OVER the quarter-century since the collapse of the Soviet system, Russian feelings about religion have changed a lot, as one might imagine. In Soviet times, the state expected and encouraged citizens to be atheists. Now a loose affiliation to a religious faith has become the national default mode; a plurality of Russians tell pollsters they are Russian Orthodox, while significant minorities identify with Islam, Buddhism or Judaism.
But a survey published a few days ago (link in Russian) by one of Russia’s best-known pollsters, VTSIOM, showed something unexpected in its comparison of present-day attitudes in Russia with those of 1990. Although there is a jump (from 23% to 55%) in the share of people who say they are sometimes “helped” by religion in their own lives, the general effect of religion on human welfare is viewed in much bleaker terms than before. The proportion of people who think religion does more good than harm to society has slumped from 61% to 36% while the share detecting more harm than good has risen from 5% to 23%.