Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guilt, Atonement and Foreign Policy

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of Godon a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.

---II Samuel 6:1-7

In I Samuel 4 the Philistines defeated the Israelites and captured the Ark of the Covenant. After being afflicted by tumors and seeing their “gods” embarrassed they returned the ark to the Jews on a cart. Soon Israel followed this example rather than the revealed law of God which required the ark to be carried by priests (Exodus 25:14, Exodus 25:14).

Though the ark would have been surrounded by priests, when the oxen stumbled Uzzah took it upon himself in an act of presumption to steady the ark. He was immediately struck dead by God.

Uzzah was guilty of presumptuous responsibility. In effect he was saying, “If you need something done right, do it yourself.” But such false “responsibility” is in fact a desire for control. It is fundamentally grounded in a desire to be God and assume responsibility and control outside one’s legitimate sphere.

The fabrication of false responsibility is a strategy employed by the elite to make men guilty so that they hand over power and authority to the state. It is an ugly strategy designed to accumulate power.

Guilty men with a troubled conscience, in other words all men, seek atonement. Christians seek a right standing before God through repentance and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us through the instrument of faith. Though as Adam’s heirs we are sinners (Rom. 5:12) dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) we are made righteous through though Christ, our representative in obedience.

Unbelievers seek justification elsewhere through self-atonement and self-justification, effectively a form of masochism. The other option is the transfer of guilt to other parties. Politics ultimately becomes a forum for obtaining atonement and its ministers and magistrates take on a priestly function rather than serving in their God-ordained office as ministers of justice (Rom. 13:4).

How has this desire for atonement driven American foreign policy? Through the systematic propagation of guilt, Americans have been indoctrinated with a belief that their history is little more than a series of power-grabs, a desolation of innocents. We are repeatedly assured that our history is simply an account of guilt toward Blacks, Jews, Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and ultimately the entire world.

The result of this defective history is a politics loaded down with guilt, in the face of which the populace assumes a posture of submissiveness. A foreign policy elite than is able to advance its interests by claiming a “humanitarian” justification for military adventurism, effectively placing guilt on one party in the midst of great complexity (e.g., Serbs vs. Bosnians, Russians vs. Georgians, etc.). Thus we are urged to atone for our sins by “saving” a “tyrannized” people from their “oppressors.”

The other possibility is to heap the guilt upon ourselves and assume responsibility for every malady on all continents. All the guilt for the starving and oppressed of the world or the ruination and environmental degradation of the planet is thus placed squarely at our feet. Atonement in this scenario leads to foreign aid schemes and similar looting of taxpayers.

Because few men can do more than look after their families and a small circle of friends or fellow believers, the task of imposed responsibility is soon delegated to the state and its planners. By acquiring this duty the state seeks to remake the world in its image, making salvation and liberation the work of man rather than God.

What is particularly irritating is when this guilt-mongering becomes the work of prominent Christians. And I don’t mean simply leftists like Jim Wallis. Consider the messianic pretensions of our Christ-professing President. In various speeches the President has sounded more like Robespierre than Burke:

“I believe democracy can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned to tyranny. And I believe when democracies take hold, it leads to peace. That's been the proven example around the world. Democracies equal peace.”

"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

"With the power and resources given to us, the United States seeks to bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is suffering, and liberty where there is tyranny."


But America’s “special obligation” to the world is also parroted by evangelical theologians like Richard Land, who in addressing a gathering at Harvard said this:

We believe that America has a special role to play in the world. Now we do not believe that America is God’s chosen nation, but we do believe that God’s providence has blessed this country, and that that is a belief that brings with it obligations and responsibilities and that America has a special obligation and responsibility to be the friend of freedom and the friend of democracy in the world.

And I cannot tell you the number of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals and Catholics who told me that they were moved to tears by the president’s second inaugural address and the statement that we are going to be the friend of freedom. People of traditional religious values believe America has a special obligation and responsibility because of the blessings we have received to be the friend of the oppressed ... and to help those who want freedom for themselves.


Naturally Land believes that we are "culpable" (his word) for failing to intervene in Rwanda and our tardy excursion into the Balkans.

From where Dr. Land conjures this divine imperative is unclear, suffice to say that it is Christ, not the United States, that came to free His people, to make them sons, not slaves. We have no condemnation and guilt in Christ but are liberated by His sacrifice. The “obligation” and “responsibility” of Land’s universalist ethic leads to slavery and total power in the hands of a seemingly all powerful state where God’s predestination is replaced by that of man. Total responsibility becomes total control. Man’s duty is to control himself, his family and his work. His responsibility does not extend to the entire world and his relationships are to be governed by the Word rather than a response to the guilt engendered by those who would enslave us.

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