The juxtaposition of a number of events over the past several weeks has led me to contemplate the role religion plays in geopolitics, and in particular its negative influences. One of these events was the Ukrainian government moving to finally make the Moscow Patriarchy of the Orthodox church illegal within Ukraine, something that was long overdue. As most religious and political experts will confirm, the Moscow Patriarchate is nothing more than an arm of the Russian government, working lock step with it in furthering Russian imperialistic ambitions. There are strong indications that its head, Patriarch Kirill, has long and strong KGB roots, and has been a close ally and supporter of Putin in all his criminal and terrorist activities. He has been officially sanctioned by Canada, the U.K. and many other countries for his unconditional support of Putin’s war on Ukraine. If he is any kind of religious or spiritual leader, it is surely of the “dark” side in terms of contemporary memes.
But Russia is not alone in its misuse of religion to achieve political aims. The ultra-right fundamentalist fringe in the U.S. has over the past decade managed to seize control of the Republican party and many of the levers of government power. The result has been a serious erosion of basic human rights in the U.S. as it strives to impose its narrow, moralistic agenda on American life, erasing much of the social progress and equity that has been achieved over the past century. With the Supreme Court stacked with Trump appointees, the American Constitution and the rights proclaimed therein are under serious attack. The drafters of the U.S. Constitution must surely be turning over in their graves, since the First Amendment explicitly prohibits the government from favouring any religion (or non-religion), or imposing a “state” religion. This of course, has not stopped the fundamentalists from trying to make their version of God and their interpretation of his teachings as the law of the land.
Then too, there is the latest round of conflict between the Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, fomented by no shortage of fanatical Muslim imams, as well as the ultra-Orthodox Jewish fringe in Israel. Neither side is blameless in these irrational hostilities that have ethnic and religious roots going back thousands of years. I have no doubt that the God of both the Muslims and the Jews would look askance with horror and disappointment with what is going on in the so-called “holy land”. Where is the love and peace that features so prominently in the teachings of the Torah and the Koran?
The history of mankind is replete with countless examples of how religion has been co-opted and used by the secular political powers for their own selfish and less than moral purposes. During the great era of exploration from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church used its considerable powers to support the oppression and exploitation of the indigenous populations of North America, South America, Africa and the Far East. Tens of millions of the natives of these lands perished by the sword or through disease, while their land and wealth was pillaged by so-called “Christian” conquerors. Conversion to Christianity was accomplished more by coercion than persuasion.
The great Muslim conquests of the Middle East, Asia, Northern Africa and even Spain, were similarly accomplished at the point of sword, showing that religious inspired conquest was not just a Christian tendency. Although the Christian churches have over the past century started to come to terms with admitting the sins of their past, and pulled back from being direct participants in geopolitical conflicts, many of the Muslim states have become even more radicalized and have cemented their religious and political structures into a reactionary, cohesive and aggressive unity that threatens world peace. No doubt the actions of the western world and especially their “crusading” tendencies have given the Muslims ample cause to feel victimized, though their response falls well short of Allah’s merciful and loving spiritual direction.
History has clearly shown that mixing religion and politics is not only dangerous, but counterproductive to the essential teachings of all the major religions which almost universally espouse peace, justice, love and compassion. It demonstrates that the leaders of almost all of the world’s great religions have fallen well short in promoting what religion professes to be all about.
The more that churches and religions get caught up in the machinations of politics and government, the more they become vulnerable to corruption and apostasy. As the Bible says, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s”. Religion should focus on the spiritual teaching and guidance of the individual, and not seek to dominate the governing structures of any society.