Recently I reviewed Peter Leithart’s book Between Babel and Beast (Cascade, 2012). Well, only Part II: Americanism. Now I have finished the book. Part III is the title of the book. There Leithart indicts America for its foreign policy and behavior toward other nations and peoples. He says “For much of the last century, the United States has forged alliances with repressive despots. (150) ” He concludes that “Churches should…encourage Christians to discover ways to turn American power toward justice, peace and charity.” (152)
If Leithart were not who he is, a theologically conservative American Protestant (and possibly some kind of Christian Reconstructionist), he would be labeled (by Religious Right types and conservative evangelicals in general) a liberal liberationist critic America and dismissed as a “leftist.” Of course, he’s not that. But many of his criticisms of America echo ones found in the literature of Latin American liberation theologians. For example, he gives numerous examples of instances in which America has contributed to the overthrow (often violent) of democratically elected Latin American governments solely to protect “American interests” (viz., the interests of large American corporations). He doesn’t just throw these charges out there without supportive detail. Read the book.
I was somewhat disappointed that, at the end of the book, Leithart still does not outline his preferred arrangement of church and state. But one thing is clear from this book and Against Constantine (which I reviewed here earlier): he believes a main “job” of government (in the overall scheme of things including God) is to protect God’s people, the church. I will go out on a limb and say that I think he also believes government should listen to the church and follow its guidance in moral matters (and what isn’t a “moral matter”)? The question this raises, if I’m right, is “which church?”
I found Between Babel and Beast one of the most bracing and refreshing books on theopolitics I’ve read in a long time. One of the reasons is that Leithart cannot be dismissed as a nut case or “Yoderian” or liberationist or left-winger or America-hater or anything like that. He’s clearly not in those categories. He says what many of them say from a totally different platform.
Clearly, if Leithart is right, America is in danger of becoming a “beast” in the world. We are using our power to protect and serve our own interests often to the detriment of the common good of humanity and, ultimately, to the detriment of our own good insofar as God exists and is a God of justice.
Of all the books I have read in the past several years, this one strikes a chord with me most strongly. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Get it and read it. Let it speak to you. Share it with someone you know who believes in “American exceptionalism.”
I don’t know if Leithart is a prophet in the same category as Isaiah or Amos or John the Baptist (or Gregory of Nyssa or Chrysostom), but this book is prophetic. It (especially Parts II and III) ought to be required reading in every American church and Christian organization.