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CTE 702: Christian Ethics: Reflection Paper on Christianity and Empire
April 25, 2007
Most American Christians have the perception that the biblical narrative speaks to us individually rather than collectively. There is some merit to that understanding; after all, individual sin may destine you to Hell! However, we tend not to recognize that our individual sin, when practiced collectively, can precipitate events that will lead to destruction and death. So, we must be diligent in our efforts to be aware of our potential to neglect the activities of our state and national governments. Consequently, we must seek to remain current in our knowledge of our government’s plans and activities. The Church must be a watchdog (with a clear theological eye) for the activities of our federal government on a global level. If we, The Church, do not engage in the realities of the political realm, we risk death and destruction within the boundaries of our nation.
The Fall of Babylon
18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2 He called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul bird,
a haunt of every foul and hateful beast. a
3 For all the nations have drunk b
of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power c of her luxury.”
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
“Come out of her, my people,
so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues;
5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
6 Render to her as she herself has rendered,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
7 As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
‘I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
and I will never see grief,’
8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
As we see in this quotation from the 18 th Chapter of the Apocalypse, we are warned that we must be diligent and maintain our awareness of the activities of our nation’s government. Therefore, The Church has the responsibility of monitoring and voicing opposition to the actions of our nation’s government. And, if necessary, refuse to participate in events that oppress others. The Project for the New American Century, the foundation for the current Administration’s domestic and foreign policy is a project that has the potential to make America the new “ Babylon the great”.
The Purpose Statement given below from the webpage for P.N.A.C. is a summation of the intent of the effort that has been invested in this project. Less than a casual review of the language of this statement indicates that global domination by America is good for the world.
The Project for the New American Centuryis a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.
However, as the Church, we must question the implementation of this philosophy and examine the consequences of its implementation on our global neighbors.Sources like the The Nation, quoted below, puts forth the contention that the War on Terror has provided the U.S. Government with the opportunity to install permanent military bases, strategically located to preserve access to oil and natural gas reserves in Afghanistan.
The projection of U.S. military power into new regions through the establishment of U.S. military bases should not of course be seen simply in terms of direct military ends. They are always used to promote the economic and political objectives of U.S. capitalism. For example, U.S. corporations and the U.S. government have been eager for some time to build a secure corridor for U.S.-controlled oil and natural gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea in Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. The war in Afghanistan and the creation of U.S. bases in Central Asia are viewed as a key opportunity to make such pipelines a reality. The principal exponent of this policy has been the Unocal corporation, as indicated by its testimony to the House Committee on International Relations in February 1998 (reprinted as “A New Silk Road: Proposed Pipeline in Afghanistan” in Monthly Review, December 2001). *On December 31, 2001 President Bush appointed Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad from the National Security Council to be special envoy to Afghanistan. Khalilzad is a former adviser for Unocal in connection with the proposed trans-Afghan pipeline and lobbied the U.S. government for a more sympathetic policy toward the Taliban regime. He changed his position only after the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan (aimed at Osama bin Laden) in 1998 (Pravda, January 9, 2002).
Zalmay Khalilzad is now the President of Afghanistan. As a result of the War on Iraq, the U.S. has also taken the opportunity to establish permanent bases and secure Iraq’s rich oil and natural gas reserves. Another paragraph from the same article provided an understanding of the global influence of the U.S. and its will to maintain that influence.
U.S. global political, economic, and financial power thus require the periodic exercise of military power. The other advanced capitalist countries tied into this system have also become reliant on the United States as the main enforcer of the rules of the game. The positioning of U.S. military bases should therefore be judged not as a purely military phenomenon, but as a mapping out of the U.S.-dominated imperial sphere and of its spearheads within the periphery.
The intent of the Administration is now very clear to the authors of this article. Military force will be used to insure that America will maintain global dominance and control over the necessary economic resources to insure American global dominance. How these military resources are to be used has been defined by the following statement found in The Nation that covered the speech given by President Bush during the 2002 West Point Commencement Service.
