Saturday, October 7, 2017

Puerto Rico - A Humanitarian Disaster

The Federal response to the hurricane which recently devastated Puerto Rico is not unexpected.  Indeed, it is symptomatic of the disease of a large swath of American society - a swath who are full of empathy toward those victims of Hurricane Harvey who happened to be wealthy and white - yet full of sleepy neglect or overt hostility toward everyone else.  Now that sleepy neglect has hypnotized many Americans (but not a majority, thank God!), lost as they are in their individualism and addicted to their consumerism, while the overt hostility issues forth sporadically from the current President like projectile emesis from an infant who has been burped too vigorously.  Note, though, that the hostility is provoked only when someone manages to break through the President's own sleepy indifference and his perverted preoccupation with himself.  Then, if you are that someone, watch yourself, lest you get yourself spewed on.

Meanwhile, a lot of people in Puerto Rico are about to die.  This is not because there are no Federal resources available to help them, but because the Federal government is now run by a bunch of rich and incompetent pigs.  Decent people who have the means to find out the actual situation on the island (and not the sanitized FEMA version) should be appalled.  Those evangelicals who supported (and continue to support) the President should take a look at the last half of Luke 16 before they go to bed tonight.

But let's not stop with just being appalled.  Let us do what we can ourselves to contribute to disaster relief in Puerto Rico.   The President, like an alcoholic absentee father, has made himself unavailable to provide for the common good.  Here is a link to a page listing organizations to which you can make a donation for the relief of the suffering of the people of Puerto Rico.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Catch-Up - September 2017

Here's a quick update on things.  I still have a few posts I need to write to finish my series on "The Revanchism of the Third Rome," but other things have lately been keeping me too busy to write.  Here's what is occupying my time:
  • Tutoring and teaching math and language arts to families from marginalized populations.  Our group of tutors has expanded greatly within the last two months, and we are planning to go to at least two, and possibly three apartment complexes this fall.  We may even get to teach in people's homes, which would give a nice retro, counter-cultural feel to what we are doing - rather like this.
  • Nonviolent resistance.  There are now well over fifty people with whom I have been in frequent contact over the last two or three weeks, and we are discussing the start of a boycott of holiday shopping (both for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever else), along with a general push for frugality among those now targeted by the current regime.  We want to serve up a steaming, heaping helping of economic non-cooperation this holiday season.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Home Repairs, Part 2

This week, I must again bow out of writing a long post.  Yesterday I hauled several hundred pounds of scrap wood out of my backyard, and today I have a huge list of projects to finish (aside from going to church, where I will be in a couple of hours).  If idleness is the devil's workshop, then I won't have to worry about being in trouble for a very long time.

I should be able to continue my series on the revanchism of the Third Rome next weekend. I will also hopefully begin to show the role played by Russia in the rise of the global fascist far right.  (Although, if anyone wants to do his or her own research, there are plenty of smoking guns lying around where one could start.)  Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Home Repairs - August 2017

I have spent the last week fixing things in my house that badly needed fixing, as they were falling apart.  My backyard now contains a big pile of used lumber that I will be hauling to the dump sometime soon.  I'm afraid I'll have to wait until next weekend to have a post on my continuing series.  Until then, my prayer is that God's mercy and justice would shine on you all - especially on those who are among the oppressed.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Revanchism Of The Third Rome, Part 4: Caesar's 21st Century

At the end of my last post, I promised to discuss how the concept of the Third Rome and Russian Orthodoxy have influenced and guided Russian policy since the fall of the Soviet Union.  I also promised to discuss the bearing these concepts have had on the presidency of Vladimir Putin.  In my discussion, I will be relying heavily on "Russia's 'Special Path' In the Relation Between State and Nation" (Geir Flikke, Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion and Society, Fondet for Dansk-Norsk Samarbeid, 2016) as well as other sources.

At the outset, let me say that the essay by Flikke makes a distinction between the concept of a state and that of a nation, with the state being the creation of the power-holders at the pinnacle of a society, and the nation (polity - as in a people united by collective identity, or народ) being a grassroots creation by a people from the bottom up.  Accordingly, the French concept of a nation is "the political authority emanating from the people..."  In this conception of nationhood, the people of the nation have a major say in how they want their national identity to be defined.  The state as an expression of the government of that nation depends for its legitimacy on the political authority emanating from the people.

