12 September 2018

Taking religious liberties

Petro Poroshenko (l) and Sam Brownback (r)

It still manages to astound me, even though it shouldn’t. How on earth is Sam Brownback still relevant, at all, after having ruined Kansas with his smash-and-grab tea-party libertarian œconomic policy funded by Koch Industries and given an ‘A’ rating from the Cato Institute, to the point where even the state’s notoriously antidrasticulent Republican establishment gave his agenda the boot? Ah, the wonders of the Trump stamp of approval, which apparently can rehabilitate even the worst of these public thieves, brigands, vandals, thugs and other swamp critters.

Brownback is an utter menace to all notions of good order and good government. After his seven-year ‘grand experiment’ in office, Kansas education benchmarks cratered (particularly for minorities), hospitals had to cut down services under heavy fiscal losses, removed clean water regulations, roads deteriorated (and construction jobs were lost), violent crime skyrocketed, infant mortality climbed, and all he had to show for it was œconomic anæmia and stagnation. There were seven years of famine, alright, but Brownback was no Joseph. The damage to the state from his ideologically-driven gross œconomic mismanagement may in fact take decades to heal. But Brownback has a clear conscience on all of this, even as Trump bailed him out: risibly, he blames falling commodity prices, not his own policies.

He also has a ready bevy of religious enablers willing to offer him absolution: his coalition of Middle American evangelical Protestants and right-wing Americanist Catholics (including our fine friends at the Acton Institute, which has tapped him to speak at their events, and which contributed consultants to his past political campaigns). It’s clear that Trump’s pick of Brownback to his current position, was meant as a sop to his right-wing ‘Christian’ constituency. But, like his benefactor’s, Sam Brownback’s Gospel is not the Gospel of Christ; it is The Fountainhead of Mammon.

So after his stint at successfully systematically demolishing Kansas’s social services and infrastructure, how has Ambassador-at-Large Brownback used his position at the Department of State so far? Well, he’s been sticking his neck out for far-right British republican and white supremacist Tommy Robinson; that’s always a fun ride. He’s trashing China and Myanmar for ostensibly implementing the same kinds of policies toward Muslims he used to pursue at home in Kansas. And most recently he’s been supporting the creation of an ‘independent’ church in the Ukraine.

Well, of course that’s what he’s doing. Of course. Birds of a feather flock together, and the ideology of Poroshenko – that is to say, the ideology of the Maidan protests of 2014 – is perfectly consonant with Brownback’s Tea Party œconomic views. Under the pretext of ‘reform’ and ‘restructuring’, Poroshenko’s government is smashing, grabbing and looting the wealth of the Ukrainian poor just the way Brownback’s did in Kansas of the descendants of a previous generation of Ukrainian poor. It is not, however, consonant with the views of Orthodox Christians worldwide, who may run the gamut from conservative to liberal on social issues, but who are by-and-large happy with an œconomically-interventionist state (also, see my commentary here). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that is to say, the canonical one under the preternaturally-patient and long-suffering Metropolitan Onufriy – has been carefully and studiedly neutral on gæopolitical questions, but more unpardonably from the new government’s view has refused to kiss the ring with the wanted abjection.

Brownback might say he’s opening up a ‘spiritual marketplace’ and promoting freedom – but his actual goal is to demoralise, promote schism and foster spiritual confusion among Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christians in the United States need to understand better, that our true spiritual concept of freedom, articulated best by Metropolitan Saint Filaret (Drozdov) of Moscow, is not the same as the libertine œconomic-political concept of licence and cupidity which finds its most radical expression in the libertarian ideology, and which has been weaponised by the American military-industrial apparatus against states which do not bow to its hegemony – including states in majority-Orthodox countries. However much they try to cosy up to us, think tanks like the Acton Institute and associated politicos like Sam Brownback, which promote this libertine concept and use it to attack Orthodox polities both historically and in the present day, are not our friends.

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