Following what appear to be horrendous war crimes, Putin continues his rampage through Ukraine. It is becoming an exercise in absurdity for anyone to defend this war, yet it still has its supporters. Some may still believe that he wants to “de-Nazify” the country. While Ukraine undoubtedly has a serious problem with fascism and far right extremists, one need only to listen to Putin himself to understand that his “justifications” are pure nonsense.
Lest anyone has doubts as to Putin’s racist and imperialistic vision, he was quoted as saying:
“The United States continues to receive more and more immigrants, and, as far as I understand, the white, Christian population is already outnumbered … White Christians have become a minority, less than 50 percent now. … Russia is a vast territory, from its western to eastern borders, it is a Eurasian space. But as regards culture, even language group and history, this all is undoubtedly a European space, as it is inhabited by people of this culture. … we have to preserve all this to remain a significant centre in the world.”
In addition to this, Putin has a great ally in the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill, patriarch of the church, has been one of the most vocal cheerleaders for Putin’s aggressive nationalism and this murderous war. In a recent sermon he declared that this was a “struggle to defend human civilization” against the “sin” of “gay-pride parades.” To odious men like Kirill, the scenes of cities reduced to rubble or bodies strewn on city streets, many with their hands bound, is somehow “holy” while human sexuality in all of its marvelous diversity is depraved. It is a testament to how extremist religious beliefs are fundamentally anti-human.
Without a doubt, Kirill cares little for the young conscripted Russian soldiers condemned to be cannon fodder in this imperialistic venture. As the death toll mounts, he has been able to spew bile from the lavish Main Cathedral of the Armed Forces, a monstrosity built two years ago as a celebration of Russian militarism. One can hardly fathom the depths of depravity required to design and construct this temple to war and then consecrate it to the Prince of Peace.
But before we wag our fingers too much, we should understand the danger in our own backyards. Most religious people hope and strive for peace and hold compassion as a supreme value. But religion has been frequently used by the powerful as a means of social control. It can be an effective bludgeon for silencing opposition and dissent. A loudspeaker for despots. An arm of state repression and militarism.
And this is most often a reciprocal arrangement. Whether it be the use of Islam to crush women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, or the use of Hinduism to subjugate Muslims and Dalits in India, or the use of Judaism to deny Palestinians their human rights, or the use of Buddhism to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya, or the use of Christianity to oppress women and persecute LGBTQ+ people in the United States, religious leaders and zealots will seize on any opportunity they are given to impose their worldview upon others, and they will utilize the state to this end.
Patriarch Kirill offers us a glimpse into state sanctioned, religious barbarism. His alliance with Putin underscores the need for the separation of church and state. And he is being lauded by racists, white supremacists and fascists the world over. But he is also a reminder that religious zealots have little use for this earth we call home. To them, it is stained with human sin. So, a “holy war” of fire and brimstone might actually be appealing to those with such nihilistic and misanthropic leanings. As the world inches ever closer to nuclear war, this should give us all good reason to be worried.
Kenn Orphan, April 2022
*Photo is of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. Getty Images.