Orthodox Eschatology and the Problem of Putin

In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.

I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.

Who is Dugin?

Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off.  Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party.  Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there.  My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print.  I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.

Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.”  Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs.  The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).

Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire.  I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war.  It is not accidental.

Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite.  The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist.  This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).

Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era.  He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise.  He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).

Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem.  Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church.  This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii).

Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America.  There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.

Orthodoxy Today

So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis?  Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected.  However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad.  Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.

I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin).  They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order.  The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing.  Yet he can’t simply be dismissed:  if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.

Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?

I used to think he was.  I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist.  Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast.  Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain.  The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal.  Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela.  Maybe South Africa did sin.  She was formally covenanted to God).

I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone.  I will give a snapshot analysis:

  • While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
  • Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
  • Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive.  Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out.  Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands?  It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
  • Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images.  Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.

A Contrast

Even the best of civilizations fall.  If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last.  However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.

Covenanteroes

While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World.  Jock Purves writes,

The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High.  It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land.  This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).

Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe?  Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.

I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.

Only religion can bring life to a land.  I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies.  But it will take more than 10% of the population.

 

A Convertskii Reading List for Those Leaving

I routinely accuse convertskii of not understanding Reformed theology before they get enamored with high church claims. It is only fair that I offer a survey of texts that one should know before declaring the Reformed faith wrong.  People will say, “But that’s too intellectual.  Christianity is a life.”  Perhaps, but people will always default back to logical decisions, sneers at “Westernism” notwithstanding.  And I have read most of your top guys, so it’s only fair.  And Bradley Nassif agrees with me, so there.

I am not saying you have to read all of these before you go to a different tradition.  What I am saying is if you publicly assert that Protestantism is wrong because of ____________, and the following men have addressed your arguments, and you do not engage their arguments, then you do not have good warrant.

Muller, Richard.  Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.  The high-point of Calvin studies by the world’s leading Reformation scholar.  It will teach readers to stop saying silly things like “Calvinism” or “TULIP is Reformed theology.”

Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology volume 3.  If you can give competent responses to Hodge’s defense of justification by free grace, then you know Reformed theology.

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology volume 2.   Best defense of Reformed anthropology and Christ’s priestly intercession.  If you still believe in talking to dead people after Turretin, then I tip my hat to you.

Horton, Michael.  Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  If you still hold to a pure Christus Victor atonement theory, or you still hold to estrangement ontology, then you’ve earned your keep.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology volume 1.  If you believe that the Essence/Energies is logically, biblically, and theologically tenable, you must address Jenson’s critique of it.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.  You don’t have to read the whole book–just pages 205, 218-222.  If you can answer McCormack, then you are warranted in believing in a God behind the Persons who are behind the Energies.

Feurbach and Church-Hopping

Feurbarch was one of the few atheists who actually offered a penetrating and insightful critique of Christianity.   He said the Christian faith is merely one’s psychological projections onto an external reality.   Let that sink in.   Unless you presuppose some form of extra-nos kingdom announcement view of the gospel, it’s really hard to say he is wrong.   But let’s say he is.  Moving on.  This is actually the same critique I offered of modern day neo-Paganism.   The average neo-Pagan is projecting onto Old Norse a religion that has been tamed by Christianity.   You are not getting clean Swedish models and noble axe-wielding men fighting off Muslim hordes.  Odin was a sex-depraved fiend.

But back to church hopping.   Let all convertskii realize this: when you go to a Novus Ordo Mass, are you seeing Charlemagnes in the pews or some gay Jesuit priest?   When you go to a GOARCH or OCA church, are you seeing St Alexander Nevsky who massacred the Teutonic knights on “The Battle on the Ice,” or people going through the motions?  When you to, dare I say, a Reformed church, are you seeing John Knox with a sword in his hand, or Covenanters armed to the teeth ready to kill English dragoons, or do you see….well, you get the idea.

Look before you leap.

