Erick Prince, founder of Blackwater, testified last fall before the House Oversight and Government reform committee concerning his company’s activities in Iraq. Steeped in conservative Christian traditions, the Prince dynasty has deep Republican roots whose fortunes were freely spent to support religious causes like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family or provide seed money for the Family Research Council, ran by former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
Yet how can those Christian organizations that expound belief in the “Prince of Peace,” remain silent when their benefactor, the Prince who profits from war, merges faith with U.S. interests abroad?
Empires have always used religion to dominate. Since the dawn of both empire and religions, the needs and desires of the state–or better yet the needs and desires of those privileged by the state–have used faith-based pronouncements to justify their policies.
For Christians, the merging of Christianity and empire occurred quite early. In 312 C.E., Constantine, on the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, dreamed that Christ was instructing him to place His sign (a monogram combining X and P, the first letters of Christ’s name) on the soldiers’ shields. For the first time, the symbol of Christ, the Prince of Peace, become one with the instruments of death, war, and conquest.
By days end, with the battle won, Constantine attributed victory to the God of the Christians and converted to the faith, although his conversion to Christianity has been seen as being superficial. In life he served as a high priest to other gods while among Christians proclaiming to be “bishop of bishops.” Upon his death he was declared by the Senate to be a god.
Nevertheless, by 313 C.E., Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, granting tolerance of Christianity. Till then, Christianity was the faith of the persecuted and marginalized, but now it was the religion of the Emperor.
Not surprisingly, the powerful and privileged, and those craving power and privilege, found it advantageous to belong to the Emperor’s church. It did not take long before Christianity became the Empire’s official religion, but with worldly recognition came spiritual loss. The relatively simple worship form among Christians prior to Constantine’s conversion made way for ornate churches built by the Christians’ new benefactor, complete with a worship form highly influenced by imperial protocol.
More disturbing was Constantine’s use of the church to advance his imperial policies. The ideology of empire was imposed upon the church’s theology, depriving believers of its radical pronouncements against the powers and principalities of this world. For example, almost a century after Constantine’s conversion, the once-pacifist Christians were developing, thanks to St. Augustine, just-war theories, Christian instruction to the empire as to when to declare war.
Constantine’s influence upon Christianity has continued to this day. As in the times of Rome, today there exist “Constantinian Christians,” those who merge the goals of the United States with the Christian faith, using the latter to justify the former.
Constantinian Christians reserve for themselves the right to participate in actions, some of which can be deemed immoral, because they claim moral superiority–a moral superiority defined through the negation of those who question or fight against the interests of the United States.
In short, they are what I am not. They are terrorists. They cannot be reasoned with. They are inhuman in their actions. Because we are not them, therefore, we are civilized, rational and humane. We may make mistakes or participate in poor judgment, but our actions will never be perceived as immoral because, after all, we are who we are–a “Christian nation.”
The formation of a moral dichotomy based on absolute good (us) and absolute evil (them) creates a reality in which moral discernment is trumped by a self-induced delusion of the goodness of the overall character of the U.S. and its leaders. This delusion is maintained through the dehumanization of those perceived as a threat to the dominant culture.
And now, even asking the question of whether our global actions might lead some to resort to terrorism–or if legitimate concerns exist that force some to take such radical approaches–is to raise the ire of our political and religious leaders who would incredulously dismiss such analysis as providing comfort to the enemy.
In order to preserve The Good, as defined by Constantine Christians, unjust acts may need to be imposed. Sadly, the people more likely to engage in acts against humanity are those who demonize their opponents so as to justify actions as necessary evils required to protect The Good.
Ironically, it is in the defense of this type of Good that Constantinian Christianity ceases to be Christian.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Miguel De La Torre is author of Liberating Jonah. Order here from Amazon.com.
Blackwater Head Disavows ‘Mercenary’ Label
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.