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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Four Trojan Horsemen For Christians Today

What is a trojan horseman? It's a merging of one of the Four Horsemen from Revelation 6 and the Trojan Horse. The Four Horsemen brought disasters to the whole earth. There is no need to explain what the Trojan Horse symbolizes. When we put them together, what we find are items that appear to Christians as blessings or helps but turn out to be hurtful and a cause for cursing for both Christians and the rest of the world. The Four Horsemen we will be considering here are prosperity, patriotism, authoritarianism, and being special. 

Prosperity

One of my two childhood heros would conduct a fake seance in front of a crystal ball. And after my hero announced that the spirits were about to speak came the all important question for today. The question asked by Rocky J. Squirrel was, "Are they friendly spirits?" 

We need to remember that question so we can adapt it and use it when people defend American Capitalism by saying that it has produced the most wealth in the history of the world. First, people forget that many great empires could say the same during their time. Also, the people who brag about our prosperity ask us to consider one factor and one factor only: the bottom line. Such people want all thinking to stop after they tell us that American Capitalism has produced the most wealth. To them, the bottom line makes all questions superfluous. It determines what is right and wrong. So if we were to take on Rocky's role in questioning American Capitalism, we would respond to the bottom line canon by asking, "Is it friendly wealth?" Or importantly we would ask, "Is it moral wealth?"

Our nation's prosperity approaches the Christian as a Trojan Horse. It takes on pleasing shape by confirming the nation and ideals we grew up with. The confirmation assures us that God is smiling on how we do things. But riding that Trojan Horse is the Horseman who blinds us and the rest of the world. While we are fixated by the bright light of riches, the people who pay the real price for these riches go unseen. The workers who are underpaid, work in sweatshops, or become the victims of traffickers pay a high price for the bottom line.

Exploited workers are not the only ones paying the price for our prosperity. People from other nations have as they experience our military might for the sake of our capitalism. Using the military to protect and further our prosperity, and often the prosperity of those with wealth and power, predates the 1930s according to former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler (see here and there). Installing proxy rulers to protect "national" (business) interests can be seen by studying the coup in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Chile (1973), and Haiti (during the 1980s and 1990s). These were just a few examples of the use of proxy rulers that practice still continues today. 

We could also cite the effects of the free-trade agreements that favored our financial interests which our government has made with other countries. These countries include India, Mexico, and Haiti. These agreements have caused farmers in these countries to quit farming because of the financial strains these agreements have caused. The heavy debt of many farmers which came from free-trade agreement with India led to the suicide of tens of thousands of farmers (see here). In Haiti and Mexico, the financial stress comes from having to compete against subsidized American agribusiness. This has have caused farmers to go out of business.

In this country, the bottom line ethic has made workers, communities, and perhaps even cities disposable. For many jobs that interfere with maximizing profits have been cut or outsourced leaving workers here unemployed and communities with an ever diminishing tax base with which to support themselves. And many who get new jobs, they have no leverage in terms of bargaining for fair wages.

We should note that with all of these things happening to labor and to the sovereignty of other nations, we have companies that try their best to make sure that the environment does not feel neglected. The oil leaks in the Gulf as well as from some pipelines, the devastating blasting of mountaintops for the extraction of coal (see here as well as Chapter 3 of Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt by Chris Hedges), the use of fracking, and our overall dependence on fossil fuels are gradually making life unlivable for future generations and perhaps even us.

But if the price of gas is controlled and we can live comfortably, at least for now, the world's future and the plight of others are beyond the horizon of our concern. We marvel at our current prosperity and enjoy the comforts. We believe that we are getting what we deserve. We do our best to live on our own fantasy island, isolating ourselves from a volatile and disturbing world around us. And yet we are unaware of the anesthesia cloud that our prosperity brings to each island. We have become much like the businesses that rule our country, if not the world. The now is all that matters to us. Everything else has become trivial, even the suffering of others who have been forced into underpaying jobs or who are dying from the environmental costs of our standard of living. If we are happy with our prosperity, we forget to ask the questions Rocky J. Squirrel would have us ask. Is it a friendly prosperity? Is it a moral prosperity? We don't ask these questions because we are afraid of the answer. And the price for neglecting to ask these question includes more than the immediate earthly problems that we experience and leave for those who come after us, we make ourselves vulnerable to a greater judgment (see Revelation 18-19).

