Friday, March 11, 2005

Hail Caesar?

"Not since Rome has one nation loomed so large above the others. Indeed, the word 'empire' has come out of the closet." That is not the rantings of some left wing quack. Those words were written recently in The Washington Post by Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. William Kristol, editor of the influential Weekly Standard, admits the aspiration to empire. "If people want to say we're an imperial power, fine." Kristol also bluntly asked, "Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?"

Michael Ignatieff commented in an article in the New York Times Magazine: "A historian once remarked that Britain acquired its empire in 'a fit of absence of mind.' If Americans have an empire, they have acquired it in a state of deep denial. But Sept. 11 was an awakening, a moment of reckoning with the extent of American power and the avenging hatreds it arouses. Americans may not have thought of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon as the symbolic headquarters of a world empire, but the men with the box cutters certainly did, and so do numberless millions who cheered their terrifying exercise in the propaganda of the deed."

9/11 provided a justification to release the raw, imperial vision that has been simmering in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. This desire to assert American global domination "in the cause of good" has been one of the only true sustained bipartisan efforts in Washington D.C.

The formula is deliberately based on Neoclassical imperial blueprints:
1. Pursue growth at all costs, or the economy will die.
2. Grab more oil, forest and mineral products or the economy will die.
3. Spend $300 billion a year on military power to maintain access to these resources worldwide or the economy will die.
4. Make sure these goals are religiously legitimized by imperial theology or 'noble values' will die.
Someone surely must have discovered Caesar's playbook!
By turning imperial conquests of distant lands and installing vassal powers into a pitched battle between pure good and pure evil and then publicizing it through median and parochial outlets the deal is sealed.
Jim Wallis , a progrssive, evangelical leader writes,"To this aggressive extension of American power in the world" our government "adds God—and that changes the picture dramatically. It's one thing for a nation to assert its raw dominance in the world; it's quite another to suggest...that the success of American military and foreign policy is connected to a religiously inspired 'mission,' and even that" it
"may be a divine appointment for a time such as this."

When God is taken hostage to our cause then all of our ways suddenly become immune to prophetic criticism. When all of our foreign policy decisions are given the blank check of the moral high ground then even God's messengers dare not utter a dissenting word. Statements that might have seemed mildy unpatriotic in an earlier generation become "sin" in today's landscape.

Ironically, modern Christians forget the imperial ravenous beast of the book of Revelation is also called an alluring whore. It is easier to resist a beast. One Christian writer, Eugene Peterson,wrote, "The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering."

The early Christians, the original underground Jesus insurgents, so troubled Rome that they were branded capital criminals in many provinces for refusing to bow to Casaer while humming the national anthem. They opposed Caesar's title, "Divi Filius" or "Son of God" with Christ, the true "Divi Filius". They refused the imperial theology of peace through violent victory and embraced Jesus' kingdom of God and its peace through nonviolent justice.

N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England recently wrote: "I want to say to George W. Bush and those who help him run the world: OK, fine, you have a world empire. We had one of those and we have spent a century counting the cost of it. You have a world empire with a strongly Christian flavour in the vote that sustained it. We had one of those (though not always the same type of Christianity that many in America now embrace, but never mind); and we learned, painfully enough, the deep ambiguities of thinking that in bringing Christ to the world we could ignore the things that were being done in his name. More to the point, the idea of a Christian empire came to first embodiment under Constantine, whom most Americans (if they’ve heard of him) learn early in life to reject, partly because it reminds them of George III sending bishops to the colonies. For generations now people have criticized Constantine and his empire. If you now have a Christian Empire, could you perhaps begin to think about how to avoid the mistakes both of Constantine and of Victorian England, and about how to get it right this time?"

Bishop Wright, is there any way to "get it right" given the human tendency to become intoxicated on the power of domination? Jesus calls us out of the kingdom of the world and into God's new creation community. Jesus followers will always be loyal the values of God's kingdom with the result that they are disloyal to the values of the surrounding political climate. Labels such as seditious, subversive malcontents puts them in ggod company with the likes of Jesus and Paul. Often what is a "zero" in the imperial accounting is a "hero" by God's reckoning.


Blogger Pat O'Leary said...

Amen. I love it. So in touch with the heart of God. He must be horrified (if God can be horrified?) by the things done in His name.

5:46 AM  

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