Friday, September 29, 2006

Contrast of God's Kingdom and Empires of the World > repost

I have realized lately that part of what drives me to write about some of these things is a certain guilt that I feel in my own heart. Not only am I priveleged to be an American, but a Christian and God fearing person as well. As both American and Christian I am a member of a group that not only has proclaimed that it is right about the meaning of life on this planet...but that we, the chosen, are the ONLY ones correct on matters of religion and geopolitics. That proclomation bears a heavy weight and responsibility. It begs the question that if such is true..why all the chaos and confusion and injustice and disharmony in our own society and in our own churches and in the world at large to which we assume to be the arbiters of freedom and reason? How can we look upon the horrors we have both enabled and in some cases caused in this world with such equanimity? I know that America often regarded as the best hope for a safe and humane world that has ever been seen...this is the scary part...that this is as good as it gets.

I remember when my public school teachers first began to indoctrinate me and my peers in the early 1970's (I started kindergarten in 1969). Our country was engaged in an unpopular military conflict then as now. The Viet Nam war and the war in Iraq are not the same exactly...but there are a good many paralells. One paralell for sure is that we have a huge miltary machine engaged in a theater of guerilla warfare. So, far it does not appear that the outcome is going to be much different this time around. My schoolteachers saw fit to try to explain to us concepts like "Utopian ideals" and why we should not ever expect to see them work because the world was so full of evil and selfish people. They explained that anarchy would surely ensue...if certain utopian ideals were played out in the real world of "civilization". They were of course talking to a bunch of 3rd and 4th graders that would have believed that the earth was pyramid shaped and the moon was an enormous glowing spitball coughed up by the Supreme Being if they had insisted so and provided some slick graphics to drive the point home. I am pretty sure in fact that most of my peers and I all still believed in Jolly Old Saint Nick back then too.

The teachers further explained to us how carpet bombing Viet Nam so that people would stop being communists or dropping atomic bombs on non- military targets in WW2 actually saved more lives than it snuffed. The same would be true of the fire bombings of dozens of Japanese cities full of men women and children- hundreds of thousands in fact- that were burnt to smithereens although the only thing they may have had to do with the miltary machine-states waging war across the globe was perhaps their desire to maintain a lifestyle...i.e. continue being Japanese. As I have gone on through life I have noticed that not too many people ponder or question the conventional wisdom of all of this geopolitical generalization and indoctrination and actually determine if these ideas and/or methods are philosophically sound and morally correct or even historically accurate or not. To do so invites instant derision.

I have actually dared to read up on the dropping of the atomic bomb, for instance, instead of just figuring that whatever my fourth grade teacher contended was golden gospel- and guess what....there actually are some folks that contend that Japan was on the verge of surrendering before the bombs...they were in fact strategically defeated already and within months the conflict in the Pacific theater would have concluded...without opening pandora's box of atomic/nuclear weapons. I cannot say whether or not this is true...who knows? Precisely...nobody can say for sure one way or the other...but the debate is not over and done with because some teacher or some author or some commentator said so.

Practically no-one endeavors to answer the question of, "even if a world free of strife (Utopia) is not possible- shouldn't we be trying to get as close as possible?" It has been done- this getting very close. Tribal Native America was as peaceful, God -fearing and stable of a place as ever existed (still not sin or violence free I acknowledge)...and it existed for tens of thousands of opposed to any other known empire you can name. So it got wiped out by a group that eventually became the United States. Fair enough... a liberally idealistic society gets wiped out by a more heartless and greedy group, the only thing that this proves is that a "Quasi-Utopian" system of direct democracy cannot co-exist with the existing paradigms of western thought..yea, though it pains me to say so...Western Judeo Christian thought- or more specifically still- what this brand of thought has become.

It often puzzles me how the masses in this country can fail to understand that when the rest of the world sees America engaging in acts of "sanitized" warfare, bombings (shock and awe), WMD's, mass violence, manipulation, fear, intimidation, coercion and so on they see TERROR tactics. They see us as living by a double standard. Listing the litany of good, humanitarian things the U.S. has done does nothing to erase this point in the minds of much of the rest of the world whether you and I "get it" or not. The bloodshed leaves more of an impression than the noble things we are trying to do. This concept is now being bitterly debated in the media. It is duly noted that the ongoing violence and the knowing, willfull slaughter of innocents in Iraq is being perpetrated mainly by insurgents (or terrorists if that makes you more comfortable) and not our people (even though our bombing campaigns and sanctions have killed untold numbers of innocents). The fact is that they are reacting to our presence there and our foreign policy...we are part of the equation. warfare the ONLY way to deal with this situation? To even suggest such a even enter into this discourse is all but squelched in the mainstream.
People who ask these types of questions and seriously grapple with the answers are often labled as liberal (read as socialist=communist) seditious (read as aiding and abetting the enemy=terrorist), politically motivated (read as democrats seeking power) or lost in fantasy. Now that the media is beginning to wake up (after being totally on the "Operation Iraqi Freedom and Shock and Awe bandwagon at the start) and ask hard questions and put all the carnage in perspective...they too are being attacked as anti-American and accused of sensationalizing the bad news. Does it make sense for the media to attempt to undermine the system that enpowers and enriches them ...undermine the world by default...just to make some political hay and/or sell newspapers? If you believe that the media is actually doing just that...tell me again who the pessimist and unrealistic idealist is...I am getting confused. The definitions of conservative and liberal are all a blur.

