Innocent Motives and Unintended Consequences.
For the Church this tendency toward willful blindness in the name of Patriotism is most dangerous of all. While I argue it isn't good for the nation and its citizens, ultimately the nation doesn't matter much does it? They come and go. None are good, not really. And certainly none are Holy...things that are holy will survive the Eschaton because they belong to the Kingdom of God. There's no nation on earth that can make that claim.
I've written pretty extensively about the Babel Impulse and the danger of bringing the Church into the power game. Tying in theological concepts regarding the Kingdom with culture and power is an attempt to sanctify the Beast, to sanctify the tower of Babel.
Man is trying to make a name for himself, he's trying to build a transcendent Kingdom that has a Divine Mandate, is holy or 'Exceptional'...one ruled by Sons of the Gods so to speak. This is as old as the fall. This is Lamech declaring he's better than everyone else, he is superior and the justice he demands is based on his superiority. God's threat of retribution and curse isn't good enough for him. He's better than that, better than the other men and nations around him. This is the pride of the devil, the pride exhibited in the typological-symbolic language of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. The king of Babylon and of Tyre also represented this type of impulse. It wasn't unique to the kings of antiquity, it's the story of history and very much with us today.
Early on the Church fell into this trap. In the early 4th century she believed she had won a great victory. True the persecutions ceased but the victory would result in a defeat worse than any a Roman sword or coliseum could ever inflict. If you can't kill your enemy outright, infect them with a disease, a virus, and watch your enemy kill himself. The Church wanted to become the Roman Empire or at least to join with it. Within a short time she ceased to be the Holy Bride and instead became a filthy Whore. That’s a theological label for the covenant community given over to idolatry and apostasy. She lost her identity and traded a Holy Kingdom for a Bestial one.
Thankfully for both the world around it and the persecuted Remnant who refused to go along, the Beast and Whore often fight each other, they are often competitors. Everyone's trying to climb to the top and they keep cutting each other's throats. It's a shame this is done in the name of Christ, but this 'distraction' allows the real Church to quietly work and survive.
This is the impulse that led the Bishops of Rome to grasp for more power and create a Papal Empire. This led the Holy Roman Emperors to oppose them and struggle for power. This guided the Emperors of Constantinople, and sadly all too often it guided the Reformers and the Magistrates which backed them. Later this impulse drove not only the Conquistador but the British and French as they created worldwide empires. It also guided the young American nation which broke from one empire to form its own. Ideas and verbiage changed, but it was all window dressing for the same old impulse.
America is historically ironic just as 'Christian' Rome was. People freed themselves from tyranny and empire but within a generation forgot all the lessons and went about creating a new form of the same creature which previously persecuted them. The difference? The Christians in Rome 'won' by suffering and then lost to the Babel Impulse. The 'Christians' in America took up arms, won through violence, and never looked back.
Personally I've got a wide array of ancestors. Some members of my family were German Reformed who came in the early 1700's to escape the wars of Louis XIV. Some were Anabaptists who showed up around the same time. They had settled the devastated Rhineland after the Thirty Years War looking for a place to live unmolested.
Others were Ulster-Scots who settled along the frontier from Pennsylvania to Georgia. These families moved west, intermarried and mingled in places like Southern Illinois, Arkansas, and Ohio.
My great-great-great-great-great grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War with all of his brothers. His father a veteran of the French and Indian War died during the Revolution. Like many others, they started in the old cradle of Virginia and slowly migrated south through the Carolinas. My ggggg-grandfather left Georgia around 1810 and moved into Arkansas, which had just been purchased from France a few years before, and the family buried themselves in the Ozarks for more than century. The 1860's brought my ggg-grandfather out as he rode in the Confederate Cavalry. The Great Depression led them to abandon that part of the country and head for California where they settled in the Central Valley.
Other ancestors of mine fled America after the Revolution and went to Canada, only to reappear in Illinois in the 1850's. They married into a line of New England Puritans who previously had lived in the West Indies and run a sugar plantation. Though his ancestors had grown rich on slave labour, my ggg grandfather (on that side) was part of the Union army. The heat caused him to fall out during the siege of Vicksburg. His descendants also went west.
Another branch of my family abandoned Germany in the 1760's...the wars of Frederick and others had worn them out. Lured by promises of peaceful living and good farmland, they left Germany and settled on the Asiatic side of the Volga, near today's modern Kazakh border, just south of Saratov. There they dealt with Kirghiz and Cossacks and after being forced to fight in the Russo-Turkish war for the Tsar in the 1870's, they left and came to America, settling south of Fresno California. This is the one branch of my family almost entirely exempt from the American story. Truly they cannot be charged with being part of an imperial impulse. They just wanted to be left alone, but trouble always pursued them.
All of these people were just plain folks, trying to get by, trying to make a living and provide for their families. But at the same time, they were part of a growing Empire. As they settled the newly bought territories of the Louisiana Purchase it never occurred to them those lands had belonged to others, had been stolen and conquered. The Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish (as they're called in America) often settled the frontiers and were notorious for getting into tangles with the native populations. Every agreement made with the Indians ended up being broken as the whites insisted on continual expansion and pushing into the territories which they had just promised to stay out of.
During the Civil War, many in the South decried what they viewed as the aggressive imperialism of the North, though many of the same military leaders had just a few years before marched American armies through Mexico...having no problem with subjugating that nation and gobbling up the lands that would later comprise the American southwest.
