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The Corruption of Religion: Russia's Military-Ecclesiastical Complex The Corruption of Religion: Russia's Military-Ecclesiastical Complex
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2016-10-11 11:09:24
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                  “Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”
                                                                                                                 --Pat Buchanan

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In the recent award winning movie “Leviathan” by Andrei Avyagintsev we observe the white skeleton of a beached whale. In the foreground there is a man gazing over it. In the background one notices a squalid coastal town in Russia’s frigid north, the port of Pribrezhny. The beauty and majesty of the whale’s skeleton stands in stark contrast to the ugliness of the town where men go about their business obsessively and hypocritically searching for their daily share of power and greed, all fittingly recreated in the film, a great film concerned with the corruption of religion.

One immediately suspects that in this film we have much more than meets the eye. A theological-literary hermeneutics is needed. The title “leviathan” alone would suggest it. It literally means big whale but it also suggests majesty and awesome power, as Thomas Hobbes famously hinted at in his famous political tract “Leviathan” alluding to the awesome power of the modern state. So “leviathan” is a highly charged symbolical term. One can easily go back to its Biblical connotations and draw on both the Book of Job and the story of Naboth’s Vineyard, in which an evil king trumps up false charges to seize the belongings of a poor neighbor. The Biblical leviathan is mentioned on several occasions, sometimes as a seagoing animal, but also as a fearsome monster of evil, slain by God himself in cosmic warfare. In this apocalyptic vision, the image becomes “the piercing serpent.”

Let’s attempt to interpret those powerful Biblical symbols as shown in the film. Leviathan, or better, Leviathan’s monstrous skeleton could be nothing less than the awesome aspirations of the old Soviet Union, assuming that those past times are some kind of lost glory. There is always nostalgia for lost glory, to wit the recent Brexit of the UK. What may be in play is a needed substitution of the language of Marxism-Leninism, back to that of Christianity. As Jung used to quip: throw religion out the window and it will come back the back door.

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The plot of the story in the film focuses on Kolya, an auto mechanic who spends most of his life in a drunken haze. He owns a property that is coveted by the local mayor, Vadim, who gets everything he wants through the exercise of political power, to the point of deploying thugs to enforce his will. Ultimately, Kolya is loses his home. Vadim as a transparent stand-in for Vladimir Putin, who also rules through violence and extra-legal trickery. For both men, law is merely a tool for the powerful. If it sounds Machiavellian, it is.

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Homo Religiosus visiting Mount Athos in Greece

This is mere satire, but the uniqueness of the film resides in the fact that these banal events of an obscure Siberian town are set in a cosmic context, within Biblical symbolism. That is to say, modern Russians live in the shadow of the slain leviathan. No wonder that the Russian media have mostly ignored the film’s great success! Surprisingly, that is not the case in the West (both in Europe and the US) where the film has received critical acclaim and has attracted the attention of far right reactionaries. How do we explain this paradox. Could it be that the film has political overtones and is being used as an ideological propaganda tool?

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Let’s briefly explore this question. It can only be answered adequately if we focus not only on Putin’s criticism but on the Orthodox Church to which adhere some 250 million followers. Here is where the film is most daring. In the treatment of the town’s orthodox bishop who serves as spiritual advisor to Vadim. In a Dostoyevsky-like  scene, reminiscent of the Grand Inquisitor, the Bishop informs Vadim that despite the fact that all is in God’s hands, God expects him to exercise to the fullest the power granted him in order to defeat the Enemy. As the story progresses we realize that one of the reason for stealing Koyla’s property was the building of a brand new Orthodox cathedral inaugurated by the Bishop with an eloquent sermon uniting Russian nationalism with the interests of the Orthodox Church marching under the banner of truth and justice. Now, the bishop can easily be identified wih Kirill, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church who has involved the Church with an alliance with the post-Soviet regime. We need to remember here that support for authoritarian regimes is deeply embedded in Orthodox political thought tinged with millenarian mystical nationalism. It would be enough to read Dostoyevsky’s novels to realize as much. There Orthodox Russia is presented by its representatives as a bastion of true faith besieged by the immorality and false values of a secularized West.

The apocalyptic stage is set for Holy Russia confronting a Godless and decadent West. Putin himself has warned that “many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values…” It couldn’t be more clear. This Orthodox framing of Russian nationalism ensures that powerful Rightist groups willingly rally to Putin and his KGB clique. We in the West worry about Iran’s theocracy with apocalyptic dreams abetted by nuclear weapons and yet we continue to ignore a state close to Iran where ambitious Machiavellian theocrats shape the national ideology of a regime which presently has at its disposal some 1,500 active nuclear weapons, and 8,000 of them in storage.

But not everyone ignores this bizarre phenomenon of the alliance of religion and nationalism. Historians of course know quite well that countries like Italy and Austria were considered Catholic countries and yet fought World War I on opposite sides. So nationalism within modernity has always trumped religion. This reality has now percolated to the not so educated of the likes of Trump who now appears on Russian TV, compliment of Larry King. The poorly educated and the political far right has also taken notice and has been absorbing the distorting caricature of Orthodox Christianity’s spirituality through Putin’s lenses.

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Pat Buchanan

It has percolated to the American ideological far right; to the likes of Pat Buchanan. Strangely enough, while during the Cold War he and his ilk vehemently railed against the Soviet Union as godless, now he has made an about face and branded the US as the new Evil Empire and has declared the new Cold War as a “war of beliefs,” asking this revealing question: “Whose side is God on now?” So, Russia is now the defender of Judeo-Christian values, as far as Buchanan is concerned. We are back to the Crusades and the War of religions, never mind the love and tolerance and compassion advocated by all genuine religion.

Putin’s and Buchanan vision, in which autocracy is married to Orthodox faith, may resemble somewhat the role that Franco’s Spain occupied for decades, an authoritarian regime with which some conservative Catholic Americans sympathized because that regime resisted Communism, privileged the Catholic Church and upheld many aspects of Catholic moral teaching in public policy.  While preferable to the Stalinists who tried to seize Spain in the 1930s, and although a Cold War ally to the U.S. very much unlike Putin’s current strategic opposition, the Franco regime was a dictatorship that persecuted opposition and could not be a sustainable friend, much less role model, for most American Christians. It was certainly not democratic, nor tolerant, nor genuinely Christian. Idem for Putin’s Russia.

Let me conclude by asserting that what we have in place today is not the true face of Orthodoxy which is rooted in the idea that “God is love,” but a gigantic distortion via the faces of Putin and Buchanan. Some of those so called “Christians,” alas, like Buchanan, consider themselves good Catholics but the God they worship is a tyrant, a la Putin, not the God of love which is celebrated whenever Pope Francis and the Patriach Bartholomew get together, be it in Jerusalem or Greece or Rome. What obtains is the distortion and the corruption of religion reduced to an instrument of ideological policy.   

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Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!
 
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