In Praise of Empires

In Praise of Empires October 30, 2014

Courtney and I are in Rome this week, compliments of Focus Features and A Different Drummer, to visit the set of a movie based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. We are embargoed from writing anything about the movie (yet), but my fifteenth trip to the Eternal City has brought on some thoughts.

Among Christianity’s critics from within — especially my own tribe of progressive Protestants — it’s fashionable to disparage empire at every turn. Empire, it seems, is responsible for everything that ails our faith.

Oh, and Constantine was an asshat.

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true.

The Roman Empire was, indeed, brutal. But it was also extraordinarily civil. Crucifixions? Yes. But also aqueducts. And public baths and voting and roads and regulated commerce.

The brilliance of the Roman Empire came in many forms, but none so much as its conquests. When Rome conquered a land, they would acquire slaves — slaves that could attain freedom — but more significantly, they made those who were conquered Roman citizens. And there was no more powerful a safeguard to one’s personhood in the ancient world than Roman citizenship (Paul probably lived a decade longer than he would have otherwise because he claimed Roman citizenship (scholars are split on whether he truly was a Roman citizen or not)).

A conquered people became Roman citizens, and they were able to keep their own religion, customs, and even governors, as long as they paid their taxes and didn’t revolt. And in return they got roads, potable water, and security.

Christians are familiar with the razing of the Jerusalem temple by the Roman general Titus in AD 70, but it is often forgotten that Titus was in Judea to put down a Jewish revolt against Rome. And that wasn’t the first time the Jews had tried to cast out the imperial forces. Each time they found out what an ill-fated strategy it was.

Christianity as we know it is very much the result of the Roman Empire, which itself was built on the backbone of what another brutal empire-builder, Alexander the Great, had accomplished centuries before. Alexander carved the roads and built the Western world. The Romans paved those roads.

It was on the back of Roman order and government that Christianity spread.

But how about the emperors?

The Roman Republic lasted only a short time, ultimately cut down by the murder of Julius Caesar. When his nephew-cum-adopted-s0n Octavian acceded to the head of the government and claimed the title, emperor, many in Rome feared that he would be a vicious dictator. He was anything but. Now known as Caesar Augustus, Octavian went on a massive building campaign, funded by massive — and massively successful — military campaign. He’d conquer a land, those people would pay taxes, and he would built another public building in Rome.

Constantine the Great

Along the way, there were some bad apples among the subsequent emperors (e.g., Nero), but there were also great rulers (e.g., Trajan) and even poet-philosophers (e.g., Marcus Aurelius). Constantine very much fashioned himself after Augustus, being both a great general and a builder. Constantine’s conversion to Christianity on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge should be understood with some suspicion. And nota bene, Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire. In the Edict of Milan in 313, he merely legalized Christianity, bringing it into the Pax Romana.

It should also be remembered that by the time Constantine wore the imperial purple, the Roman Empire was in its denouement. Constantine himself saw the writing on the wall and spent most of his time in the East, establishing a new capital in Constantinople. The Roman Empire would fall only 139 years after Constantine’s death.

My point is this: The Roman Empire and the Roman emperors, like almost everything in history, have legacies of ambivalence. Yes, they were brutal and often violent, but they were also civil and appreciative of beauty and art and literature. In its time, the Roman Empire accomplished feats that moved civilization forward in giant steps. And Christianity spread largely as a result of these imperial advancements.

In fact, without the Roman Empire, there very likely would be no Christianity.

So, the next time you hear someone throwing Constantine under the bus or savaging the reputation of the Roman Empire, take a minute to consider whether the story might be a bit more nuanced than that.


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  • yes, there is a trend of christians (often wrongly) indicting “empire” at every turn, frequently in service of the very civility you praise. civility and violence are both tools used to prop up power and put down the margins.

    empire is a metaphor for power wielded antithetically to the example of Christ and the Kingdom of God, and i suspect more understand the “nuance” than you let on. are you seriously arguing what’s a little slavery and execution when the roads were so damn good? if you’re going to make a case for empire, you’re going to need to square the former rather than the latter with the way of the crucified Jesus.

    *edited 11/5 to add: but what do we cultured despisers and gleeful trolls know, right?

    • Jesse

      “are you seriously arguing what’s a little slavery and execution when the roads were so damn good?”

      Great line there Suzannah.

