Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, experts have been scrupulously analyzing the Russian Orthodox Church’s (ROC) reaction to the conflict. Its support for the Kremlin triggered comments about the Church being a state-controlled ideology entrepreneur which has confused Christian values with imperial geopolitics. Indeed, the inclination towards geopolitics and great power logic can be noticed in the position of many representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. However, this is not only the case with Ukraine or post-Soviet territory. The ROC’s entanglement in geopolitics goes beyond this and often contradicts Christian teaching. This is well seen in the Moscow Patriarchate’s approach towards China, which is discussed here. It is intriguing to observe how a Communist Party hostile towards religion has become a desirable ally against the liberal West with whom Russia shares its Christian tradition.
The fact that the US is unable to convince China to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine confirms the significance of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership. Russia’s reorientation towards China accelerated after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The cornerstone of the new opening between Moscow and Beijing was laid, though, in 2001, when the bilateral Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation was signed. The Plan of Actions foreseen by the treaty (2004) included a point which provided information about “initiating a dialogue and a cooperation between the ‘leading religions’” of both countries. This rather modest formulation has provided the Russian state and Church with the formal ground to address the situation of Orthodox believers living in China.
Liberalism has recently become a shibboleth for everything that is wrong with our present age, with critics in the in the academy and the media as well as the political establishment.
For the global Left, the term “liberalism” has become a kind of shorthand used to identify everything from the evils of the contemporary incarceration and national security state, to the neoliberal corrosion of the democratic public sphere, and to the exploitive (and ecologically catastrophic) reign of predatory capitalism. For the global Right, “liberalism” has come to signify the root cause of everything from declining religiosity to the destabilization of a common social fabric rooted in “traditional” family life and “Western” cultural homogeneity.
That liberalism would undergo such an apparently sudden shift in its cultural and political cachet, from a position of unquestioned dominance to a widespread object of scorn is, however, not unsurprising nor altogether unwarranted. Yet, the content of these various critiques couldn’t be more dissimilar, and it precisely this dissimilarity which reveals a need for greater clarification and rigor about the usage of “liberalism” as a catch-all object of critique, and in turn raises questions about how Christians ought to think about liberalism and its critics. Continue reading →
Amidst the culture wars, the word “traditionalist” has gained currency and has been co-opted in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a self-naming mostly by those who identify as religious and are seemingly faithful to their religious tradition in the face of attacks either against religion in general or by others within their religious tradition who challenge various givens of that tradition. For the Orthodox Christian crowd, a very simple example would suffice: a self-named traditionalist would typically oppose the ordination of women to the diaconate, while a non-traditionalist—usually called, pejoratively, a liberal—might challenge the givenness of the non-ordination of women.
An extension of “traditionalist” is “traditional values,” which has come to mean a very select set of “values” related to gender and sexuality. “Traditional values” has very recently become a transnational slogan, which cuts across the East-West divide, since there are Westerners (American Evangelicals) making alliances with Easterners (Russian Orthodox actors) in order to advance “traditional values” through established national and international legal structures.
The meaning of “traditional values” has been further amplified with the neologism: “Orthodox morality.” I say neologism, because never in the history of Christianity—at least Orthodox Christianity—has the word “Orthodox” functioned as an adjective for “morality.” Never. This neologism has a very non-traditionalist—dare I say, modern—ring to it. It may appeal to those attracted to a version of the so-called “Benedict Option,” but this Donatist logic of purity was condemned a long time ago by the Church.
My thesis is very simple: the use of the word “traditionalist” and its derivative forms (“Orthodox morality,” “traditional values”) is philosophically untenable, i.e., it’s wrong. Continue reading →