The main role of theology is application to human reality in the present moment.
In order to affect a culture shaped by external forces of wealth, and power, a culture of ideologies inconsistent with the growth and development of Jesus’ vision for humanity, Christianity must establish cultural practices that promote critical thinking and replace the role of the external forces with alternative practices. Alternative practices are not accommodation; they continue to resist evil, and to support ethical and moral values consistent with scripture and faith.
Because alternative practices do not accommodate the dominant culture and political powers, alternative communities are subject to suspicion, and natural exclusion whether by choice or by difference. The prophetic element of the alternative community is first demonstrated by their living out the reign of God in the present. Second is the practice of prophetic denunciation; that is to speak against the idolatries of militarism, materialism and nationalism.
These perennial idols are not the idolatry of deifying the cosmos. Perennial idols enter the people of God as forces from outside the tenets of monotheism, of Christian faith. They belong to the ruling ideologies that enable human government, resist love of neighbor, and cannot celebrate difference. In the U.S., multiculturalism is the lie that supports assimilation, ends difference, and via capitalism exploits other nations. These perennial idols prohibit multiculturalism through myths of manifest destiny and social Darwanism. Their entrance into religion is indicative of commandeering the voice of religion for the state’s propaganda. Religious practice in this condition prohibits prophetic denunciation. It is limited to individuals or small communities of faith.
Idolatry is the entrance of death into public sphere.
The alternative practices of a Christian community need to reflect values that replace the intrusion of the external forces of the powers. It is not my goal to identify ethical values. Ethical values are important and not to be neglected, but in the process of emphasizing ethical values, Christian response has been merely reactive to the culture rather than intentionally subversive and wise. In the community where I fellowship ethical values focus on broad theologically based pedagogue rather than divisive issues. This does not exclude conversation about those issues. However, when culturally divisive issues are approached, critical thought is used to help all concerned enter into a learning process rather than instant dogmatism.
Although I long for the establishment of alternative practices, practices that can subvert the popular culture, I fear it is too little too late. The church in America has failed to resist the culture through communal ecclesia. The mass appeal of electronic mediums for storytelling has replaced the smaller venue of cultural storytelling belonging to the family and to the fellowship of the Christian community. Storytelling within a family and communal group contributes to identity formation in children and in the incorporation of persons joining the group or ecclesia.
I am fond of saying, "Storytellers rule the world".
This natural aspect of culture must be recovered and at this point should be viewed as a resistant effort, resistant to a dominating technology that has invaded our humanity with its permeating intrusion into our cultural ethos and identity formation. The alternative cultural practice of communal storytelling forms a healthy cultural ethos and identity because it is a truly social activity. Likewise the alternative community’s educational paradigm should resist the culture. The institutional church has failed to value an education that assists in the development of Christ like persons; it has been replaced with institutionalized systems that make ‘good citizens’ instead of wise believers.
At G.O.D. International my son, Gregg has written numerous one acts, plays and a musical as part of an alternative response to the media dominance that feeds us stories embedded in the erring socio-political fabric of our society. Throughout the years I have made storytelling a part of my classroom practice. We also intentionally share stories during holiday dinners, even requiring my grandchildren to participate. The G.O.D. regional development teams gather to share stories often.
The implosion of American culture is evident in the growing dissatisfaction of the populous expressed in the national politic. At the core is dispute over values of moral, ethical and ideologically-based claims for governing humanity. Historically this state of affairs is indicative of either a collapse, followed by a restructuring that will render U.S. influence in the world less powerful, or the powers use propaganda, subvert democratic values, and resort to force. This use of force is to continue the distracting power of an unending conflict that will require the United States to go to war. Any protracted war policy with global impact will eventually bring about a full-blown effort to defeat the enemy; this is the nature of response for an empire.
War is most likely because the industrial military complex allows the billionaire class to continue their accumulation of wealth. Profiting from war is both a moral and legal issue, therefore it is a theological issue. As a moral issue profiteering from war is ‘blood money’, it is wealth achieved without any redeeming value. It is offensive to the senses that a person or company should profit from the blood of the sons and daughters of a people.
The theological position of Christian faith is that profiteering from war is immoral and must be regulated through law by complete legal prohibition.
War is a business. Profiting from war demonstrates that it is a business. It militarizes culture and leads to corruption in economic affairs both at home and in relation to other nation-states. This is so because war demands energy, fear, and challenge, in order to require that some lose their lives, and so the sacredness of life is lost to the call of war. Law is built upon the value of human life, and war resists law, for this reason, all that relates to the practice of war must be governed by law to prevent the descent into war.
War includes a restriction on democratic values or uses ideologies of nationalism and the power of propaganda to acquire ‘manufactured consent’ from the populace. War is the business of the powerful; it should be resisted both culturally and legally.
As a theologian I understand that war is a disturbing reality that God tolerates because God cannot stop us from warring unless God uses force. God desires to teach, to redeem, for us to be reconciled with our creator (God). I also understand from the perspective of anthropological theology that scripture reveals humanity to be self-destructive and subject to moments of madness that erupt in war, war that kills indiscriminately and acts with unrestrained force to root out the enemy.