    • tanyam

      That was my reaction as well. I’m critical of the US –while recognizing its successes, and knowing that many of those positive developments were the result of the economy of slavery. Most of us understand the ambiguous results of history. We know that the plague benefitted the early Christian witness, but that didn’t make it a great thing.
      Many of us don’t think very much about the end of the Roman empire — the Christian on Christian violence, when the “barbarians” of the north (themselves Christian) got sick of the exploitation of their Roman overlords and invaded.

    • Buck_Eschaton

      I was reading Michael Hudson and he was saying by the 2nd century AD that about 25% of the population was enslaved. The whole idea of empire is to centralize everything, to make everyone and everything indebted to the oligarchs, to make slaves and debt peons of everybody. What were roads good for other than getting the loot to the center faster.

      http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/02/debt-slavery-%E2%80%93-why-it-destroyed-rome-why-it-will-destroy-us-unless-it%E2%80%99s-stopped/

      http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/11/michael-hudson-oligarchs-will-never-cancel-debts-we-owe-them.html#comment-1669000

      • Now we all are enslaved, well, if you slave for wages.

        “It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one…” ~Henry David Thoreau [Journal, 1845-47]

    • Guest

      ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9foi342LXQE

    • jake johnson

      making a case for empire and acknowledging that they can do some good are two very different things….

  • This is something I struggle with, and I think all Christians should have tension here. However, I think the problem (at least in American Christianity) is a complete lack of awareness of that historical tension between the Kingdom of God and *modern* empires. Ancient Rome – of course *they* were opposed to Christ. But the Roman Empire is so alien to us, so far removed from our own forms of idolatrous power worship. It’s a snap to condemn them, and those emperors and magistrates would not care one whit about our approval anyway. Although some of them, like Marcus Aurelius, were more self-aware about the nature of temporal power than most recent American presidents. I don’t know many empire critics who see no silver lining in empire-building. But I do know people today who have an untroubled embrace of empire, a sort of knee-jerk neoliberal, globalist vision for the future. So I guess if we ever get to the point where it is mainstream to constantly criticize empire, we’ll need to check that by pointing out the benefits of hegemony. Until then, I think we need more criticism than praise. There are plenty of people willing to mollycoddle Western imperialism (and excuse oppression for the sake of “civilization”) in New York Times bestselling books – they don’t need help from Christians.

    • All civilization (empire) is built oppression. But I’m not sure how to escape it. I’m willing to have a lesser evil of it, I guess.

      “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” ~Stanley Diamond (1981) In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. Transaction Publishers. p.1.

    • Johnny Number 5

      “I don’t know many empire critics who see no silver lining in empire-building.”

      Most of my fellow students in my (former) English lit grad program seemed to admit of no silver lining, even as they worked in climate controlled offices with the luxury of studying obscure topics that only they were interested in instead of having to till the ground and hope that food might emerge from it for one more year. With our meager stipends we were all “poor” (by at least our middle class standards), but nonetheless we were all generally comfortable and were free of many of the stresses of daily lives of our ancestors. Oh, and free internet. While I agree that empire doesn’t really need any more apologists, I also am completely convinced that it’s far too easy to just make kneejerk attacks on empire without realizing how much even the ability to make that particular kneejerk attack is predicated on the pre-existence of empire.

  • R Vogel

    Have you read Pinker’s book? It is his thesis that the rise of empire was a step in the process that has led to less violence, better health, more freedom and greater prosperity than at any point in history. Enjoying life as beneficiaries of the long process civilization makes many people blind to the messy and violent path it took to get us here.

    • Pinker’s stinkers are two-fold: First, he uses a so-called “primitive” tribe to compare civilization against; unfortunately, that “tribe” has steel axes. They aren’t so primitive; furthermore, science bears out that primitives weren’t as violent as Pinker paints them.

      Is it natural for humans to make war? New study of tribal societies reveals conflict is an alien concept
      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/is-it-natural-for-humans-to-make-war-new-study-of-tribal-societies-reveals-conflict-is-an-alien-concept-8718069.html

      Second, Pinker’s statistics rest mainly on murder rates, and does not include threats of coercion as violence.

      The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual…” ~wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence

      Observe how the State works; most violence isn’t actual, only threatened. Can a harsh police-state regime with a low murder rate really be identified as non-violent? Is the nuclear standoff between East and West, where much of humanity is 25 minutes away from being annihilated non-violent?

      And the “better health” claim has been debunked by Mark Nathan’s Health and the Rise of Civilization (Yale University Press, 1989).

      But, for all it’s problems, civilization, oppressive or not, is better than primitive freedom/anarchy with 7B+ people on the earth now. And frankly, I’m surprised, even if pleasantly, that we haven’t obliterated ourselves yet. Maybe, maybe, we’re learning something.

