Saturday, March 26, 2022

Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture

           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

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

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

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?

(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

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Musings on Military Legitimacy in a Post-American Era

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., March 19, 2022 

Fareed Zakaria has observed that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine marked the beginning of a post-American era.  It calls for a new containment strategy, but one without the nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction (MAD).  Putin has rendered MAD irrelevant and risked a nuclear holocaust with his threat to use nuclear weapons against any intervention to defend Ukraine.

President Biden’s policy “to avoid WW III” echoes Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in 1938.  Putin is following Hitler’s playbook to restore the old Soviet Union through unprovoked aggression, and Biden has yet to acknowledge that Putin started a world war when he threatened to use nuclear weapons to prevent the defense of Ukrainian democracy.

General Clausewitz once famously said, War is an extension of politics by other means.  Military legitimacy is a strategic concept derived from political legitimacy that defines the legal and moral standards of warfare--and the strategic ground just shifted.  The standards of military legitimacy must be realistic, since only the winners of wars make the rules of war.

America’s first priority is to make sure that Putin’s unprovoked aggression doesn’t win the war in Ukraine.  That will require America and NATO to revise their strategies to include options to intervene in Ukraine if economic sanctions don’t work.  The free world cannot continue to be held hostage by Putin’s threat of a nuclear deterrent.

Military legitimacy is based on the premise that strategic political objectives require public support based on perceptions that military operations are legitimate.  The battle for legitimacy is ultimately a contest for hearts and minds, and concepts of legitimacy vary based on cultural differences, as both Russia and America learned in Afghanistan.

Russians and Ukrainians share the same ethnic background, but they see Putin’s war through the different lenses of democracy and autocracy.  Putin’s autocratic regime controls its media and falsely reports the war to cover up Putin’s atrocities.  It reveals how perceptions of legitimacy are distorted by the fake news of corrupt regimes that lack a free press.                        

The justification for going to war, the proportional use of force, and discrimination in targeting provide standards that determine the legitimacy of military operations and war crimes.  Now that Putin has negated MAD by asserting that he will use nuclear weapons to accomplish the objectives of his aggression, military strategies will have to be reconsidered.

As a retired military lawyer, I never expected to see MAD refuted as a primary standard of military legitimacy and strategy.  I underestimated the depravity of those world leaders who have nuclear weapons.  Perhaps a defense against nuclear weapons will be discovered that’s not just a bigger nuclear weapon.  If not, we had better start digging deeper bomb shelters.           


Fareed Zakaria has described Russia’s  invasion of Ukraine as “a seismic event, perhaps the most significant one in international life since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This war marks the end of an age. But what can we say about the new one we are entering? Most important, it is marked by the triumph of politics over economics. For the past three decades, most countries have acted with one lodestar in mind: economic growth. But today, countries around the world that took security for granted — from   Canada to Germany to Japan — are thinking anew about their defense postures and forces. Military security is only one part of the way in which politics is trumping economics. Countries are searching   for greater national security in their supply chains and economies more broadly, a trend that began some years ago. From Brexit to “Buy American,” the policies being adopted by many free-market countries are animated more by populist nationalism than market economics.  We may be seeing the reversal of 30 years of globalization.      Over those three decades, McDonald’s   built a large business in Russia, cultivating a network of farmers and suppliers, opening about  850 restaurants, and creating a sizable customer base. All that has been placed on hold and could be shut down permanently. Aeroflot, the Russian airline, had  rebuilt itself after its post-Soviet breakup. Now, with Boeing and Airbus refusing to sell it spare parts or do maintenance on its planes, the company might have to stop flying altogether. These kinds of measures, which place security and self-sufficiency over efficiency, will surely have the effect of raising prices everywhere. As countries search for resilience and move away from excessive dependence on foreign countries, inflation could become a more permanent feature of the new world even if the supply shocks caused by the war are temporary.

We are also likely facing a new world of energy — one in which the prices of   oil and natural gas remain high. That means that countries that produce hydrocarbons are going to have lots of cash — trillions of dollars — over the next decade. (It also highlights why it is crucial to cut off Vladimir Putin’s chief source of revenue: his oil and gas industry.) 

