A storm of contempt and criticism blew over conservative firebrand Candace Owens recently when she criticised Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy – globally hailed as another Winston Churchill — as a “bad character”.
But Owens has doubled down. She consistently argues that Russia has some legitimate grievances, even if the invasion is disproportionate, and that sordid Western greed and power-grabs are being erased from the media picture. “I believe our government [in the US] is interested in liberating Ukrainians like I believe the Black Lives Matter riots were about liberating black Americans,” she said on her show on The Daily Wire. “This war is about the same thing that every war is about—money, corporate greed masquerading as some other noble cause.
From Australia, distant from both Ukraine and the United States, this puzzles me. How can anyone excuse Putin’s “special operation”, in which thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have already died and entire cities laid waste?
You may have a legitimate gripe against your neighbour. Perhaps his teenage son graffitied your fence. Can that possibly justify bulldozing his house and shooting his wife, his kids and his dog?
Owens, however, has company. Tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithPutin come from all over the world, even the United States. Some point out the injustice of previous American interventions in Vietnam, Serbia, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan in which hundreds of thousands died. Some are sceptical of the establishment. Why should we trust a government which lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Why should we trust a media which lied about Donald Trump?
But the most puzzling Putin supporters are those who believe Russia is more authentically Christian than Zelenskyy’s Ukraine or the morally corrupt West.
Speaking just after the invasion, elderly televangelist Pat Robertson said that Putin is “being compelled by God”. And a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Lauren Witzke, declared that she supported Putin’s right to protect Russia’s “Christian values,” claiming that “Russia is a Christian nation.” She added, “I identify more with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”
At the moment, with bombs raining down on Mariupol, the phrase “Putin’s Christian values” does not appear to make much sense.
However, to give him his due, Putin does appear to believe that Russia has a deep spiritual mission to rescue humanity. In an interesting speech that he made last year to “young cultural professionals” he insisted that man is a transcendent being:
“Russian culture is human-centric. The best classical works are focused on the inner life, personal quests and emotional experiences of human beings. They ask relevant questions, help people to think, understand and draw conclusions.… While readily taking in all the best and constructive, [Russian culture] patently rejected anything false or momentary, anything that would disrupt the continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles, and historical memory.
“This unique quality reliably protects the Russian people even today, when seemingly eternal concepts and norms are being eroded and undermined in different countries, history is being distorted, and the laws of nature itself are being violated.”
Words like these are not part of the Walt Disney Company’s mission statement.
And unlike Western politicians who promote corrupt sexual lifestyles, he has often praised traditional Christian moral values, especially big, strong families. In his annual year-end press conference last year he said:
“… we need to drive home the message that the happiness and the joy of fatherhood and motherhood are more important than the financial wellbeing you may enjoy today … Let me reiterate that we must refrain from imposing anything on anyone, but we still need to give positive publicity to the idea of a large, friendly, good-spirited, and beautiful family, and show that happiness is about having children, in order to convince people that there is nothing in the world or in life that can bring more happiness.”
And of course, Putin has no time at all for the West’s cause célèbre, transgender ideology. In his Valdai speech he criticised this as “monstrous”:
“People who dare to say that men and women still exist as a biological fact are almost ostracized… Not to mention the simply monstrous fact that children today are taught from a young age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa … Let’s call a spade a spade: This simply verges on crimes against humanity under the banner of progress.”
Have we heard words like these from Joe Biden lately? On the contrary, he has given the transgender movement every encouragement. It’s no surprise that Putin’s Christian fans in the West resonate with this lofty rhetoric when they hear so little of it at home.
But how can we explain the horror of this invasion? Is that the act of a Christian statesman?
One theory is that Putin is a KGB man through and through. He will say anything to seize and retain power. This is what Borys Gudziak, archbishop-metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic archeparchy of Philadelphia, believes. In a blistering criticism of the Russian President, he has declared that Putin long ago made a deal with the Devil:
“Bush looked into the soul, as he said, of Vladimir Putin in 2000 and saw a straightforward and trustworthy man. He had no idea what it means to be a KGB agent, what kind of moral move was made by Putin as young man. And how, for now half a century, he’s been reinforcing that fundamental moral option that he made for evil, for repression, for a cynical system.”
Another theory is that Putin’s moral schizophrenia stems from a flaw in Russian Orthodoxy, which has taught him all he knows about Christianity. This is Caesaropapism, the confusion of church and state. In the days of the Russian Empire, the Czar was the real, if not titular, head of the church. Nowadays a strongman at the helm of the Russian nation plays much the same role.
One of the greatest modern Russian Orthodox thinkers, the 19th century philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, believed that this “nationalism” was destructive of true Christian ideals. He criticised “the transformation of the lofty and all-embracing Christian ideals into the coarse and limited idols of our modern paganism…”
And this may be what makes war and peace, aggressive Russian patriotism and Christian non-violence compatible in the mind of the former KGB agent. To save the Russian motherland his Christian duty is not to shrink from violence.
This is not to say that Western Christianity does not have flaws of its own, disastrous ones. It values transcendent personal dignity, but a secularised society transmogrifies this into expressive individualism. After the Enlightenment and the erosion of God from the civic life, “the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. It needs redemption more than Russia.
But whatever Putin may say, the country he leads has little to teach the godless, materialistic, consumerist West about how to forge a Christian society in the 21st century. As Archbishop Gudziak observes: “Conservative Christians and others should be disabused of the illusion that Putin defends traditional values. Russia has the highest abortion rate in the world, astronomic alcoholism, suicide, and divorce rates. The system is thoroughly corrupt.”
Candace Owens and Lauren Witzke should look elsewhere for salvation.