President Bush's June graduation address to the cadets at West Point has attracted attention mainly because it is the fullest articulation, so far, of the new strategic doctrine of pre-emption. The radical idea being touted by the White House and Pentagon is that the United States has the right to use military force against any state that is seen as hostile or makes moves to acquire weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, biological or chemical. The obvious initial test case for pre-emption is Iraq, whose government the United States is continually threatening to overthrow, either on the model of the displacement of the Taliban in Afghanistan or by some other method.
The U.S. Policy of pre-emptive war is intended to militarily destroy any perceived threat, real or not. This particular understanding underscores the Administrations current policy toward Iran (in addition to Iran’s oil reserves!) However, even more frightening is the statement quoted from the President’s speech and the author’s analysis of the comment.
The President mentioned that past rivalries among states arose because of their efforts to compete with one another, but insisted that the future will be different because of American military superiority: "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." The ambition here is breathtaking and imperial--nothing less than to remind all states that the era of self-help security is essentially over, that America is the global gendarme, and that other states should devote their energies to economic and peaceful pursuits, leaving overall security in Washington's hands. One can only wonder at the reaction of foreign ministries around the world, say in Paris or Beijing, when confronted by this language, which dramatically diminishes traditional sovereign rights, as well as by the reinforcing moves to scrap the ABM treaty, to build a missile defense shield and to plan for the weaponization of space .
It is clear from the President’s statement that the U.S. intends to deny the rest of the world the ability to pursue weapons that could limit U.S. military superiority; the use of U.S. military force will be used to insure that superiority. The United States Government, staffed by those who are informed by the P.N.A.C., has the opportunity to dominate the global scene in a way that was previously impossible. This is the first time in recorded history that a nation has the capacity to dictate to the rest of the world community national military and economic policy. The United States is the only nation that has the capacity to place weapons in space and instantaneously target different trouble spots simultaneously with advanced weaponry. There has never been the potential for oppression on this level in human history. Unfortunately, many Evangelical Christians, who have been blinded by the Protestant theme of Freedom, has willingly approved this action by the U.S in the name of Evangelism. One of the foremost proponents of this movement is Dr. Stephan Webb, a Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College. Dr. Webb has also written several books and has published numerous articles and essays. In Dr. Webb’s essay, On the True Globalism and the False, or Why Christians Should Not Worry So Much About American Imperialism, he formulated his argument on the Protestant Principle of Freedom.
In the midst of all the second guessing, speculation, and commentary about American motives— much of it laden with the suspicion that America can never be up to any good— the wisest words to come out of this war were delivered by President Bush at Dearborn Michigan. Speaking to an audience of Iraqi immigrants, President Bush stated an Enlightenment ideal that was worthy of Immanuel Kant: "The desire for freedom is not the property of one culture. It is the universal hope of human beings in every culture. The President can speak with such confidence because he combines the Enlightenment heritage of optimistic humanism with the evangelical fervor of an altar call. Given the fact that the American version of the Enlightenment—which was shaped by Lockean empiricism and the rationality of the market, rather than Voltaire and the virulent anti-clericalism of the French Enlightenment—it was deeply theological, this evangelical Kantianism, if I can coin a phrase, makes a lot of rhetorical sense. "
Dr. Webb’s analysis of the President’s statement is of course made through the lens of a Conservative Evangelical Christian. Unfortunately, I would argue that his lens is incorrect. Dr. Webb seems to define freedom through an American understanding of that right. Unfortunately, Dr. Webb has missed the reality of contextualization and the difference between the Eastern and Western philosophical understanding of that term. If we understand freedom to mean that Iraqi’s are free to form their culture as they please, then it is very likely that the average Iraqi will understand that hope much differently than the average American could anticipate. Dr. Webb continued his defense of the Administrations policy with the following:
What I am calling President Bush's evangelical Enlightenment or enlightened evangelicalism should be given careful scrutiny, but it needs scrutiny of the right kind. The problem is not that this theology of foreign affairs depends upon the use of military might. All diplomacy is grounded in the use or threat of force. The well-known and always provocative theologian Stanley Hauerwas portrays pacifism as the only alternative to vengeance, but this is powerful rhetoric rather than clear-eye politics (or theology). Only if Christians have no investment in any secular order can Christians embrace an absolute pacifism. If God does ordain governments to bring order to the world, and if some forms of government are better than others, then Christians, likeeveryone else, must do their best to promote the best forms of government and defend the innocent from the worst forms.If 9/11 was born in the prisons of Egypt (or the political abuses of the House of Saud), then American Christians have good reasons to promote not just mutual dialogue between Islam and Christianity but also more democratic forms of government in the Middle East. To do anything less than this is to spiritualize and privatize the great Protestant theme of freedom.
