The peril of transactional religion


If Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has a face, it’s the injured pregnant woman who was carried on a stretcher from a Russian-bombed maternity ward last week. Now the Associated Press reports that the mother and her baby have died.

Does Putin suffer from dementia?

How much Ukrainian death and destruction will be enough for Putin?

Does he just want to depose President Zelensky and install a puppet regime loyal to Moscow similar to that in Belarus?

He has already arrested the mayor of the southern town of Melitopol and replaced him with a new ‘acting mayor’ who urges residents to adapt to ‘the new reality’ and end their resistance to the occupation Russian.

Does he want to control the whole country, making it part of a new Russian Empire like it was part of the old USSR?

To justify his invasion of Ukraine, he claimed that the very idea of ​​a Ukrainian state was a fiction and argued that “modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia”.

Are his motivations more personal?

It has been widely noted that Peter the Great (1672-1725), the giant tsar (historians estimate he was at least 6ft 8in tall) who is credited with turning Russia into a feared world power, is the Putin’s personal hero. For more on Putin’s military ambitions and personal background, please see Ryan Denison’s excellent new article, “The Inevitability of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: How Putin’s History Reveals His Fate.

Some experts even wonder if Putin has dementia, Parkinson’s disease or “rage roid” because of a potential cancer treatment that involves heavy use of steroids.

But there is another factor we must consider in seeking to understand Vladimir Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine and threatening the West so dangerously.

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’re going to move on to another article by French, this one published on March 13th.

French is referring to research by former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler describing an ideological “merger” between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the FSB, the Russian intelligence service. According to Schindler, Putin seeks Russian greatness not just out of a sense of secular national chauvinism, but also out of religious mission rooted in the ROC.

Schindler notes that Patriarch Kirill, leader of the ROC, considers the “main threat” to Russia to be “loss of faith” in Western Christianity. ROC spokespersons consistently denounce LGBTQ feminism and activism as satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family and nation.

Accordingly, 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 UK site A herdwhich declares that “Putin sees his spiritual destiny as the reconstruction of Christianity, based in Moscow”.

Is Moscow the “New Rome”?

Kyiv is at the center of this narrative.

Russian news agency TASS quotes ROC Archbishop Kirill: “For us kyiv [the Russian spelling of Kyiv] is what Jerusalem is for many. Russian Orthodoxy began there, so we cannot abandon this historical and spiritual relationship in any way. The 2019 establishment of a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church separate from the ROC further stoked tensions as the ROC viewed the action as a direct attack on its “canonical territory”.

Let’s add this historical note. The Roman Catholic Church is obviously based in Rome. In 324 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine declared the city of Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it Constantinople and calling it “New Rome”. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 (and was renamed Istanbul), many Russians began to argue that Moscow had become the “third Rome” and spiritual heir to Jerusalem.

French concludes: “Putin has merged Russian identity with the ROC, views his nation and his church as a bulwark against Western decadence, and is no longer just trying to seize ‘Jerusalem’ from his church, but potentially to forcefully reunite her church after a schism she rejects.”

The peril of transactional religion

When Christianity is used to promote secular goals, it ceases to be true Christianity. This is true whether those goals are Russian or American, your agendas or mine.

Transactional religion dominated the Greco-Roman world; if a worshiper sacrificed on the altar of a god, the god could be persuaded to do what the worshiper wanted. We do the same when we go to church on Sunday for God to bless us on Monday or give money to church for God to bless us financially.

However, Jesus was clear:

  • “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
  • We are to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), to “offer your bodies a living sacrifice” to our Lord (Romans 12:1).
  • The King of kings and the Lord of lords do not exist as a means to our ends. On the contrary, we exist to glorify him: “To him is the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).

This mandate should be our daily goal: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for 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 would have been asked if God was on his side.

He replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side. My biggest concern is to be on God’s side, because 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 are you going to speed up that day today?

Release date: March 15, 2022

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Booky Buggy

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