Of the (Amero)Russians, I was foremost

I get told that I know little of Orthodoxy.  It’s hard to know what to make of that claim.   Certainly with regard to Triadology, the Fathers, and Christology I know as much as the next EO apologist.  I certainly know more than the average Babushka.  Presumably, that’s not what they have in mind.   Usually it is with regard to criticisms I make of EO on tradition and praxis.

What is interesting is that from 2010-2013, both when I was pursuing Orthodoxy and later critiquing it, Orthodox converts and apologists were emailing me and asking for my articles on Trinitarianism, Scripture, Vladimir Putin, Slavic Monarchy, and Holy Russia (unless you can find those on archive.org, I have no idea how to access them).  But now that I disagree with EO conclusions, I suddenly “don’t know anything.” Wisdom is justified by her children!  It’s kind of funny, actually.

I taught myself the basics of Russian.  I can still read the alphabet and basic news headlines.   My vocab is rusty, but that’s because I decided to focus on Hebrew instead, seeing it would pay more dividends.  I then read all the Russian masters–not just the theological ones, but Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Gogol.   In fact, I even look like Pavel Tsatsouline!   We have the same receding hairline and facial structures.  Which of the convertskii can say that?

pavel

Prophecy and Sanctity

I think we should all agree, that whatever conclusions one draws about the continuation of prophecy (or other gifts) today, whether in Old Testament or New, there was not necessarily a correlate between personal holiness and the ability to prophecy.   I even think cessationists can use this argument against Roman Catholics.

In the Old Testament and in today’s history we see a number of people who were either temporarily immoral or reprobate accurately prophesying.  I have in mind Balaam, Saul and others.   Some were even good men who prophecied correctly but disobeyed God later and paid for it (the prophet who was killed by the lion; and even more troubling, the prophet who lied to him!).

I am currently reading Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God.  Much of it is silly and dated, though there are a few important chapters.   One troubling chapter is on Paul Cain.  Cain, to whom I will not link, accurately prophecied numerous times beyond dispute (which forever buries the hard Princetonian case).  As many know, Cain later fell into the most wicked of sins.   Does that negate his previous accurate prophecies?  I can’t imagine why, especially if we consider how many OT prophets either disobeyed God, were reprobate, or something like that–yet despite that they accurately prophecied.

This distinction can help cessationists because many will be confronted with miraculous claims by Orthodox and Romanist apologists.  The older response was that these claims were simply fraudulent or demonic.  While many in fact are, after a while such a denial begins to produce cognitive dissonance, which can be dangerous for some (and is one of the reasons that leads to the Convertskii).

Responding to Peter Leithart’s Tragedy Post on Conversions

Given that I’ve been so critical of Orthodoxy and that the Orthodox are taking Leithart to task, one would expect me to defend him.  I will do no such thing.  While he makes some good points, he largely brings this on himself.  Fortunately, the article isn’t that long so I will respond point-by-point.

