The Empire is obsessed with names and use them to legitimize all forms of brutality.
The Empire is obsessed with names.
In biblical times, temples were dedicated to the names of various gods. The alpha city of Constantine’s empire was named Constantinople. Dates were made “in the year of Emperor Augustus” and coins were minted in the Roman ruler’s image.
On the first Good Friday, the Empire was obsessed with the name. In John’s account, it’s the first thing the Imperial authorities do as part of the crucifixion (John 19):
Pilate had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.
Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”
Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
The Empire used naming as a way of venerating at their best and oppressing at their worst, and in Jesus’ time, turning an individual prophet’s revolution into an act of violence against the very people Jesus came to save.
Co-Opting Names to Justify Violence
The Empires of today continue this tradition by using names or individuals as weapons against the poor and marginalized.
It uses the names of dead Syrian babies to justify dropping bombs on Syria. We can’t afford Meals on Wheels, but there’s plenty of money to fire off 59 Tomahawk missiles at about $832,000 each — about $50 million for the strike. We can’t allow 59 Syrian children to come to America for asylum thanks to the blanket ban, but we can drop 59 bombs in their name.
No. Not in their name.
It uses the name of a hero soldier, a green beret who was the first US soldier to die in Afghanistan in 2017, to justify dropping a MOAB (Mother Of All Bombs), the largest bomb with the biggest chance of civilian casualties, in response. Fox News is the primary source consistently linking this death with the dropping of the bomb.
No. Not in his name.
When our next conflict comes up, look and see whose name or on behalf of which oppressed group (the same group denied other federal support other than guns and bombs) is used by the Empire to justify their acts of violence.
No. Not in any of our names.
Between Death and New Life
Holy Saturday is the in-between time where Christians believe that Jesus died and went to hell for a time before his resurrection celebrated on Easter Day. But a closer parallel to today’s Holy Saturday may be found in an esoteric political term that marks a similar in-between time.
Whenever a Pope dies, the Roman Catholic Church has a period of time before they name a new successor. It’s called the interregnum, meaning a “gap” in the leadership of the church. This “gap time” also takes place between monarchs, elected regimes, and parish priests assuming their authority.
The term can be applied to institutions and social structures when they are in a period of transition. A recent article called the current political situation in the United States an interregnum:
The Italian philosopher, Gramsci defined the concept well: “The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum many morbid symptoms arise.” [There is a] sense of being trapped between a dying establishment and a new order that is not quite formed…We know the change is going to come. It’s just a matter of how bitter the resistance is going to be.”
I wonder what death felt like in the face of that first anticipated Resurrection. How it responded when it was backed into a corner and realized it had lost its sting, and whether it lashed out in vengeance like our political systems do.
Morbid Political Systems Arise
By the actions against Syria, Afghanistan, and the amped-up rhetoric against North Korea, we can see clearly that the morbid system of war will solve the political problems by this administration.
I wondered how Republicans would get away with social policies and economic cuts that most directly affect the red rural counties and persons living on government assistance. While I grew up in Oklahoma and know firsthand that people will vote against their self-interest, how could Oklahoma’s failed state model possibly work on a widespread scale?
It turns out American Presidents can do one thing Oklahoma Governors cannot do: attack other countries.
- War solves the problem of Republican rural American budget cuts by saying we all need to tighten our belts for the conflict. “The loss of government assistance you depend on is service to your country.” But it’s a lie: the money is just reallocated to the war machine profiteering companies who now can fire LGBTQ employees and send sexual assault cases to binding arbitration and get away with it again.
- War solves the problem of predatory economic regression by giving the Republican base a story they have believed and will believe again: it’s our duty to give up help for our neighbors and our rights away in times of war. Republicans can get away with the serious harm to their base (and the country) by this narrative. And given it’s by executive action in charge of every aspect of international relations and military action at the moment, then their problem can be solved unilaterally.
I don’t know yet how our country that runs on fear and disinformation will turn against this morbid system.
But I do know this morbid system of death, of co-opting dead children and soldiers, hollows out the political and corporate life at home, leaving us with the empty tomb, wondering where our hope has gone, wondering if Death has the final word.
Long Live The Christ
In the interregnum, a strange phrase is often uttered by folks anticipating a new monarch: “The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.” It’s a message that names the reality of death, but also anticipates the chair will continue to be filled.
Our hope comes in Jesus Christ, his way of nonviolence against the empire’s morbid system, his way of embodied resistance against those who coopted the temple, and his way of perpetual, unceasing love for those who call on him. No Empire could stop him when he lived on earth, and certainly no Empire can stop him now.
But I have other lesser hopes as well.
- A hope that our political church that has tied itself so firmly to Republican values of war and death will have a chance to draw back and return to its place
- A hope that our political voters will see that the protest vote they have held for so many decades is a vote for a system of death, not hope for a better life.
- A hope that our political leaders will see that social policies must put the marginalized first to have any credibility in the world and in civil society, instead of using them as pawns for political harm.
Holy Saturday used to be a time for peaceful reflection on the liminal space between life and death. Today, I cannot help but be political in my reflections, naming the political convergence of life and death, and how the sense of helplessness that permeates Holy Saturday permeates me as well.
May Easter come soon. Very very soon.
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