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Resisting Empire

May 22, 2014

IS THE UNITED STATES AN IMPERIAL POWER? I would say that it is, and that the evidence for this view is overwhelming. We spend more on our military than all of our main rivals — combined. Our troops garrison the world, we have bases on every continent, our Navy rules the waves, and so on. We are not the world’s most powerful country just by some accidental circumstance, but by design.

Here is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind describing a 2002 conversation he had with a “senior adviser to President Bush” (who is widely believed to be Karl Rove, though Suskind has not confirmed this):

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

Putting aside the glaring hubris of that official’s remarks, I would say he was wrong to use the descriptor “now.”

The temptation to empire is nothing new in the United States. It was certainly there throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Manifest Destiny, the Mexican-American War of 1846, the Spanish-American War and other imperialistic impulses and enterprises betrayed the trajectory of the nation. Given all that and given the different missions of democracies and empires, democratic tension has been inevitable and constant. Empires serve and are run by elites; democracies (in theory, at least) serve and are run by demos, the people. Empires are maintained by violence, either implicit or acted upon. Democracies depend for their health on the consent of an educated, engaged citizenry.

Former New York Times foreign correspondent and author Chris Hedges sees our predicament in bleak terms:

“The words ‘consent of the governed’ have become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science and economics are obsolete. Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish political and economic elite, a small and privileged group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests. This elite, in the name of patriotism and democracy, in the name of all the values that were once part of the American system and defined the Protestant work ethic, has systematically destroyed our manufacturing sector, looted the treasury, corrupted our democracy, and trashed the financial system.”

While I think Hedges speaks truth here, I also think he’s missing something: that you and I have the power to transform the country from an imperialist oligarchy to a functioning democracy. One of the great enemies of elitism, after all, is math: There will always be more of us than there are of them. All it takes is enough of us to catch on to the game, and we can put an end to it.

Another enemy of oligarchy is hope. Martin Luther King used to say that “You can’t ride a man’s back unless it is already bent.” Despair and passivity in the face of evil is the worst kind of cowardice. I hear far too many people say, “The American people are way too caught up in ‘American Idol’/Justin Bieber/(insert example of brainless bread-and-circuses distraction here) to wake up and take action.”

Such pointless (and groundless) despair betrays every sacrifice made by every labor organizer, every freedom rider, every abolitionist and every other citizen who sacrificed and risked all to change this country for the better. Americans from every walk of life have always stood for justice and against tyranny and slavery, often at the cost of their lives. We owe it to them to continue the struggle to make America a place where everyone’s voice matters, not just the media-amplified voice of the rich and powerful.

I think it is vital that any action taken in the cause of social justice depend on nonviolence for its legitimacy. Oligarchies rely on violence to impose their will; democracies depend on the consent of the governed. King again:

“(T)he nonviolent resister seeks to attack the evil system rather than individuals who happen to be caught up in the system. And this is why I say from time to time that the struggle in the South is not so much the tension between white people and Negro people. The struggle is rather between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory it will not be a victory merely for fifty thousand Negroes. But it will be a victory for justice, a victory for good will, a victory for democracy.”

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52 Comments
  1. May 22, 2014 1:21 pm

    democracy is Greek for mob rule. the US was founded as a republic; not a democracy- democracy has given us the state we are in right now- impossible debt, an enervated (?) lower class that seeks its succor from their new lord and master- government.
    Social justice starts with individual responsibility and individual sacrifice. Or as Scripture has it, “Those who do not work, do not eat”.

    • May 22, 2014 2:00 pm

      I keep hearing that “the United States is not a democracy, it is a republic,” which is a little like saying that the United States is not in North America, it is in the Western Hemisphere.

      We live in a constitutional, democratic republic. Democracy is absolutely essential and structural to our system of government, and our system has gotten steadily more democratic as our history has unfolded. In the late 18th century, only white, property-owning men could vote, but in the ensuing 200 years the right to vote has been extended to non-property owners, former slaves and women. In the civil rights era, after the right to vote was made a practical impossibility by Southern Jim Crow laws, the right to vote was re-extended to those former slaves and their descendants.

