By Rudy Barnes, Jr., March 26, 2022
The teachings of Jesus on discipleship were never popular. To gain popularity and power the early church subordinated the demanding teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God. They were not taught by Jesus, but became popular as the only means of salvation. Then the church opened the door to militant Christianity with the Crusades.
Civil religion is the merger (or collision) of religion and politics that shapes a nation’s culture and standards of legitimacy. America began as a libertatarian democracy that allowed slavery. After a bloody civil war to end slavery and preserve the Union, the American civil religion evolved into a culture dominated by nationalistic, materialistic and hedonistic values.
Russia and its orthodox church shaped a nationalist civil religion over Russia’s long history--including over 70 years as a Godless communist Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox doctrine of Russian World supports Putin’s strategy of unprovoked aggression in Ukraine, and is remarkably similar to America First, the nationalist radical-right beliefs of Trump supporters.
The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbors, including those of other nations, races and religions, as we love ourselves. It’s a summary of the teachings of Jesus and a moral imperative of Christianity, but it was ignored in Trump’s nativist America First policies and in Putin’s Russian World policies that put Russian nationalist interests above all else.
God’s will is to reconcile and redeem, and Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church, and is winning the popularity contest in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. America First and Russian World are nationalist policies used by Satan’s minions to divide and conquer.
Jesus is worshiped as the divine alter ego of God in America and Russia, and his moral teachings have succumbed to cancel culture. Few of those teachings are heard from pulpits in America, and in Russia any criticism of Putin’s aggression is a crime. Corrupt church doctrines have left a moral vacuum that has been filled by nationalist, materialistic and hedonistic values.
In America and Russia exclusivist church doctrines deify Jesus and “shut him up” as the universal word of God, allowing demagogues to use the church to divide and conquer rather than reconcile and redeem. Only canceling Christian nationalist cultures with the primacy of the universal moral teachings of Jesus can save the church and democracy from their demise.
“Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has described the war in Ukraine as nothing less than an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. Its outcome, he said, will determine ‘where humanity will end up, on which side of God the Savior.’” Russian World (Russky mir) is the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church and the moral foundation of Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine that is targeting civilians.
“Inside Russia, Russkiy mir has found deep religious resonance, especially in the military. According to Dmitry Adamsky, an expert on the Russian military and professor at Reichman University in Israel, Orthodox clergy build troop morale and encourage patriotism. Russia’s official National Security Strategy, approved by Mr. Putin last year, devotes several pages to ‘the defense of traditional Russian spiritual-moral values, culture and historical memory.’ According to a study for NATO Defense College by Julian Cooper, a British scholar, the values in question are a mostly generic list including life, dignity, patriotism and strong families, but they are framed in contrast to those of the West, which encroach on Russia’s ‘cultural sovereignty.’
“In a speech last fall, Mr. Putin deplored what he identified as prevalent cultural trends in Western Europe and the U.S., including transgenderism and ‘cancel culture.’ ‘We have a different viewpoint,’ Mr. Putin said. ‘We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.’
“A Moscow think tank headed by Patriarch Kirill, makes the connection explicit: ‘If the actions of our president to recognize [separatist regions in the Donbas] relate to the political, military sovereignty of Russia—that is, we are trying to stop the advancement of NATO, missiles on our borders—then the moral problems associated with the protection of traditional values are aligned, and they are no less important than political and military aspects.’” See https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-world-is-the-civil-religion-behind-putins-war-11647539958.
Michelle Boorstein has warned that Christian nationalists are becoming more radical and are targeting voting in the U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-Calif.) is a founder of the Congressional Freethought Caucus that sponsored a briefing called “God Is On Our Side” on white Christian Nationalism and the Capitol Insurrection. Huffman said “the group has grown steadily in number since it was founded and he wanted to hold the event because White Christian nationalism “is the most important piece of this insurrection people don’t yet understand fully. A lot of Americans look at that day and think: ‘A lot of crazy people acted out.’ But it was far more organized, and it wasn’t just the Trump political organization,” he said. What tied many unconnected people and groups together was a shared worldview that Christianity should be fused with civic life and that true Americans are White, culturally conservative and natural born citizens. While concern about White Christian nationalism in America is today most commonly expressed by people on the left, it is not a partisan issue. Multiple well-known figures on the more conservative side of the aisle have sounded alarm about the danger of conflating Christianity with patriotism, or love of country. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore called it ‘heretical,’ saying linking God and country is akin to idol-worship and is bad for the faith.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/03/18/white-christian-nationalism-raskin-tlaib-democracy-freethought-secular/?utm.
James T. Kaine has asked, What would Jesus say about cancel culture? Then he asked the more pertinent question, “Is cancel culture a necessary tool for cultural revitalization and the righting of historical wrongs? American history is, sadly, full of examples where an unjust cancellation worked, because the cancellers caught the zeitgeist just right. From the Salem witch trials of the 1690s through the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, from the Japanese-American internment camps of the Second World War to the McCarthy anticommunist crusades of the early 1950s to the Hollywood blacklists of the same decade, we have a long and sordid history of deciding who’s not getting with the program—and aggressively trying to drive them out into the desert. Usually we applaud. Sometimes we apologize later.
Jesus was not at all afraid to repudiate those who deserved it: hypocrites, those who used the rules to declare others unclean, those who profited from religion, those who bound up burdens on people, those who declared themselves the holy ones.
Note, however, that Jesus does not say to these people, “I don’t want to listen to you.” He tells them they’re wrong. There’s a difference there, one to which we should pay attention. The only times Jesus tells someone to shut up, to get lost, it’s Satan or it’s his pal Peter—get thee away from me. Everyone else is free to argue with Jesus. He might tell them they’re dogs or vipers or whitened sepulchers full of the bones of the dead, but he prefers prophesying against them to demanding their silence. Any culture where the urge to silence one’s opponents is the first impulse—instead of debating or contradicting them—has a whiff of corruption to it. Can’t a healthy culture stand against critique, against a lack of wokeness or a wrong opinion? What is the legitimacy of any system that relies on blocking its antagonists, disappearing its enemies, silencing dissent? The answer—in some ways, the healing mechanism—for such cultures is external review. The outside auditor, the admonitor, the red team, the devil’s advocate. It is oftentimes much more valuable to listen to the outsider with the Very Bad Opinion than it is to find affirmation from our like-minded peers. Because, as Jesus also knew, we never want to listen to the prophet who comes from our own hometown. See https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/03/18/jesus-cancel-culture-242588?utm.
Cancel culture in this context is about how the church canceled the teachings of Jesus as the word of God by subordinating those teachings to worshiping Jesus as God, and making belief in Jesus as a personal savior the only way to salvation. Paul may have taught that, but not Jesus.
Previous commentary on the topic:
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country
(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy
(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America