The Russian experience has, historically been diametrically opposite to this process.  Starting from the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian state has been an entity imposed by the most powerful on those without power.  "As Vera Tolz stated...'Russia became an Empire before ever contemplating becoming a nation'" (Flikke, ibid.)  The characteristic of such a state is that it is usually an autocracy and not a democracy.  This is to be expected, given the way that Ivan the Terrible achieved victory over his military rivals - namely by being more expert at the use of violence than his rivals - and given the way that the successful use of violence concentrates power in the hands of the wielder of successful violence.  The result in the Russian case was the creation of an extremely long-lasting system of despotism.  The majority of people who made the transition from non-Russian to Russian status over the last five or so centuries did not therefore do so willingly, but under compulsion, as newly-incorporated subjects of an empire.  (Chenoweth and Stephan would not characterize this as a "democratic transition"!)

Fast forward to the 1990's and the time of great difficulty for Russia as it struggled under societal disarray and widespread corruption under Yeltsin.  One of the analysts of that time, a man named Yegor Gaydar (Егор Гайдар), wrote a pamphlet titled, "State and Evolution" ("Государство И Эволюция"), in which he made some very interesting points, as noted by Fikke:
"...Gaydar...saw the greed of nomenklatura capitalism in his own country as inevitably linked to a specific “Russian” entity and cultural context – that of the state. If state and property have never been divided, historically, and in present times, Gaydar held, '(...) even the most powerful state would, in reality, be weak and degenerate (trukhlyavy). The state servicemen, the bureaucracy (chinovniki) will eat the state completely, and they will not halt the hunt for property. Everyday corruption will soon become the real state of affairs. The servicemen will intuitively try to stabilize the situation, by converting power into property.' (Gaydar, 1994)."
And this also:
“Gaydar clearly linked this to the paradox of the liberation from the Tatar Yoke, asserting that the dissolution of the Horde put Russia on a firm path towards despotic Asian rule, firmly expressed by Ivan Grozny. [This], he suggested started the thriving expansion of Russia, ending only in 1945. And, this is important, the steady expansion left Russia void of important processes of nation-building and it also tapped state resources; Russia became a '.... Civilization' (dogonyayushchaya tsivilizatsiya), dedicating most of its resources to “catch up” with its constituent other --- the West: 'Russia was captured, colonized by itself, ending up as a hostage of the militaristic-imperial system, which profiled itself in front of the kneeling people as its eternal benefactor and savior from external threats, as the guarantor of the existence of the nation.' (Gaydar, 1994, p. 46).”
Gaydar's thoughts here can best be summarized by saying that the historical despotism of the Russian state never allowed the Russian people to build the local and regional independent institutions that constitute a healthy nation.  This is why the 1990's (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) were such a time of government corruption and social instability.  The Russian national response to this time was not to look inward to become the sort of people who could manage themselves on local and regional levels, not to begin to develop the capacity for what Mohandas Gandhi called swaraj, but rather to look for another strongman.  In Vladimir Putin they found him.  (But when one strongman "rescues" a nation from being eaten by other strongmen, what guarantee is there that the rescuing strongman won't also be a cannibal?)

Now, what is needed to sell the idea of a strongman and his imposition of a strong unitary state on an unresisting people?  The political and cultural leadership have answered that question in a number of ways.  But one of the ways has been the transformation of the Russian Orthodox Church into a blatantly political instrument to support the regime of Vladimir Putin (Per-Arne Bodin, "The 'Symphony' in Contemporary Russia"; Kristian Gerner, "Clericalization, Militarization and Acquiescence," Russia and the Nordic Countries, 2016)  There is indeed an organic link between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian military: "...a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church took part in the meeting of the Marshal Staff of the armed forces," (Gerner); "...Russian fighter planes were consecrated and sprinkled with holy water by an Orthodox priest..." (Gerner); the State and the Church collaborate openly in the strengthening of a "civil religion" which is primarily cultural in nature, although its symbols are religious (Kahla, "Third Rome Today or State Church Collaboration in Contemporary Russia", 2016); and the Russian Orthodox Church has been involved over the last several years in a massive project of canonizing many military heroes as saints (Kahla, ibid.)

