Tag Archives: empire

Domesticating Theology

The domestication of certain types of plants and animals has often been associated with the rise of human civilization. It can also be seen as evidence of our constant attempt to dominate and control the environment in which we live. This abused sense of dominion can even be seen to extend upwards into the heavenly realms.

The entirety of human civilization can be seen as having been established on the domestication of the concept of God. In this design, God is brought down, in chains, to serve, and the State, in the form of a god-king or divine emperor, is elevated to the high heavens. In a sense, this reversal is a perversion of the concept of Imitatio Dei. Whereas God calls us to “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2), the State seeks imitation to the point of replacement. All the while the concept of God is manipulated to serve the ends of the State through an imposed state religion.

We encounter similar problems when we examine the notion of sainthood, whether it be religious or political. The distinction arises of whether we are to imitate or admire the saint in question. If we assume that the saint is an ordinary human being like us, then we might be more inclined to follow in their footsteps. However, most people place them on a pedestal above the rest of humanity, and attribute to them some semi-divine status. In that case, it seems more natural for us simply to adore them. In the same way the State can co-opt the agenda of a revolutionary through aiding in their assassination and then declaring them a saint posthumously. Whether or not you believe that the American government had anything to do with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it can’t be denied that the FBI and CIA viewed him as a major threat. He has since assumed the status of sainthood in American politics. To me, this seems like a form of co-option, discouraging us from following King’s path of civil disobedience and pacifism, because the State now claims to have absorbed his agenda. I think this is why Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead.” This is a common criticism of Christianity. Although I do agree with the distinction, I think it sometimes assumes a false dichotomy in which we must choose between imitating or worshipping Christ. I do believe, however, that either of these is deficient without the other. This is an extension of the doctrine of hypostatic union, the belief that Christ is both fully human and fully God. We are simultaneously called to imitate him in his humanity and worship him in his divinity. And in our imitation of him, we are allowed to participate in the divinity of God, as we are pulled deeper and deeper into the divine embrace.

This dual invitation to both follow and worship is not mirrored by the idolatrous religion of the State. No, the State demands that we worship, serve, and obey. If we were to imitate the imperial god of the State, we would be acting as a threat to the State. If we followed in its’ path of coercive violence and domination, we would become its rival. No, as far as the State is concerned, it is better for us to stay within its’ ideological cage of a state religion, under its domesticated God.

This attempt at usurpation of divine authority can be traced throughout biblical history. It is a continuation of humanity’s initial impulse to “be like God” in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:5). Later, humans tried to rival the majesty of mountains, and even God, by building a tower so high they could conquer the heavens (Gen 11:4). This great sin reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion, when God was tortured and executed at the hands of human beings. The good creation, that was created to love God, was so selfish and godless that it murdered him, seeking to take his place. Humanity cried out at last, as in the words of Friedrich Neitzsche, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

But it could not last. For the promise of God is that love will ultimately triumph over sin and death. In the resurrection, Christ broke free of the chains of death that we had imposed on him and ascended to his rightful place of authority.

God is wild, indeed.