Patriotism

Patriotism is portrayed as something that is noble and honorable. To love one's country so that one would die for it earns one much respect in the public sphere. Thus, our society makes a concerted effort to thank each member of the military for their service. Christians, however, are told that patriotism has its limits. We are told to have a balanced view of patriotism so that our devotion to our country does not become idol worship. So we are told that we are Christians first and Americans second. We are told that we are to love our country but we are to love God even more. But is that a biblical view?

For Christians, there are two problems with believing that we are Christians first and Americans second. The first problem is that setting such a priority on nationality, though appearing balanced and holy, causes us to forget another tie that binds. That other tie that binds is tells us that each person is made in the image of God. And because of that, to treat others with preference is to sin. James 2 talks about this only with regard to the wealthy. And the question for us is what difference does the reason for our preference make? If I show preference to a person because of their nationality, haven't I committed the same sin of showing preference based on riches?

This treating people the same regardless of their nationality is somewhat hard to implement. After all, we live in communities with fellow countrymen. It is natural that we will have closer ties to them. But we also have to remember how connected we are to the world through technology. We can meet more people from around the world and we can get news from all over. And we need to remember that God shows no favoritism. So if we respond to people based on association with some group, we are not following God. Again, the implementation here is tough. But at least in matters of justice, we should show no favoritism.

There is a second problem with patriotism and it is somewhat related to the first. Patriotism is a form of tribalism. And tribalism rears its ugly head not necessarily when one feels connected to a group, but when one's loyalty to a group exceeds one's fealty to principles and moral values. Once tribalism is born, the person who is captured by it embraces moral relativity as right and wrong now depends on who does what to whom. The only concern  of those who are imprisoned by tribalism, in our cities it is called a gang mentality, is the survival and growth of the group. There is little to no concern for those outside of the group for the responsibility for those from the other group rests on the members and leaders of the other group. 

So when we ask those whose commitment to our country represents the peak of patriotism whom they are serving, the answer should be that they are serving a master who is amoral at best (see the above references to Smedley Butler). In reality, history shows that though it is the President who orders where the troops must go, it is business whose interests are served. Thanking our troops for their service should be done by our major corporations and financial institutions only because it is their interests that are being catered to. Everything else that is said is just for show in order to enhance the delusion of those who revel in patriotism.

As with identification with any noteworthy group, tribalism's return on investment is a sense of significance and security. And the greater the feeling of significance, or pride, the more that the nation becomes a god, patriotism becomes a religion, and, as Chris Hedges pointed out about idol worship in Losing Moses On The Freeway, we end up worshipping ourselves. Considering that most of the land belonging to our nation was obtained through extreme violence, Christians have to ask themselves if patriotism and its accompanying pride are consistent with the Christian faith. So what are American Christians really doing when they love their country?

Finally, we should note here what Christian patriotism has meant to the world. It has meant that the Gospel will forever be associated with some of the ugliest examples of American foreign policy abroad and a coldhearted capitalism at home. Das ist nicht sehr gut. 

Authoritarianism

Submitting to authority, see Romans 13, is the Conservative Christian's security blanket. Not that we always agree with the authority figure or orders being given, not at all. But life becomes easier because it becomes simple when our only responsibility is to obey those in authority without question. Always doing what we are told allows us to shut out the world and focus solely on ourselves and whether we have dotted our i's and crossed our t's. How our obedience affects others is none of our concern. 

We, American Conservative Christians, are constantly being told that there is one time when we are not obligated to follow orders given to us by those in authority. That one time is when we are commanded to sin. In Acts 5:17-32, the authorities, in this case it was the Sanhedrin, ordered the apostles not to preach the Gospel. Peter responded saying that they had to preach in order to obey God rather than men.

So many of us American Conservative Christians have our marching orders. But why is it that in our looking for examples on how to respond to those in authority, we overlook the Old Testament prophets? For the Old Testament prophets took a different approach when relating to those in authority. It isn't that their approach caused them to violate what was later taught in Romans 13. It is, however, that the Old Testament prophets were far more concerned than just their own little world and righteousness. They were concerned about God's honor and those who suffer abuse or neglect often at the hands of those with wealth and power . Time after time, prophet after prophet would remind the kings and God's people that they must take care of those in need. 

Jeremiah 22 serves as a perfect example. God warns the kings to take care of those in need. If the kings obey, things will go well. But if they neglect their duty to the vulnerable, and note that it is their duty, then they will be subject to God's wrath. All of their mighty accomplishments will profit them nothing. And the message that Amos and Isaiah give to God's chosen people regarding the same neglect of those in need is that their worship of God and its religious ceremonies will provide no connection with God. Rather, they experience no relief from God's judgment. 

