Staunton, December 26 – Vsevolod Chaplin, a close aide to Moscow Patriarch Kirill, says that Russians “stopped Hitler’s project [and] we will stop the American one” now, an equation that speaks volumes about the ways in which the Russian Orthodox Church is whipping up the kind of xenophobia that will require a great deal of time to overcome.
In a 5,000-word interview with a Tatarstan business paper, Chaplin, who oversees the patriarchte’s policies on the church’s relations with society, said that Russia has often had to fight civilizational models which threaten its own, including not only Napoleon’s but Hitler’s (http://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/122025/).
Today, the patriarchate official continued, “we will stop the American project as well! This is a civilization of usury, a cult of the principle of ‘money makes money,’ and the triumph of egoism as the supposedly optimal model of human existence.” For Russians, convictions and faith must be “more important than profit.”
“Christian civilization and the civilization of usury are mutually exclusive things: either one or the other,” Chaplin argued. When usury was “relegitimized, Christian civilization began step by step to yield the historic scene. And on the contrary, when Christian civilization developed independently, freely and integrally, usury disappeared.”
“Usury is a sin,” and “we must today say to ourselves and to the surrounding world that we can live without this sin, we can articulate such economic systems which would be an attempt to return Christian civilization to economics. A large number of people will be against this, in the first instance, the major world banks … [and] many banks.”
That means that Russia and Russians must stand up to “present-day Western civilization, which is not the real West which also created Christianity.” Rather it is “the civilization of a narrow elite” which is tyring to take control of its own populations and then of everyone else’s. This must not happen.
Russians and others must recognize that this is what is at stake, that they face an alternative and unacceptable form of civilization, one just as alien as they faced in 1941. And just as they stopped the Nazi tank columns then, they must stop the “ideological ‘tank columns’” now on the attack.
Three things need to be kept in mind about Chaplin’s remarks. First, he is a popularizer or even vulgarizer of the ideas of others, notorious for saying things in the most simplistic way in order to attract the largest amount of attention and support. What he is saying undoubtedly reflects thinking in the Patriarchate and the Kremlin, but such thinking is likely more sophisticated than he is presenting it here.
Second, as some reports about his remarks have failed to note, Chaplin devoted less than 20 percent of his interview to this issue. Most of his comments to the Kazan newspaper were about the state of relations between Orthodoxy and Islam and between Russians and Muslims in the Russian Federation. His comments on the East-West divide are certainly the most dramatic but they may not even have been his focus.
And third, his comments about usury are both especially worrisome and entirely explicable in the context of Chaplin’s efforts to reach out to Muslims. On the one hand, references to usury have long been a theme in anti-Semitic discourse, with those who hate Jews explaining it by reference to the supposed links between Jews and banks.
Chaplin did not make that link here, but it would certainly be one that some of his audience in Russia as a whole if not in Tatarstan itself. As such, his attacks on the West fit squarely within an old and ugly tradition of anti-Semitism in Russia and unfortunately in some parts of the Russian church.
And on the other hand, Chaplin may simply have been focusing on the question of usury as a means of reaching out to Muslims whose faith categorically forbids lending money at interest. By casting the civilizational issue in terms of that activity alone, the Orthodox activist may simply have wanted to give Muslims in Russia a compelling reason to line up with the Orthodox.
But however that may be, Chaplin and his colleagues in the Orthodox Church are playing with fire by talking in this way. Indeed, it is entirely possible that their words will ignite a conflagration where they do not expect it. At the very least, they will make it more difficult for Russia to modernize and to cooperate with the rest of the world.