner, at his very age of the start of enlarging his world outlook and making conclusions, is tied up in ideological bond by fixing in his mind that there aren′t any other truths. This would also be somehow tolerable if some schools didn’t surrender to the overshadowing of the Holy See. What is it? Is it a return to the middle ages? The talks of the preachy clergymen with learners within the framework of installing Christian ethics or morality in them, is another topic for discussion.

       In Great Britain, the country which has one of the leading educational systems in the world, the universities of which head the list of the world's prestigious universities, they are seriously discussing the issue of closing down all the religious schools and seminaries throughout the whole country.

        In conclusion we should state the following:

If we want to overcome this wall of education and have full thinking individuals with all the necessary principles and components, we should make an entirely secular system of education getting rid of the religious bonds and ideological stereotypes that inhibit man's own thinking and judgment. This doesn't mean that it is suggested that we should also close down religious schools or seminaries. They can remain to provide choice.     



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