Yes, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russia, Russia and more Russia.
The big idea behind this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is that one thing is for certain -- America is not Russia and America is not turning into Russia (no matter that the cover of Time magazine was trying to say).
There is another crucial idea linked to that that I have discussed before at GetReligion and with our colleagues at Issues, Etc. That would be this: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia. Or try this: There is more to Russia than Putin. Or this: One of the reasons Putin is effective -- in his culture -- is that he knows which Russian buttons to push to move his people, even he is not sincere when doing so.
Host Todd Wilken and I ended up discussing this question: What were the editors of Time trying to say with that cover? After all, they thought the image of the White House morphing into St. Basil's Cathedral (standing in for the actual towers of the Kremlin, perhaps) was so brilliant, so powerful, so logical, that it didn't even need a headline.
The image was supposed to say it all.
But it didn't. If you want to have fun, surf around in this collection of links to discussions of all the errors and misunderstandings linked to that Time cover (and CNN material linked to it). Hey, even Pravda jumped into the mix.
All together now: But St. Basil's isn't the Kremlin. And they took the crosses off the top of the iconic onion-dome steeples (so they had to know they were dealing with a church). And this whole White House with onion domes thing has turned into a cliche, since so many other news and editorial people have used it.
So what was the big idea behind that cover?
I think the heart of it -- other than issues linked to Donald Trump, the 2016 election and Putin -- is that America's chattering classes now see Russia as the antithesis of Europe and Europe is to the cultural left of America and, thus, Europe can do no wrong. Thus, many American journalists were stunned, and some were in tears, on the night of Brexit.
Thus, the backward nationalism of Russia, with all of that mysterious faith and pride linked to "Mother Russia," is standing in the way of all kinds of progressive things, starting with LGBTQ rights, press freedom and the right for feminist punk rockers who can barely play their instruments to threaten sacred altar space inside a national cathedral.
Now, as a radical First Amendment liberal (and as an Eastern Orthodox Christian), I have all kinds of questions about lots of things that are going on inside of Russia.
However, I think it would be wise for many journalists and American diplomats to grasp some of the differences between the radical individualism of America (essentially a radically Protestant nation) and kind-of Orthodox Russia's emphasis on a common, collective culture and the protection of the values in a larger community. By the way, do you see any of the same tensions inside Europe -- East and West -- at the moment? What do Muslims think of the edgy, radical individualism in their new European homes?
One or two other items from a strange week of news linked to Russia and religion.
Did you see the correction at CNN about the online item mistakenly said the Time cover featured "minarets" on time of the White House? It's a classic work of editorial denial: "CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more accurately describe Russian architecture."
Yeah, right. And it wouldn't really be an error -- just a matter of a degree of artistic accuracy -- for journalists to confuse a cross and the Star of David.
Here's one final thing from the news, linked to the mindset of Russia.
A GetReligion reader named Brett Jagger was not amused when he saw a BBC item that began like this:
For the first time in nearly 1,000 years bone fragments of Saint Nicholas are being moved from their Italian resting place, to be worshipped in Russia.
To which Jagger responded:
If you click that BBC link now, you will see that the editors changed the lede, perhaps after reading the email that Jagger sent in protest. Thus, the top of that story out of Moscow now says:
For the first time in nearly 1,000 years bone fragments of Saint Nicholas are being moved from their Italian resting place, to go on loan to Russia.
The 4th-Century saint is one of the most revered figures in the Russian Orthodox Church. After his death, Italian merchants brought his body from Myra, in modern-day Turkey, to Italy. Some fragments of his ribs are kept in Bari, southern Italy. They are being flown on a chartered plane to Moscow on Sunday.
"This is an unprecedented event," said Alexander Volkov, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate. "These relics have never before left Italy."
However, the BBC team just couldn't get themselves to replace "worshipped" with the accurate theological term, which would be "venerated." As in:
venerate venerated; venerating
1: to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference
2: to honor (an icon, a relic, etc.) with a ritual act of devotion
Instead the article says:
Thousands of Orthodox believers are expected to visit the relics. They will also be taken to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St Petersburg.
Yeah, right. Watch the videos that accompany this post. Is "visit" the right word for what you are seeing?
It helps to understand that St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in all of Russia -- even though he was a bishop in what is now considered Turkey. This has nothing to do with Santa Claus or St. Nick. It has everything to do with him being the patron saint of poor, threatened and abandoned children.
However, Russians do not "worship" St. Nicholas, any more than Americans travel from all over America to "worship" various items on display in Washington, D.C. For the Orthodox, worship is for God alone. It's not exactly the same thing, of course, but think about it. Do many American's worship their sports memorabilia?
But, oh, those backward, mysterious, crazy Russians -- lining up to show respect and love for the bones of a great saint.
Isn't that creepy? Isn't Russia just bizarre?