When Vladimir Putin sought to put Russia in his authoritarian grip he had an ally, the Russian Orthodox Church. Liberated from the era of Soviet oppression, the Russian church wasted no time in signing on with the Putin regime. It was creepy but, well it was Russia, and they do things differently in the Rodina. The Russian church was just an outlier, surely.
What happened in Russia has now surfaced in other Christian churches in other nations - Christianity making common cause with authoritarian thugs. Christianity embracing the dark side.
Many of us remember the memorable line by Sinclair Lewis predicting that, when fascism comes to America, it will be "wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
In its Christmas Day editorial, the Guardian explores how, in many nations, Christianity is in a struggle for its soul.
...The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again. But the theological roots of that liberal vision in a Pauline notion of universality – “all are one in Christ” – is rarely examined by progressives. In an era when Christian ethics are being so brazenly twisted to serve nativism and attacks on minorities, that could be a mistake. Happily, there are signs that this may change in 2020. Some of the Democrat candidates in next year’s US presidential race are wearing their faith on their sleeve to an unusual extent.
The popularity of Donald Trump among American evangelical Christians is well known. In 2016, 81% of evangelicals and a large majority of US Catholics put Mr Trump’s flawed personal morals to one side, voting for a candidate who would fight their corner in culture wars over same-sex marriage and abortion, as well as on migration. The Pew Research Centre survey this year found that only 25% of evangelicals believe that the US has a responsibility to accept refugees. President Trump’s Catholic former adviser, Steve Bannon, has been a prominent promoter of the supposedly “Judaeo-Christian” values that inform Trumpian nationalism.
...For both secular liberals and Christians, there are lessons to be drawn from what might be seen as a prophetic alliance between Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg on the most urgent issue facing the world: the climate emergency. When Time magazine made Ms Thunberg its person of the year, the Vatican was quick to celebrate her as “a witness to what the church teaches on the care of the environment and the care of the person”.
The pope has identified the protection of the Amazon rainforest, where this year the greatest levels of deforestation for a decade were recorded, as an environmental priority. But the culture wars being fought in the public square – which have seen Ms Thunberg become a target – are also being played out within the Christian churches. A three-week Rome synod on the Amazon in October was overshadowed by conservative criticism of the Pope’s decision to invite native peoples and welcome their religious symbols. Liberal democracies rightly prize the separation of church and state which emerged following the Enlightenment. But as the reactionary right denigrates ideas of human dignity and equality that can be traced back to the first formulations of early Christianity, liberals of goodwill need to unite across the religious/secular divide in 2020.There is a civil war underway within Christianity. It's a war for the soul of the faith and right now the dark side is winning.
What is underway has been well documented. Kevin Phillips 2005 book, "American Theocracy" examines the rise of radical religion in the waning years of a succession of once dominant Christian nations. Former US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, has written "The New American Militarism" in which he reveals how what Eisenhower branded America's military-industrial complex has now metastasized into a military-industrial-neoconservative- Christian fundamentalist-corporate "for profit" warfighting complex. You can glean more details in Chris Hedges' "American Fascists" or Princeton historian Kevin Kruse's excellent new book, "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America invented Christian America."
Radical Christianity, like other forms of fundamentalism, is the grease that enables the slide from secular democracy into illiberal, authoritarian rule. It is not going away without a fight and until we perceive the threat it poses and defend the separation of church and state, it will surely win. If we want to fend off the emergence of a state religion wedded to the political state we must never forget that there can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion.