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Russia: An Exemplar of Christian Nationalism?

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Volunteers from the Young Medics of Russia organization make a red ribbon as part of the worldwide campaign against AIDS in Rostov-on-Don.

1,391 words

Many on the Right seem to think that Christian nationalism is the path forward for our movement. They look to Hungary, Poland, and Russia as evidence that putting Christian identity at the forefront of our cause is the best way to attract the masses and restore white civilization to its rightful glory.

Christian nationalists see institutional Christianity as our natural ally and wish for state and church to be joined as one in leading their people to greatness. Russia is held up as an exemplar of this model, as Vladimir Putin’s government works closely with the Orthodox Church and strongly emphasizes the Orthodox character of its nation.

Russia has implemented many socially conservative policies, such as banning gay propaganda directed at children, which Western nationalists admire, and Putin often presents himself as the great defender of traditional values. Putin also frequently condemns the immorality of the West and its abandonment of Christianity, offering Russia as the conservative alternative to secular liberalism. Politico even once declared Russia the “leader of the Global Christian Right [2]” due to Putin’s close relationship with the Orthodox Church and its socially conservative policies.

But the ideal of Russia as the Christian nationalist state par excellence isn’t based in reality. Russian society is hardly full of zealous Orthodox devotees, and the Orthodox Church isn’t the social bulwark Putin’s Right-wing admirers like to imagine it is. The case of Russia is instructive about many of the issues that would be faced in adopting Christian nationalism for the Anglo-American sphere, and why we need to make our own path.

In spite of the Russian Orthodox Church’s strenuous efforts, it cannot get the vast majority of Russians to attend mass. Seventy-one percent of Russians are Orthodox, yet only six percent [3] of the Russian Orthodox attend church regularly, only fifteen percent say religion is important in their lives, eighteen percent pray daily, and just twenty-six percent are very certain God exists. In comparison, forty-seven percent of Christians in godless America [4] attend church weekly, sixty-eight percent say religion is very important in their lives, another twenty-five percent say it is somewhat important in their lives, sixty-eight percent of American Christians pray daily, and eighty percent are absolutely certain God exists. Even though Christian nationalists emphasize that we have to turn to God to save our civilization, America is far more godly than Russia, and yet no one would celebrate our society as a paragon of traditional values.

However, neither is Russia. While the Orthodox Church positions itself as the moral guardian of its country in the way Christian nationalists desire, Russians don’t follow its lead. The Church has urged a ban on abortion to no avail, and in fact the nation has the highest abortion rate in the world, according to the United Nations [5]. The Moscow Times attributes this factor to the Church’s “fleeting influence [6]” in Russia, a fact that cannot be helped even with the full support of the state.

Christian nationalists argue that we need a strong church to combat the social disintegration and anti-social pathologies of our time. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church does not provide this defense. Sexually-transmitted diseases run rampant in the country. Right now, Russia suffers from a horrible HIV epidemic [7] and had the third most new cases in the world in 2015 – behind only South Africa and Nigeria. More than half a million Russians [8] are infected with HIV, and the country accounted for over two-thirds of new cases in Europe in 2015. Russia has the third-highest suicide rate [9] in the world, and is the leader for self-murder among males alone. Among Russian men, the annual suicide rate is 48.3 per hundred thousand people. Most disturbing is the high suicide rate among Russian youths, with the nation having one of the highest rates in Europe [10] for this age demographic. Russia also has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, with eight hundred ninety-five divorces per every thousand marriages registered [11] in 2016. Alcoholism plagues the nation [12] and contributes to the large number of Russian men who never make it to 55: twenty-five percent of Russian men die before their 55th birthday.

The purpose of religion is to give man meaning and moral structure, but it appears the Orthodox Church has failed in this regard. Moreover, the Orthodox Church feels greatly threatened by patriotic Russians turning to Slavic neo-paganism, known as Rodnovery. In fact, the Church views [13] Rodnovery as a bigger threat than atheism. Rodnovery is popular [14] among the military and police, frightening Orthodox leaders who want to keep the nation’s defenders Christian. Even though the Russian Church is far more friendly to nationalism and other Right-wing ideas than are the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestants, it appears to be losing its appeal among many nationalists in the country.

Rodnovery’s prevalence within the very sectors that a muscular, nationalist Christianity should appeal to – such as the military and ethnonationalist activists [15] – reveals that the faith Christian nationalists desire is struggling to retain the very core demographics our movement seeks to win over. The pagan temptation will still remain even when patriotic young men are offered the most Right-wing version of Christianity there is at the present time.

Catholics may respond that Russia’s failures to build the ideal Christian state stem from its own particular faith, and that a muscular, state-backed Catholicism would bring the masses back to the Church. That would be a misguided opinion as well. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán never fails to proclaim his commitment to illiberal Christian democracy and how his country defends its Christian identity. However, the state of religious devotion in Hungary [16] is similar to its condition in Russia. Only twelve percent of Hungarians attend mass regularly, fifteen percent say religion is very important in their lives, and sixteen percent pray daily. Just forty-three percent of Hungarians say being Catholic is important to their national identity. This is actually lower than Russia’s fifty-seven percent, yet it should be noted that this is probably due to Hungary’s sizable Protestant minority. Orbán himself is a Calvinist.

The Polish are more likely to emphasize Catholicism’s importance to their national identity. Additionally, church attendance and the importance ascribed to religion is higher in Poland – but still lower than in “godless” America.

There is another problem that faces Catholic nationalists: the Church’s opposition to immigration restriction. I noted in my last article on this subject [17] how clerical leaders in both Poland and Hungary criticize their nationalist governments for not taking in more migrants. The Orthodox Church has actually expressed support [18] for Putin’s immigration restrictions – an unthinkable position for the vast majority of Catholic bishops.

The point of this article is not to denigrate Christianity or say that we all need to become pagans. Instead, I wish to correct some of the delusions Christian nationalists have. There is no state that empowers its church more than Russia does. There is also no church more amenable to nationalism today than Russian Orthodoxy. Yet it still can’t bring people back to church or eliminate the social ills that plague modern white men. Nor can it convince soldiers, policemen, star athletes, and diehard nationalists to resist paganism or secularism.

Russia’s nationalism also does not come from internal forces, but from the external forces of the state and society. This is a lesson for those Christian nationalists who hope for “based” bishops to arise and raise crusader armies to wage war against liberal modernity. As Greg Johnson has argued many times, the churches will only come to accept our ideas when we ourselves have real power. The Russian Orthodox Church’s stance on immigration is a testament to that argument.

In America, we have no Christian institutions that are open to our ideas. The Catholic Church’s swift condemnation of the Covington Catholic High School boys should dissuade us from any delusions that these institutions will ever be on our side before we come to power. So even though we are a far more Christian country than Russia, we have many social ills and ethnomasochism reigns supreme. A Christian revival will not change this, and there is no indication that Christian institutions will suddenly embrace our cause. Our movement must appeal to Christians – but we must insist that racial and national identity come first.

The Church will not help us in our fight, and it is not the magic elixir to halt social degeneration. Just look at Russia.