For the most part, the Jewish scriptures were written during the exile of the Israelites in Babylon and accepted by the people as they returned to build the second temple in Jerusalem. The Christian scriptures were written in the context of the Roman empire. We live today in the north of the Americas under the Pax Americana or the American empire. For believers themes of empire and exile are the “new normal.” What does a life following in the inspiration of Jesus the Christ look like as one lives in the belly of this empire?
Earlier this year Michael Ignatieff wrote in the New York Times Magazine that with the military of unrivaled might, the United States rules a new kind of empire. Its reach and domination is global. He was aware of the 1997 Statement of Principles of the Project For The New American Century. This document was written chiefly by Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Both have major influence on President George W. Bush and the U.S. foreign and defence policies. The document suggests: “American foreign and defence policy is adrift….Conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. And they have not fought for a defence budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century. We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.” Signers of the document include Dick Cheney the present Vice-president of the U.S. and Donald Rumsfeld its secretary of defence. This agenda that we see operative in Afghanistan and Iraq is just the beginning. The War against Terrorism is a cover for the denial of many civil and human rights both within the U.S. and in the world at large. As Joan Chittister in a recent NCR article suggests: “Is there anything left that matters?” Were there really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? As I write this reflection both Tony Blair in England and George W. Bush in the U.S. are under attack for lying about the reasons for attacking Iraq.
What is the role of the Christian in the midst of this project for a new American century? To help us along I suggest two authors worth reading. Ched Myers has written three volumes that are a must read: “Binding The Strong Man”, “Who Will Roll Away The Stone”, and “Say To This Mountain.” Richard Horsley has just published a lecture series titled: “Jesus And Empire” – The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Horsley suggests that the life and message of Jesus was all about announcing the Reign of God and denouncing the Roman occupation and the temple leadership that often facilitated the occupation. There are many insights and biblical truths here to help us understand Mark’s gospel in a different light and to point a way for the Christian to be faithful to the call of God in these our times in both church and state.
At the turn of the century President Woodrow Wilson did not know whether the U.S. was a religion or a state. Many do believe that the American way of life is a Christian way of life. Others suggest that the U.S. is not Christian at all but rather has a civil religion with a veneer of Christian language. These times call for biblical discernment. Taking our scriptures in hand we find many references to times similar to ours in terms of exile and empire. This summer may be a time to take the bible in one hand and the document: The Project for a New American Century in the other. The soul of the Americas and its citizens is at stake.
Paul E. Hansen