Dr. Webb made an assumption in his argument that is flawed. Dr. Webb stated that “All diplomacy is grounded in the threat or use of force”. We must understand Dr. Webb’s basic assumption that is the foundation supporting this statement to understand its flawed character. Dr. Webb assumes that America has the right to all the wealth and prosperity that can be accumulated by its acquisitions (Capitalism). Unfortunately, our willingness to accumulate the natural resources and wealth of other nations for our benefit is the primary factor that has contributed to the need for overpowering American military might. I would argue that Pacifism in it truest form dictates that we share our wealth and work to help others to develop their natural resources and to benefit appropriately. If wealth is shared and developed as a world community, there is no need to protect that wealth from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, I assert that Dr. Webb’s theology is not clear-eyed. But, rather blinded by nationalism and economic hedonism. Dr. Webb is correct in his assertion that Christians should support the establishment of the best forms of government; however, that goal is much easier to accomplish by sharing our wealth and technology. We must work at finding ways to encourage the formation of just governments that protect the citizenry. We must work to find ways to encourage the development of stronger human rights efforts and the enforcement of International Law without the influence of political priorities that blind the world powers to the injustices that occur. Unfortunately, Dr Webb “just doesn’t get it”. Webb then moved to perhaps the strongest point of his argument.
Hauerwas is right, of course, that Christians should work for peace in the world, but the very term pacifism denotes an absolute principle that trumps every other theological concern. A better term than pacifism for believers would be peace first Christians, which suggests that Christians should strive for peace but should not make a god out of it. If Christians choose peace first, then the question becomes not whether military force should ever be used but when it should be used and for what end.
Dr. Webb does recognize the need for the use of military force at the appropriate time. Unfortunately, we live in a less than ideal world, and there are situations were military force may need to used to stop genocide provided that all possible alternatives have been exhausted. However, I would also argue that committed Peace First Christians would severely limit or eliminate the need for the use of military force if they embrace the tenets of true Pacifism that were stated earlier. However, we still must recognize the nationalist fervor that Evangelical Christians possess that does persuade them to endorse the American Government’s actions without properly investigating the true reasons behind those actions. We must be with our government as we are to be with our biblical teachers, we must “Trust but verify” (From President Reagan’s speech about nuclear disarmament, Paul’s Theology.) Dr. Webb also examined the historical context of Christianity and Empire and America’s role in spreading the Gospel.
I still value the account of church history taught to me by the evangelical church of my youth. It involved three basic stages. The early Christians were persecuted, but God chose Constantine to save the church and conquer paganism. The Reformation purified the Medieval church in order to set free the Word of God for a renewed mission of proclamation. Finally, America, for all of her faults and limitations, has been chosen by God to spread Protestantism across the globe, thus fulfilling the great commission. Although today I understand how the story taught to me in my youth deletes much of the richness and variety of church history, I still find it to be a more persuasive account of the workings of the Holy Spirit through history than the account of those who think capitalism and the birth of nation states mark the utter ruin of the church.