      And social justice involves way more than just personal responsibility and individual acts of charity. Our society suffers from structural injustice in the economic and political realms. We need to work together to solve these problems.

      • May 23, 2014 7:59 am

        I find it thought provoking and telling that people use the “Is the US a democracy vs. a republic?” argument to promote their agenda. No more than ten years ago, I had friends who argued that gay marriage should be legalized because the United States is a republic, not a democracy. They talked about how a republic has a duty to protect a minority (LGTB individuals) from the tyranny of the majority (the white, Christian, heterosexual population).

      • May 23, 2014 8:08 am

        I did not say what the us IS- I merely stated how it was constructed

    • May 22, 2014 2:18 pm

      In short, we have a representative democracy, not a pure democracy; but representative democracy is still a form of democracy.

      So “the government,” in the kind of democratic republic we enjoy, theoretically does things we citizens ask it to do, because it is really not some alien entity as some would have it. It is, rather, an institution chartered by We the People to do things and solve problems that we as individuals or members of more local groupings are incapable of doing.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 23, 2014 1:23 am

      How, exactly, did democracy give us an “impossible debt”, when the bulk of the debt can be attributed to tax cuts that benefited the wealthy (as opposed to the masses) and to military spending? I hear this argument a lot, but only in terms of a sound bite.

      • May 23, 2014 8:12 am

        read alexis de Tocqueville democracies always fall from their own weight, due to the fact that people discover they can spend there way into oblivion by just voting for more. tax cuts do not produce debt- that is like saying; putting less wood on a fire will make it grow hotter

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        May 24, 2014 2:15 am

        If we (the US) agree collectively to spend money on something we deem important (defense, social welfare, etc.) but then refuse to raise taxes to pay for it, we create debt because we borrow money to pay for it. Similarly, if after making such a commitment we cut taxes, then we will increase the debt.

  2. Rick Parrisse permalink
    May 22, 2014 4:00 pm

    Matt, I have to disagree. The American government is no longer controlled by the citizens of the US, we are controlled by the government. The Federal government is no longer the realm of men and women of honor and integrity but is run by an elite political class for the benefit of their egos and their friends wealth. This elite class, over many decades, has subjugated the citizenry to feed the enormous financial needs of Washington.

    The ideals of 1776 no longer apply.

    • May 22, 2014 4:03 pm

      This elite class, over many decades, has subjugated the citizenry to feed the enormous financial needs of Washington.

      Change that last word to “the oligarchy” and that’s pretty much the point of this post.

    • Templar permalink
      May 27, 2014 9:26 am

      Rick, the governments of 1776 were explicitly run by the elites for the elites. The Constitution of 1789 was aimed at reining in popular power as expressed in the Whiskey Rebellion to ensure that the wealthy and powerful retained control over the levers of power. The people then fought for decades to expand the franchise and use the government to empower the poor, workers, farmers, women, racial minorities against the alliance of the wealthy and governmental elites. This was a long, winding process requiring efforts by popular movements, in particular the abolitionists, organized labor, and the various civil rights movements. There was no golden age of democracy, only conflicts between those with power and those without, often decided by whether the middle and professional classes sided with the oligarchs or not.

  3. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 23, 2014 1:28 am

    Matt, granting for the moment your central premise, what then is to be done? What is the correct Christian response to the City of Man? This is not the first time Christians have been confronted with empire: unfortunately, I don’t think we have ever gotten it right. Since Constantine it seems we have always tried to co-opt empire, nurturing the myth of Christendom which did some good but gave empire free reign to commit much evil. A minority response has been to shake the dust from our sandals and walk away. That might work for a few folk in isolated communities, though the fact that so many of these groups ended up in the US should suggest that this is not, generally, a successful strategy. But I do not think that it can work in general. The anarchist in me says that we should fight not for power but for the end of power; this is a great slogan, but where do we go with it?