He writes,

What I have in mind is the logic behind some conversions, namely, the quest of the true church. Protestants who get some taste for catholicity and unity, who begin actually to believe the Nicene Creed, naturally find the contemporary state of Protestantism agonizing (as I do). They begin looking for a church that has preserved its unity, that has preserved the original form of church, and they often arrive at Catholicism or Orthodoxy. – See more at:
That’s probably a fair sociological assessment of the situation.
Apart from all the detailed historical arguments, this quest makes an assumption about the nature of time, an assumption that I have labeled “tragic.” It’s the assumption that the old is always purer and better, and that if we want to regain life and health we need to go back to the beginning.
A lot of Orthodox got irked at that statement, but do they not consider themselves older and purer?  It’s a fairly straight-forward observation.  I think most people missed his “tragic” reference.  He wasn’t saying, “Aww, how sad.” He was drawing upon a certain line of thought in the interpretation of Greek drama (e.g., always going back to the golden age with the correlating inference that the future can never get better.  This effectively guts eschatology).  It’s a fairly genius point, but since no one in the world studies Greek drama, who cares?
That, I think, is a thoroughly un-Christian assumption. Truth is not just the Father; the Son – the supplement, the second, the one begotten – identifies Himself as Truth, and then comes a third, the Spirit, also Truth, the Spirit of Truth. Truth is not just in the Father; the fullness of Truth is not at the origin, but in the fullness of the divine life, which includes a double supplement to the origin.
Technically, I agree with what he just said, but few people really understood it.  If by it he means progressive epistemology of our knowing the divine life, and hence, truth, then it is a fairly incisive claim which can’t be gainsaid.  Unfortunately, not only did he not really develop that point, he failed to make the next application.  If God didn’t reveal all truth at once, which he didn’t especially concerning the Trinity, then why do we think that he will reveal  all at once in the life of the church?  Yes, I know what Jude 3 says, but no one seriously thinks that the church had all the knowledge deposited at once?  If so, then what was the point of Councils if the church already knew that?
My problem with all of this is that the Federal Vision/CREC company needs to own up that their own antics drive a lot of people to Orthodoxy.  You can’t write a slough of books and articles attacking the Reformed faith and arguing for high church sacramentalogy and not expect your acolytes to take you seriously.

The problem with simply reading Calvin…

Most do not realize that John Calvin’s Institutes, while a fine read, were originally meant for beginners in the ministry.  It is merely a guidebook for young pastors navigating through Scripture.  Yes, Calvin made important breakthroughs in epistemology and political theory, but even as incisive and advanced as they are, they are still elementary and surface-level.  This raises a problem with those who “convert” out of the Reformed faith to some other tradition.  Does simply reading Calvin make you an expert on the pros and cons of Reformed theology (this assumes that the interlocutor has even read through the Institutes; I know for a fact that this is rarely the case)?

One might reply, “Surely you can’t expect everyone to read everything before making a life-changing, heaven-and-hell decision?”   True, I don’t expect Aunt Lula May to read through all of Reformed scholasticism before evaluating whether the Reformed faith is true.   But admittedly, Aunt Lula May doesn’t consider herself an apologist and theologian. She doesn’t spend all day on the internet picking fights on blogs (and I rarely comment on other blogs myself).  She is held to a different standard.  For the convertskii who begins to attack Reformed theology, I do hold him to a different standard. It’s only fair.  If someone wants to “convert” out of Reformed theology because he finds inner peace or whatever in another system, I have no comment. That’s between him and God.  Every man stands or falls before his own master.  But if someone posits that the Reformed faith is categorically wrong and begins to offer what he thinks are systemic reasons, then I expect him to have read the best Reformed faith has to offer.  Let’s begin:

  1. If Protestantism is simply nominalism ala Gabriel Biel, then how come Biel’s system of salvation is virtually identical with the congruent merit schemes of Rome?
  2. If Protestantism is simply nominalism, then how do we account for the fact that Vermigli and Bucer were Thomistic realists?
  3. Are you familiar with Muller’s thesis? Which Muller works have you read? 1/3 of these articles can be found online; another five can be found on EBSCO. This is an important point, for once I started reading Muller, I realized my entire narrative about Reformation theology was wrong.
  4. Have you read Turretin?   Turretin’s genius is in precisely identifying the question at stake.  I wager few people have read Turretin (part of the blame lies with the seminary system).  You don’t even have to read all three volumes. Just read volume 1.
  5. Briefly discuss Aristotle’s causality scheme and how the Reformed modified and utilized it on the question of justification.  Explain why that is important.
  6. What do the Reformed mean by principium essendi and principium cognoscendi?
  7. What is the distinction between necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent thing?
  8. (Advanced) If the Scotist view of synchronic contingency was used by the Reformed, which essentially admits a free will (of sorts), then how can the charge of mono-energism stick?