And as for the concept of Russia as the Third Rome, this idea has been elevated even further.  Russian propagandists now refer to Russia as the "Katechon," a concept arrogated by Russia from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians from the New Testament.  The Katechon is defined as that restraining force or agent which keeps the Antichrist at bay and preserves the world order against lawless chaos.  (Now, to me, that's funny!  Have you seen some of the numerous YouTube videos of Russian road rage incidents?  And these propagandists claim that Russia stands alone to defend the world from lawlessness!  Must...stop...giggling...)

To shoulder such a burden for the preservation of the world most "obviously" requires a strongman.  And of the activities of this "strongman" and his minions I have much more to say - especially as they apply to those of us who are not Russian.  But tonight I am out of time.  To be continued...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Revanchism of the Third Rome: Symphony's Chords

(Some readers may be wondering why my last two posts (as well as the next two or three) are taking a trip down the path of Russian and Byzantine history, especially the history of the Byzantine (Orthodox) church.  You may be asking, "What does that have to do with things happening in the world today?"  Hang in there; I'll try to have a satisfying answer for you at the end.)

Last week's post sketched out the role of the Russian Orthodox church in promoting the myth of Russia as the "Third Rome," the heir to the spiritual and political mantle of the Byzantine Empire.  To see the deeper significance of the "Rome" in the Byzantine empire, it is helpful to see how Church and State were related to each other in Byzantium, and how State and Church rang some changes in that relationship in Russia after the fall of Byzantium.  Let's begin by defining the word "symphony."  And here I will rely not only on Wikipedia definitions, but I will be drawing extensively on Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion, and Society, published by Fondet for Dansk-Norsk Samarbeid in 2016.

In the Byzantine empire, symphony referred to the formal arrangement between Church and State, which was explicitly stated by the emperor Justinian in 535 A.D.  In this symphony, both Church and State were to be collaborators in the project of the "protection and spread of the Christian Church..."  This concept was refined by patriarch (supreme bishop) Photius in the ninth century A.D.  He explicitly stated that emperor and Church patriarch were not merely collaborators, but equal partners in a project which was fundamentally religious in nature.  Therefore, the State was not supposed to dominate the Church, nor vice versa - in other words, the patriarch was not to be head of state, nor the emperor head of the Church.  There is a further significance to the concept of symphony, namely, that under this arrangement, it was not possible "...that the emperor might profess any other religion than Orthodox Christianity...The idea expressed already by Christ Himself that there should be a distinction between what belongs to the emperor and what  belongs to God...seems quite difficult to realize in a construction like the Byzantine theocracy."  In other words, secularization was utterly incompatible with Byzantine symphony.  (Quotes taken from "The History and Theology of Russian Orthodoxy," Gottlieb, Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion, and Society, 2016.)

It is important to note that the establishment of a State church in the original Roman empire did not follow the principle of symphony. According to some sources, when the first State church emerged under the emperor Constantine, he established himself as "Head of the Church," thus establishing himself as a caesaropapist. (Now there's a new word for ya!) It is also important to note that not all Byzantine emperors submitted to the doctrine of symphony; therefore, there were not a few caesaropapists in their number as well. The practice of caesaropapism was a convenient way for a Roman or Byzantine emperor to consolidate and amplify his power, especially when seeking to expand his territory through imperial conquest or to eliminate internal threats to his power.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Russia (especially Muscovy Russia) sought to lay claim on the title of "Third Rome" in two ways.  First, the Russian clergy established the Russian Orthodox church as autocephalous.  In other words, a Russian cleric became the head (the patriarch) of the Russian Church, independent from Orthodox patriarchs in Constantinople or Greece. This project began in 1448 according to Gottlieb, took over a century to complete, and wasn't formally fulfilled until 1589, according to Laats. (Laats, "The Concept of the Third Rome and Its Political Implications," retrieved on 30 July 2017.) And the Russian rulers first adopted the title of "Tsar" (Царь, literally, "Caesar,") in 1547 with the coronation of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), thus establishing a Russian head of state as a continuation of the line of the Caesars of the first and second Rome.