      • R Vogel

        I think you may be putting an undue amount of weight on the persuasive power of one article discussing a single study of 21 current hunter-gatherer societies that makes ‘rough analogies of the past.’ Too many questions left unanswered. 85% of the deaths were not from wars, but who exactly would they go to war with? Is there context really relevant to ancient pre-agricultural societies? I don’t know, With that said, I think Pinker’s data regarding pre-agriculture societies seems the most sparse. [http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker] Frankly, I am less interested in the comparison to them than to the developmental arc of agricultural-based centralized societies, as you allude to in your last paragraph. As far as I know no one is advocating solving our violence problems by returning to hunter-gatherer societies. ;p

        Pinker covers far more than just murders. He discusses slavery, rape, assault, torture, genocide. I have some issue with his use of war deaths since he doesn’t seem to adjust for the fact that most conflict are now asymmetric, where powerful nations have preferred to fight peripheral wars rather than square off against each other. Thus there has been a reduction in war deaths, but it seems to have affected mostly one side.

        He does leave out the threat of violence, but you would have to make a case that the threat of violence in a non-state society would somehow be less. In the study you cited above, ’85 per cent of the deaths involved killers and victims who belonged to the same social group, and about two thirds of all the violent deaths could be attributed to family feuds, disputes over wives, accidents or “legal” executions.’ That doesn’t sound less threatening to me, just less centralized, which may actually increase anxiety. I think you could argue that the monopoly on the use of violence by the state coupled with the rule of law which limits state violence has reduced the overall threat of violence, but you would have to figure out how to quantify that.

        I agree that he glossed over the existential threat. It seems to me that we may as a species have made a Faustian bargain somewhere around 1945 trading for the lower risk of violence against the average individual for the risk of destruction of the entire species. If the rise of nation-states ended up sowing the seed of our ultimate destruction it would be rather poetic.

        • First, I’d like to say that conversing with you here is fun. You’re a smart one.

          > you would have to make a case that the threat of violence in a non-state society

          Anthropology has established that pretty well in my opinion. A couple examples, out of many, (I am only quoting from books I personally have in my library) follow:

          Historically, people in non-state societies are relatively autonomous and sovereign. They generate their own subsistence with little or no assistance from outside sources. They bow to no external political leaders. Nor are they routinely exploited by outsiders.

          Elman R. Service (1975) Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution. New York: Norton.

          Online excerpt here: NON-STATE AND STATE SOCIETIES
          faculty.smu.edu/rkemper/cf_3333/Non_State_and_State_Societies.pdf

          “…remain politically autonomous as individuals … this egalitarian arrangement.”

          Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press. p. 194

          Further scholarly references can be best gained from a fellow John Zerzan, an anarcho-primitivist, who really knows the anthropological literature and is scrupulous about his references. I’m no anarcho-primitivist, but I do agree with their assessment that agricultural civilization, and even the development of language itself, has causes very many more problems than our culture dares admit.

          Even dear old school itself has been called a coercive prison for children in a Salon article, and this book is a great study on why language and numbers themselves create a coercive environment:

          Jack Goody (1977) The Domestication of the Savage Mind. Cambridge University Press. cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/anthropology/anthropological-theory/domestication-savage-mind

          But as far as coercing a peace, the technology of the State seems to be getting better at it, and Pinker does have a point.

          > a Faustian bargain somewhere around 1945

          I agree. Nuclear weapons have actually decreased war in my opinion, at the risk of ultimate destruction. And I just got done reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, so it’s something that is on the forefront of my mind right now.

          Sometimes I think we’re just purely insane. This fellow (I’ve got a couple of his books) thinks so: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5iBOXcoP_8

          • R Vogel

            Thanks for the compliment. I enjoy the conversation as well.

            ‘They bow to no external political leaders. Nor are they routinely exploited by outsiders.’

