Saturday, September 15, 2012
Religion and the "Mad Baron"
First of all, the story of the ‘family conversion’ makes no sense at all. Going to India and being converted to Buddhism just because Buddha was born there would make about as much sense as going to the Caliphate of Bagdad and adopting Judaism just because Abraham was born there (or near about anyway). Going to India at that time and coming back Muslim or Hindu would make more sense but not Buddhist. However, we don’t need to rely on stories in this case because we have the baptismal records of Roman von Ungern-Sternberg from his childhood home in Estonia (though he was actually born in Austria-Hungary) and like most of the Baltic Germans of Imperial Russia he was baptized a Lutheran. As I have often reminded readers, there is very little, in terms of hard facts, that we know about the Baron but this is one thing we do know for sure; he was raised a Lutheran. He had, of course, a great deal of experience with Russian Orthodox Christianity during his schooling and simply being a subject of the Russian Empire and so, throughout his life, he displayed some Orthodox influences as well and certainly regarded the Tsar as almost semi-divine figure. He probably never encountered a Buddhist until he joined a Cossack regiment to serve in the war with Japan in the Far East.
Today we are inclined to view those adopt various religious beliefs as someone who doesn’t take religion seriously but that certainly was not the case with Ungern-Sternberg. He had a religiously diverse army and made it a point to see to the various religious beliefs of all his men. Time was set aside for prayers for his Christian and Buddhist soldiers alike. The Baron himself was frequently at prayer, even if few knew precisely who he was praying to. He frequently quoted the Bible, even in his official orders, being particularly fond of the apocalyptic passages of the Old Testament. Yet he also attended Buddhist rituals and was known to call upon the services of wandering Mongol shamans who still adhered to the faith Mongolia knew before Buddhism to foretell his future. So, given all of this, would it make sense to say that the Baron had made a change in his religious status? The problem with answering that question would be answering the follow-up question; changed to what? From what accounts do exist, my response would be that the Baron himself would not think his religious label to be terribly important. This does not mean, again, that he thought religion unimportant -quite the opposite. However, he was a rather straightforward, black & white type of man who, it seems to me, simply believed in a divine power, in the supernatural and did not terribly care about differences in interpreting that but only focused on his violent opposition to those who opposed the very existence of religion, of anything divine, of mankind having a soul at all.