How did symphony play out in Russia after 1453?  Well, first of all, we must note that it didn't always play out.  According to Laats, Tsar Ivan IV used the concept of theocracy to promote himself as defender of the Orthodox faith.  "His wars were against 'Muslim unbelievers' and 'the Catholic enemy of Christianity'.  The mission of the Russian church was directly grounded in [Ivan's] military victories...The state or the monarch was the real head of the church.  Ivan the Terrible 'sees the tsardom as a divine commission and himself as head of the church and representative of God on earth...'"

To be sure, the Russian Orthodox Church pushed back against the power of the tsars, with the Patriarch Nikon seeking in 1652 to establish the "preeminence of the patriarch over the tsar..." (Gottlieb).  However, Nikon lost that particular battle, and the attempts by the Russian Orthodox Church to continue the fight resulted in the breaking of Church power by Tsar Peter the Great in the 18th century.  Peter made the Church definitely subservient to the State and made it the "official state church of the Russian Empire."  This arrangement continued under Catherine the Great, and lasted, with some variations to this form, until the revolutions of 1917.

And as for the role of the concept of the Third Rome in Russian internal and foreign policy, Laats says that "The universality of Rome was connected to pax romana.  The goal of Rome was to establish a universal empire, which would supersede the disorderly competition between nations and establish world peace.  The monk Filofei, one of the masterminds of the doctrine of the Third Rome wrote that 'all Christian realms will comne to an end and will unite into the one single realm of our sovereign.'"  Moscow came also to possess an eschatological cultural dimension - not only as special and closer to God than any other city, but as the center of the last Rome, the fulfillment of all history.  The tsar therefore becomes an eschatological ruler, head of both Church and State.  And Russia itself became "holy", "elected by God and having a special task in the divine story within the world."  This is why the ability of the Russian tsardom to use Russian Orthodoxy as a tool for expansion of secular power is so significant.

According to Laats, this concept of Russia as the Third Rome was officially renounced by the Russian Church in 1667, and has not been explicitly stated by Church or State since then.  Yet it has remained the undercurrent and foundation of Russian state policy and identity from that time onward, under Tsar Nicholas I and Tsar Alexander III (and, as some would argue, under Russian communism).

How have Russian Orthodoxy and the concept of  the Third Rome influenced Russian leadership and policy since the fall of Soviet communism?  What bearing do these have on the regime of Vladimir Putin?  I hope to start answering those questions in my next post.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Revanchism of the Third Rome (Part 2): The Role of Russian Orthodoxy

As noted in my last post, blogger Olga Doroshenko very nicely sketched out a description of national narcissism as applied to Russia.  She did an excellent job outlining the grandiose self created by the masters of Russian culture - namely, the tsar, the nobility, and the intellectuals - over the last several centuries.  A key pillar of that grandiose self is its assertion that it has a special, Messianic mission to the world, a mission that must be carried out by imperial conquest. Now, to claim that one has a special, Messianic mission, one requires some rather extraordinary proof.  What better proof than that the bearer of this mission should have received this mission from people who claim to speak on behalf of God?

So my attention was arrested by Olga's mention of Russian claims to be "the Third Rome" - a term which I had never heard of before.  As she says,
"There is an opinion that the Russians were spoilt and degraded by the Bolsheviks. Wrong. They were like that long before Lenin. Long before Peter the Great (who was a flamboyant narcissist himself). They adopted the myth of “the Third Rome” ("Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!") in the early 16th century, but they believed themselves to be the only “true Christian” nation long before that. This narcissistic claim has its roots deep in the times of the Tartar invasion, and I will not trace them. Let’s concentrate not on the reasons, but on the consequences."
As I say, my attention was arrested by this phrase, "the Third Rome," so I did a little bit of Googling, and discovered that " the first half of the sixteenth century, an obscure Russian monk from Pskov wrote a number of letters in which he spoke about Moscow as the Third Rome.  The name of the monk was Filofei...and his letters were sent to...Moscow grand prince Vassiliij III...and to Ivan IV the Terrible..." ("The Concept of the Third Rome and Its Political Implications", Alar Laats, 2015).  To understand how the concept of the Third Rome contributed both to the Russian grandiose self and to Russian imperialism, it is necessary to see how Church and State evolved in the West from the "conversion" of the emperor Constantine to the present.  And to see this evolution, we must begin with the birth and evolution of Rome as a historical fact and metaphysical reality.