            This I will happily grant, but this is a framing issue. My point is that the trade-off may between the external threat of violence from the state, where in the most liberal democratic states I have at least some power, for the internal threat of violence from my in-group, where, unless I am an elite, I have no power at all. Let’s look at something like FGM. It is regional and, for lack of a better word, tribal. To my knowledge there is no place where it is state sanctioned, in fact, I believe, in most place it is resisted by the state. These kinds of barbaric practices are generally challenged and suppressed in a modern state, but it does entail a trade-off. Obviously there are oppressive states, but I think Pinker generally uses the modern liberal democracy as the ideal. (and the ideal of the ideal at that – he seems to give pretty short shrift to the incarceration rates in the US)

            ‘Nuclear weapons have actually decreased war in my opinion’

            This is interesting – I would ask by what measure. It has certainly reduced large-scale wars between powerful nations, but it seems to have shifted to almost constant long-term LICs and ‘police actions’ in all the furthest flung corners of the globe. So the bargain was between the superpowers and everyone else gets to bear the brunt. I guess that is better than destroying our species. Perhaps the bargain buys us enough time that we can do it with climate change instead. ;p

  • KentonS

    I get what you’re saying, Tony, but suzannah has a point. Your post does sound a little like “but Mussolini got the trains to run on time” to me.

  • I don’t know if I agree with your conclusion here Tony, but it is funny that I was just talking about this very issue in my Scriptures class this morning, and showed that very same Monty Python clip!

  • lscottfreeman

    Is this The Onion?

  • Buck_Eschaton

    I guess you’re right the Roman Empire was integral to the rise of Christianity. If it hadn’t been for the absolute and ruthless intransigence of the Roman creditors/oligarchs regarding repayment of debt, and if the slave population hadn’t been so enormous Christianity’s proclamation of forgiveness of sin and debt wouldn’t have been so attractive. Imagine the sudden explosion of imagination in people when they heard that they’re debts were forgiven and that debts could be cancelled.

  • RustbeltRick

    Evangelicals overwhelmingly vote for conservatives, who are working like mad to transform the nation into an oligarchy, so this article will be a huge comfort/affirmation to all of these dear misguided folks.

  • lscottfreeman

    Did you know that rape has aided the raising of awareness for violence against women?

    True Story

  • Nathan Myers

    …in praise of contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake.

  • Matthew Wiltshire

    It’s ok chaps. They practised the good sort of slavery not the bad sort of slavery.

  • ThisMicah

    “In Praise Of Empires, or, The End Justifies The Means”

    • Nope. In Praise Empires, or, Recognizing the Ambivalences of History.

      • ThisMicah

        Duly recognized. A long time ago. By anyone with the slightest interest in history. So where are you going with this? Who do you think is in need of this reminder, and why? I fail to see where you can ethically take this line of reasoning.

  • CurtisMSP

    “without the Roman Empire, there very likely would be no Christianity.”

    For critics of empires, that is exactly the point.

    Still, I think Christianity would survive, even without the empire. But it would not be a culturally normative religion. Rather, it would survive as a countercultural, counter-empire house church, like the early church was.

    In fact, now that the historic Christian empire is ending, and the church is trying to rediscover its countercultural roots, it may have been in a stronger position if there had never been a Roman empire.

    • It is surely ending. And there was much about Christendom that was bad, downright sinful. Nevertheless, any thoughtful student of history must acknowledge both the good and the bad.

  • toddh

    I’m not sure what world most of the commenters are living in. If you hate empires, what would you rather? Cuba? The Central African Republic? The Goths or Vandals? Iron Age tribal life? Even our close neighbor Mexico is rife with corruption and the rule of law is tenuous at best. Sure, empires are flawed and evil, but so is every other society and form of government.

    • Nicholas Kr.

      Empires are not mean girls from high school, there’s no use “hating” them. Their sheer existence necessitates influence on various “non-imperial” places, from Cuba to CAR to “Goths and Vandals”. In any case, there’s no single system that can be called an “Empire” – the Roman Empire was quite different from the British one, that is quite different from American imperialism. Both involve quite of lot of suffering, albeit it’s true that various non-imperial states involve it, also.

  • Tim

    “In fact, without the Roman Empire, there very likely would be no Christianity.” – interesting thesis. I bet God could have spread the gospel with or without Rome’s roads, though.

    I get what you mean about the ambivalence in the history of the Roman Empire; that applies to any culture. But as for the Empire actually being “extraordinarily civil”, I don’t think a good public works program constitutes civility. Another leader on the Italian peninsula was credited with getting the trains to run on time, but few would say that made Mussolini’s regime “extraordinarily civil”.

    The Romans, as you point out, built their Empire on the back of conquered and enslaved people who were then heavily taxed so Rome could thrive. It’s the same story of all slavery, really. Too many Christians today (like Doug Wilson and his insistence that slavery was good for America’s blacks, for example) seem to want to be apologists for slavery and dress it up to look better than what it really is. Trafficking in human misery.

