Saturday, January 25, 2014

We live in strange times: America's president harasses the Little Sisters of the Poor while Russia's president attends religious services

Vladimir Putin
Bill Keller recently wrote an op-ed essay for the New York Times expressing strong disapproval of the
way President Vladimir Putin is running Russia.  Keller accused Putin of bullying neighboring Ukraine and other illiberal acts. According to Keller, Putin's recent activities "fit into a pattern of behavior that deliberately distances Russia from the socially and culturally liberal West."

Keller gives several examples of supposedly retrograde Russian behavior, including the jailing of two punk rock protesters for profane behavior in a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  (Putin recently announced that the protesters will soon be given amnesty and freed.)

But let me ask you this, Mr. Keller. How would you react if  punk rock protesters disrupted a New York Times editorial board meeting or perhaps the meeting of your favorite charity?  It wouldn't be five seconds before you were on your smart phone dialing 911 to summon the New York City police.

Keller obviously believes that the Western developed nations are a model for a superior way of life--a way of life Russia should emulate. Unfortunately, in Keller's view, Putin seems bent on returning Russia to the Cold War era, "attempting to turn back 25 years of history." Keller cites a Harvard expert who described Putin as "a common European home wrecker."

Keller implies that Russia should jettison its Orthodox Christian heritage--a heritage that survived Stalinism--and join the hip and edgy postmodern culture of the West. But let's take a look at ourselves before we hector other nations to become more like us.

Today almost half of all American babies are born to unwed mothers.  In California, almost one in four pregnancies ends in abortion. We have 47 million people on food stamps, growing inequality between the rich and the poor, and an open disdain for religious values.  If you were President Putin, would you want Russia to become like the United States?

Russia obviously has enormous problems, and almost anyone would rather live in the U.S. than Russia if given a choice. But I suspect Keller's real beef with President Putin is Putin's refusal to embrace American postmodernism's view of sexual morality-- the cheery belief that there should be no standard for sexual behavior whatsoever.  As Keller rightly pointed out, Putin sees "Europe as decadent and alien to the Orthodox Eastern Slav world to which both Russia and the Ukraine belong."

Indeed, the United States and Russia are moving in different directions. America was founded on the idea of religious liberty, and yet we have a president who is anti-religious and who harasses the Little Sisters of the Poor. Russia persecuted Christianity throughout the Communist era, yet President Putin has reopened Russian churches, and he himself attends Orthodox religious services.  America's president urged the Irish to close their religious schools, while Russia's president asks Russians to hold fast to their religious values.

 Time will tell whether Russia will eventually embrace Western social values as Bill Keller believes it should. Personally, I don't think that is going to happen.


Neil Buckley. Putin urges Russians to return to the values of religion., September 19, 2013. Available at:

Bill Keller. Russia v. Europe. New York Times, December 16, 2013, p. A23.

Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. New York: Crossroad Books, 2000.

Kathy Schiffer. Obama calls for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland. June 17, 2013. Patheos,com. [Kathy Schiffer's blog]. Accessible at:

Paul Scicchitano. June 19, 2013. Obama Offends Catholics in UK: Says Religious Schools Divisive.  Accessible at:

Ben Wolfgang. Obama's remarks about Catholic schools sparks new fight with the Church. Washington Times, June 20, 2013. Accessible at:

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