    • Stuart permalink
      May 23, 2014 1:41 am

      My rebellion against empire is to become a citizen of the Roman Catholic Church. I believe we are an alternate, subversive, covert group, embedded in each society but beholden to no one but Jesus. My primary allegiance is to the City of God.

      As far as the City of Man–no, sadly, even in what’s left of this democracy, there aren’t more of us than there are of them. Our votes can only be given to those candidates the oligarchs choose for us. The President and Congress have just about as much power as the Student Council. We might be able to choose the theme for prom, but we have no power over how the school is run anymore. We can protest all we want, but the 1% owns the machinery of government. Any candidate we choose is going to obey the people who give him or her money.

      Democracy is just one more idol to let go of. I choose to be part of that society which is governed by the Holy Spirit, who chooses my leaders for me, and where my vote is just one small voice in the sensus fidelium.

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 23, 2014 12:50 pm

        Not sure how that’s going to work out for you as the monarchical polity of the Church does not lend itself to the City of God. While distinctions are necessary dualism is in the province of abstractions.

        • Stuart permalink
          May 24, 2014 4:53 pm

          The Catholic Church is not monarchical–it is run by servants. These servants are chosen by the Holy Spirit. Thus, I submit to the Church and Her regulations prior to my commitment to any human government. Though I try to live a good life among the pagans.

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 26, 2014 3:59 am

        I am sure the Queen of England considers herself a public servant, though that doesn’t obviate that the polity of the British state is headed by a constitutional monarch.

  4. May 23, 2014 7:26 am

    For any citizen of any nation, justice is the goal. By justice, I mean ‘a right relationship with God and with others’. ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ is a petition that requires conversion before it can be uttered seriously.

  5. Agellius permalink
    May 23, 2014 12:39 pm

    Democracy and freedom are what give the oligarchs their power. Since democracy depends on getting votes, and there are hundreds of millions of citizens, only those who can reach millions of people can attain office. This is precisely what concerns me about the idea of popularly electing bishops and popes. You can’t separate money from vote-getting.

    Of course democracy is also what gave us no-fault divorce (leading to gay marriage) and legal baby-killing, so on that count as well, I’m not convinced that it’s worth trying to save.

    Much more important to ask how we can save souls rather than save our form of government.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 24, 2014 4:01 am

      How does it follow that no fault divorce leads to gay marriage? Perhaps you are referring to some general societal decline. If so than you would be mistaken about its origin which everyone knows we got trouble, right here in river city,,, it rhymes with P and that stands for POOL.

      • dismasdolben permalink
        May 24, 2014 2:56 pm

        The Protestant doctrine of “companionate marriage,” and acceptance of Luther’s teaching that, regarding Christ’s innovation of Mosaic Law to prohibit divorce, it was actually “to convict us of our sins,” and “given with His tongue far in His Cheek” (viz. Luther’s Table Talk) is PRECISELY what has led to “gay marriage” THROUGH the extremely un-”traditional” American style of marriage, which confutes “sacramental marriage,” replacing it with what has become virtual “serial monogamy.” “Gays” say that they, too, have a right to this completely secularized version of marriage, and they are absolutely right–they do, and the Catholic Church’s attitude SHOULD be that can HAVE it. The Catholic Church has no right to deny them something that has absolutely no connection to anything like the eternal vow, taken primarily to Christ, that the marriage the Church sanctifies is “until death do” them “part.”

        • Agellius permalink
          May 25, 2014 12:18 am

          Dismas:

          I pretty much agree with your response to Trellis. This just goes to show that everyone can agree on something. : )

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 26, 2014 3:50 am

          A sacramental marriage is conferred by the parties entering into marriage, the priest is quite immaterial to its sacramental nature. Any marriage entered into such fashion is sacramental. The hierarchy recognizes the sacredness of such marriages be they be protestant or catholic. This is the basis of their opposition to gay marriages…and bigotry is the fuel that ignites their opposition.