One of the defining features of the new era is that it is post-American. The Pax Americana of the past three decades is over. You can see signs of this everywhere. Consider the fact that the leaders of the  UAE and Saudi Arabia — two countries that have depended on Washington for their security for decades — refused to even take phone calls from the U.S. president, according to the Wall Street Journal. Consider as well that Israel (initially) and India have refused to describe Putin’s actions as an invasion, and that all four countries have made it clear they will continue to do business with Russia.

The United States remains the world’s leading power, still stronger than all the rest by far. 

The greatest strategic opportunity lies with Europe, which could stop being the passive international actor it has been for decades. Europeans are ready to end the era of free security by raising defense spending and securing NATO’s eastern border. Germany’s remarkable turnaround is a start. If Europe becomes a strategic player on the world stage, that could be the biggest geopolitical shift to emerge from this war. A United States joined by a focused and unified Europe would be a super-alliance in support of liberal values. But for the West to become newly united and powerful, there is one essential condition: It must succeed in Ukraine. That is why the urgent necessity of the moment is to do what it takes — bearing costs and risks — to ensure that Putin does not prevail.  See

Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine confirmed that Putin’s Russia is incompatible with libertarian democracy, and that a new strategic containment policy is needed.  It recalls President Truman’s policy of containment in the Cold War announced on March 12, 1947.  See  Also


Joe Sacarborough has opined that The War in Ukraine is moving into a new phase.  Biden and the West had better get ready.  Scarborough chided President Biden for emphasis on what America and NATO won’t do in Ukraine rather than what they will do if Putin does not cease his unprovoked aggression. See

Max Boot has opined that We can’t let Putin’s threats deter us from supplying Ukranians with fighter planes.  “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has plunged the world into its worst military crisis since the end of the Cold War. From the U.S. standpoint, the war carries two opposing dangers: We could underreact, and thus let Russia get away with unprovoked aggression that will destroy the world order. Or we can overreact, allowing the conflict to spiral out of control. Put another way: We can’t afford to start a larger war, but we also can’t afford to let Russia win. As long as U.S. personnel are not firing on Russians, Ukraine is still a proxy war — and not a precursor to World War III.”  See  On a personal note, Max Boot has noted that Putin is Sovietizing Russia.  It is becoming the country my family fled in 1976.  See

Neville Chamberlain was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940. He is best known for his role in the Munich Agreement of 1938 which ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler and is now the most popular example of the foreign policy known as appeasement. See

On previous commentary on the need for America to have a containment foreign policy (related to the Islamist terrorist threat in the Middle East), see  A Containment Strategy and Military Legitimacy (8/27/2016) at  Also, The Legitimacy of Engagement and Containment National Security Strategies (9/2/2017) at 


Generally on military legitimacy, see Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium (Frank Cass, 1996); manuscript posted at

Of particular relevance are chapter one, Might and Right, Past and Present, with historic examples; chapter 3, which covers the requirements and principles of Military Legitimacy; chapter 4, Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law; and chapter 6, Lessons Learned in Legitimacy and Leadership.        

On how conflicting standards of legitimacy can turn military victories into political defeat as they did for both Russia and America in Afghanistan, see What the Afghanistan Fiasco Teaches Us About Religion, Legitimacy and Politics (8/21/2021) see

See also, (9/4/21): Musings on How Religion and Culture Caused the Afghanistan Debacle 9/4/2021) at

On Russia, the Ukraine and Nuclear War (2/26/22), see  See also,

Musings on a New World Order Based on Reconciliation, not Conflict (3/5/22) at,  and

Musings on Defending Democracy from the Tyranny of a Nuclear Autocracy (3/12/22), at

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Musings on Defending Democracy from the Tyranny of a Nuclear Autocracy

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr., March 12, 2022 

President Biden needs to change America’s announced strategy on Ukraine.  Rather than assuring Putin that U.S. forces will stay out of the fight, Biden should assert an option to intervene if Putin does not end his aggression by a given date.  And as an alternative to direct military intervention, Biden should pledge support to a Ukrainian resistance movement. 

