Russian cyber-warfare and its efforts to sway Western opinion with propaganda and false news on the internet need to be met head-on.Amy Knight
It can be hard to remember that there is a Christian faith beyond the so-called religious right. The Christian faith means something; the gospel is most beautiful story ever told. God became a man. That is the central statement of Christianity theology. But it is not the only statement of Christian theology. The Church has a rich, long intellectual tradition. There is an abundance of philosophical literature enabling the learner to meditate on the cross and develop the skills to reflect critically about their faith and the world around them.
Yet the religious right is guided by the news cycles rather than philosophical reflection, virtuous thinking or Christian thought.
This has repeated itself in the last few days as Russia has invaded the Ukraine, firing missiles at civilian populations, seizing its territory in an act of conquest under the guidance of a deranged totalitarian. Yet when this unprovoked act of aggression if characterized by the religious right, it is said that Russia is a noble Christian nation, defending its borders from the trespasses of NATO, the powerful 30-country world alliance. Influential conservative commentators ask viewers to consider why they oppose the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump praised Putin for his strategic acumen. Candace Owens calls her followers to read Putin’s statement. “We did this” she tells us. Only when we read the transcript of Putin’s statement to the Russian nation will we finally understand. Thus Saith Putin.
It Is Easy To Watch the News
Intellectual fortitude should be appraised by one’s ability to think creatively, do research and reflect on that research. There was a time that I would condemn people for finding a theological opinion that sounded good or smart and just regurgitated it. If you’re just repeating a line that you read in a book or heard in video, you’re not doing any real reflection. You are just a parrot. An identical criticism can be levied against those who regurgitate what they hear on the news. This isn’t exclusively a problem with the religious right: everyone does it.
Regurgitating something you hear on the news is not critical thought, even if what you’re regurgitating happens to be a contrarian point of view.
Through the last few days, the contrarian opinion that has been regurgitated by religious right is that Russia is justified in invading the Ukraine because of the reasons that Putin outlined: they are defending themselves from NATO and they do not want NATO on their western flank, which would happen if the Ukraine were to join NATO. Furthermore, they will argue, the Ukraine is run by white supremacists, so toppling their government is justified. This isn’t critical reflection, it’s Russian propaganda. It shows no reflection on the character of Putin, what it means to wage a just war, or what it means to think as a Christian.
Just War Theory
Just War Theory has been proposed by various Christian scholars throughout the centuries, from Saint Augustine to Saint Aquinas. On Just War Theory, an act of war is justified if and only if it meets specific conditions. The commonly held criteria for a just war include:
- Being a measure of the last resort
- Being declared by the proper authority
- Possessing the right intention
- Having a reasonable chance of success
- The end justifying the means
Some of these criteria are left open to interpretation (I can imagine the social media opinion factory chiming in). But according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (linked above), “Most theorists hold that initiating acts of aggression is unjust and gives a group a just cause to defend itself.” Russia initiated the aggression after saying for weeks that they were not going to attack. It was pre-emptive strike; that is not a just war.
Even if we grant that NATO is to blame for Russia’a aggression, it does not follow that the attack is justified.
Who Is This Putin?
Among Putin scholars, there are a few different perspectives. Some admire him as a strong leader [Wilson, K. (2021). Is vladimir putin a strong leader? Post-Soviet Affairs, 37(1), 80-97] (an image he has worked to craft over the years) who is willing to hold on to an uneasy peace with the west. Others believe he is an unhinged madman who is opportunely waiting to strike against the west.
A few important issues have emerged in the last few days. It has been confirmed by various outlets that thousands of protesters across Russia have been arrested for speaking against he invasion of Ukraine. This continues Putin’s trend of choking free expression while attempting to uphold a pretense of a democracy. Critics have been poisoned, with Putin laughing when he heard the news.
To expand this point, in her book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murders, the Putin scholar Amy Knight mounts the argument that Putin has ordered assassinations throughout his political career against critics, journalists and political rivals. She writes:
Western governments are facing in Russia a truly criminal regime. Acknowledging this publicly and insisting the Kremlin must stop its use of covert violence should form the basis of all interactions that the US and the west have with Russia.”Amy Knight
Based on these facts and other reports, Politico concludes, “The record speaks for itself: Putin is a killer and war criminal — no different in the breadth and depth of his criminality than the Serbian war criminal, Slobodan Milošević. He must be treated as such by world leaders with even a minimal commitment to human rights and basic decency.”
Thinking Like a Christian
Being a Christian means that the gospel is not just part of your life: it forms your identity and determines your every action. As Proverbs 16:9 reads, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Yet here is a tough question: How do I measure an extra-biblical belief by the biblical standard? Well, ask yourself this:
Does my belief align with biblical values?
Let’s consider three biblical values: human life, peace, and contentment.
- Human life. There is a concept introduced in the book of Genesis known as the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This doctrine means that human beings are God’s representation here on earth. This is perhaps illuminated further after the incarnation, as the apostle Paul writes that believers are being “conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29). Human beings are valuable because God gives them value. That’s not to say that there is no just war. But an armed force that fires missiles at civilian populations, blowing up residential housing structures, forcing people from their homes and not allowing them to leave is not one that respects human life.
- Peace. In Isaiah 6:9, Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace. When Saint Peter was ready to die for his Messiah, he believed he was ready to die for a Warrior-Messiah who would overthrow the Romans until Jesus told him that he who lives by the sword dies in the same way (Matthew 26:52). Paul wrote, “As far as it is up to you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18). Remember that we are talking about an unprovoked conflict that Russia lied about for weeks.
- Contentment. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:10 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Similarly, the Tenth Commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…” This war is about naked aggression: coveting my neighbors borders.
Christianity in Society
There is a field of theology known as Public Theology. Public Theology is the social application of Christianity. It has been expressed in several different ways. Gustavo Gutierrez, founder of liberation theology, Catholic theologian and Peruvian philosopher, believed that Christians had a duty to free those who were oppressed by tyrannical governments. This wasn’t a theoretical opinion that he would just write about. His views were based on his life and experiences in Latin America. Yet the solution that he offered was essentially socialism.
Yet this Peruvian socialist was more philosophically and theologically literate than the religious right who learn some one-liners to regurgitate from Candace Owen. Reflect on what a Just War is, who you are as a Christian and what Putin’s history implies about what he is doing today.