          Gay people enter into marriages for the same reason that God recognizes
          that it is not good for people to be alone.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 26, 2014 10:44 pm

          So obviously, Trellis, you don’t believe that Luther’s rejection of Christ’s prohibition of divorce had anything to do with it, and you don’t believe that the same Martin Luther’s teaching that “He gave us that rule to convict us of our sins”–and, presumably, to show that concupiscence is unavoidable and “be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” is just another example of “having his tongue far in His cheek”–that none of that affected the Protestant marriage-culture.

          Sorry, but I strongly disagree with you, and agree, instead, with T.S. Eliot, that religious faith is the bedrock foundation of culture.

          When “sacramental” marriage is replaced by mere “companionate marriage,” there is no reason to remain in the marriage, after “companionship,” its rationale, becomes boring: one doesn’t have to be “married” to avoid being “alone.”

  6. May 25, 2014 10:01 am

    “If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
    — Malcolm X, Speech, Nov. 1963, New York City.

  7. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 26, 2014 1:51 am

    Agellius: “Much more important to ask how we can save souls rather than save our form of government.”

    This seems to be setting up a false dichotomy since how we live in this world affects our ability to prepare for the next. Democracy may have produced manifold ills, but so has authoritarianism and totalitarianism of both left and right. The track record of the Medieval “Christian” kings is no better. So the question we should be asking is: if we are called to live together in society (and in particular as leaven in the midst of a world that still needs to really hear the gospel) which form of government is best suited to protecting and extending the dignity of the human person?

    I will admit, I am prejudiced: liberal democracy seems to have done a pretty good job in this direction. Not perfect, but better than anything else that has been tried. (H/T Winston Churchill.) So rather than walking away from Democracy, we either need to ask what we can do to save it, or have a serious conversation about what can REALISTICALLY replace in this time and place that will do a better job.

  8. Agellius permalink
    May 26, 2014 2:45 am

    OK, so democracy has produced manifold ills, and so have authoritarianism and totalitarianism, as well as monarchy. So why should I be particularly worried about saving democracy?

    The thing about monarchy is, if you have a bad king you can overthrow him and replace him with a good one. But you can’t overthrow a bad democracy and replace it with a good one. You would just end up with the same one again. It seems to me that once a culture or society has gone downhill, it’s gonna stay down there as long as it remains a democracy.

    (I don’t claim to be an expert, this is just how it seems to me. I’m open to being shown wrong.)

  9. Mark VA permalink
    May 26, 2014 2:02 pm

    I don’t believe the United States is an Imperial Power. I would say the evidence for it is non-existent – for example, I’m unable to name any captive nations, whose populations are being systematically oppressed for the benefit of the political and economic elites of the United States.

    Additionally, while examples of injustices are found within American history (slavery, segregation, treatment of the Native Americans), yet their self-corrections are also richly evident. Such thorough self-corrections are usually not present in the histories of real Imperialists – they were either started from the outside:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denazification

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Military_Tribunal_for_the_Far_East ),

    were shallow and ineffective: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De-Stalinization

    or were never administered (some countries in Western Europe come to mind).

    However, I understand that “America is an Imperial Power” is an article of faith for many on the American Left, and that to correct it would require a shift to a more global, nuanced, and less parochial perspective. Those who have experienced real tyranny and exploitation may see this belief as arising from a mixture of good intentions, naïveté, and intramural politics (as in scoring points against the “neo-cons”).

    I would describe the United States as a reluctant global power. Perhaps paradoxically, it is this very reluctance that qualifies the United States, in the eyes of many nations, as a trusted global leader. So perhaps this is a left-handed compliment to the American Left – since it expresses this reluctance loudly and frequently, at the same time it helps to reinforce the trust many have in the United States of America.

    God bless America for being cautious with her power.

    • May 27, 2014 6:54 am

      I would disagree and say that blacks have been and continue to be colonized, as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ feature article in the new Atlantic illustrates:

      http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

      I think the same is true for the Native American population. The entire point of reservations was to herd them into an enclosed, prison-like area where they would eventually die out. As far as I’m concerned, ghettos are reservations for black people and they were designed with that view in mind (see the above article). I think you should consider yourself lucky that blacks are so colonized that, aside from a few instances like Nat Turner’s rebellion, they have never tried to truly rebel against this country. Like most Americans, they want to be rich not be revolutionaries.

