"Your Rich Men Are Full of Violence"

After hearing both John Kerry and George W. Bush end their concession and victory speeches with the ubiquitous “God bless America,” I decided to conclude all my future political talks with the call “God condemn America,” and quote the Bible in support.

Many in the anti-war and anti-empire movement tend toward the pacifist language of the gospels when they invoke religion, but I’ve always been a fan of the so-called “minor prophets” of the Old Testament, such as Micah. Probably the best-known verse from Micah is: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

It’s a beautiful passage, a reminder — even for non-believers — that a decent path through life can be expressed simply: justice, kindness, humility.

But Micah doesn’t stop at articulating the ideal; he speaks of the failure of those in power to live up to the ideal. He names the wickedness in the land: “Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth” (6:12). Micah’s language is harsh: “The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts his brother with a net” (7:2).

Despite the professions of Christian faith from Bush and his gang, that all sounds a lot like this administration: willing to use violence — and obscene levels of violence, including violence against innocents — to extend and deepen U.S. power, and willing to lie to manipulate public opinion to build support for illegal wars.

I like reading the prophets, not just for their passion but as a reminder that there are many moments in history when leaders — whether they are the kings of ancient Israel or the presidents of the United States — will have amassed such concentrated power that no challenge in the short term is possible. There are moments when those leaders will have bought off or deceived the majority of people so that they rule with popular support. Bush won a second term with a 3 1/2 million-vote margin. Many of the people who voted for him believe, or want to believe, that the United States is God’s instrument on this earth.

They should read Micah more closely. Perhaps we can turn back from our assault on the rest of the world, and our disregard for the cascading ecological collapse, before it’s too late, before “the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their doings” (7:13). One day, perhaps, we will reach the point Micah promises: “The nations shall see and be ashamed of their might” (7:16).

To reach that, Micah reminds us of the need for commitment over the long haul: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (7:8).

We sit in darkness; there is no point in pretending otherwise. The imperial project of the United States is rotted to the core, a fact neither candidate nor party seems able or willing to acknowledge. Bush’s election is disturbing mostly because it reveals just how many fellow citizens share in that wicked project.

So, God condemn America, please, so that the world might live.

ROBERT JENSEN is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity” from City Lights Books. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.


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Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

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