Steve Bannon has called for binding together to contain the conflict with Islamic fascism. Here, The Atlantic’s Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Brittany Pheiffer Noble explain Bannon’s approach to thinking about the threat of Islamic fascism and what can be done by ‘Christendom’ about it.
“If we do not bind together as partners with others in other countries then this conflict is only going to metastasize,” said Steve Bannon in 2014. He was referring to a conflict he perceived between “Judeo-Christian values” and “Islamic fascism.” Speaking to a conference held at the Vatican, he seemed to call for Christian traditionalists of all stripes to join together in a coalition for the sake of waging a holy war against Islam.
The rhetoric of a looming civilizational war has proved persistent. Recent years have seen religious leaders from both the American Christian community and the Russian Orthodox community coming together to bemoan the decline of traditional values. One example is the 2015 Moscow meeting between Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham. The Patriarch lamented to Graham how, after decades of inspiring underground believers in the Soviet Union with its defense of religious freedom, the West has abandoned the shared “common Christian moral values” that are the bedrock of a universal “Christian civilization.”
But even as Bannon and various religious leaders seek to pit the values of Christianity against those of Islam, there is also an internal competition to decide who gets to define Christian traditionalism. Two of the main players in this competition, American Christian traditionalists—including conservative Catholics like Bannon as well as evangelicals like Franklin Graham—and Russian Orthodox, are united in their desire to save Christendom from the perceived threat of radical Islam. But buried underneath that superficial agreement is a complex disagreement as to what Christendom even means.
In contrast to Bannon’s realpolitik, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian minister of foreign affairs, has called for a greater long-term cooperation with the West—for a “partnership of civilizations” to combat modern geopolitical problems, especially ISIS. In his words, “We believe that universal human solidarity must have a moral basis resting on traditional values which are essentially common for all of the world’s leading religions.
The major moral actor in Russia—the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)—has worked hard to influence “pro-family” legislation in the state. Family values are more than just principles in Russia; they’re also a cornerstone of efforts to repopulate a nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to plummeting birthrates and soaring emigration.
While the government’s project to grow its population has been framed in vaguely patriotic terms, for conservative groups and the Orthodox Church, low fertility rates are linked with a larger collapse of the nuclear family and, in turn, of society—a symptom of a problem of Western decadence. Russia as a nation has adopted the Orthodox Church’s challenge to Western progressivism, and the message is resonating with American conservatives like Franklin Graham.
Bannon represents his own brand of conservative Catholicism in the White House, but can American evangelicals count on Donald Trump to represent their concerns or do they need to look beyond the state for institutions of moral traditionalism? And if American evangelicals and conservative Russian Orthodox believers join forces, will they be able to overcome the reality that each of their creeds sees the other as heretical?
Read more here.