Wars of aggression far too often occur when dangerous despots have absolute power in nations where Christian nationalism and Fascism coexist. Hitler’s Germany and Putin’s Russia have similar patterns. Those of us who were alive during World War II are horrified to observe these patterns being repeated. Seeing the swastika next to the Russian Z causes me heartburn.
In 1933 Hitler encouraged all regional German churches, including Roman Catholics, to became one national German church. He’d tried one coup to take over the German democratic government. On the second try he succeeded. He then appointed a Nazi party member, Ludwig Muller, as bishop. With Hitler’s charismatic leadership style, German Christians were caught up in their Heil Hitlers and repeating the phrase, “One Nation! One God! One Reich! One Church!” from pulpits and pews. Some even called themselves “Storm Troopers for Jesus.”
Having a national Church was a strategy of Hitler to unite all aspects of the German society. The German people, having suffered defeat during the first World War, had been humiliated and traumatized. When Hitler sought to restore the old German Empire, he indoctrinated both young and old in allegiance to him and to his wars of aggression. His propaganda, arrests, and rounding up of Jews for extermination solidified his autocratic rule. Then the process of restoring the Germanic Empire included invading and conquering other European countries.
When Communism collapsed in 1991, the Russian people were also humiliated and traumatized. When I first met Dr. Valentina Moskalenko that year, she described the Russian people as needing to first stand up on their own two feet. Other professionals told me that the Russian people needed to recover from the post-traumatic stress of the Communism they had lived under for so many years. Many workers had become addicted to the alcohol from the Vodka bottles they received for payment, instead of rubles, from their Communist employers. In learning about recovery, by owning property again and by restoring their places of worship, the Russian people began to stand up. Then Yeltsin selected Vladimir Putin to succeed him, first as prime minister and then as president.
Putin captivates crowds of followers with symbols of Russian greatness and propaganda. He attracts cult-like followers, many of whom want back the glory days under the imperialism of the czars; others fear his use of the secret service to utterly destroy anyone who crosses him. Meanwhile, he hides under the guise of the authority of the Orthodox Church of Russia with license to use armed force when necessary.
At first Pentecostal, Baptists and other Protestant and Catholic denominations were welcomed into the Russian Federation, until 1997 when a new Russian law stated that in order to have certain rights and privileges religious organizations had to show proof of being in existence in Russia for 15 years, making it uncomfortable for missionaries or new church plants; but not for Orthodox Christian new churches. Putin has been the prime force to make that happen.
Now in lock-step with a resurrected national church, Putin is implementing Alexander Dugan’s neo-fascist plans to rebuild the Russian Empire, lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1997 Dugan published his, Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia, a manifesto uncomfortably similar to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Dugan’s political manifesto seeks to invent a Russian glorious past that not only needs to be reclaimed but also Russia’s restored Empire should now include European countries and extend to Asia, ruled only by “ethinic “ Russians. Dugan’s work even denies the existence of the country of Ukraine and, accordingly —by Putin’s interpretation—a territory that must be reclaimed as a part of the old imperial Russian Empire.
Many who study or have lived during the times of fascism in the twentieth century under Hitler and Mussolini or in Tzarist and Soviet Russia consider the Putin/Dugan philosophical political and religious nationalism as fascism dangerously reborn.
Just maybe we can learn how to stop history repeating these fascist patterns here in America. The threat is real. Hitler’s rise to power and attempted takeover of Europe and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reminds one of what does happen when despots gain power.