  • Guest

    Nina Conti
    Higher Ground

    Hit
    Test loyalty
    Pull the mask off
    Friend
    Can’t do it
    Protests
    About to do it
    Shoots boss and bodyguard

    I like the way Walter Wink puts it: “The Powers are good, the Powers have fallen, the Powers can be redeemed.” When we scapegoat empire (or big corporations for that matter), it’s a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility for the present situation, and it’s also an admission of perceived powerlessness in terms of our ability to change it. I think Wink’s view is a good corrective, because it forces us to admit we play a role in the problem (as consumers, voters, etc.), but it also empowers us by reminding us of our ability to influence the powers (such as empire) for good. I don’t like the version of Christianity that rode on the back of the Roman and subsequent empires, ratifying rather than challenging their edicts. But turning empire into Satan is not the solution to that version of Christianity, because a form of Christianity based on scapegoating IS that version of Christianity.

  • Kevin Miller

    I like the way Walter Wink puts it: “The Powers are good, the Powers have fallen, the Powers can be redeemed.” When we scapegoat empire (or big corporations for that matter), it’s a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility for the present situation, and it’s also an admission of perceived powerlessness in terms of our ability to change it. I think Wink’s view is a good corrective, because it forces us to admit we play a role in the problem (as consumers, voters, etc.), but it also empowers us by reminding us of our ability to influence the powers (such as empire) for good. I don’t like the version of Christianity that rode on the back of the Roman and subsequent empires, ratifying rather than challenging their edicts. But turning empire into Satan is not the solution to that version of Christianity, because a form of Christianity based on scapegoating IS that version of Christianity.

    • THAT is the ambiguity of empire that I’m talking about. Thanks for that quote.

  • It should perhaps bear noting that this question is one of the central themes of Augustine’s City of God. In form any state, whether despotism or democracy, is like a band of thieves, whose will is founded on force. Just and unjust laws alike are enforced with violence. Nevertheless even the concord of robbers presupposes some peace among them, and the widening of that peace can be a great social good, and the environment for the growth of civilization. In that sense the Church undoubtedly benefits from that relative security, the cessation of the war of all against all–but the Church also proclaims that such prudential peace is never to be equated with the gospel.

    • That’s some good perspective, Rick.

  • In the reading from the Roman Martyrology for Christmas midnight mass there is both a placing of Christ’s birth within a larger history, and an observation that the birth took place “when all the world was at peace.” It is doubtful whether that was literally true, but in fact the Gates of Janus had been closed more often in Augustus’ reign than in any period in Roman history, and I think it was true that the early Christians saw the Pax Romana as a providential environment for the incarnation and foundation of the Church.

    Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,

    unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
    and then formed man and woman in his own image.

    Several thousand years after the flood,
    when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

    Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
    thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

    Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
    one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
    in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

    In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
    the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

    The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
    the whole world being at peace,
    Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
    desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
    being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    and nine months having passed since his conception,
    was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

    Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

  • Nicholas Kr.

    “The Roman Empire would fall only 139 years after Constantine’s death.”

    That’s some “only”. I mean, there’s less time between the death of Queen Victoria and 2014.

    Don’t understand how Alexander “built the Western World” when his conquests were all in Eastern Mediterranean, Persia and parts of Afganistan/Pakistan/India.

    “When Rome conquered a land, they would acquire slaves — slaves that
    could attain freedom — but more significantly, they made those who were
    conquered Roman citizens.”

    Every slave in history could attain freedom if his master was merciful enough, or saw some benefit for him in having a personal caste of freed slaves. The majority of Roman slaves were likely slaves until their death. They didn’t automatically made those who were conquered Roman citizens until the status of Roman citizen didn’t really matter, anyway (although they did assimilate and grant citizenship to some people even before that).

  • csalafia

    This is the only appropriate response.

  • Tony, what was the point of this post?

  • Wait… I thought christians think that Christianity exists because of God and Jesus, but you’re saying it exists because of the Roman Empire?

    Interesting…

  • This reminds me of Obama’s famous line: “we tortured some folks” (and spied on almost the whole world, and held some without charge for years… but who is counting?)

    I see two ironies in this article, Tony:

    Jesus was unjustly crucified by a conspiracy between this empire and its religious sycophants, maintained in power by their complicity with the occupiers.

    The privileged (and yes, I’m guessing you’re pretty privileged) are unlikely to be good judges of the value of empire – as Jesus said: whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.

    • Michael Wilson

      Tim, I’m guessing your very privileged too, being white, northern european, owning a computer and all. Does this mean we can ignore your comment because your unlikely to be a good judge of the value of empire?

