Why Are American Conservatives Praising Putin?

Russia's anti-gay policies deserve the scorn of U.S. conservatives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the career KGB officer who has presided over the rollback of his country’s post-Communist freedoms and revived Cold War-style anti-Americanism, is an unlikely hero for American conservatives. Yet the Kremlin strongman has lately found some fans on the right who see him as a defender of Christian values — most recently, in the imbroglio over Russia’s new legal ban on gay “propaganda.” It is a sad misjudgment that does a disservice to the causes of conservatism, freedom, and religion alike.

Spokesmen for several right-wing groups including the American Family Association have praised the Russian law, which prohibits any pro-gay speech or expression that could be accessible to minors. Veteran columnist Pat Buchanan has joined the Putin cheerleading squad. And, shockingly, the usually thoughtful author Rod Dreher, who blogs for The American Conservative, has added his own “1.5 Cheers for Putin.”

While condemning anti-gay violence and authoritarianism in Russia, Dreher praises Putin’s willingness to speak up for Christianity and laments that “post-Soviet Russia, for all its grievous flaws, is . . . more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”

This is a truly grievous misunderstanding of the reality of religion and politics in 21st Century Russia. Russia today is outwardly far more religious than most of Western Europe, but it’s a religion of state more than church: Orthodox Christianity has taken Communism’s place as the new official ideology, with church membership an official badge of patriotism and loyalty.

Russia’s political and religious leaders speak glowingly of church-state cooperation; in practice, the Russian Orthodox Church serves as a handmaiden of the regime, which grants it special privileges. Its head, Patriarch Kirill, has obsequiously praised the “miracle” of Putin’s rule and disparaged political protests. (The patriarch almost certainly has past ties to the Soviet-era KGB). Neither Kirill nor other senior clerics have criticized the government in areas where the church disagrees with official policy, such as abortion, which remains not only legal but free at public clinics; their statements on the subject have been low-key and deferential.

Not surprisingly, this “special relationship” promotes Potemkin religiosity. Nearly three out of four Russians now identify as Orthodox, up from 30 percent in 1989 — yet a poll by the Levada Center, a major independent polling firm, suggests that for many of these self-styled Christians, Orthodoxy is more a cultural and social identity than a personal faith: Nearly a third of them don’t believe in God (with another 30 percent unsure) and nine out of ten never pray.

The Orthodox “revival” has coincided with the rise of rampant materialism as well as sexual permissiveness: 40 percent of Russians today, up from 16 percent in 1992, think sex without love is acceptable.

This tolerance does not extend to homosexuality, viewed as morally wrong by over 80 percent of Russians. Only seven percent, down from 17 percent in 2005, “completely agree” that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as others; nearly three-quarters say all gay or pro-gay public expression should be stopped; and fewer than 40 percent believe the state should protect gays from violence. Given Russian opinion on other moral issues — just over a third see abortion as wrong — it is likely that this virulently anti-gay mentality is not rooted in religion but, as in Soviet days, in loathing of anything regarded as “alien” and antisocial.

Dreher concedes Putin is “a cynic”; however, he argues that at least in Putin’s Russia, “religious institutions are not facing a threat from liberalism in power” as he believes they are threatened by the advance of same-sex marriage in the West. But what about the way religious institutions are threatened by servility to corrupt authoritarianism in power? Some of the harshest critics of the church-state symbiosis in Russia are devout Christians, including many who practiced their faith in Soviet days when it was not only unfashionable but dangerous. And what about minority religions whose adherents often face harassment and discrimination?

Reconciling gay civil rights and religious freedom in liberal democracies is a complex issue. However, not lending even partial endorsement to a thuggish regime that targets an unpopular minority for political advantage should be a no-brainer. Support for Putin can only reinforce stereotypes of conservatives as bigoted authoritarians who would use state power to impose their morality on others if given half a chance.

This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.

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  • Stormy Dragon||

    Its head, Patriarch Kirill, has obsequiously praised the “miracle” of Putin’s rule and disparaged political protests.

    Patriarch Kirill? Seriously, anyone with a name like that is obviously an evil villain.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    dude...the Patriarch is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Oh right. And we NEVER make fun of religious leaders here.

  • Calidissident||

    I think he was suggesting that the joke doesn't work because "Patriarch" is a title and not a name. Don't know that I agree. Mahatma Gandhi is known by his title as is Genghis Khan

  • timbo||

    You're looking at my goiter, aren't you.

