Christianitybased on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who preached love as the most important expression of religionhas often been co-opted and distorted to support wars, persecutions and crusades, sanctioning the killing of innocents and enemies alike. It took the Catholic Church a thousand years to finally abjure the use of violence in any form in the name of religion or faith.
Sadly, the tragedy of faith-based violence in our contemporary world is nowhere more manifest than in the support Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, gives to Putin's war against Ukraine.
Putin's war was rhetorically conceived and implemented as a holy war to protect Russia and its peoples from the evil machinations of Western powers and the creeping decadence of queer-dominated Western cultures. Putin cloaks his naked imperial geopolitical ambitions in twin robes of righteousness: the protection of the authentic values of Western Civilization and the protection of the true faith of traditional Christianity.
Woven together, this nationalism and faith constitute the restoration of the "Russky Mir" ( Russian World ) that was destroyed with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This strange odd-couple marriage of atheistic-Stalinist KGB agent Vladimir Putin with the Orthodox Christian believer-leader Kirill (Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev) is a profound dovetailing of mutual ambitions and faiths, an unholy union of secular and religious imperialisms.
Putin wants to restore the power, glory, and territories of the classic Russian Empire. Kirill wants to restore the primacy of the Patriarchy in Russian state and culture, and impose the hegemony of the Patriarch of Moscow over all other Orthodox Churches.
Thus, Moscow would be what Moscow always wanted to be: the Third Rome, after ancient Rome and Constantinople, as the capital of Western Civilization.
In his state of the state address to the peoples of the Russian Confederacy in February, on the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin repeated his cultural and religious reasons for war:
"Look at what they [Western nations] do to their own people: the destruction of families, of cultural and national identities, and the perversion that is child abuse all the way up to pedophilia are advertised as the norm, and priests are forced to bless same-sex marriages … [The] Anglican Church plans to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God … Millions of people in the West understand they are being led to a real spiritual catastrophe."
When he invaded Ukraine, Putin justified his war as necessary in order to protect Russia from neo-Nazis ruling Ukraine and to bring Ukraine back into Russia, where he said it belongs historically and culturally.
Kirill has described the rise of Putin to power in Russia as a "miracle of God." He has justified Putin's invasion of Ukraine as a "holy war" to stop the subversion of Russian culture by "gay parades" and other perversions of Western culture. He has hailed military service as "an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors." When Pope Francis spoke with Kirill on Zoom, Kirill read to him a list of reasons justifying the Ukraine invasion, provoking Francis to reply, "Don't be Putin's Altar Boy."
Patriarch Kirill's vigorous rhetorical embrace of Putin's "special military operation" into Ukraine for religious and cultural reasons gave Putin the luxurious grace of moral and spiritual justification. With consummate skill, Putin has exploited Kirill's lavish praise of him and his war to distract the world from focusing on one of the principal objectives of this textbook Russian imperial land-grab: Russian control of the vast untapped natural gas reserves in the Donbas basin. These reserves potentially could liberate Western Europe from dependence on Russian resources and fuel the development of a robust Ukraine economy capable of embarrassing a moribund Russia.
Kirill has benefited greatly from his alliance with Putin who is reported to be the richest man in the world, with over $100 billion US. According to Forbes, Kirill has a personal wealth of around 4 billion US dollars. According to france24 [February 06, 2023] Soviet archives list Kirill as a former KGB agent who completed several spying operations. And, to quote Putin, "once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent." It is also reported that through Kirill the Russian secret service has been able to place thousands of Orthodox priests abroad as agents of the FSB, the successor service to the KGB.
One wonders why Patriarch Kirill, Darth Putin's Altar Boy, is not on the US sanctions list.
Putin and Kirill cynically use anti-queer and anti-sexual minorities rhetoric filled with lies and hate to distract their peoples from the wholesale robbing of their wealth and the utter destruction of their freedoms. They use fear of sexuality and non-conventional forms of love as a weapon to control their peoples. And yet, these hateful lies find a hearing in our society among politicians, preachers, and pundits.
Evangelical leader Franklin Graham said in 2018, "In my opinion, Putin is right on these [family and sexual ] issues. Obviously, [Putin ] may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation's children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda."
The strength of our civil society and our civic institutions is in our tolerance, which expresses itself in our respect for the inalienable dignity of every person and of their search for meaning and truth. This commitment to tolerance is our best defense against liesand against those who hate our freedoms.
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Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago; president of Chicago Network JP; member, Writers in Prison, San Miguel PEN; member, TOSOS Theatre Ensemble, NYC.