Now, this brings us back around to a point I have been working up to concerning how CHRISTIANS should feel and react to the situation at hand. I think this is relevant because this whole Iraq-war enterprise has been sold to us as a primarily "conservative", hence, Western- Judeo- Christian- ideological- exercise in military humanitarianism. Let me paraphrase some thoughts of other Christian writers (credits to Lee Camp and his book Mere Discipleship) in this arena of warfare and utopian dreams:

"...Underneath the end justifies the means" logic lies the assumption that the way of Christ is simply not a relevant social ethic, lest injustice reign and the violent vanquish the righteous. Christians cannot take the way of Christ Seriously, or society will fall apart, will sink into a spiral of unmitigated violence. Civilization itself is at stake. Jesus cannot have meant that we take him seriously in the realm of social and political realities- after all, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF EVERYONE DID THAT?! Consequently, "Jesus", "Christianity", and even "discipleship" are reduced to mere "spirituality", a realm that has little if anything to do with the concrete realities of culture, civilization, and politics. To use different language- Christendom (the blending of religion and empire) has seperated doctrine and ethics into two seperable categories, rather than seeing them as two sides of the same coin. Numerous times the book of Acts describes the Christian faith as "The Way", a designation that strikes one as remarkably different than our word "religion". "Religion" often connotates a set of beliefs and practices seperable from everyday life; as such, "religion" is in a sphere distinct and seperate from things like politics and society and culture. But if the claim that Jesus is Lord is "a Way or The Way"- then we cannot so easily seperate his "Way" from every facet of life. Note that the Jews expected a MILITARISTIC style Messiah...that is not what they got.

One of the most ardent pagan critics of the early church posed the "what would happen if" question to the early Christians' refusal to either employ violence or venerate the empire as the primary means through which they might contribute to society. Castigating second century disciples, the pagan Celsus angrily maintained that "if all were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent [the emperor] being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs of the Earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians; and then there would no longer remain among men any of the glory of your religion or of the true wisdom'. I.E. Celsus asked, What if everybody did that? Answering himself he stated that the empire would fall apart, we would be overcome by our enemies and on top of that you would not get to practice your religion! But the response of the early Christian theologian, Origen, demonstrates that the "commonsensical" nature of Celsus' attack was not always seen as a trump card.

First off, Origen realized that the one who asks the "what would happen if everybody did that" question does not, of course, mean for us to take the question literally. If everyone loved their enemies then Jesus' teachings would not be problematic. If everyone shared their wealth, then Jesus' commands would not be seen as a stumbling block. If everyone forgave offenses "seventy times seven", then Jesus' insistence would fail to disturb us. So, Origen responded to Celsus, if in folowing Christ "they do as I do" then it is evident that even the barbarians, when they yield obedience to the Word of God, will become most obedient to the law, and most humane. But the reality, of course, is that not everyone "does that". And thus when face with the "reality" of a world in which people appear to always "look out for number one", when our world proclaims "take care of yourself or no-one else will", when our culture surrounds us with a message that we should "go for the gusto", "acquire as much material welath as possible", and to make sure that WE are happy and secure- then the call to discipleship sounds quite threatening. The "reality" of sin, the "reality" of injustice and oppression, the "reality of "market and economic drives, the "reality" of "how things work" are thought to trump the serious calling to follow Jesus: "Many people will not love you in return", "and some people'd just as soon kill you as look at you" and "you just can't reason with some people", and some people are just taking advantage of you and/or the system". "Jesus' Way works in an "ideal world" but not in the "real world" where you must "get your hands dirty" if you're going to "make a relevant contibution to society". But we must question as Origen did whether the logic of Celsus was very realistic after all. To the unbliever, Origen maintained that it is not the warring and self seeking peoples of the Earth who preserve society- instead, it is the people of God who are "assuredly" the salt of the earth: THEY preserve the order of the world; and society is held together as long as the salt is uncorrupted.

So, the question ought not be "what if everybody did that", but, "what will happen if Jesus' "disciples" refuse to act like Jesus?". For Origen, if "disciples" refuse to act like disciples, there will be no salt, there will be no light, and then indeed there will be no "order", "justice" or "civilization". and if the salt has lost its saltiness, so Jesus said, it is foolish, insipid, good for nothing, but to be thrown out in the mud and be walked upon. Nonetheless, the pagan logic of Celsus ultimately won over a large number of adherents among christian tradition ( a legacy which continues to this day in the "conservative" movement in geoploitics). The percieved need to run the world, or the empire, or the market economy, or the nation-state gives rise to the apparent "commonsensical" basis of the pagan's logic: if you take Jesus seriously, things will simply fall apart. And so in varied, nuanced and subtle ways, the "Way of Christ" has been set aside in favor of other authorities, which would show us what we should do and how we should do it...when we're out here kicking around in the "real world". "

So to close out these thoughts let me say that insofar as I can tell by the contemporary definitions (which I have often stated are restrictive and insufficient) Jesus IS A LIBERAL. Therefore if you wish to call me one...I will accept it as a compliment...not that it really means anything relevant in any holistic sense. Also, if you wish to call yourself a Christian you cannot do so realisticly and also be someone who primarily espouses the values of the WORLD. You cannot serve two masters. You can respect civil authority and abide by the laws of the land so long as they do not contradict God's laws.

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