  • ||

    Because they hate gayness more than being an asshole.

  • Jayce||

    This, this, so much this.

  • soflarider||

    It would be nice if the headline said "Social" Conservatives.

  • JWatts||

    Yes, I agree, it's stupid for social conservatives to support Putin in anyway whatsoever. But it was also stupid of liberals to support Chavez and nonetheless we had many prominent who very vocally did. And they don't seem to have suffered for it.

    So, I'm guessing this is one of those issues that doesn't really matter much.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    Is it stupid for libertarians to support Putin in any way?

  • HenryC||

    Putin is a democratically elected leader. The Russians have repeatedly voted for authortarian leadership. They are strongly behind his stance against homosexuality. One does not have to support Putin to recognize this. It is their country and their laws.

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  • Russell||

    Doesn't anybody remember the last KGB man to occupy the Kremlin ?

    If Putin regards Andropov as a role model , he deserves opprobrium.

  • Dean Michael Jackson||

    Cathy Young says, but fails to comprehend its meaning, "The patriarch almost certainly has past ties to the Soviet-era KGB".

    In fact, the whole leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church were installed into their respective positions by the KGB, and if the "collapse" of the USSR had been genuine, one of the immediate actions performed by "freed" Russians would have been a house-cleaning of those KGB agent Quislings. In fact, when one looks to the other 14 "former" Soviet republics' respective religious institutions/denominations (and East Bloc nations too), one sees the same phenomena...all religious institutions/denominations are still controlled by Soviet era agent Quislings.

    As for the Levada Center, Cathy Young credulously calls that organization, "a major independent polling firm". Since the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is still in power in the USSR, why would you write that?

    Now we know why Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church are joined at the hips.

  • bassjoe||

    To be fair, the Russian Orthodox Church has ALWAYS been joined at the hip to the Russian government and not ever really considered separate from it.

  • Dean Michael Jackson||

    Yes, and in those days the Russian Royal family were Believers, as was the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is how we know the "collapse" of the USSR was such an obvious fraud, since any genuine "collapse" would have seen the KGB-appointed leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church identified and arrested.

  • Duke||

    If Russia is putting gays in jail, or harming them in some way for being gay, then sure, that’s wrong. But if they are merely speaking out and saying they don’t agree with homosexuality, well then, what the hell is wrong with that?

    The New Yorker just had a complete Twitter hissy fit because people were still referring to Bradley Manning as a “he.” I’m not bending over and taking it up the butt to go out of my way to seem politically correct. Manning has cock and balls (AFAIK), and that makes him a “he." This is the danger and slippery slope of treating gays as a protected class subject to strict scrutiny under federal civil rights law.

    As far as I’m concerned, homosexuality should be no differently treated than a heterosexual’s preference for the missionary position. It’s totally legal and what you do on your own time is fine by me. But if you’re going to say people who criticize the missionary position are bigots, then a line is being crossed into the absurd. After all, we are simply talking about sexual preference. Why make it bigger than what it is. And many religions believe it’s sinful just like they believe heterosexual fornication is sinful. And they are free to criticize that too. Libertarians should tread carefully on creating new protected classes at the expense of other protected classes like religion and freedom of speech.

    And I am prepared for the easily-offended to berate me for my views even on this board.

  • bassjoe||

    I'm not offended but you don't seem to know anything about the subject of this article. Instead, you use it as a rant to go off about how you're going to refer to somebody in a way s/he doesn't want to be referred because free speech. Fine, whatever. Live how you like to.

    That said... It's not just Putin "speaking out" about how homosexuality is bad. The law in Russia now is gay "propaganda" -- which is so broadly written that it can include a straight person wearing a gay "friendly" pin -- is punishable with jail time.

  • Duke||

    I read the article. Thoroughly. The Reason sub-headline is "Russia's anti-gay policies deserve the scorn of U.S. conservatives.” Like I said, if they put them in jail it’s wrong, but the slippery slope is that in today’s world, you not only cannot criticize being gay, you are forced to treat it as acceptable. And it does look like you’re offended.

  • Tony||

    Governments shouldn't be forcing people to have or express certain opinions, but they shouldn't be banning them either, such as what the new law in Russia does.

