Sunday, September 7, 2008

Imperial Jaundice: Reflections on Being a Christian in America

An old expression that is really growing on me is that "every thing is yellow to the jaundiced eye" which is tantamount to saying one's situatedness in life fundamentally colors they way in which one perceives, knows, and engages the world. Therefore, I would like to appropriate a new term, at least I think it is original, Imperial Jaundice. Herein I think the expression properly captures the nature of the American imperial jaundice epidemic. This is the disease, literally and metaphorically, of the religion of Empire, namely, patriotism, nationalism, and Americanism. The disease is characterized by the stories we tell each other in the narrative world that we have constructed around the world experienced through our lenses. So deep and subversive is this illness that it is virtually undetectable, lurking below the molecular level. Indeed, even as one who is beginning to recognize how entrenched in the American imperial ideology that I am, there is yet a conflict. A deep conflict of soul, difficult to describe, but utterly real. Why is it that I understand, to some degree, the seriousness of the call to radically follow Jesus. I recognize that the American Empire and even the expression of mainline Christianity of any denomination for the most part is inherently complicit to empire and yet there is a resistance in my soul, an ambivalence. At one and the same moment I hate and yet am drawn to my imperial heritage. This space, this ambiguous, ambivalent circumstance torments me. On one hand, the New Testament presents Jesus as a peacemaker and the early church as a social body, functioning in a cooperative/voluntary mode something akin to socialism. Jesus stood up for the poor and working class, those whom empire and the elite had swept under the carpet. While I know these things, and am rather convinced of their truthfulness, when I consider the capitalist system in which we live, where profit is god and the marginalized are part of the machinery, why do I still resist movements toward socialism? Why do I resist internally, at the heart level, the notion that somehow bigger government will really in the end help the marginalized? I want to believe. But something in my soul fights against that. In life we all learn by experience various principles we call "wisdom" or "common sense." What is a Christian to do, when I know capitalism is wrong, and yet I don't think movements toward a socialist state would really be better in the end?

I'm vexed by this. I think a real encounter is being made at the core of my being; I'm beginning to understand some of the categories of postcolonial criticism by means of experience. More will come on this topic, but I wonder, does anyone else struggle with this?

1 comment:

remylow said...

this is a moving, honest and 'ballsy' post; thank you.

i understand your predicament as the political climate in Australia is fairly similar (i think Bush called us "deputy sheriff in Asia-Pacific" or something ridiculous to that effect).

substance and substantive differences in the social/political field are few and far between.

have you read Daniel M. Bell's 'Liberation Theology After the End of History'? It was a good start i felt...

also, theologian-philosopher John Milbank recently wrote a controversial letter to the editor in the UK about 'Red Toryism' (google it), which I'm awfully uncomfortable with on many fronts, but nevertheless it's also a beginning.

keep up the struggle; you're not alone.