De-Christianisation in the West is a real threat. Putinism isn’t the answer.

The Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in February, invited Catholics and other Christian faithful to join him in the trenches of the culture wars.

Apr 07, 2017

By Sohrab Ahmari
The Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in February, invited Catholics and other Christian faithful to join him in the trenches of the culture wars. “We still have some doctrinal disagreements,” the Russian Orthodox primate said. “But no one is preventing us from fighting, hand-in-hand, to end the persecutions, the ousting of Christian values, the de-Christianisation of 21st-century human civilisation.”

He went on to enumerate the ravages of de-Christianisation, or this “evil political force disguised as tolerance.” In his words, these included people “banned” from wearing crosses at the office and from wishing each other a Merry Christmas; the expansion of same-sex marriage and the “refusal to understand marriage as a sacred union between man and woman”; and abortion and skyrocketing divorce rates.

This was not the first time the Patriarch had called for a united ecumenical front against secularisation. In a January speech to the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, he underscored the need for “mutually respectful” dialogue between religious leaders in the common struggle “to protect traditional values.” Meeting President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay last year, Patriarch Kirill lamented how “Christian values are being marginalised in the lives of people in several countries.” He warned: “Europe must not lose its Christian roots.”

While no doubt sincere, the Patriarch’s rhetoric is also of a piece with the new Russian ideology, which presents the Kremlin as a last bulwark against the degradation and spiritual poverty of liberal order. As globalisation blurs boundaries (both national and sexual), and as social media and American-style consumerism flatten cultural differences, the thinking goes, Russia and her Church stand for sovereignty, authenticity and Christian vigour.

The message from Moscow has resonated with some leading Christian thinkers in the West. Vladimir Putin might be a thug, in their view, but in the rearguard action to preserve faith, family and nationhood against the liberal and “globalist” onslaught, the Russian strongman is no enemy. He deserves at least a sympathetic hearing, they think, and he might even prove to be a useful tactical ally. Call it the Putin Option.

But the track record of Putin indicates that he is no friend of religious liberty.

Start with the moral downsides of embracing the Kremlin in the name of morality. Christians should judge Vladimir Putin’s professed commitment to faith, family values and traditional notions of nationhood against his corrupt and murderous rule at home and his aggression against Russia’s neighbours.

Contrary to Patriarch Kirill’s assertions about interfaith solidarity, for example, Russia is increasingly restricting the domestic space for worship, evangelisation and other religious activities.

The question for those who see Moscow as a great protector of faith then becomes whether Putinism is good for Russian Christianity. And a follow-up: Is the rules-based, liberal-democratic order really so irredeemable that Western Christians might look for an alternative in Moscow, warts and all? The answer is no, on both counts. And if past is precedent, K.G.B.-style authoritarianism dressed in Orthodox garb is likely to undermine both Church authority and Russia’s spiritual welfare in the long term.

For all its flaws, liberal order still affords Christians the chance to persuade fellow citizens, to change their governments, to bring suits before fair and independent tribunals, and to bring the good news and the riches of tradition to the democratic public square. Under Putinism, by contrast, Christianity is at the mercy of the strongman and his ruling clique. The policy outcomes might be “pro-family,” for now, but Church and conscience are compromised by unaccountable power.--America Magazine

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