For those of us without a close connection to someone in the military, it’s hard to keep in mind that we are at war in Afghanistan. We don’t get many reminders in daily life: leaders are not calling for us to make sacrifices; gas is still relatively cheap; grocery shelves are stocked; the NFL is back. As we are apt to do in today’s America, we’ve called on the professionals to take care of our war-making for us, leaving the vast majority of us unencumbered to pursue our pursuits.
But we are at war. Ostensibly it’s a war of defense rather than of conquest: to make sure the Taliban don’t return to Kabul and once again provide safe haven for al-Qaeda. Still, the fact that we can fight a war so far away, at such cost (one estimate puts it at $82 million per day), suggests the kind of power projection which only the mightiest empires are capable of. Not only are we at war; we are (reluctantly or not) an empire at war.
Religion in America in general, and Christian churches in particular, have not (for the most part) asked what it means to bear witness to the Transcendent One in an age of empire– let alone given an answer to that question, and acted on its conviction. James Hunter’s critique of how American Christianity has ceded the public realm to politics, leading to the flattening of the public sphere into a squashed, cramped tussle for political domination (posts here and here) are pertinent. One form that a faithful witness would take, is to robustly insist what the Biblical narrative robustly insists: that God’s power and imperial power are not co-extensive, but are in fact of an entirely different order. While wounding our narcissism, such humility before the Higher Power would be helpful for our public life, too.