      • Michael, um, no, not as privileged as you think, but that wasn’t actually your point, was it? (Not all privilege is immediately visible in a photo of someone’s face.)

        Privileged agreement with empire is of far more concern than privileged disagreement. If you think about the power dynamics of empires and the power dynamics of privilege, you’ll understand why collusion comes naturally, and disruption is far more difficult.

        • Michael Wilson

          What makes you think your not colluding with”empire”?

          • How did this thread become about me, rather than Tony’s blog post? It could easily derail the conversation, if it hasn’t already.

            Like Tony, I recognise that empires do some good things. But I also treat them with a high level of skepticism.

            Empires provide stability, but disrupt the lives of the poor, the alien, the widow, and the oppressed.

            Empires develop technology, but use it to gain power and influence; and to suppress and enslave areas that are less rich, industrialised, or simply less culturally congruent with the dominant group.

            And finally, empires are great if you’re rich, educated, in the dominant racial and cultural group, and have access to sources of power.

            But Jesus told us his standard: “whatever you do for the least of these people”

            • Michael Wilson

              It became about you when you presumed that Tony’s privilege made him a poor judge of empire. If that’s the case we need to sort out everyones level of privilege.

              Things are always better if you gave access to power, no matter the political arangement. Rome’s control of the Mediterranean world and export of ingenuity was great for the most powerless of its constituents when compared against the circumstances that existed without the empire. If Jesus had some how convinced Tiberius to withdraw all his personel and end his client treaties, to end the Roman Empire, I doubt the result would have improved the fortunes of any peasents. The Dark Ages aren’t remembered as a high point in European prosperity for any group but German looters. And in the Roman empire there were huge numbers of non italians that had more power and wealth than many Italian roman citizens. The empire was better for Paul than some penniless Roman pleb, even Jesus reaped a small benifit, the Sanhedrian couldn’t condemn him to death them selves so at least he got an appeal.

  • R Vogel

    I read one of your critics today and learned you are wrong because Star Wars. LOL. Oh, and many people don’t know what anachronism is….

    • A lot of people are reactionary about this post. Guess I should have seen that coming.

      • R Vogel

        That’s probably a good indication you are doing it right – Progresssive/Emergent Christianity is beginning to resemble the conservative echo-chamber in form if not substance.

  • Buck_Eschaton

    Empires are dysfunctional, mimetic feedback loops of violence, resource extraction, rental extraction, enforcing debt slavery/feudal power relations, and leading inevitably to the desertification of both environment, culture and everything else.

  • As a Brit I have watched the gradual fall of the British Empire all my life. When I was 15 (64 years ago) I got into serious trouble for daring to suggest that the Empire had been built on GREED and SELFISHNESS. We didn’t have the knowledge we now have of the history of companies like the British East India Company. OK I have an unusual perspective on history – but what do you think of this – http://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com/christendom/

  • Caryn LeMur

    Forbes.com is not a Christian website.

    Here are some thoughts from Forbes.com, Rob Ashgar, concerning leadership and what he learns from Empire-thinking leaders, 16 Sep 2014:

    “The Mars Hill case also reminds us that Caesar-style leaders usually set their organizations up for glory—and then for civil war.”

    “Personality cults end badly, because anyone objective finds themselves mauled by loyalists trying to hold the cult together.”

    “(Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer remains a pivotal resource for understanding the motivations of cult-type personalities, who often have their entire identities fused into their nation, organization or holy cause.)”

    Tony: the challenge is that you are inferring Empire-thinking is good for the Emerging Church. [Otherwise, your article is a high school paper that tries to say, “Hey, there was some good that came out of World War II.” To which we respond, ‘So what?’.]

    Let me rephrase Rob’s statements:
    – Empire-thinking in the Emerging Church creates organizations set up for glory, and then for civil war.

    – Empire-thinking in the Emerging Church mauls the thinkers and questioners, and the mauling is by those most loyal to holding the cult together.
    – Empire-thinking encourages a Christian believer to fuse their entire identity into their church organization, or into a holy war of us-versus-them.

    I realize this article may have been just a change of pace for you, and you may literally have not intended to say or imply any use of Empire-thinking concerning the Emerging Church.
    So, please clarify. What did you want your readership to take away from this article?

  • Holly Roach

    “The question for people of faith is not primarily whether empires suit us or not (empires always suit some more than others and not all of their accomplishments need to be dismissed); the question is: Who is our God? The problem with empires is that they seek to answer that question for us.”

    Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2014/11/reconsidering-empire-does-it-matter/#ixzz3JU8ZOSTA