This fascinating blog by an Eastern Orthodox writer provocatively examines Vladimir Putin as a potential “Orthodox Jihadist” who’s possibly both a sincere Orthodox Christian and an unapologetic autocrat who leads an unofficial global coalition against Western and American influence.
The author suggests that Putin’s seizure of Crimea and mystical rhetorical defense of it “was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly.”
Putin, who is “either a sincere Orthodox or he has devoted serious study to looking and acting like one,” embodies an ideological “spiritual security” that fuses Russia’s intelligence services with traditional Russian piety. In some ways, Putin has offered his regime as a Christian alternative to Western secularism, observing in 2013 that “many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” embracing same-sex partnerships, equating belief in God with the belief in Satan, tolerating pedophilia, diminishing religious affiliations and holidays, while exporting this model globally, opening a “direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.”
This blog quotes an even more explicit critique of the West from a priestly representative of the Moscow Patriarchate who recently noted:
It is no coincidence that we have often, at the price of our own lives … stopped all global projects that disagreed with our conscience, with our vision of history and, I would say, with God’s own truth .. Such was Napoleon’s project, such was Hitler’s project. We will stop the American project too.”
The priest predicted Western collapse, after which “it will be up to Russia then to save what can be saved, to ‘make Europe Christian again, that is, go back to the ideals that once made Europe.’”
And the blogger concludes:
It would be supremely ironic if the last defender of Europe and European values comes from the East, from a Kremlin controlled by a former KGB officer who mourns the collapse of the Soviet Union yet has rediscovered traditional faith and family values. As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity, and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine.
This article provokes several observations and questions.
To what extent can Western Christians relate to the Russian critique of Western secularism and decadence without affirming Putin’s and traditional Russian authoritarianism?
How can the West, especially Christians, appreciate the fall of the Soviet Union and the resurrection of Russian Christianity while also realistically understanding, as before 1917, a Christian influenced Russia is not necessarily a political role model, or a strategic friend and will often be instead a rival power pursuing interests often starkly at odds with Western and particularly American Christians?
The fusion of Russian Orthodoxy and Russian nationalism, which is centuries old, is to what extent similar and to what extent very different from American Christian patriotism and civil religion?
How can American Christians, shaped by our own unique history of escape from religious persecution and the Anglo-American Protestant legacy of resistance to autocracy, competently advocate our principles of human rights, liberty and especially religious freedom?
During the Cold War and for much of the last century, American Christians largely saw Christians globally as allies and friends against common totalitarianism. But under the new Russia, the world may to some extent return to the centuries long reality before 1918, when Christian nations were rival powers and sometimes opponents in war. This normalcy culminated horribly in World War I, when Christian empires destroyed themselves and much of Christendom, a fate obviously instructive and to be strenuously avoided.
The current 100th anniversary of World War I helps recall that the German and Austrian empires were Christian, headed by generally devout Lutheran and Catholic monarchies, yet still politically repressive, adversarial, militaristic, and destabilizing. Of course, the equally devout, perhaps even more so, Christian monarchy in Russia, although aligned with the West, was repressive and inept, its failures facilitating the murderous Bolshevik nightmare that plagued a Russia and the world for 70 years.
Putin’s Russia, in which autocracy is married to Orthodox faith, may resemble somewhat the role that Franco’s Spain occupied for decades, an authoritarian regime with which some conservative Catholic Americans sympathized because that regime resisted Communism, privileged the Catholic Church and upheld many aspects of Catholic moral teaching in public policy.
While preferable to the Stalinists who tried to seize Spain in the 1930s, and although a Cold War ally to the U.S. very much unlike Putin’s current strategic opposition, the Franco regime was a dictatorship that persecuted opposition and could not be a sustainable friend, much less role model, for most American Christians.
In contending with Russia and other strategic challenges, American Christians must carefully understand that much of our secular culture is indeed both lamentable and unworthy of global export, while still upholding as a model for the world traditional faith-inspired American principles of liberty, human rights, religious freedom and free markets under lawful democracy and limited government. The vibrancy of American religion and its social witness requires a renewed confidence in our own history and legacy to the world.Google+