Dr. Webb has found hope in the history of the church and justification for his assertion that the United States is God’s chosen instrument for spreading the Gospel. Unfortunately, Dr. Webb was misinformed about the historical record of the Church. He has asserted that Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have not participated, since the Reformation, in spreading the Gospel; that just is not true! He also implies that the message of the Gospel, as it is taught by both of those traditions, is somehow not God’s word for all people. Unfortunately, Dr. Webb has stated that the majority of World Church does not preach the Gospel. Dr. Webb, with all due respect, has failed to understand the role of the Church/State relationship as it developed after the Constantinian Shift.
Dr. Webb said that we must not ignore the lessons of the 20 th Century; he is right. So, he should not either. The history of Warfare in Europe and the Middle East through the mid 20 th Century provides us with a clear picture of the catastrophic events that occurred as a result of the blending of the Church and State including; The Crusades, the warfare in Europe into the 20 th Century, World War I and World War II. This is not the time to revisit the entire historical record of the Church in Europe; however, proper research and a little understanding of the dynamic of that relationship will quickly reveal the weakness of Dr. Webb’s argument. Dr. Webb continued to display his lack of contextual understanding in this excerpt from his essay.
The President combines a zeal for human rights with an unapologetic faith in the unrivaled lordship of Jesus Christ. He does not try to derive the one from the other, which makes him something less than an Enlightenment thinker. Indeed, for all the criticism he faces for invoking the name of God in public, he has actually been pretty careful about distinguishing between faith and foreign policy. That is why it is so unfair when, in a recent essay, Hauerwas chides President Bush for wanting it both ways: he wants America to be religious, but he does not want the war on terrorism to be a religious war. Hauerwas does not explain why these two goals are incompatible; that apparently seems obvious to him. It seems obvious to me that political leaders can affirm the religious traditions and heritage of their country without thereby turning every war they initiate into a religious war. Hauerwas shouldknowbetter.
Dr. Webb has indicated that President Bush has a zeal for Human Rights; unfortunately, his zeal is misguided. I would argue that to impose American values on a foreign culture is a violation of Human Rights. The President and Dr. Webb have failed to recognize the importance of contextualization. Both the President and Dr. Webb have also failed to recognize the inability of American’s, much less citizens of other nations, to avoid using their religious belief system to inform their political thinking. President Bush and Dr. Webb have both failed to accomplish that goal. And, Dr. Webb’s essay itself is an example of how our religious understanding informs our political positions. Hauerwas did understand and believed that it was unnecessary to explain this simple truth to his readers. Dr. Webb seems to have misplaced his faith is the following statement.
What role America will play in relationship to global Christianity is anyone's guess, but American Christians cannot simply turn their back on the world's best hope for freedom and democracy. Some theologians talk as if Christians should have nothing to do with any modern nation state. This ignores the fact that every society needs some form of religion in order to ensure peace and order as well as to counter the power of the state. When religion fails to provide a sacred canopy for a persuasive account of ultimate meaning, communism or consumerism has been the ideologies in the modern world that are most likely to flourish.
Dr. Webb has indicated to us that democracy and freedom is the world’s best hope of resolving the problems that we face. Unfortunately, the U.S. has failed to prove that to be so. Our freedom, individualism and our capitalist economic system has been the force that has encouraged the exploitation of second and third world countries. Unfortunately, Dr. Webb has failed to recognize our own consumerism and the failure of either democracy or Christianity to curtail it. He also claimed that religion does counter the power of the State, unfortunately, as history has shown us, the combination of political and religious goals does not limit one or the other; rather they tend toward the creation of a “perfect storm”. Dr. Webb feels that Evangelicalism is the force that will form the future of the developing nations of the world, particularly in Central and South America.
