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Jesus Was a Victim of Empire. Acknowledging This Should Transform Christianity.
photo above: howafrica.com
WN: This is the central theme of this website! A significant portion of what follows is from the previous highlighted part. There is as well on the same page a list of great books about Jesus and Empire.
And yet . . . And yet . . . The author of the highlighted article below is right that Christianity would be transformed the world over, should the ultimacy of this realization take hold. But history shows that we keep losing our way–and far worse! So we ever must keep rediscovering Jesus over against Empire for the very first time!
American Empire is of course prime exemplar of this kind of brutal Empire: extension since its founding in fact of the brutal British Empire, especially in its twin original sins of slavery and indigenous genocide. American Empire has always and supremely been about “plundering, butchering, and stealing”, “the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation (Novelist J.M. Coetzee in Waiting for the Barbarians (1980, p. 133))”, leaving “desolation”, “destruction and misery and death” in its wake (while calling it “peace and freedom”–Roman historian Tacitus). America has ever been in voracious bid for domination of others (since World War II worldwide), in order to extract maximum wealth from all peoples and the Planet.
We first-world non-Americans, such as in Canada, through our multiple military alliances and multitudinous economic intertwinings, are no less complicit and therefore guilty. Nick Turse’s 2009 publication, The Complex: How the Military Invades our Everyday Lives, while focussing on America, is no less the case for all in the West. And of course, as in Nigeria discussed in the article highlighted, a similar complex is ubiquitous in nation-states and international systems of all kinds.
Our call is to practise insurrection against Empire in all its avaricious, brutal and horribly destructive ways. (No small order is of course hopeless understatement!)
In this historical moment that supreme manifestation of Empire is the United States–to which the entire Western world is tied in various supportive ways; under which domination the rest of the world suffers: in the Greater Middle East as only one example, which endures brutal will to domination and oppression at the hands of American Empire. I reflect on this in an introduction to a posting here. An expanding list of postings on American Empire may be accessed here.1
The Vietnam War is classic instance of what it means for America to be “leader of the free world”. It was prosecuted under five Presidents: from Eisenhower to Nixon, 1955 to 1975. The New York Times ran an article in 2003 about a series published by The Toledo Blade, based upon accounts of several Vietnam War veterans, entitled “Report on Brutal Vietnam Campaign Stirs Memories”. The article reads in part:
The report, published in October  and titled ‘Rogue G.I.’s Unleashed Wave of Terror in Central Highlands,’ said that in 1967, an elite unit, a reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division, went on a rampage that the newspaper described as ‘the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War.2
Please consult further two of many websites: Major US Vietnam War Atrocities Case Exposed by Ohio Newspaper; and The Mad Men Premiere’s Dark Vietnam Subtext.
There is “no honour among thieves”? There is no honour among American leadership—with rare exceptions throughout its history. Expressed differently, American leadership has been for centuries made up of thieves, brigands and murderers of the highest order.
One American scholar asks: Was America Great When It Burned Native American Babies? That question with its implicit answer (detailed in a book the article tells about) can be asked of any historical period of the United States.
In the middle of the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson made a speech about America “The Great Society” to a group of university students. He said in part, while fully aware of the supreme atrocity that was the Vietnam War–one he was vigorously waging:
Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace — as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?
Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?
There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.
Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country. They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.
Thank you. Good-bye.
In the end, he was ultimately fooling himself! The United States has been above all else about “soulless wealth” almost since inception. Its way of enduring peace has ever been that only of the graveyard–of vast hordes of slaughtered victims over time and the world, multiple times in excess of the tally of The Nazi Holocaust. The classic biblical text is of course: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) In answer to the question posed, the majority of “settler” Americans simply do not know it–never have! One of my longstanding (American theology professor) friends has asked me over the years: Why are you so angry (about this)? To which I reply thunderously: THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE TRUTH ABOUT THE AMERICAN HALL OF HORRORS HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD (to average Americans)!!! But there are they who have told it. One could start with Howard Zinn . . .
