Time to Disenthrall Ourselves
During the first two centuries of the Church’s existence, Christians throughout the Greco-Roman world suffered the cruelest of persecutions. Commonly charged by their pagan neighbors with being anthropophagoi (cannibals), misanthropoi (haters of mankind), and even atheoi (impious, atheists), like the Jews before them, they became the victims of the basest calumnies. To the cosmopolitan Greek mind, a stubborn refusal to “fit in” was the worst of crimes, as was the audacity of condensing the entire pantheon down to only one God. While such allegations rarely took the form of legal charges, intolerance and at times mob violence against Christians frequently brought the curious little sect to the attention of the authorities. Once in court, not so easy to counter were the charges of inflexibilis obstinatio (inflexible obstinacy, an unwillingness to recant) and maiestas (treason against the Roman state)– especially when disproving them involved performing acts of idolatry.
Today, similar charges are laid at the Church’s door. The only difference is that now they’re largely true.
What has happened to the Church? The faith that once championed the poor, raised its voice on behalf of the voiceless, stood up to the bullying of empires, and cared for the earth, has become a noisy and unthinking mob, a mouthpiece for greed and privilege, restless for war and bloodshed, running like lemmings toward a precipice it thinks is heaven, while pushing the rest of the world toward the brink of Armageddon.
Whom are we protecting? Certainly not ourselves. What have Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agro, and the Big Insurance and Defense industries done for us that we spread out like a carpet and allow them to walk upon our backs like some oriental potentate? When did we agree to become their attack dogs? When did they become our masters that we should be beholden to them? Is it such a blatant sacrilege to try to build a little bit of heaven on earth? To help the poor, to carry the burdens of the weak, to love our enemies, to care for God’s creation, and to make peace?
I know that there are healthier patches of Christianity in this country, but the pack with the loudest voices seem to drown out the rest. Why are they so toxic? Because this form of Christianity is not true biblical Christianity at all but a syncretistic blend of the Bible, free market capitalism, and armed paranoia. It has little connection to the Sermon on the Mount that I’m familiar with. “Blessed are the rich… Blessed are the powerful…Blessed are those who condemn and judge… Blessed are the warmongers…”
Yes, blessed are the free markets, unfettered with regulation; blessed is globalization; blessed is the land rid of indigenous peoples who don’t know how to strip it or mine it; blessed are the streams and aquifers filled with slurry and sludge; and blessed are those damned polar ice caps, melted so we can at last get at what’s beneath.
This is a faith that hates the word restraint.
When this nation eventually comes to a close and its final history is written, what will be said of the Church and its role in the demise of the Union Lincoln once called the “last, great hope of earth”? How we aided and abetted the greedy in raping the land, whole people groups, and even the air we breathe.
If these words sound harsh, remember that our Master’s most caustic words were reserved for the religious establishment of his day that shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Mt 23:15)
In the conclusion to his address to Congress in 1862, Abraham Lincoln said, “…The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
If I could say one thing to the church in America at this moment in time, it would be this: “Let us disenthrall ourselves.” Stop listening to the warmongers, the hate-mongers, the purveyors of intolerance, greed, and the status quo. And start putting our Master’s words into action. If we’re not sure what that means, then it is time for us to become children again in the kingdom of God, to sit at the Lord’s feet and learn from him.