For Rome managed to establish itself as both the center of an empire and as a paragon of "civilization" - indeed, as the center of the "civilized" world.  Therefore, Rome laid claim to universality - to the notion that Rome alone was the bearer of civilization, and that this legitimized Roman conquests and violent imperial expansion.  Those people who lived outside the orbit and influence of Rome were characterized as "barbarians" - as uncivilized savages living in chaos.  With the "conversion" of Constantine to Christianity, Rome added a new claim to its existing claims of imperial legitimacy: namely, that Rome was now the defender of the one true faith, and thus even more legitimized in its use of imperial violence to defend and expand its territories.  This claim was an integral part of the political and religious strategy and philosophy of state and ecclesiastical power called Constantinianism, which granted powers of state enforcement to those members of the Church who were recognized by the Emperor as the "official" spokesmen of Christianity, and which gave these spokesmen the ability to use violent state power to persecute those people who claimed to be Christian while disagreeing with these official spokesmen.

One of the things that Constantine did was to establish a second imperial capital, named, of course, after himself: the city of Constantinople (formerly known as Byzantium) in the eastern half of the Roman empire, as part of a scheme to facilitate administration of an empire which had grown too large to be effectively managed from one city.  However, the leaders of the Roman church sought to concentrate religious (ecclesiastical) power in the city of Rome, and this caused a fracture in the "official" State church which paralleled the fracture of the Roman empire into two parts, one ruled by Rome, and the other ruled by Constantinople.  After the fall of the western Roman empire, the eastern, Byzantine empire declared itself to be the only true, legitimate seat of civilization, the one true heir to the titles originally claimed by the united Roman empire and the only true bearer of the Christian faith.  According to Laats, this made the Byzantine empire also universalist in its claims and outlook, as stated below:
"Thus the eastern Roman Empire, known also as Byzantium considered itself to be an empire and as the only legitimate heir of its history and tradition. The theologians of Byzantium understood their history as the continuation of the history of the ancient Roman Empire. Indeed, they pretended to even more – the empire existed according to the plan of God. The aim of the Roman, respective Byzantine Empire was to grasp the whole world for the proclamation of Christ. But together with this the aim was to spread the [Byzantine] peace and culture. Thus their intentions were also universalist. The people of Byzantium tried to be in every respect like the Romans. Even the name they used in Greek for themselves was Rhomaioi – the Romans.

"One important factor that influenced the development of their consciousness as Romans was their opposition to the West. This opposition was both political and ecclesial. The rulers of the Western Europe and of the Byzantine Empire pretended to be the Roman emperors. And both churches pretended to be the leaders of the universal church."
The Byzantine empire laid claim to the title of a "second Rome," a claim which originated from Constantine himself.  Due to a number of factors (including foresight and political and administrative shrewdness on the part of its rulers), the Byzantine empire lasted a very long time, and the Byzantine church brought many Eastern peoples and nations under its influence, from Greece through North Africa to Central Europe - and Russia.  The Byzantine empire viewed itself as a utopia, a visible, earthly expression of the invisible Kingdom of God.  However, the Byzantine empire also fell, and Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman empire in 1453, and the only part of the Byzantine church (also known as "Orthodox") which was not under Ottoman control was the Russian orthodox communion.

Now what is essential to note is that from the 12th century to the late 15th century, there were several political power centers in Russia, and Moscow's pre-eminence as the chief power center was by no means assured.  (Indeed, even later in Russian history, the center of political power was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and was not moved back permanently until 1917.)  Thus it was that after the fall of Constantinople, there were a number of Russian power centers (such as Tver and Novgorod) vying for the mantle of "the third Rome" to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the second Rome.  The ecclesiastical supporters of each of these power centers sought to bolster these claims by lending the weight of the support of the Russian Orthodox church to each power center's claim.

The victory of Ivan the Terrible over all other rivals (and over Tatar invaders) cemented Moscow's place as the center of an empire, and in the eyes of many Russian orthodox clerics, this cemented the place of Moscow (and eventually of Russia) as the heir to the mantle of the Third Rome.  However, to see how this conception of Russian identity influenced and guided Russian domestic and foreign policy from Ivan onward, you'll have to wait until next week (unless you want to do some research yourself).  Unfortunately, I am out of time today.