Now here is the rub. American Conservative Christians act as if following the example set by the OT prophets violates Peter and Paul's command to be subject to all who have authority. In other words, following one Biblical example is treated as contradicting what we are taught in another part of the Bible. 

But we should note something else here. The focus of those who uncritically submit to those in authority in order to dot all of their i's and cross all of their t's is themselves. And having such a self-focus would appear  to violate God's 2 great commandments to love Him with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10: 25-37). Note that with these two great commandments comes an other-directedness by the believer. The believer's personal righteousness isn't pursued by following a self-assessment checklist. Rather, we are to focus on God and help all, not just our brethren, who cross our path and are in need. And this help that we provide again is not determined by some checklist. Rather, it is determined by the needs we are trying to meet.

The end result of the unbalanced approach to submission to authority is that Christians have withdrawn from the public sphere except for a couple of pet issues. Yes, we speak out against abortion, but we leave speaking out for the poor and against war up to the political left, which also includes me. And as people watch Christians speak out almost solely for those in the womb, their witness against abortion, as well as for the Gospel, is self-sabotaged.  In addition, how many people have suffered from the ravages of the American economy and foreign policies because we did not speak out? 

Finally, we have left the preaching of the Gospel of repentance to the system, to those with wealth and power up to the political left. Not that this is all bad, but it means that the Gospel of repentance preached to the system will, in most cases, be without the actual Gospel. As for the Christian, their contentment to live in a bubble has been given confirmation by many who teach that we should submit to those in authority.

Being Special

John Hagee's appeal to Christians to stand with Israel serves as a perfect example of how we Christians can be motivated to do things because involvement makes us feel special. With his patriotic fervor and his idealized depiction of Israel, many Christians cannot help feel like they are involved with something significant as they stand with Pastor Hagee for God, country, and God's chosen people. They feel special. And the appeal of feeling special can be a breath of fresh air for those who have grown tire of their mundane existence.

Certainly, Hagee isn't the only one who appeals to feeling special to move his audience to do things.  Those who preach the health and wealth gospel also appeal to how we should feel about ourselves. That, because we are special, we deserve all of the riches and blessings we can get. However, if we were to compare the word special and the Greek word for holy, hagios, we might find that being regarded as special is the privilege of one person and one person only. For a common meaning for both is set apart, separated. And perhaps if we defined holy in those term as well, we would lose our desire to be special out of deference for God.

Holy is an adjective that is meant only for God for God alone is holy. Part of the meaning for holy is being pure. But we could also add that to treat God as holy is to set God apart from all others in life. That is that we treat God as special. But it isn't just that we should treat God as special, we should realize that only God is holy, is special, and thus we should set apart how we treat and regard God from all others. Another way to say that God is holy is to say that only God is special.

If we could realize that only God is special, then we would be less inclined to fall for the religious charlatans of our day who use, as their first lure, the feeling of being special to garner followers. For when religious leaders appeal to that desire to feel special and above others, they do so by idealizing the object they are trying to sell us whether they must idealize a country like America or Israel. In other words, they lie about what they want to be the objects of our affection. 


The price that we Christians have had to pay for our desire to be special is that they have become prone to idol worship. And again, what Chris Hedges teaches us about idol worship is that it ends up in self-worship. The price that the world has had to pay for the warm fuzzies that we have become addicted to, depends on the source of our feeling good. When our national identity is what makes us feel special, then the world has had to suffer just another empire that sometimes first comes across as a concerned parent. When it is our own prosperity that makes us feel above the crowd, then those who are in need experience our neglect or crocodile tears. 

Conclusion

Our prosperity, patriotism, authoritarianism, and the desire to be special are, using Star Trek terms, shape shifters. They first appear in a shape that we find attractive and desirable. But once we have become attached, once it is too late, these items change to their true form and work havoc to our own relationship with God first, and to the outside world second. And not only do prosperity, patriotism, authoritarianism, and the desire to be special hurt us and the world around us, they work their shape shifting powers on the Gospel so that the Gospel appears, to the world, to have a new form because of the associations we give to the Gospel. So the question becomes, how do we change from so easily pursuing that which ends up hurting us, those around us, and the world?

2 comments:

MikeSnow said...

Our shape has certainly shifted from that of past heroes of the faith, e.g. http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

Curt Day said...

Mike,
Thank you for sharing this. I was not aware of Spurgeon's position on war. And your assessment is correct.