Originalist Christian nationalism.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows. There is none stranger than the curious linking of Jesus to the cults of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in the faith and politics of an alarming number of Christians.
Throughout history, tyrants, dictators and other megalomaniacs have sought to identify themselves with divinity in one form or another. When the vast Roman Empire of many peoples, cultures, and religions was falling apart, the emperor Diocletian [died 312] promulgated the cult of the emperor as the unique source of Roman unity and civilization. With this strategy, Diocletian forged a united, peaceful and prosperous empire in which Christians were often targets of persecution because of their refusal to offer honorific incense to an image of the emperor and because of their allegiance to a source of unity other than the emperornamely, the cult of Jesus as the Christos.
The cult of Jesus
The unity that Diocletian had achieved was destroyed by civil wars among the four regional Caesars [tetrarchs] he had appointed to govern the empire. Constantine [died 337], who eventually emerged as the winner of these internecine wars, made many momentous changes in order to save the Roman Empire from fatal fragmentation. These changes have essentially affected the development of Western Civilization as well as that of the Christian churches.
One of these history altering decisions was Constantine's financial and legal support of the Christian religion as a principal imperial source of unity of the empire. Constantine used the efficient, well-organized networks of Christian communities and diocesan administrative structures as state mechanisms to deliver social services, maintain order, and even to collect funds throughout the empire.
To some, this fusion of state and church functions and jurisdictions was not only necessary but also the ideal order of things. To others, like my friend Daniel Berrigan, SJ, [died 2016] this identification was a fatal blow to the spiritual integrity of the Christian religion, causing an enduring pernicious confusion of state and church functions in our civilization.
This ideological identification of church and state, religion and civilization, at the heart of Christian nationalism has come to fluorescence in the United States and in Russia, both of which are empires in various stages of profound changesome might say of decline.
The cult of Putin
As was the case with Diocletian, when Vladimir Putin inherited the crumbling Soviet Empire from Boris Yeltsin in 2000, he promoted the cult of Putin to give Russia a renewed sense of identity and purpose in the post-Soviet era. Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union [empire] the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the twentieth century, which is saying a mouthful given that this century witnessed WW I and II, the Holocaust, the first use of nuclear weapons, among other notable catastrophes.
Putin's single-minded purpose was (to coin a phrase) to make Russia great again and to reconstruct the Soviet empire. At first Putin employed the tools of neo-liberalism to build a strong economy. He balanced a neoliberal economic programone that enabled the systematic robbing of Russia's Soviet wealth by corrupt nominally free-market capitalistswith the civil policies of relatively free elections, free press, consumerism and private enterprise.
In 2012, Putin's decision to change the Russian constitution and run for re-election shattered his unwritten compact with the Russian people. The corrupt election process caused wide-spread civil unrest which greatly damaged the cult of Putin. Acutely aware of what happened to the Arab dictators in the civil protests of Arab Spring, Putin made a dramatic turn from the formal appearances of a liberal society to the realities of a tyrannical dictatorship. The cult of Putin needed support: the Russian peoples' faith in state communism could never be restored and their experience of state capitalism was not faith inspiring.
Putin needed a powerful collaborator if Russia was to be saved from continued decline. He found his ideal partner, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus'. Like Constantine, Putin embraced the Christian religion in the form of the Russian Orthodox Church to reanimate the faith of the Russian peoples in their greatness, destiny, and empire.
The dedicated Marxist-Leninist communist atheist apparatchik Vladimir Putin had found salvation in the power of the Russian Orthodox Church.
And, of course, in addition to enhanced power and gaining access to the Russian treasury, Kirill gained an ally in the pursuit of his own power agenda to exercise leadership over all orthodox churches, not just Russian Orthodox and to combat the moral and spiritual degeneracy of Western Civilization. The Patriarchate of Moscow, calling itself the third Rome, had long considered itself the only legitimate heir to Rome and Constantinople with the divine mandate to lead all Christians on the true path to salvation.
Kirill has described the rise of Putin to power in Russia as a "miracle of God." Kirill sees Russia's war against Ukraine as a holy war. He has justified Putin's invasion of Ukraine as necessary 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 this past Spring, Kirill read to him a list of reasons justifying the Ukraine invasion provoking Francis to reply, "Don't be Putin's Altar Boy." [SEE: Religion News Service, March 19, 2022; Washington Post, May 4, 2022]
The cult of Trump
"Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president," shouted the apparel worn by many rioters at the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the capital. This linking of Jesus to Trump runs through the rhetoric of many of the groups supporting Trump as a type of savior of our American culture.
The film "The Trump Prophecy" promoted the idea that God was responsible for Trump winning the 2016 election. This opinion was voiced by Christian evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham who also endorsed Putin's family values campaign in Russia against Western influences. When Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, even Benjamin Netanyahu joined a chorus of religious leaders comparing Donald Trump to the ancient Persian leader, Cyrus, who allowed the Babylonian Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple.
Quite early in the 2016 Republican primaries, some Christian evangelicals argued that just as a morally flawed Cyrus served as God's agent to restore the Jewish nation the morally compromised/challenged Trump would achieve the goals they so ardently sought like the overturning of Roe on abortion.
Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor to Trump, goes around the country recruiting an "Army of God" as part of a rapidly growing Christian Nationalist movement which wants to define America as a Christian nation. American Christian nationalism is an ideologya political ideology about U.S. identitythat fuses its version of the Christian religion with its understanding of U.S. history and of what it means to be an American. According to this ideology, America has a special relationship to God, who has chosen the country to carry out his will in human history. To many who adhere to this program, Trump is God's tool in this noble adventure. Religious leaders, politicians and media pundits explicitly link their own "save America" agenda to Putin's "save Russia" agenda using Christian faith and family values as their shibboleth of righteousness.
There is nothing new in this type of revivalism to make the United States morally and spiritually the vanguard on the path to the salvation of the world. What is new is the complicit behavior of a great American political party in the destruction of our democratic republic.
The Republican Partythe party of Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower that is cooperating with these Christian forces and other ideologues, simply to seek power by any meanscan bring down our lawful government by compromising our elections and obfuscating the values of our Constitution in arcane legal maneuvers.
Please VOTE! Say NO to this spiritual and moral totalitarianism.
October 2022 © email@example.com
NOTE: Windy City Times does not necessarily endorse the viewpoints expressed by any columnist/writer.