Brutality of the Empire
Rome’s brutal conquest and the exaction of high tribute payment destroyed local economies. The acquisitions were maintained by terror mechanism of “crucifixion (10,000 in Judea alone from year 63-70), imprisonments and exiles, one of whom was the writer of the book of Revelation. Even Roman historians describe some of their generals and emperors as “bloodthirsty.”
Consider the Philippine-American War that lasted from 1899 to 1913. In this longest war in U.S. history, the Philippines lost over 1 million people, 15 percent of its population. The My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war pales when compared in the massacre of the people of Samar Island in the Philippines where 600,000 Filipinos were slaughtered from the American general’s command “to render Samar a wilderness.” The order was to kill everyone who can carry guns: “The more you kill and burn, the more it will please me,” the commander said. Whether the U.S. Marines were only acting on impulse to avenge the death of their compatriot, the Hiditha massacre in Iraq is merely a rehearsal of the logic of empire now pursued by the USA.
Escape Goats of the Empire
In the time of Nero, the Christians were made escape goats of Nero’s crime, and many were killed. No wonder the book of Revelation speaks of Rome as the Beast, a Red Dragon, with aliases of “Accuser, Deceiver, Devil, Satan, Ancient Serpent.” Rome is compared to doomed Babylon, the prostitute, clothed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls (17:3-6) and depicted for (1) its lavish wealth and craving for consumption; (2) its arrogance; and (3) political oppression and economic exploitation, including its brutal military conquests and the destruction of the earth itself.
Who are now the escape goats who can be blamed of the “un-peace situation” in the world? I happened to be watching CNN when the 9/ll attack happened. I certainly was shocked watching the twin tower collapse. But I was dismayed when immediately, the American authorities, without the benefit of verifying facts, named the Muslim terrorists as the perpetrators of the crime. Nero had the Christians to blame, the American Empire has the “terrorists” to blame and they reserve the right to define who the “terrorists” are. Bush immediately pronounced Saddam Hussein as one of the authors of 9/11 though to this day there has never been any evidence to support it. In a larger front, Muslims are the escape goats to cover for America’s desire for global domination.
Some Theological Affirmations on Empire
Given the above case study and analysis of the Empire, I submit five theological concepts: (1) Idolatry of the Empire; (2) The Human as Image of God, (3) Stewardship of Creation (4) the Kingdom of God and (5) Shalom.
1. Idolatry of the Empire
We said earlier there was a gradual transition of military titles from Imperatur (supreme commander) to Augustus (the “manifest one, a quasi-divine title”) to Princeps (the “first” in the senate, marking the start of the empire) and finally Pontifex Maximus (supreme priest completing transition to the divine right of the emperor). The Emperor arrogates upon himself the power of life and death over all peoples and territories of the known world and claimed the honor and glory of divinity and demands the subjects to bow before him and his images. The local kings and priests were co-opted to be the implementors of the will of Rome. Any opposition faces retribution and annihilation. To the early Christians this was pure and simple idolatry.
An idol, according to Paul Tillich, is the granting of ultimate loyalty and devotion to something that is not absolute. The First Commandment says: “You shall not have any other god before me.” The emperor has become a god. The early Christians were persecuted because they refused to attribute divinity to the emperor. Only Jesus the Messiah was given the glory and honor that belongs to God.
Is the American hegemony a revival of the Holy Roman Empire? “Those who are not with us are terrorists and deserved to be annihilated.” In the Philippines the political leadership has become the Herodians implementing the “imperial order” of the New Roman Empire in its declaration of an “all out war” against the “terrorists.”
2. Human Beings as the “image of God”: The New Roman Empire has no respect of the “image of God”
The Christian Faith affirms that human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God. The human being is a bearer of the imago dei. This imago dei is not an animal to be domesticated or vegetables to be raised and sold. The imago dei is not a thing to be manipulated or destroyed. The imago dei is to be provided with the right to life with dignity in a free and just society; life in all its fullness. The imago dei must be accorded with due respect and protection.
Brutality in the continuing expansion of the Empire shows that the Empire has no respect for the human being. In military parlance civilians, unarmed old people, women and children killed in military campaigns are “collateral damage.” In such cases human beings have no value except when they bring profit to the Empire. This is why we have the massacres in the Philippines’ Samar Island, in Vietnam’s My Lai and Iraq’s Hiditha (cf. Time Magazine, 2006) in addition to half a million “collateral damage” in the indiscriminate bombings in the Desert Thunderstorm.
The use of religion and education to manipulate people into conforming to the culture of the Empire such as creating the Filipino “Spanish Catholics” and “brown Americans” is a violation of the image of God.
In the economy of the New Empire with its free market neo-liberal ideology persons do not matter. The goal is profit, therefore, everything and everyone has a price.
In Hebrew/Semitic thought, the “image of God” includes the idea of the body as part of the whole person and is necessary to complete the human being. In this sense the image of God is expressed in concrete and bodily terms. As such the human being has physical needs such as food, shelter, clothing and intellectual development. Deprivation of these physical needs constitutes a violation of the image of God. In the Empire even so-called aid has become a means of domination and deprivation.