    The culture itself can and should shame people for having stupid bigoted opinions. Such as the opinion that preferring missionary position is just like a sexual orientation. If that's the case, when did you decide you preferred having sex with women? Could you have easily gone the other way? Willing to try it? It's just a whim, right?

  • Duke||

    I agree that governments should not be involved in sexuality -- at all. Whether by promoting it, or discouraging it. That seems to be consistent with libertarian ideology.

    However, if you think homosexuality is sinful because of your religious beliefs, and you speak out thusly, then that is not bigoted. Rather, those who think it is do not respect people’s religious and freedom of association rights.

  • Tony||

    Yes it very much is bigotry. People used religion to justify anti-black bigotry too. Should government intervene when churches preach bigotry? No. Should free people be allowed to label them bigots when they're being bigots? Yes. Having an imaginary friend in the sky does not exempt you from standards of decency.

  • Duke||

    Yes. Having an imaginary friend in the sky does not exempt you from standards of decency.

    So, how does it feel to be a big ole bigot, Tony?

  • Duke||

    And it’s so easy to show how duplicitous you are Tony. You say governments shouldn’t force people to have or express certain opinions, but you would probably agree with our federal government giving homosexuals protected class status thereby subjecting any discrimination action to strict scrutiny.

    In other words, you’re probably in favor of the Colorado AG filing charges against a baker for not baking a gay couple a wedding cake. I bet you'd shit your pants with glee if that baker went to jail for that. Because I’ll bet you hate Christians more than they hate gays. And you’re certainly not above engaging in a relentless Kultur War to marginalize Christians for their “uncool” opinions about homosexuality.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    However, if you think homosexuality is sinful because of your religious beliefs, and you speak out thusly, then that is not bigoted.

    I'm always amused by the way socons argue that because some opinion of theirs is religiously based, that somehow absolves them of all personal responsibility for choosing to embrace that belief.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Governments shouldn't be forcing people to have or express certain opinions, but they shouldn't be banning them either, such as what the new law in Russia does.

    Governments are just doing the will of the people and there are no rights unless the gov't says so, including gay rights. Got it?

  • Calidissident||

    The Russian government is outlawing "pro-gay propaganda," and as the article says, nearly three-fourths of Russians think gay or pro-gay public expression should be banned, and less than forty percent think the government should protect gays from violence (most concerning, especially given recent incidents of gays being attacked or killed by "vigilante" groups). This isn't about "not accepting homosexuality" and in light of this, Putin should not be getting praised by anybody for "defending Christianity"

  • Jon Lester||

    Conservatives are just using it to their advantage for 2014, which Democrats seem intent on handing to them. It wasn't so long ago when George W. Bush made a wedge issue out of the constitutional amendment idea, and for the same reason; unsophisticated voters are who decide elections in this country.

  • Tony||

    But if they are merely . . . saying they don’t agree with homosexuality, well then, what the hell is wrong with that?

    A total lack of semantic coherence? How does one disagree with homosexuality? Does homosexuality have an opinion about something?

  • Duke||

    Disagree about whether homosexuality is wrong or sinful. But you already knew that. You simply wanted to show just how much of a douche you are.

  • Tony||

    I want them to say what they really mean and not use mush words that make no sense like "disagree with homosexuality." They mean homosexuals should not be considered full and equal citizens and should be openly and even officially treated as deviants. Even if there is not a single law criminalizing homosexuality, this fosters an environment of risk for gay people, and that's a bad thing. Religion-based bigotry against relatively defenseless minorities is usually not a good thing.

  • Duke||

    They mean homosexuals should not be considered full and equal citizens and should be openly and even officially treated as deviants.

    Who’s ever said that? I’m a Christian and I’ve never heard another one say gays shouldn’t be considered equal citizens. Not that I have to prove anything to you, but my best friend in college and law school was gay...and black. And I had drinks last night with another close friend who’s also gay.

    You’re actually the bigot -- you hate religious folk. See how the door swings both ways Tony?

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  • Mizchief||

    Are there any more Americans left? Seems like our country is now just a battle between Chinese and Russian ideology.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    Um aren't there libertarians praising Putin for RT, Snowden and being anti-US?

  • HTuttle||

    We're not praising his actions, just acknowleging that he's competent, unlike our own leader.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    So he's the Right TOP MAN?

  • Jon Lester||

    I think Putin expects the gay propaganda law to have its day in court, but with 88% of the public behind it, he probably figured he'd better go ahead and sign the thing and let it play out however it will.