      America has never truly self-corrected for the systematic violence that has and continues to be inflicted on these populations. Just taking down the “white” and “colored” signs isn’t enough to atone for four hundred years of genocide and disenfranchisement. The very fact that any social program that gives the appearance of helping blacks is condemned by white conservatives (many of whom receive government benefit themselves in the form of Medicare or SSI) shows the resistance to doing anything that would actually ameliorate some of their problem. That Barack Obama, a politician who in the context of any of industrialized nation would be considered center-right and governs to the right of Richard Nixon, is considered this radical anti-colonialist also illustrates how threatening even the most non-threatening black person can be to many white people.

      • Agellius permalink
        May 27, 2014 10:54 am

        LM:

        “The very fact that any social program that gives the appearance of helping blacks is condemned by white conservatives … shows the resistance to doing anything that would actually ameliorate some of their problem.”

        Or maybe conservatives just don’t agree that government benefit programs are the best way of helping them. But believing that would take an assumption of good will on the part of your opponents. Maybe that’s too much to ask.

        • May 27, 2014 7:51 pm

          I don’t assume good faith because racism is always lurking in the background of every political discussion in this country. It’s been my experience that conservatives either choose not to see this or they don’t care. Once I was on the Catholic Answers board trying to explain why blacks overwhelmingly vote Democrat and one (presumably white) poster didn’t understand why the Willie Horton ad was racist. On a well-known conservative blog, I read one commenter said that the Jim Crow South couldn’t have been that bad because blacks would have immigrated to other countries if that were true. I know people say all kinds of crazy things on the Internet, but if this is indicative of conservative opinion, we really aren’t living in the same moral universe.

          Also, no conservatives in the 1950s or 1960s were in favor of civil rights for blacks. Not Ronald Reagan, not William F. Buckley, not Barry Goldwater. The only reason Reagan signed the MLK Day holiday into law was because his back was up against the wall. The entire strategy of the post-civil rights Republican Party has been the “Southern Strategy” of feeding off of white resentment. Of course, the American conservative tradition has always been partial to the Confederate version of Southern racial history, and that’s still true today, although it’s somewhat obscured with dog-whistle politics and code words. When conservative politicians talk about “welfare queens,” we all know they aren’t talking about a young person with a traumatic brain injury getting disability or a Korean War veteran receiving military benefits or a wealthy agro-business executive receiving farm subsidies. When they complain about “thug culture” we all know they aren’t talking about poor whites in Appalachia selling meth and listening to outlaw country albums. When they talk about “bad schools” we know they aren’t talking about private Christian schools that receive public money in the form of vouchers yet teach that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. No one is fooled by these code words, despite protests to the contrary.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 27, 2014 8:33 pm

        LM:

        I think you set an impossible standard for “atonement”, as you put it. It reminds me of one of the Alinsky rules:

        “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

        I think that dialog and reconciliation are possible among people of good will, so perhaps we should ask for some good will first.

        • May 28, 2014 8:30 am

          Actually, I don’t think my standards for atonement are too high. West Germany paid Israel reparations in the 1950s. Last year, Germany agreed to pay 772 million Euros in reparations for Holocaust survivors throughout the world. The US paid reparations to Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during World War II. Given that blacks in America have had to endure centuries of legalized slavery, more than a hundred years of disenfranchisement and Jim Crow, and a legal system that is/was hard-wired to see them as inferior, I think reparations are completely appropriate. I’m not confident that it will happen, given how even the idea of a poor black mother receiving SNAP benefits drives many white conservatives crazy.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 27, 2014 11:57 am

      Mark VA: the US has a long history of acquiring territories of other countries and keeping them as our own territory, subject colonies or client states: Texas and the American southwest in the Mexican-American war, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines in the Spanish American war (we still control two of those). It also has a long history of overthrowing governments we do not like or imposing our will on governments via military force: the banana wars in the 1910′s-1930′s, Iran and Guatemala in the 1950′s, Chile in the 70′s, Nicaragua in the 80′s, Iraq, Honduras (backing a coup against a democratically elected president two years ago)……This is quite similar to British imperialism in the 19th century. There are differences, but unless a more appropriate term comes up, I think “imperialism” is a reasonable category to describe things in this way.