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and millions have fled Ukraine as a result of Putin’s unprovoked aggression. His war crimes and crimes against humanity are worse than those of HItler’s Nazis since Putin has threatened nuclear retaliation against any nation that opposes him.  If Putin is successful, China will likely follow his example and forcefully annex Taiwan.   

The world cannot be held hostage by the tyranny of a nuclear autocracy.  Standing up to Putin is a high-stakes gamble, but the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis provides a useful precedent.  A strategy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) no longer protects us, and Biden’s current strategy of non-intervention is weak and provides little incentive for Putin to end his aggression.  

Putin’s nuclear-spiked aggression to expand Russia’s borders by destroying Ukraine’s democracy is an existential threat to the independence of all democracies.  It’s similar to Hitler’s lebensraum policy in WWII; but Putin’s threat of nuclear deterrence against any nation seeking to defend Ukraine makes Putin an even greater threat to democracies than was Hitler.

This is not a partisan issue.  It transcends politics with the laws of war and the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, even those of other nations, as we love ourselves.  It’s at the heart of the Just War tradition, and it requires defending the Ukrainian resistance movement against the tyranny of Putin’s nuclear autocracy.

Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, America’s 2022 elections should be a referendum on defending democracy here and overseas.  Trump and his Republican cronies have praised Putin’s tyranny and should be defeated at the polls.  Opposing the tyranny of Putin’s nuclear autocracy is one of the few clear and unambiguous bipartisan issues in politics.

Russia is a nominal democracy, so that overwhelming Russian opposition to Putin’s aggression is the best hope for peace.  If Russians can‘t hold  their megalomaniac president accountable for his aggression in Ukraine, we can expect other nuclear autocracies to follow suit with aggression and a nuclear threat to expand their borders.

Wars are a terrible thing, and a nuclear war is the worst kind of war.  The only real restraint on the use of nuclear weapons is public opposition in the nations that have them.  In the future more unpredictable nations, like Iran, will likely have a nuclear capability. Without more effective controls over nuclear weapons, the world may not have a  future.         



Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director and Secretary of Defense from 2006-2011, has opined that  We need a more realistic strategy: “Putin’s war reminds us that the world is a dangerous, deadly place. And that we are in a global contest with two ruthless, authoritarian powers that are determined to achieve their aspirations through any means. Our executive and legislative branches must understand the new world we live in, set aside business as usual and embrace dramatic change to ensure that we and our democratic allies prevail in that contest.”  See

Clint Watts has opined that The West doesn’t want to push Putin toward using nuclear weapons. It might not matter.  Deterrence won’t be enough for a Russian leader who has never lost a war. See

U.S. and allies quietly prepare for a Ukrainian government-in-exile and a long insurgency.  See

On the German concept of Lebensraum used by Hitler to justify his WWII invasions, See

As Russia escalates its aggression on Ukraine, evidence of war crimes mounts.  See

“After coming under fiece criticism for praising Putin as ‘savy’ and ‘brilliant’ for the Russian’s  moves in Ukraine last month, last week Donald Trump told a crowd of GOP donors in New Orleans ‘that the U.S. should label its  F-22 planes with the Chinese flag and bomb the s--t out of Russia, And then we say that China did it, we didn’t do it, and then they start fighting with each other and wesit back and watch.’  His comments were met with laughter.”  See

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked Antiwar protests in Russia. They could be his undoing.  See


The Russians are  seeing--or not seeing--the war in Ukraine through Russian censorship of any news that is critical of Putin’s aggression. “The vast majority of Russians consume their news through official media, especially television, which is downplaying the conflict’s violence and casualties. A great segment of the Russian people have become willful participants in their own indoctrination, choosing to inform themselves through state media despite access in recent years to independent and critical journalism.  Antiwar protests have erupted in major Russian cities. But they have not reached critical mass. That may change if Russian casualties run high, and as sanctions further upend the economy. But if playbooks in places like Venezuela — which also suffered harsh U.S. sanctions — are any guide, the answer will be more official repression and a more impoverished populace that, after a fleeting period of civil disobedience, stays mostly in check.  Russia stands as a testament to how authoritarians can stage-manage a narrative.”  See