  • Astra||

    I'm not sure I'd give Dreher a "usually thoughful" tag.

  • timbo||

    Who cares already? Despotic rulers and Marxist scum abhor freedom of any kind. The neo-cons(here and abroad) and marxist leftists in Washington, think that they have a solution, which is big government. It will get bigger while things like this become unfortunate incidents along the ride to idiocracy. If defenders of gay rights don't see something like this happening here, they are sadly blind. During this debate, we will not here about the power of unfettered free markets as a simple solution to suppression of freedom of any type, thrives on limited government, affects equal opportunity for and rights for all. This is an exposure the dangers of nationalism and big government. The same thing going here with global warming. The entire populous has accepted as fact a theory that cannot be proven and is willing to suppress the freedom of the market to breath a magical clean air that they are already breathing. Climate change has become our nationalism.

    At least Russians do not have to watch the incessant pandering to fruits in skinny jeans and fedoras like we have to suffer through here.
    Americans have become such unfunny wimps that we are afraid to talk about the black crime epidemic, the fostering of a moronic pop culture that is brainwashing the sheep into even greater stupidity, and we are scared to make fun of the likes of homosexual pimp politicians like barney Frank. The hilarity of our surroundings is being lost on political correctness.

  • dunce||

    This just another shot at conservatives and Christians as one might expect from the Boston globe. Secular humanists are fond of lecturing both on how they think others should think. This article is a twofer by pushing the queer agenda at the same time.

  • Skip||

    Most conservatives just wish there was a middle ground between "white trash Russians beating up gays" and "forcing photographers to work at gay weddings against their religious views".

  • trig||

    "and fewer than 40 percent believe the state should protect gays from violence"

    Wow.. Russians are assholes.

  • AlgerHiss||

    "Why Are American Conservatives Praising Putin?"

    Why do American leftists wear Che Guevara tee-shirts?

  • cpmondello@gmail.com||

    Because Che was for the people as in "We the People". Get an education before spewing FOX talking points.

  • Mr. Hyde||

    Well he was for the people except the people that didn't want him for them.

    Those people he murdered.

  • HenryC||

    Russia's main problem is demographics. They have a very low birthrate. In light of this, Putin's stance on homosexuality as being bad for Russia makes some sense. I don't think it is effective, but it is understandable. Furthermore, about the only Russians having children are the Orthodox Christians and the Muslim minority. It is in Putin's interest to push Orthodox Christianity since he is a deadly enemy to many of the Muslims. His stance is not enlightened, but it may be practical, and certainly popular with the Russian public.

  • WRBill||

    Young's criticism of conservatives is well taken, but she is naive in supposing that this is inappropriate or atypical for conservatives. Most conservatives _are_ bigotted authoritarians - that is the essence of conservatism.

  • DarrenM||

    For your sake, I hope you never understand exactly how dull and ignorant you really are. You probably could handle it.

  • Sevo||

    No image, no alt text.
    Suggest 'Anyone got a Pepto Bismol?'

  • cpmondello@gmail.com||

    Conservative ideology is designed to do very few things; keep the powerful in positions of power where they can make the most money off the less fortunate; make laws to control and oppress minorities; to keep an "us again them" dialogue going, so dissenters can be blamed for anything and everything that goes "wrong", including "Acts of God", murder, etc., and; to make sure they rewrite any history that may tarnish their name, for in the future, they want to be deemed "Patriotic Heroes" that sacrificed their lives for the good of the people.

    In other words; selfish, greedy, uncaring, and cruel, leaning to or being sociopathic and vile.

    Now add any religion to the mix, creating for example the "Conservative Christian" race, and you get all the attributes multiplied by arrogance and a trump card handed to them from a supreme being that allows them to do whatever they want, even when they know it will hurt others, including lying, cheating and stealing, because its easier to say some god sanctioned their behavior whether they truly believe it or not.

    These are the most dangerous types of people, and always have been throughout history.

    I call for their immediate extermination before more Putin's, Hitlers, "witch burners", and alike are allowed to walk the face of the earth and cause more harm to all living beings and the planet, than they already have.

  • Mr. Hyde||

    Hilarious guy doesn't know he's hilarious.

  • BMFPitt||

    Some of the harshest critics of the church-state symbiosis in Russia are devout Christians

    It'd be nice to get some of that over here.

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