      As for a reluctant global power: this reminds me of the argument that Rome became an imperial power “in a fit of absent mindedness”. Yes, our decisions have an altruistic bent, but equally often it is colored by our own interests. Many nations respect and trust us, but many have very mixed feelings, often distinguishing how they feel about Americans versus how they feel about the American government.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 27, 2014 8:15 pm

        Mr. Cruz-Uribe, you wrote in reference to Guam and Puerto Rico:

        “…we still control two of those”

        There is absolutely no qualitative comparison between the United States “controlling” these two territories, and, for example, the old Soviet Union (the preeminent imperial power of the twentieth century) controlling its captured territories. Here is one quick reminder:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_occupations_by_the_Soviet_Union

        I believe that some on the American Left lack or avoid historical discernment, to instinctively protect their home grown ideology. Now, to be fair, some on the American Right also indulge in jingoisms of their own:

        I think somewhere between “America is an Imperial Power” and “We’ll put a boot in your ###, it’s the American way” is a different America, one that is trusted and respected by many around the globe.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        May 28, 2014 12:21 am

        Like the old anti-communist left, I have never been one to discount or downplay the brutality of the Soviet Union. But just because the US did not, in these two instances, behave the same way does not mean that the US is not an imperial power and does not excuse American behavior. If you look at the various imperial powers of the modern period (the Russians, British, French, Belgians and Turks) you will see that each brought its own standards and forms to the imperial project. The US has done the same thing, in our case driven by the very powerful “we are not conquerors but liberators” meme. In many cases this was true, and we did do a lot of good in the world. But we have also told ourselves this when it was not true, and the results have been ugly for a lot of people. One example should suffice: in 1954 the US overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala to install a military dictatorship at the behest of the United Fruit Company. Ostensibly, we did this to “save” Guatemala from communism.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_Guatemalan_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat

        My final point is this: I do not deny that the US has done a lot of good in the world, but I think in all honesty we need to accept and own the evil we have done as well. Much of that evil has been redolent of the goals and means of past imperial powers and so I think it is worthwhile to call it imperialism. I am happy to look for and acknowledge differences as well as similarities, but in a variant of the duck test: there are many different kinds of ducks, but if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck…..

  10. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 27, 2014 1:28 am

    Dismas (relocating from narrow boxes above): I do not know the original Luther very well, but I think you are being unfair to the whole Protestant tradition. I did some searching and found a document from the Missouri Synod Lutherans from 1987:

    http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=318

    Though formulated for a different Church polity and with different notions of justification lurking in the background, they are finding themselves in a position very similar to moderate reformers in the Catholic church today: on the basis of scripture they must declare that marriage is a unique, permanent commitment; based on the words of Jesus and of St. Paul there are some very narrow exceptions in which divorce is permitted; how, pastorally, should the Church respond when presented with a person who obtained a divorce on non-scriptural grounds and wish to remarry in the Church? (Their answer seems to parallel Orthodox practice, again adapted to their different theological settings.)

    Irrespective of anything else, I recommend this document as a thoughtful attempt to deal with these issues from a conservative Lutheran perspective that I think contributes to the discussion for all Christians.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 27, 2014 12:51 pm

      David, you have attempted to exculpate the founder of this heresy before, but I want you to respond to his teaching that divorce is justified because, according to him, Christ did not literally mean what he said when he prohibited divorce except for adultery, because the prohibition was merely, according to Luther, some kind of “teaching moment” in which Christ was showing mankind their inability to obey such a command, because of their natural concupiscence. Luther actually said, in his Table Talk, that Christ had his “tongue far in his cheek,” when He “gave us that command.” And, to emphasize his rejection of any literal interpretation of that passage in Matthew, he “divorced” a nun from her “marriage vows” to Christ, and married her. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested, really, in how the modern Lutheran Church attempts to mitigate their arch-heresiarch’s teachings. THAT interpretation of marriage as “companionate,” rather than “sacramental”–and, therefore, permanent–is what has been, according to me, most influential in defining Protestant marriage customs in the Early Modern period, which is, culturally, the seed-bed of European and, particularly, American religious cultures.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        May 27, 2014 1:44 pm

        Like I said, I do not know Luther himself well enough to comment. However, I think looking at the fruit of Luther’s thinking (as represented by LCMS) suggests that Luther’s impact on marriage is more complicated than your reductive reading suggests.

