One of the reasons why Americans and Israelis dislike and distrust Iran so much is because that nation is a blatant theocracy. What’s interesting is that Americans in particular have been ignoring the development of a similar theocracy in a far larger nation that has a massive nuclear arsenal: Russia.
The similarities between the Russian and Iranian situations are intriguing. Both are ancient nations with rich heritages that underwent cataclysmic upheavals in the 20th century, in which their traditional ways of life were violently destroyed. The two nations have something else in common: rich, powerful, and politically influential religious establishments that present themselves as defenders of the country’s traditions and values.
Like Iran, Russia seems to be becoming a modern-day theocracy based on a bizarre ideology that combines democracy, capitalism, nostalgia for the past, ultra-nationalism, and xenophobia. As in Iran, this ideology is driven and officially promoted by a wealthy, powerful, and well-organized religious establishment that is starting to dominate Russia’s political life.
Vladimir Putin Theocrat
The religious establishment in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church, which is strongly supportive of President Vladimir Putin. The Church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill (Cyril), even called Putin’s rule a “miracle” in 2012, The Toronto Globe & Mail reported. For his part, Putin returned all the land stolen from the Church by the communists during the Soviet era. That makes the Church Russia’s largest land owner and gives it access to untold billions of dollars’ worth of mineral rights.
Putin has also implemented some oppressive measures designed to put Russian law into line with the Church. There was the notorious anti-homosexual propaganda law, which bans any media that shows gays as normal human beings in Russia for example. The church strongly supports that move.
Americans raised with generations of propaganda about Russia as the land of “Godless Communism” and persecuted Christians might wonder how this situation came about. The answer lies in Russia’s history, which has some strong similarities to Iran’s.
The Origins of Modern Russian Theocracy
Although many Western intellectuals refuse to accept the fact, Communist rule was a catastrophe for Russia. Civil society was effectively destroyed in a brutal process designed to create a scientific utopia. Most of the basic institutions of society, including the schools, the courts, the law, the military, the police, science, the arts, the press, and even the family, were turned into instruments of coercion designed to force Communist values upon the average Russia. Those institutions that did not fit into the Communist fantasy, such as the Church, the monarchy, the nobility and the free market, were brutally and violently suppressed.
The Church was basically the only fundamental institution of Russian society that managed to maintain its traditional identity during the Soviet era. It was also one of the few institutions that was not corrupted by the Communist Party, which gives it an incredible level of credibility. Communist persecution of the Church enhanced its reputation and appeal to the common people.
The situation in Iran was similar, where a ruthless despot, the Shah, waged a brutal war upon traditional society. Like the Communists, the Shah used a combination of brute force, terror, and bribery to force his vision of a technocratic utopia upon the Iranian people. As in Russia, the religious establishment refused to go along with the brutality and became the center of civil society.
The ayatollahs became the leaders of Iran because they were the only people in the nation who maintained some measure of popular respect and moral authority after three decades of the Shah. The situation in Russia is magnified a hundred times, where the majority of the population lived for generations under a government that waged what amounted to all-out war upon its citizens. The Church was the only institution that stood up for average people in Soviet Russia and at least tried to defend them from the party.
The situation in Russia today is becoming more like Iran as the remains of the Soviet military and security forces turn to the Church for support. Putin, the former KGB agent, and the generals—heirs to men who murdered millions of Russians at Lenin and Stalin’s orders—need the moral authority of the Church to stay in power.
Russia, like Iran, is now afflicted by an unholy alliance of authoritarian government and authoritarian religion. As in Iran, the so-called elected leaders serve increasingly at the pleasure of the religious leaders and serve as their errand boys.
Has the Russian Orthodox Church Declared War upon the World?
That should concern us because the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly Anti-Western and anti-modern. Patriarch Kirill even made this statement on Russian television in 2012: “Liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the apocalypse.”
The Church has decided that the modern world is Satanic and wants Russia separated from it, much as Ayatollah Khomeini and his ilk wanted Iran separated from the modern world. An increasingly isolated Putin has little to no choice but to go along. Part of the reason for the conflict in the Ukraine is to create division between Russia and the West.
The Church has close connections with pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine, Reuters reported last year. The news service also noted that Kirill’s statements about the conflict were nearly identical to the Russian government’s official propaganda on the matter. The rebels even released eight European officials they were holding hostage when the Patriarch told them to.
Reuters also noted that Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev, a major donor to the Church, has been accused of financing the Ukraine rebels. Malofeev was even sanctioned by the European Union for his activities, but he is also the head of the St. Basil the Great Foundation, which financed the renovation of the headquarters of the Church’s Department of External Relations. The foundation’s board members include Igor Shchyogolev, one of Putin’s aides.
In terms of its historical origins, domestic policy, and foreign relations, the situation in Russia has some disturbing similarities to Iran. In both nations, an all-powerful religious establishment is promoting authoritarian government, undermining democracy, and supporting or at least turning a blind eye to state-sanctioned terrorism.
One has to wonder why Western media and political leaders have ignored these troubling parallels. The most likely explanation is that the authoritarian religious movement in Russia is Christian, while that in Iran is based on Shia Islam. Journalists, intellectuals and politicians in the West are probably too afraid of being branded anti-Christian to speak out against these developments.
Yet sooner or later we will have to deal with this situation because Russia is heavily armed, in possession of nuclear weapons, and increasingly aggressive. Sadly enough, that aggression is being actively encouraged by the nation’s Church. It is time for Christian leaders in other nations and Russian Christians to start condemning the decidedly unchristian behavior of the Russian Orthodox Church and its close relationship with its former enemies, including such a questionable figure as Vladimir Putin.
The Church, it seems, could be leading Russia down the road to disaster. Hopefully, Christian values will prevail over the unholy mix of nationalism, authoritarianism, greed, fear, and bigotry that seem to have replaced the Gospel in today’s Russian Orthodox Church.