The Peril of Transactional Religion
If Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has a face, it is the wounded pregnant woman who was taken on a stretcher from a maternity hospital bombed by Russia last week. Now the Associated Press is reporting that the mother and her baby have died.
Is Putin suffering from dementia?
How much Ukrainian death and destruction will be enough for Putin?
Does he want only to remove President Zelensky and install a puppet regime loyal to Moscow similar to the one in Belarus?
He has already arrested the mayor of the southern city of Melitopol and replaced him with a new “acting mayor” who is urging residents to adjust to “the new reality” and end their resistance to Russian occupation.
Does he want to control the entire country, making it part of a new Russian Empire as it was part of the old USSR?
In justifying his invasion of Ukraine, he claimed that the very idea of Ukrainian statehood was a fiction and argued that “modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia.”
Are his motives more personal?
It has been widely noted that Peter the Great (1672–1725), the giant tsar (historians estimate he stood at least six-foot-eight) who is credited with transforming Russia into a feared world power, is Putin’s personal hero. For more on Putin’s military ambitions and personal background, please see Ryan Denison’s excellent new paper, “The inevitability of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: How Putin’s history reveals his destiny.”
Some experts are even wondering if Putin is suffering from dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or “roid rage” from potential cancer treatment that involves heavy steroid use.
But there is another factor we must consider in seeking to understand Vladimir Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine and threatening the West so perilously.
Putin’s “spiritual destiny”
Yesterday we discussed a March 12 article by cultural commentator David French on the threat posed by Russian “tactical nuclear weapons.” Today, we’ll turn to another article by French, this one published on March 13.
French refers to research by former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler describing an ideological “fusion” between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service. According to Schindler, Putin does not seek Russian greatness only out of a sense of secular national chauvinism, but also out of religious mission rooted in the ROC.
Schindler notes that Patriarch Kirill, head of the ROC, considers the “main threat” to Russia to be “the loss of faith” in Western Christianity. ROC spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and LGBTQ activism as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family, and the nation.
As a result, the ROC believes it has a “spiritual security” mission to defend Russia from Western spiritual influences in partnership with Moscow’s intelligence agencies. French cites Giles Fraser’s article on the British website UnHerd, which states that “Putin regards his spiritual destiny as the rebuilding of Christendom, based in Moscow.”
Is Moscow the “New Rome”?
Kyiv is centrally important to this narrative.
The Russian news agency TASS quotes ROC Archbishop Kirill: “For us Kiev [the Russian spelling of Kyiv] is what Jerusalem is for many. Russian Orthodoxy began there, so under no circumstances can we abandon this historical and spiritual relationship.” The 2019 creation of a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine separated from the ROC further inflamed tensions as the ROC viewed this action as a direct attack on its “canonical territory.”
We should add this historical note. The Roman Catholic Church is obviously based in Rome. In AD 324, the Roman Emperor Constantine declared the city of Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it Constantinople and calling it the “New Rome.” When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 (and was renamed Istanbul), many in Russia began claiming that Moscow became the “third Rome” and the spiritual heir of Jerusalem.
French concludes: “Putin has fused Russian identity with the ROC, sees his nation and his church as a bulwark against western decadence, and is now not just attempting to seize his church’s ‘Jerusalem’ but potentially forcibly reuniting his church after a schism it rejects.”
The peril of transactional religion
When Christianity is used to advance secular aims, it ceases to be true Christianity. This is true whether these aims are Russian or American, your agendas or mine.
Transactional religion was dominant in the Greco-Roman world; if a worshiper sacrificed on a god’s altar, the god could be persuaded to do what the worshiper wanted. We do the same when we go to church on Sunday so God will bless us on Monday or give money to the church so God will bless us financially.
However, Jesus was clear:
- “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
- We are to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” to our Lord (Romans 12:1).
- The King of kings and Lord of lords does not exist as a means to our ends. Rather, we exist to glorify him: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).
This mandate should be our daily aim: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Abraham Lincoln’s “greatest concern”
Joe Carter noted in First Things that during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was purportedly asked if God was on his side.
He replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
One day, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
How will you hasten that day today?
Publication date: March 15, 2022
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Booky Buggy
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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