At the height of the Cold War, it was common for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.” More than two decades on, history has come full circle, as the Kremlin and its allies in the Russian Orthodox Church hurl the same allegation at the West.
Washington Times “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”
Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people. In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.
“The general political direction of the [Western political] elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character,” the patriarch said in comments aired on state-controlled television. “We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God,” Patriarch Kirill said. “We want to shout to the whole world, ‘Stop!’”
Soviet authorities executed some 200,000 clergy and believers from 1917 to 1937, according to a 1995 presidential committee report. Thousands of churches were destroyed, and those that survived were turned into warehouses, garages or museums of atheism. “The separation of the secular and the religious is a fatal mistake by the West,” the Rev. Chaplin said. “It is a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally.”
Although Mr. Putin has never made a secret of what he says is his deep Christian faith, his first decade in power was largely free of overtly religious rhetoric. However, since his inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, the increasingly authoritarian leader has sought to reach out to Russia’s conservative, xenophobic heartland for support.
It has proved a rich hunting ground. “Western values, from liberalism to the recognition of the rights of sexual minorities, from Catholicism and Protestantism to comfortable jails for murderers, provoke in us suspicion, astonishment and alienation,” Yevgeny Bazhanov, rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic academy, wrote in a recent essay.
So it’s come to this. In lieu of a president who respects Judeo-Christian values, an ex-KGB officer from a formerly atheist country is actually warning the West about how godlessness results in the kind of “chaotic darkness,” “belief in Satan,” and “path to degradation” that America is currently on.
But what’s ironic is that in this case, a leader who should be viewed with extreme caution is actually speaking truth to nations hell-bent on repeating Soviet Russia’s mistakes.