Chernobyl was 'punishment for state atheism'

Patriarch KirillThe Chernobyl disaster was God's punishment for Soviet atheism, according to Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

And he argued that the nuclear catastrophe 25 years ago was a vital step towards rebuilding a society with a role for the church.

But his remarks, which echoed the comments of film director and conservative commentator Nikita Mikhalkov following the Japanese earthquake, have enraged some and amused others.

The hand of God

"Sin pushes people into making mistakes, and a terrible mistake caused the Chernobyl disaster," the Patriarch said after celebrating mass at Kiev's Pecherskaya monastery.

"The Lord could have stayed the hand of the operator who made a terrible mistake while running the reactor.

"Instead, many people died to atone for the sins of the masses."

Kirill went on to explain that the accident prompted the soul-searching which led to the collapse of the USSR and the return of the church to Russian ­ and Ukrainian ­ soil, RIA Novosti reported.

"The finger of God is clearly seen in the Chernobyl accident, for the elimination of the disaster became a great moral deed for thousands of people," he concluded.

Old testament justice

Kirill's comments seem to evoke an Old Testament style God of Wrath, similar to the tales of Noah's flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, rather than the New Testament model commemorated at last weekend's Easter celebrations.

But they reflect earlier remarks from Mikhalkov, who has in recent months set himself up a social commentator with a strong line in conservative, orthodox rhetoric.

Speaking about the natural disasters which struck Japan, he said: "There is a lack of understanding that we do not live for ourselves, there is a lack of internal self-restraint.

"Everything is connected, and the constant abuse and humiliation of the world leads to the Lord saying 'Guys, what are you doing?', and sending the poor Japanese an earthquake with a tsunami and a crisis at the reactor."

Mikhalkov later claimed his remarks had been misrepresented by the media, establishing a blog to exorcise the demons of false reporting.

Blog bafflement

On the internet there was an outcry against Kirill's comments, reported.

Some commentators suggested that if the church continued to make such statements they would run out of believers fast.

Meanwhile others joked that Kirill had misunderstood the science behind nuclear fission, attributing it some kind of divinely ordered celestial power station.

But some felt that the patriarch was merely stating the beliefs of the church and wondered what all the fuss was about.

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