February 13, 2016
When the leaders of two major religions get together, you can bet something is afoot. The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kyrill in Cuba is not only a divine signal that the normalization and packaging of the socialist island on America’s doorstep for the enjoyment and profit of the liberal world is proceeding apace. It also signals that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign against what he calls “the degradation and primitivization of Western culture” is bringing the two schools of Catholicism together in what is shaping up as an ecumenical campaign.
I had the privilege of knowing both Raul, Cuba’s current president, and Fidel, the leader of the revoution, between 1963 and 1965, when I investigated the reasons why they and their companions made the revolution. Then - and for a long time afterwards - religion was seen as ‘the opium of the masses’, in Marx’s famous words, cautioning the rule of the few over the many.
But even before Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia, the official attitude toward religion in Cuba became more relaxed, and I’m certain that although it welcomed increased trade with the West, anything goes capitalism, in which ‘stuff’ is seen as the purpose of life remains abhorrent to most Cubans, making their country a uniquely appropriate choice for the historical meeting of the two men in white.
Although it will take a while for them to reverse a millennium of collaboration between their respective churches and mammon, it seems clear from Francis’ repeated pronouncements and Kyrill’s support for President Putin, that Catholicism is moving to the side of the many.
My forecast has just been confirmed in spades: At a mass on the US border on his last day in Mexico, Francis declared that anyone who builds walls is not a Christian, hitting Donald Trump right between the eyes, in a David/Goliath match. The Donald fired back that when ISIS targets the Vatican the Pope will be sorry he didn’t get Donald to build a wall. Anchors were quick to note that the Pope’s criticism of Donald was as contrary to Christian teachings as the building of walls, but they failed to note that there is already a wall around the Vatican, which is known as ‘the walled city’.
Nor did they appear to notice that the Pope’s scolding shows him unequivocally on the side of the many rather than of the builders of golden towers.
The incident, which is bound to have long legs, reminded me of the incident in 1944 when British Prime Minister Churchill told Stalin that his country was honor bound to come to the aid of Catholic Poland, and Stalin’s quip: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” become what was probably the Cold War’s only joke.
The biggest irony, however, is that in our day the Pope, the Patriarch, and members of every other clergy, have the equivalent of many military divisions on-line. Doubtless Frances and Kyrill have concluded that if ISIS can influence minds electronically, they can too. In addition, they can fly around the world like so many angels coming to life before amazed parishioners to tell them that 'things' are not what life is about.
Claiming a Russian desire to recreate the Soviet Union, with its satellites in Eastern Europe, NATO has inched its way right up to Russia’s borders, in defiance of President Reagan’s promise to Gorbachev that it would not move an inch from Germany. Putin knows that NATO’s goal is to get at Russia’s treasure trove of minerals but he has no intention of invading the Baltic countries anymore than he took the bait in Georgia in 2008, or in Ukraine, that would provide a pretext for invasion. He is concentrating on changing minds and unlike Stalin, he can count the Pope’s support.
Christianity started with Jesus’ challenge to the money-changers of the Jewish temple. Inevitably, the sale of indulgences giving rise to a Protestantism that eventually outdid Catholicism in its devotion to Mammon. The industrial revolution, followed by the electronic revolution, created cowboy capitalism, which led to the ‘me’ society, unapologetically devoted to the pursuit of ‘stuff’, in which every human endeavor has a price tag.
On the other side of he planet, from the downfall of the Tzars in 1917, until the election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church was barely tolerated in a country that officially espoused atheism as it tried to level incomes. During the first post-Soviet decade, under President Boris Yelstin, Russia was inducted into the ‘me’ society, many of its most ardent exponents ending up, with or without their millions, in the West. Luckily, Vladimir Putin was young and fit, for he confronted the mammoth task of more evenly dividing the capitalist spoils among his citizens. A just published poll shows that half of Russians would favor a return to a planned economy over market capitalism’s free-for-all. By inference, it sheds light on support for a president who while not disdaining comfort, appeals to a more traditional lifestyle, something like the 1950’s America’s two-parent families with dishwashers.
With the blessing of the Russian president, the leaders of Cuba, and their enlightened southern counterparts, Kyrill and Francis have enrolled their ‘divisions’ in the combat against ‘stuff’ that goes hand in hand with the literal ‘saving’ of the world’s poorest - and the planet.
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