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 28, 2014 3:23 am

        @Dismasdolben: Understandings of marriage have evolved through time. Scripture reveals a complex development and understanding of marriage beginning with polygamy. It has long been recognized that the rise of capitalism gave birth to our modern view of marriage and not Lutheran theology. I also don’t understand your distinction that disallows a companionate marriage from being sacramental. The arranged and rational marriages that preceded seem far less so.
        The truth is companionate marriage can be at the very heart of Christian life and sacrament.
        For companionate marriage is a paradox second only to life itself both of which are on the face of it, absurd.
        Furthermore I don’t see how a polemical ad hominem approach towards protestant Christianity serves to really advance the discussion.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 28, 2014 12:33 pm

          You know, a further consideration is that early Christianity really had absolutely NO use for the idolatry of “family life” that goes on in modern Catholicism and Protestantism. “Companionship” was supposed to come from the agape-love one felt with one’s fellow Christians, who, like oneself, were supposed to be waiting for the Second Coming, when there would be, according to Christ, “no giving or taking” in nuptials. In fact, monastic life far closer approximates to what the “Jesus Movement” prioritized as a “Christian lifestyle.” And, sorry, I am not directing an ad hominem against anybody but the arch-heresiarch whom even W.H. Auden considered to be at the birth of German culture’s madness.

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 29, 2014 2:22 am

          My reading of this stanza September 1.1939, is more about the first rupture in Europe observed from the contemporaneous rupture on the first day of WW2. The rise of nationalism at the time of the Reformation was opportunistic that allowed the survival of the protestant bodies, in much the same way the Roman church emerged from Constantine. I am unpersuaded that the order and polity of a church thoroughly or irreparably taints its theology.

  11. Agellius permalink
    May 27, 2014 11:10 pm

    LM:

    You write, “The entire strategy of the post-civil rights Republican Party has been the “Southern Strategy” of feeding off of white resentment.”

    It can just as well be argued that the entire strategy of the Democrats has been to feed off of minority resentment.

    In any event, it seems to me that the way you argue that conservatives are deserving of hatred, doesn’t differ substantially from the way in which white racists argue that non-whites are deserving of hatred: You give a few examples of racist conservatives, plus your own interpretation of common conservative tropes, and draw the conclusion that anyone who is conservative is thereby necessarily a racist, since conservatism and racism are practically synonymous.

    Voila, you have justified hatred of conservatives, and are determined to spread your hatred far and wide. But where is this supposed to get us?

    I know, conservatives do the same thing to liberals. But I’m not talking about what “conservatives” do and what “liberals” do, I’m talking about what you and I, fellow Catholics, are doing. If some Catholics identify as liberals and some as conservatives, then it behooves us as brothers in the Lord to give each other the benefit of the doubt, as least as far as our motives and intentions. To do otherwise is to judge each other’s hearts, and we both should know better than that. .

    • May 29, 2014 9:46 am

      As I mentioned earlier, none of the leaders of the conservative movement during the 1950s and 1960s were in favor of civil rights for blacks, because they thought it was a front for communism. This is well-documented in the historical record. They considered black concerns about being treated as second-class citizens to be illegitimate, and not worthy of consideration. When the Sixteenth Street Church bombing occurred, for example, William F. Buckley fretted that the incident would make the white residents of Birmingham look bad. No concern about the girls that were killed, their grieving families, the attack on a religious institution, or the individuals who were injured and maimed. His only interest was that it might cause outsiders to think poorly of the “superior race” (and Buckley did consider whites to be superior). Even today, I find that conservatives don’t think that black concerns about racial injustice or institutionalized racism to be legitimate, because they choose not to see it. If you don’t perceive there to be a problem, then there’s not much room for dialogue.