Yet people do not want to hear this. Why?! Does The Truth hurt that much?! There is in this regard the ominous comment by Desmond Tutu about White South Africa during apartheid:
The former apartheid cabinet member Leon Wessels was closer to the mark when he said that they had not wanted to know [about brutal repression of Blacks and Coloureds], for there were those who tried to alert them (p. 269).
There are always “those who try to alert”. They are called prophets. They are generally ignored and worse. Jesus (Matthew 23:30 -32):
And you [Americans] say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets/[Native Americans/Blacks/Etc./Etc./Etc.]’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets/[Native Americans/Blacks/Etc./Etc./Etc.] Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
And to this day America tragically has been doing exactly that!
But Archbishop Tutu also indicated:
There but for the grace of God go I (p. 253). . . .
And that puts us all in the West in the same soup! Ugh!
Here is a classic expression of America’s will to worldwide domination to extract maximum wealth from all peoples and the planet, the central motif of (American) Empire:
In 1948, George Keennan, State Department Director of policy planning, noted that the United States then possessed “about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population.” The challenge facing U.S. policy makers, he believed, was “to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” [1. PPS 23, “Review of Current Trends, U.S. Foreign Policy” (February 24, 1948).] The overarching aim of American statecraft in other words, was to sustain the uniquely favorable situation to which the United States had ascended by the end of World War II. It’s hard to imagine a statement of purpose more succinct, cogent, and to the point. Judged by this standard, the stewards of U.S. foreign policy down to the present day have done more than passably well… (America’s War For the Greater Middle East: A Military History, Andrew J. Bacevich, New York: Random House, 2016, p. 358) (See my commentary on this and more with reference to Michelle Obama here; similarly President-elect Joe Biden here.)
General (George) Lee Butler, a “nuclear warrior” in the early years of the Cold War (that many claim began with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, August 1945), spent 27 years in nuclear policy-making. He eventually in an overt mea culpa became a passionate proponent for outright nuclear abolition. He self-published Uncommon Cause: A Life at Odds With Convention (volumes I & II). He catalogued a long list of disturbing experiences:
• investigating “a distressing array of accidents and incidents involving strategic weapons and forces”
• seeing “an army of experts confounded”;
• confronting “the mind-numbing compression of decision-making under threat of nuclear attack”;
• “staggering costs”;
• “the relentless pressure of advancing technology”;
• “grotesquely destructive war plans”;
• and “the terror-induced anesthesia which suspended rational thought, made nuclear war thinkable, and grossly excessive arsenals possible during the Cold War.” (The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John W. Dower, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017; p. 37. See also my post on this here.) Dower continues:
In retrospect, he decried the “wantonness,” “savagery,” “reckless proliferation,” “treacherous axioms,” and voracious “appetite” of deterrence — for which he himself had helped create many systems and technologies, including “war plans with over 12,000 targets.”… Elegant theories of deterrence,” he exclaimed in one speech, “wilt in the crucible of impending nuclear war.” In later recollection of the folly of deterrence, Butler pointed out that at its peak the United States “had 36,000 weapons in our active inventory,” including nuclear landmines and sea mines and “warheads on artillery shells that could be launched from jeeps.” He concluded that mankind escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of diplomatic skill, blind luck and divine intervention, probably the latter in greatest proportion. (ibid, pp. 36 & 37).
Nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter described this longstanding policy as a “delicate balance of terror (ibid, p. 27).” In short, any number of nuclear war planners in Washington contemplated striking 295 Soviet cities, with an estimated death toll total of 115 million, and another 107 million dead in Red China, besides millions more in Soviet satellite countries (ibid, pp. 28 & 29). In some circles, as a kind of sick dark humour, the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to “only” 200,000 dead, came to be called “firecracker nukes (ibid, p. 29).” (This is not to mention the millions killed since World War II with related devastation in at least 37 countries around the world, or the millions murdered through US proxy wars, CIA covert operations the world over, surrogate terror exported to countries throughout Central and South America for more than a century, and other parts of the world, etc., etc., etc… (See ibid, throughout the book.)3
What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary “City on A Hill” that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. “The Land of the Free” conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America’s leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
And these “noble” American nuclear strategists holding up of course America as bastion of freedom and democracy throughout the world, blithely contemplated over many decades mass murder on a scale that all previous mass murderers combined in the history of the world could only dream of! And serious contemplation of first-strike deployment was given repeated consideration: Public as well as confidential proposals to launch a “preventive” or “pre-emptive” strike against the Soviet Union were not uncommon before the Soviets developed a serious retaliatory capability — including for instance General Douglas MacArthur. The American public likewise supported this in general (ibid, p.41).
This is America — Leader of the Free World?! Vocabulary for such gargantuan evil mindsets utterly fails! Yet every US Administration since Truman authorized the first atomic bombs dropped (which phenomenon he, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, declared to be “the greatest event in human history” — and not the Resurrection?! — one massively death-dealing, the other universally life-giving), along with thousands of strategists, day-in, day-out, went off to work with this kind of obscene potential horror, like “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads”. How delightfully American (Empire)!4
And Hitler, and Stalin are considered “mad” in their mass murders?! By the above dark humour standard, they were only “firecracker despots” compared to a long line of US Presidents. What then are all these upstanding Americans — right up to the present, with possibly a genuinely deranged current President seemingly itching to “nuke” some nation such as North Korea — if not mad monsters? And the overwhelming monstrosity of America the Ultimate Evil Empire only increases exponentially when one reads noted historian Alfred McCoy’s description of what is being developed by said American Empire. A paper that I wrote years ago, Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything!, in relation to this, with an introduction and excerpt, may be accessed here. I explain in introducing it that today were I writing the paper, the overall positing of “Just About Everything!” would mean Empire. The Judeo-Christian Story is nothing if not one long Counter-Narrative to Empire! A sermon preached on this theme by Pastor Rob Brown of Eden Mennonite Church may be found here. There is an expanding scholarship that underscores this, links to several instances of which are below, and also mentioned on the page introducing the paper above. Amen! Thy Kingdom Come! Maranatha! (Come, O Lord).
Please also see the post on U.S. biological warfare: Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act by Nicholson Baker. And Trump blames the Chinese!
Within hours, my Twitter timeline was ablaze, with many people lauding me for my bravery in “speaking the truth.” Among the likes and retweets was the sentiment that it was actually radical to suggest that a Christian response to government corruption and impunity would be to reject performances of piety, and imagine a world where we, the people, transcended the strictures of the nation state and its attendant logics.
The fact that religiosity (in my context, Christian religiosity) is often used as a cover for impunity is obvious for anyone who has even a cursory understanding of history. Religious officials have long been available to be co-opted to serve as moral chaplains to those in power, “resulting in turning the moral witness of the church into a mere political gallery,” in the words of theologian and historian Lamin Sanneh.
But there is another way to read the scriptures, and that is to seriously contend with the historical and material circumstances of Christianity’s central figure — Jesus of Nazareth — and against that backdrop, see Jesus’s message as recorded in the Gospels not as one that is easily coopted in the service of the nation-state but as one that inherently challenges state power and violence, and invites us to do the same.
It was at Cambridge that I first read Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, and began to ask myself what response my faith could give me when confronted with the reality that the state did not always act with benevolence toward its citizens. State-sanctioned murder was the reality for Black people in the U.S., and it was the reality for me back in Kenya, where the police have always acted with impunity and without accountability, and where political forces can always intimidate, bribe, harass, murder and “disappear” people — as happened with the ICC cases.