My ancestors that settled the Tidewater in the 1600's held massive armies of slaves. Their descendants that settled the Ozarks were much poorer but I have copies of several of their wills and inevitably there was a slave or two being passed on to the descendants.
My Puritan ancestors who came to Massachusetts from the Indies ran sugar plantations and one of my gggg(I can't remember how many greats off the top of my head) was reputed to be a sea captain. Well it doesn't take a whole lot of speculation to figure out that a sea captain with family ties in the Indies and Massachusetts was probably part of the infamous Triangle Trade of sugar, rum, and slaves.
The family married into another Massachusetts family that had fought in the Pequot War. In fact I'm a descendant of Samuel Stone the minister who served as a ‘chaplain’ in the war and is considered one of the founders of Hartford Connecticut.
All of these people were good old plain folk, just pioneering Christian people...but they were also part of the Protestant Sacral vision. I'm sure many of them never thought in those terms. They wouldn't have to. It was the default. White Christians were superior. The New World belonged to them. They had a right to those lands. In many cases the settlers had not 'taken' the lands...they were just settling ‘vacated’ lands. Lies or not, that was the narrative, and people believed it.
We use similar arguments today. We personally aren't enslaving peoples in other countries. When we buy the goods produced in countries that live under the shadow of the American sword, goods sometimes produced by what must be honestly called slave labour, we don't feel responsible. We personally didn't create the situations. Those in government, in power did these things. We're just trying to live our lives right? I guarantee you that the average American soldier stationed overseas never even considers why they're there. They never even question the fact that we have a right to be there. They never even entertain the thought that the people who live there might resent our presence and the manipulations which placed us there.
On the other hand there are a whole lot of innocent people that unwittingly are part of a large and often quite evil machine. They only see their tiny part, they can only see one small facet on a jewel which contains thousands of surfaces and angles. And for many of them their ignorance alleviates them of any guilt or responsibility.
Were my ancestors bloodthirsty imperialists trying to conquer the world? No...and yes. Maybe they hadn't thought of it in those terms but there were people behind them and above them that were...and willing or no they were part of what was happening.
Today we're taught that previous generations had a more Biblical Worldview. It's simply not true. Everyone was a ‘Christian’ but very few were really thinking about things in terms of what the Bible said. Everyone pretty much went along with the cultural norms. The same is largely true today.
Interestingly with my own family, it's the Volgadeutsche, the Volga Germans who lived in Russia for several generations that seemed to have the best perspective. Granted they all came here and became good patriotic Americans. It was my great-grandparents who came over in the late 1800's, and their American born son fought for the Americans in World War II. I've read a good deal about the Volga Germans and their own history largely kept them from allying themselves too strongly with any group or movement. All the German exile groups of the Auswanderung (the exodus after the Thirty Years War) and the Ostsiedlung (Eastern Settlement going back to the Middle Ages) all seem to have had this identity. It's quite interesting. They lived as exiles in various lands outside of the German lands. German communities were spread all over Central and Eastern Europe, my own ancestors I mentioned above being on the far eastern fringe, almost outside of Europe. Others had surnames originating in Bohemia but ended up in the Rhineland by the late 1600’s…probably refugees from the Thirty Years War.
They weren't perfect but I always find their kind of pilgrim identity to be intriguing. The Volga Germans were rounded up by Stalin during the German invasion...he feared they would collaborate with the Nazis and he shipped them to Central Asia and Siberia where they still live today. I would have many cousins among those people but of course my immediate ancestors had already been in California for a generation.
Sadly so many of the German exiles, the colonists of Eastern Europe, were all too happy to look to the Nazis as empowering liberators. Long content to live in their enclaves, when the opportunity to grasp power came to them, they reached for it. Allying with the Third Reich they could now enslave and dominate their Slavic neighbours and they largely went along with it.
They paid a terrible price in the end. Beginning in 1944, millions of these Germans were forcibly removed from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other lands. Perhaps a million or more died but after what the Nazis had done very few cared or even bothered to report it. It's one of the great unreported genocides of history, the Germans outside of Germany after World War II. They bore the wrath of the Nazi victims and the accounts make for unpleasant reading. I’m afraid once again it was a case of empowered victims treating others to the horrors they had suffered.
These Germans were not the ones who had put Hitler into power but sadly when Hitler came to them, they largely signed on. Just like the Jews, though not free of guilt, their communities were destroyed and another part of the wondrous mosaic of Central and Eastern Europe was removed as the post-War establishment created for the first time ethnically homogeneous nation states. So much was lost from 1914-1945...it's not just the dead...a whole and very rich part of European cultural history was wiped out.
Pardon the German detour, but what I'm trying to say is that normal people without realizing it can fall into traps. Because they equate cultural norms as being compatible with religious ethics they never question the status quo. They're not trying to be wicked and to harm others but their actions have consequences. The Ulster-Scot frontiersman felt this acutely as he fired warning shots at Indian scouts trying to keep them away from his 'settlement'.
Reading history one is left with the impression…there is none good, no not one.
I am suggesting when we are renewed in our minds, when we are Born Again, our way of thinking about the world should be different. We will still live in one or another Babylon, but we of all people shouldn’t get caught up in Babylon’s wars and programmes. If we do…we’re also guilty…and we must suffer the consequence. We can learn from it, but more often than not, man finds a way to justify his actions and paint himself as the one in the right, the good…and the other side as evil.
There’s a lot of evil in the world, but I don’t find many who can claim to be pure and good.
more to come....