Friday, March 4, 2011

Apocalypse and Declining Empire: Reflections on a Persistent Theme of the American Religious Right

Yesterday I watched Cindy Jacobs of Generals International expound on the apocalyptic signs to be found in what's happening now in the Middle East (I learned of Jacobs's reflections at Right Wing Watch).   Something about a green rider in Egypt that took off into the sky that may or may not be supernatural in origin.  And how the pale horse of the Apocalypse is really pale green.*

Something like that.  Or, as Cindy says, "supposingly."

And how we're not yet at the Armageddon stage (Cindy intrigues me by pronouncing it with a stress on the first syllable), but at the wars and rumors of war (Matthew 24:6) stage.

And I keep thinking, after I listened to Jacobs, that if I were writing an apocalyptic analysis of a declining empire which has thought of itself as God's special city on a hill, even as it has often worked serious injustice around the world, I'd see very different signs of empire falling.  I'm inclined, in other words, to read the bible differently than Cindy Jacobs does.

Here's what I see as my nation's empire falls apart (as every empire throughout history has done), and as I pray and read scripture through the process of empire declining:

1. I see religious folks whose scriptures emphasize love, justice, and mercy standing with and blessing vile politicians whose sole goal is to enrich those who already have the bulk of the world's resources in their hands.

2. I see campaigns of disinformation and downright lies trying to divert the attention of a frightened and often ignorant citizenry away from the gross inequity in distribution of economic resources in their country, and towards brown-faced illegal immigrants, people practicing some religion other than the de facto religion of the land, imaginary welfare queens, the poor in general, women, and sexual minorities.

3. I see politicians whose moral lives in no shape, form, or fashion represent the "family values" they want to impose on others not hesitating to launch into attacks on others who, they claim, undermine family values and "traditional" marriage.

4. I see the self-professed "orthodox" of the religious traditions represented by these hypocritical politicians egging these politicians on, turning a blind eye to the way in which the lives of the messengers betray the message the messengers want to bring.

5. I see those with the bulk of the nation's (and the world's) resources in their hands launching attacks on those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, seeking to shift the burden of filling dwindling public treasuries to those who have least, while the rich try to grab even more for themselves.

6. I see these same folks targeting the poor by seeking to withhold health care services from them, by seeking to reduce them to the level of drones and automatons in the workplace, things with no human rights.

7. I see people of faith whose scriptures talk constantly about beating swords into plowshares and being peacemakers running around asking (as Cindy Jacobs says people are asking her) what they should pray for in a world rife with wars and rumors of wars.  I see people of faith whose scriptures tell them to pray for peace inexplicably asking whether they should pray for more war and more apocalypse, instead. 

8. I see people so intent on exploiting nature and adding more money to coffers already piled high that they knowingly and willingly stress the earth to the breaking point, destroying the very conditions of life for their own children and grandchildren.

9.  I see people talking on and on about the value of life while they live in a society that is, in profound respects, anti-life, antithetical to respect for life, while those who most loudly talk about respect for life collude in and turn a blind eye to the conditions that most militate against the value of life all around them.

10. I see, in other words, a fraying, declining, falling empire behaving exactly as the scriptures tell us fraying, declining, and falling empires constantly behaved in the period in which the scriptures were written: cranking up their abuse of the vulnerable, weak, and poor; giving even more perks and considerations to those who already have the bulk of the world's resources; abusing religion as a cover for the process by which the rich are being robbed by the poor; diverting attention from the growing and very glaring economic inequities through enervating and cruel battles about health care for everyone, about human rights for everyone.

I see an empire, the empire in which I live, falling apart.  At the same time, I see signs of hope in parts of the world that my own empire has long taken for granted and even exploited--signs pointing to the kind of viable democratic society my empire had hoped to be, but has failed to become.  

And, in contrast to Cindy Jacobs and many of my fellow Christians in the U.S., I'm not inclined to see the falling apart of my empire as an apocalyptic event that presages the end of civilization as we know it.  I'm inclined, instead, to see it as the necessary process that happens to all empires in history, as they overreach, blind themselves to their arrogance and injustice, and fall like Babylon so that something better, we hope, might be born in their place.

*For my take on Cindy Jacobs's analysis of the phenomenon of falling birds around the turning of the year, see here.

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