Until this point, I had not seriously wrestled with what my faith could give me in this moment. In my younger years, I took it for granted that although Kenya’s political and economic system was flawed, I could still overcome it with hard work and good connections. In the wake of that disputed election in 2007, and the spiral of political dysfunction that followed (and especially after Uhuru and Ruto became president), I could no longer say this with confidence. By this time, I had also stopped calling myself a Christian, because in my mind, it meant aligning myself with people who wielded prayer rallies and public performances of piety as a shield to deflect calls for justice and accountability.
But in Howard Thurman I found a different reading of Jesus.
Thurman’s Jesus was not an abstract Christ. He was a man who existed at a particular moment in historical time, grappling with real, material oppression. It is impossible to think that the young Jesus was untouched by this central question of the day. The question was not academic — as Thurman argued, it was the most crucial of questions. In essence, Rome was the enemy; Rome symbolized total frustration; Rome was the great barrier to peace of mind. And Rome was everywhere.
Howard Thurman writes:
No Jewish person of the period could deal with the question of his practical life, his vocation, his place in society, until first he had settled deep within himself this critical issue…. This is the position of the disinherited in every age. This is the great question of today. What must be the attitude toward the rulers, the controllers of political, social, and economic life?
This reading of the Gospel for me was life and freedom, because for the first time in my life, I had some kind of blueprint for actually seeing and wrestling with the injustice, cruelty and pain of an unjust state and of unaccountable power, instead of thinking that if I kept my head down and worked hard it would all work out in the end.
My friend, J.L. Legard, pushed this revelation even further for me when he argued a case for Christian anarchy. In his abolitionist reading, the nation-state — as an entity that claims to possess a monopoly of violence — itself is illegitimate and unnecessary for liberating the oppressed. We should never assume that we must cooperate with the state or work within state structures in order to achieve freedom. Legard’s reading of Jesus is that of an apocalyptic prophet who dares us to reject all forms of coercion and invites us to imagine liberation as a voluntary and cooperative effort that affirms the agency of all and rejects the domination and subordination of human beings.
“The apocalyptic Christ allows us to imagine that individuals and communities can be trusted, because God entrusted God’s power in our very beings over which no state or person can rule without our consent,” he writes.
We can read the scriptures in any number of ways, and for me, I have now found in the Gospels a template for imagining a world where the execution of Jesus by an unjust power elite, as a state-sanctioned lynching, tore apart the Temple curtain which kept ordinary people from the Holy of Holies where God’s presence resided. As Legard argues, with the breaking of this hierarchical barrier separating the masses from God, “our bodies become the temple and empire of God, and thus the jurisdiction of God. Therefore, no state can legitimately encroach or impose its power upon the sacred — the human being. It is a merging of both flesh and spirit, which elevates the once downtrodden and oppressed into a position of power, not to coerce but to extend the voluntary divine community.”
I am amazed that I hadn’t really seen the Gospels as a disruptive spiritual and political technology until I saw Jesus as a victim of empire — oppressed, marginalized and disinherited. The neat intertwining of patriotism and religiosity is not possible when one takes the vantage point of the disinherited.
This Jesus was not available to provide spiritual cover for state power, impunity and corruption. This Jesus was not in the business of abetting oppression while preaching patriotism, quiet obedience, or simplistic appeals to law and order. This Jesus did not even move to Rome to cozy up to the power structures of Empire and “influence” Caesar for good. This Jesus was executed because his life’s work dared to speak of another kingdom and another way of being in the world, where God is on the side of the poor and oppressed and is fighting alongside them for their full humanity.
Please click on: Jesus Over Against EmpireFootnotes
- Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on “Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them – in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians.
‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed – their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing.
“Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops…
‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’
Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities.
”I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,” Mr. Turse said by telephone. ”I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn’t stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That’s the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.”
Yet there were few prosecutions.
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin’s gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] (“The Cold War in Central America”, pp. 216 – 221).
- The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world’s) reality: “Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button“.
He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2017 List
In These Times “Best Books of 2017”
Huffington Post’s Ten Excellent December Books List
LitHub’s “Five Books Making News This Week”
From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America’s Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day.
Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America’s nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization–and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration–threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.