Category Archives: Religion and Politics

Torture Is Iconoclasm

by Matthew Cooper

The nomination of Gina Haspel to the position of CIA director is deeply troubling to me, should be deeply troubling to all Americans—and should be most troubling to Orthodox Christians in particular. To explain why this is so, allow me to begin with a historical anecdote.

In 1169, the Bishop of Rostov, a stiff-necked and arrogant man named Fedor, was sent to Kiev by his prince, Andrei Yurievsky—later commemorated as Saint Andrei “the God-Loving.” This bishop had committed a number of egregious ecclesiastical crimes – many of them, it must be said, at Prince Andrei’s own instigation. One of these crimes was attempting to create his own jurisdiction over the head of the Metropolitan. Fedor’s behaviour even attracted the criticism of the celebrated preacher Bishop Saint Kirill of Turov, who urged him to resign his position. Long story short, when his conduct became intolerable, he was sent to Kiev to confess and face trial for his crimes before the then-Metropolitan of Kiev, Constantine II.

The Metropolitan of Kiev, however, had his henchmen cruelly torture the bishop. They cut out his tongue, cut off his right hand and put out his eyes. They then drowned him and then burned his corpse. Continue Reading…

Must Orthodoxy Be a Barrier to Liberal Democracy? The Case of Serbia 1903-1914

by Boris Begović  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский  |  српски

It is obvious that the fall of communism made the Orthodox face issues regarding democratic secularism. By secularism, I mean not the decline-of-religion meaning, which has been completely discredited, but secularism understood as pluralism, according to Aristotle Papanikolaou, as he defined it recently at his keynote lecture, “A Christian Secularism,” at the conference, “Religion in Public Life,” held annually in Trebinje, Herzegovina. Noting that an attempt was made in some of the Orthodox countries to reinstate a kind of symphonia model, whose origin could be traced back to the Byzantine period, he points out that, due to the various occupations—Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, communist—there was virtually never an opportunity to address the issue.

Nonetheless, there were a few exceptions; one is a nation-building process of Serbia, in the late 19th and early 20th century. With slow but sustainable devolution from the Ottoman Empire, ending in the 1861 de facto independence and the 1878 de jure independence, the Kingdom of Serbia, without a doubt an Orthodox country, experienced profound dilemmas in the nation-building process, development of institutions, and organizing society. The magnitude of the dilemmas increased because the Serbian national liberation and independence political project was indigenous, without any European or other sponsor nation. Continue Reading…

American Evangelicals, Theological Fantasy, and the Jerusalem Embassy

by David P. Gushee

The uncritical US evangelical embrace of the Trump US embassy move, as well as of the hard-line Netanyahu government in Israel, has important but odd theological roots.

America’s most visibly pro-Israel evangelicals, fundamentalists, and dispensationalists act as they do, in large part, because for them what the modern State of Israel does matters far less than the fact that a modern State of Israel is. Their interest in Israel is theological, even mythological, rather than ethical or this-worldly political.  Their unwavering defense of Trump’s Jerusalem policy and his partnership with Netanyahu is rooted not just in their loyalty to Trump but also in their highly questionable eschatological scenarios, in which a return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland is viewed as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and a decisive event in the end-times before Jesus returns. Continue Reading…

Too Little, Too Late for Religious Freedom in Greece?

by Effie Fokas

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

The Western Thrace region of Greece exists as an anomaly in Europe for the prevalence of sharia courts over secular courts on matters related to family law. This anomaly is left over from a population exchange between Greece and Turkey and the terms set out in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The governance of sharia in the region (specifically, for interference in the selection of Muftis) has been the subject of several cases against the state of Greece in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), cases in which the Greek state was found to be violating the claimants’ freedom of religion.

Unsurprisingly, the Greek state is keen to avoid further shaming over an issue that already draws significant negative attention from its European partners. In November of 2017, the Greek government announced a bill to limit the powers of Islamic sharia courts operating in Western Thrace. Continue Reading…