The following is from the Oct. 24, 2007, edition of The Dallas Morning News. SMU Theologican Joerg Rieger, professor of systematic theology, recently lead a discussion that is the focus of this column.
What happened at SMU's Perkins School of Theology the other day does not seem immediately relevant to the presidential campaign trail. But if you accept the notion that what starts out at the academy ultimately can influence policies, I'd suggest this conference on the "theology of empire" was very relevant.
Neoconservatives certainly have shown over the last decade how ideas can jump from the ivory tower to the White House. In the 1990s, neoconservative writer Irving Kristol, his son William and like-minds started developing ideas about a strong U.S. military asserting itself in the world. Their notions about America establishing order began as part of the Project for the New American Century and eventually took hold in the Bush White House. From there, they contributed to soldiers hitting the front lines in Iraq.
So don't tell soldiers or their families that ideas can't have consequences. They do, sometimes big ones. . .
At SMU earlier this month, Perkins professor Joerg Rieger led a discussion along these lines. He has written a book on the subject, Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, and I caught up with him later by e-mail. This is how he sums up his views:
"In a nutshell, empires are efforts to take control of how people live and think, and so theology is always a natural part of empire. Empire theology ... tells people, 'There is no alternative,' there is only one way to do things."
What's worth paying attention to is the "other way of doing things" that critics suggest.
For example, Dr. Rieger says the U.S. may run into the same problem Rome and other empires did by insisting our ideas about markets and democracies are the only ones. We could learn from others, he wrote.
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