      • Agellius permalink
        May 29, 2014 12:31 pm

        LM:

        There is also no room for dialogue if you choose not to give those with whom you disagree the assumption of good will.

        • May 29, 2014 4:24 pm

          Okay, let me try this again. The problem with American conservatism, both past and present, is that it doesn’t consider racism to be a problem. In the past, conservatism saw racism to be a logical response to the “natural inferiority” of blacks. Right now, the general tenor seems to be that racism may have been a problem in the past, but the Civil Rights Movement solved it, so we should just dismantle all the civil rights laws passed in the 60s because they aren’t needed anymore. If you don’t admit that a problem exists, you aren’t going to spend any resources trying to solve it. Furthermore, when people like Michelle Bachman or Cliven Bundy assert that blacks were better off under slavery and/or Jim Crow (and then complain that taxes are a form of slavery), it’s hard to believe that they really have my best interests at heart.

  12. Mark VA permalink
    May 28, 2014 7:10 pm

    LM:

    I agree with you that some form of reparations for slavery may be necessary. I believe that the direct monetary reparations you’ve mentioned, were given to the very persons who have experienced these injustices. The case you’re talking about is more complicated, due to the much longer passage of time.

    I think a good idea from the past, and sort of a precedent for this, is the GI Bill – taxpayer funded college education for all those who qualify. The colleges and the universities would be mandated to provide all the necessary instruction leading to a degree, at a stipulated cost. This should satisfy both the Left and the Right, as a gesture of reconciliation, and of substantial help to remedy the effects of past injustices.

    What do you think, LM?

    • May 29, 2014 9:37 am

      I think the time for direct payments would have been during Reconstruction, something like the “40 Acres and a Mule” scheme. Today, I agree that a different tack would have to be tried and that social services to solve racial inequality would be better. The Great Society programs were in a way a second Reconstruction, but as with the first Reconstruction, it was rolled back due to reactionary backlash. This leads me to believe that this country will probably never adequately address racial issues and as the demographics shift to a black-brown future it seems that older whites are less inclined to invest in the nation’s human capital.

  13. Agellius permalink
    May 29, 2014 5:23 pm

    “The problem with American conservatism, both past and present, is that it doesn’t consider racism to be a problem.”

    The problem with the way you talk about conservatism is that you treat it as though it’s something definitely defined and without nuances and gradations. Whereas in fact, conservatism and liberalism are relative positions on a spectrum, so that even within conservatism you can be more liberal or less liberal, or more racist and less racist; and likewise within liberalism.

    Furthermore, conservatism and liberalism are relative positions within the context of a given timeframe. Thus, even if it’s granted that conservatives generally are more racist than liberals (which I deny but will grant for the sake of argument), nevertheless most people would agree that conservatives of today are less racist than they were in the 60s, and liberals in the 60s were not as purely non-racist as they purport to be today. It was simply not as culturally repellent back then to be racist, as it is today. So using conservative figures of the 60s to condemn the conservatives of today, simply makes no sense, EVEN IF it were assumed that conservatism, then and now, were a monolithic block of beliefs occupying a single point on the political spectrum, rather than a section of the spectrum encompassing variations and gradations of belief.

    In short, it simply doesn’t follow logically that because Cliven Bundy and William F. Buckley (FTSOA) espouse racist beliefs, therefore anyone claiming the label of conservative must do so as well.

  14. Agellius permalink
    May 30, 2014 1:09 pm

    LM:

    For what it’s worth, here is an article by a conservative Catholic advocating the support of inner-city Catholic schools that can’t afford to support themselves:

    http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/05/for-city-kids-and-city-neighborhoods?utm_source=First+Things+Subscribers&utm_campaign=9356abd4a1-5_30_145_30_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28bf775c26-9356abd4a1-172546685

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