A better candidate to put forward as the future religion of globalism is evangelicalism in its various forms. Evangelicalism is capable of spreading rapidly and efficiently due to its lack of institutional baggage. It preaches a gospel that borders on pelagianism in its requirements that believers demonstrate the sanctifying effects of salvation. It thus mixes easily with the rhetoric of individualism and freedom that drives market economies.
Dr. Webb has asserted that individualism and our economic system is appropriate for developing nations. Unfortunately, this hasn’t proven to be true. In fact, individualism in America is destroying our sense of family and community. Although individualism and freedom are Western ideals, the nations of the South, including Mexico, are community based countries. Mexico, since it has experienced industrialization from the flow of American Industries who have moved there to capitalize on low labor rate, has experienced a tremendous disruption of the Mexican community and family structure. Families are separated for long periods of time and the Mexican laborers are paid very low wages. In reality, our economic gift to Mexico was a profit motivated move that disrupted Mexican community structure and oppressed its laborers. This same reality is also experienced in many developing counties where American economic interests are present. Dr. Webb concluded his essay with this paragraph.
There were those in the ancient world who thought that Rome would last forever, just as there are those today who think that America will be an eternal and solo superpower, but I am convinced that God will use America as God used Rome for God's own purposes. Rome withered as the church spread, just as America will probably decline as evangelicalism continues to spread throughout the world, taking advantage of international consumerism and its technology to bring the Word to all peoples in all places, and thus fulfilling the great commission that Christ gave the disciples. The decision of the Bush administration to downplay its dependence on European cooperation for foreign affairs might prove, in the long run, to be a remarkably prescient move. Likewise, President Bush's evangelical Kantianism just might prove to be as influential in the centuries ahead as the liberal Enlightenment was in the centuries now behind us.
Dr. Webb’s concluding remarks are very optimistic; and, correct only in that God will bring to fruition God’s plan despite of the size, power or evil of any human empire. It will also be interesting to see how historians will reflect on this chapter of our history. Somehow, though, I suspect that Dr. Webb’s prognosis for President’s Bush’s Evangelical Kantianism will be evaluated by historians as not having fulfilled the Great Commission; rather, it encouraged the fornication of the nations with the Great Harlot of Revelation. And, as another philosophical approach that will result in the eventual fall of the American Empire and the loss of credibility and fall of the American Evangelical Conservative movement.
a Other ancient authorities lack the words a haunt of every foul beast and attach the words and hateful to the previous line so as to read a haunt of every foul and hateful bird
b Other ancient authorities read She has made all nations drink
c Or resources
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, S. Re 18:1-8
The Editors, "U.S. Military Bases and Empire,"Monthly Review, March 2002 2002.
Richard Falk <http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/richard_falk>, "The New Bush Doctrine," The Nation July 15, 2002 issue.
Stephen Webb, "
On the True Globalism and the False, or Why Christians Should Not Worry So Much About American Imperialism," ( Stephen H. Webb ; Professor of Religion and Philosophy, 2005).
Resources for further study:
American Theocracy; the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21 st Century, author: Kevin Phillips, Viking Press
The Holy Vote; the Politics of Faith in America, author; Ray Suarez, Harper Collins Press
Anxious about Empire, Theological Essays on the New Global Realities, Editor, Wes Avaram; Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America; author: Chris Hedges
Free Press, New York
Christianity in the 21 st Century: Reflections on the Challenges Ahead; author: Robert Wuthnow, Oxford University Press, New York.
The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right; author, Rabbi Michael Lerner; Harper Collins, San Francisco
Worse than Watergate; The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. Author, John W. Dean
Warner Books, New York and Boston
Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World; Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian
<http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/richard_falk>, Richard Falk. "The New Bush Doctrine." The Nation July 15, 2002 issue.
The Editors of the Monthly Review " U.S. Military Bases and Empire." Monthly Review, March 2002 2002.
Webb, Stephen. "On the True Globalism and the False, or Why Christians Should Not Worry So Much About American Imperialism." Stephen H. Webb ; Professor of Religion and Philosophy, 2005.
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