MOSCOW — At the height of the Cold War, it was common for American conservatives to label the officially atheist Soviet Union a “godless nation.”
More than two decades on, history has come full circle, as the Kremlin and its allies in the Russian Orthodox Church hurl the same allegation at the West.
“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”
As part of this defense of “Christian values,” Russia has adopted a law banning “homosexual propaganda” and another that makes it a criminal offense to “insult” the religious sensibilities of believers.
Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people.
In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.
“The general political direction of the [Western political] elite bears, without doubt, an anti-Christian and anti-religious character,” the patriarch said in comments aired on state-controlled television.
“We have been through an epoch of atheism, and we know what it is to live without God,” Patriarch Kirill said. “We want to shout to the whole world, ‘Stop!’”
Other figures within the Orthodox Church have gone further in criticizing the West. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, suggested that the modern-day West is no better for a Christian believer than the old Soviet Union.