by Brian Walsh
During the buildup to the war in Iraq I wrote an op-ed piece for a campus ministry newsletter that the editor refused to publish. Essentially I argued that empires are always deceitful and the American empire was no exception.
When the President of the United States uses phrases like “Operation Infinite Justice,” “Shock and Awe,” and “Enduring Freedom,” Christians should recognize the arrogant deceit involved.
Or when he confidently proclaims that “the liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to the world” the imperial overtones should be clear to all of us, and Christians should recoil at such blasphemy.
The editor was having nothing of it. This was offensive and anti-American and he would not allow it to be published in what was a bi-national campus ministry publication. It was clear that as an American citizen he found my rhetoric hurtful and assumed that our colleagues in the United States would find it similarly hurtful.
This was neither the first nor the last time that I have met such a reaction to saying such things. My comments at Messiah College published on this blog a couple months ago occasioned similar reactions on campus.
I have also been suggesting to American audiences for some time that a form of mass hypnosis happened prior to the war on Iraq whereby all the President had to do was put “Iraq” and “9/11” in the same sentence enough times and the whole population would come to believe that there actually was a connection between the two. This is deceit and it is the kind of deceit that we have come to expect of empire.
The response is often dead silence.
Although the response to these comments was much more enthusiastic during my time at Origins NYC in Manhattan this past weekend, there were some who made it clear that this kind of criticism was hurtful.
I had made my Iraq and 9/11 comment while talking about Romans and during the break a young man came to talk with me. He came with an attitude of love and respect. He did not rail against me, nor was he aggressive.
He was hurt.
And he was worried that perhaps other people in the room, especially the younger people, found this hurtful as well. The issue that he was raising was one of feelings. Such a critique of their President, such a critique of their nation, indeed such a connection of the terms ‘empire’ and ‘American’ hurts. So this young man was asking me to tone it down a little.
Not always bad advice.
People who will walk into a room and denounce everything a lot of folks present hold dear, all in the name of being ‘prophetic’ need to be told to get off of their high horse. They need to drop their own self-righteousness (which I recognize as a Canadian vice in relation to our neighbours to the south) and show a little more care. Truth and love, prophetic critique and pastoral care, must always go together.
This is profoundly true.
And yet. And yet, I’m still struggling with just why it is that some folks at the heart of an empire have such thin skins. Why is it that some American Christians (certainly not all) are so sensitive when they hear criticism of American foreign policy, American pretension, American deceit?
Maybe some of our American readers can help me understand this sensitivity. But I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. It seems to me that the closer you are to the heart of empire, the more defensive you become of the inherent goodness of that empire.
The myth of American innocence, of America as a force for good, for morality, for progress and for freedom in the world is a very powerful myth. And it is a myth not at all uncommon in empires. All empires tell such stories about themselves. How else could they justify their imperial aggression and control?
And when that myth has a deep hold on your life, when that is the story that you imbibed with your mother’s milk (or Nestle’s formula as the case may be) then some outsider coming in and telling you that it is a lie, that is an imperial deceit, has got to be deeply painful.
Or is there more to it than this? Probably. And I want to understand that more. So help me out here folks…
Bono was once asked, “so how do you dismantle an atomic bomb?” And he answered, “with love, with love.” So how do you remix the empire? With love, with love.
And how do we put together this love with truth? How do we remix a dominant, deceitful and powerful worldview with love? How do we love in truth when we are remixing the empire both “out there” and deep within our own lives?