By Michael Berry: Paradox: par•a•dox; noun: something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.
Born in the late 1970’s, my earliest childhood memories were formed during the 1980’s. Accordingly, I experienced the tail-end of what was known as the “Red Scare.” Fueled by an Olympics boycott, the “Miracle on Ice,” “Red Dawn” and “Rocky IV,” I was taught that the Soviet Union was a Godless plague on humanity.
As the Berlin Wall, and eventually the Iron Curtain, toppled, America kept an optimistic-yet-watchful eye on the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe. We all hoped that the democratic experiment would incubate and eventually flourish in the various new states that arose from the ashes of communism. But frequently, all we received was bad news. The vestiges of communism had severely crippled Russia, resulting in food shortages, widespread corruption, and insufficient infrastructure. But then something funny started to happen.
Despite its economic dominance, America was gradually sliding down what many believed was a slippery slope of moral decay. In addition to increased disposable income, Americans also had more abortions and fewer children. Homosexuality and gender identity transitioned from disorders to quasi-protected classifications.
Meanwhile, Russia was busy rebuilding and reinventing itself as an economic player on the global stage. In 2011, Moscow was home to more billionaires (79) than any other city in the world—a first for any city outside the U.S. Experts were left scratching their collective heads as to how fast Russia was able to recover and return to prominence. Indeed, Russia seems to be changing so much that it now appears to be on the cusp of a cultural revolution.
In December of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin observed in his state of the nation address that “many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values.” This was undoubtedly a thinly-veiled reference to Great Britain and the U.S., two of Russia’s greatest Cold War adversaries. Putin even went on to remark that “policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church went even further than Putin, stating that
“the general political direction of the elite, bears, without a doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character. We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God. We want to shout to the world, ‘Stop!’”
A different Russian church leader went on to warn that “the separation of the secular and the religious is a fatal mistake by the West. It is a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally.”
Such statements would have been unheard of in the Russia I learned about in grade school. But according to the latest polls, 72 percent of Russians believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, compared to only 38 percent of Americans. 68 percent of Russians also believe gambling is wrong, compared to only 31 percent of Americans. And 44 percent of Russians believe that drinking alcohol is morally wrong, while a 2012 Gallup poll found that 66 percent of Americans regularly consume alcohol.
Make no mistake, Russia can stake no claim to moral superiority. The corruption and poor infrastructure are still there, as evidenced by the Sochi Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, Russia appears to be moving in the right direction. There are unconfirmed reports that the Russian government has undertaken initiatives to build churches, include religious instruction in public schools, and to create a military chaplaincy.
One may be forgiven for wondering if Mr. Putin has read “Democracy in America.” At the very least, he seems to appreciate the intrinsic value of anchoring governance to morality. And that has never been a paradox.
Michael Berry is an attorney for Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious liberty law firm dedicated to restoring religious liberty in America. Michael joined Liberty Institute in 2013 after seven years serving as a JAG officer in the United States Marine Corps. He is a 1999 graduate of Texas A&M University and a 2005 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Law.
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