It is my sense of reality that we are involved in a protracted war that will erupt in a more violent maddening use of military force. This action will be deemed necessary in order to avoid the militarization of society. As police forces are faced with military type attacks of terror, they require military equipment and training. The idol of militarism strikes deep into the fabric of all of life. The recruitment of children into the U.S. culture of war begins with absurd tactics like the U.S.M.C.’s practice of sponsoring a ‘devil pups’ camp. The U.S. military’s access to public High Schools is an intolerable stain on the morality of adults in relation to minor children. If not halted cultural militarization can so infest the social fabric that the government itself no longer functions except through the actions of the military.
It is my prayer that collapse and restructuring in the U.S. will occur rather than war. It is my hope that somehow the power of Christian faith will turn the culture of America from its loss of moral values, from its manufactured media culture, from war to peace.
The unending consumption of the earth’s resources by the tower building capitalists of the world cannot endure with the realities that make for peace.
On the U.S. political front, neither party is consistent with the values of a society that reflects Christ. The immoral ethics of liberalism sets in contrast to the immoral ideologies of the conservative; one leans toward collapse with war, and the other to war as the solution. There is no happy ending.
However, those of us who know Christ and seek to continue the call of Jesus to establish the reign of God in humanity must not become hopeless or lose ourselves in a debilitating fear. Rather, we must accept that the world is not going to continue on as it is. It is our voices that must wrestle with the culture and stand for truth. We have today, and today we can speak for God through works of love. We can be agents of peace and work with fervor for a resurgence of Christian faith that is free from the trappings of a failed culture or from the trappings of hope in a political solution.
The immediate moment calls for prophetic denunciation, for resistance to evil when evil is most imminently present.
It is unwise for the people of God to ignore the immoral weaponry built up in our national stockpiles. If the ‘dogs of war’ are released it is imperative that all who hold faith in Jesus speak boldly against the use of nuclear weapons. A generation goes and a generation comes, humanity remains the same, there is no natural evolving of the human species into better persons. The only source for real change in humanity is the people of God, the faithful who live as aliens and strangers in a world where wheat and tare, good and evil, exist side by side.
I cannot accept that the sign acts of the Berrigan brothers were vain. Their voice still resonates across the generations to touch us in the present. We have become lethargic in relation to the existence of these weapons. We suppose their use will never occur, that our leaders would not utilize these weapons of mass destruction. We are mistaken.
The U.S. has produced an empire through cultural colonization via a network of nearly 800 military bases in over seventy nations. U.S. military bases reflect the capitalist materialism of life in America through modern housing facilities for its personnel. The housing alone is impressive but the bases include the construction of world-class malls, golf courses and other recreational facilities. All this voices the power of, and proposes the superiority of, the American way of life. It is an overwhelming display of power capped off with military weaponry unlike the world has ever seen. The military bases with naval ports also boast the intimidating size of modern aircraft carriers and the unknown whereabouts of U.S. nuclear submarines.
The imposing power of the U.S. military supports the invested interests of U.S. corporations in other nations to insure that the flow of goods to maintain the American way of life is not disrupted. This activity goes on without concern for the welfare of the citizens in these nations.
The U.S. military, supported via the U.S. government, trains Latin American military personnel and trained the President of Gambia. This activity is infamously known to produce the war criminals and dictators we all abhor. WHINSEC or the School of the Americas is located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. That the American news media has ignored this activity is indicative of the interests of their owners; the rich stick together.
The denunciation of war as inconsistent with Christian faith is an act of resistance. Ignoring the suspension of life’s sacredness is the guiding immorality of war. It is not wise to ignore humanity’s propensity for war. War interrupts life, interrupts all our plans.
War is an eruption of madness, it is self-destruction, it is indicative of a lack of intelligence.
War is an act against God because it licenses the wholesale killing of human beings who bear the image of God. Christian faith must never close its eyes to the ever-threatening propensity of the powers to fall prey to their own institutional machinations and spiral into the madness of war.
We ignore war at our own peril.
The guiding ethic of scripture, through the most complex situations of life in God’s creation, is the preservation of life. As salt, our preserving acts of establishing cultural practices that contend with accepted norms is essential for change. For the practitioners of Christianity these are internal acts, like communal storytelling and an alternative education that is free of indoctrination or programmatic weakness.
The external act of denunciation, of exposing the flawed thinking that leads to militarization and war, is a matter of love that cannot be silenced. It is the cry of God to an erring humanity; it is the cry of God embodied in God’s children.
A Flaming Sword at Eden's Entrance
I have often wondered about the use of a sword to guard the return into the garden of God. Of course, the sword as imagery takes on the power of speech in the New Testament. Yet, the sword is a human invention used for killing others and during the writing of the bible was every soldier’s weapon. The imagery of the flaming sword at the garden recognizes the two most potent weapons of war, fire, and the blade. These components of war prohibit our entrance into the garden. The flourishing garden where the voice of God walks with humanity is unattainable as long as humanity practices war.
Humanity’s violence against one another is indicative of our war with God.
It is the speech of denunciation belonging to God’s children that exposes the madness of warring. We replace the sword of war, of death with the speech of peace of life. Our words must cut sharply into the ideologies of normalcy and inevitability on which war is justified and burn away with truth the powers that consume us through militarism.