“The stages of history are replete with the chants and choruses of the conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace. Alexander, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon were akin in seeking a peaceful world order, a world fashioned after their selfish conceptions of an ideal existence. Each sought a world at peace which would personify his egotistic dreams” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The World House,” as quoted in by Cornel West in The Radical King, p. 88).
Deadly Mixture of Imperial & Ecclesial Dreams
Constantine was a rising military genius who dreamed of reuniting the Roman empire under his command. He achieved his goal in the early 300s. As Constantine consolidated power, he circulated a story that enticed Christians to “sanctify” his carnal conquest. He said God gave him a vision of a crucifix in the sky with the Latin inscription, in hoc signo vinces (English: in this sign, you will conquer).
Church historian and Constantine’s propagandist, Eusebius of Caesarea, convinced church leaders of the validity of his vision. Together they seduced a formerly persecuted church with the temptation of imperial power and prosperity. Despite Jesus insisting His kingdom isn’t of this world and telling Peter to put away his sword, Christians convinced themselves they could use imperial means for their spiritual ends. Thus began an adulterous affair between the empire and the ecclesia (the church) that’s spanned centuries. The gospel of peace mutated into a militaristic, materialistic missionizing force for the enrichment and expansion of earthly empires.
Delusional Doctrinal Dreaming
This fornication of the faith later led to the conception of the Doctrine of Discovery. When European
exploiters explorers and others started plundering “discovering” the “New World,” it was with the official blessing of papal bulls (proclamations issued by Roman Catholic popes). Pope Nicholas V issued the Dum Diversas in 1452 and the Romanus Pontifex in 1455 pronouncing his blessings upon Portugal’s invasions excursions in Africa. Pope Alexander VII issued the Inter Caetera in 1493 blessing Columbus and company’s mercenary missionary adventures in the Caribbean and Americas. The popes commanded that all lands and people not ruled by Christians should be conquered with the cross and brought under the authority of the Catholic Church. The “Christian” King of England, Henry VII, followed their lead in 1496 in his patent letter to John Cabot and sons.
As the Reformation gathered momentum, many Protestants also intermingled imperial and ecclesial dreams. The newly formed nation-states of Europe began spreading variant forms of the Doctrine of Discovery all over the globe through their contagious colonizing efforts. Centuries of bloodletting in the name of Jesus throughout Europe almost necessitated new land to exploit and people to subjugate. Both Catholic and Protestant leaders were happy to redirect the White on White, Christian on Christian violence toward non-White heathens. Although they didn’t yet see themselves as White, they saw the inhabitants of Africa, the Americas, and Asia as others – pagan, heathen, infidel, colored others.
Dreams Built Upon Nightmares
The problem of the American Dream has been the problem of every imperial dream – it’s fantasies are built upon the concrete miseries of other’s nightmares. It is a product of the dehumanizing Doctrine of Discovery. In 1619, the English founders of the House of Burgesses prayed and dreamed of liberty and prosperity. A couple of months later they bought “20 and odd Negroes” and began building their fortunes and freedoms on the backs of Blacks. This genesis of the two Americas set the course for the continual struggle between the dream and the nightmare.
As long as those suffering the nightmare acquiesce to the dreamers, things seem to be peaceful. But when the dreamers are haunted by the voices of the nightmare-dwellers, there’s trouble, like the Staples sang back in ’69:
We have worked this country from shore to shore
Our women cooked all your food and washed all your clothes
We picked all your cotton and laid the railroad steel
Worked our hands to the bone at your lumber mill
We fought in your wars in every land
To keep this country free, y’all, for women, children, and men
But anytime we ask for pay or loan
That’s when everything seems to turn out wrong…
Every step forward over the last 400 years has resulted in backlash. However, there’s uplifting news for the downpressed. The apocalyptic dreams of Daniel reverse the fortunes of imperial dreamers and the human capital they so freely spend to exalt their egos.
Dreaming with the Enemy
“Don’t sleep in your enemy’s dream,” warned John Edgar Wideman. Yet that’s just what the biblical prophet Daniel did in Babylon during King Nebuchnezzar’s rule. Daniel never spoke of Babylonians as his enemy. He actually spoke very respectfully to Nebuchadnezzar, but who would dare to do otherwise? In Daniel chapter two, this king was ready to kill a whole class of employees along with their families because they couldn’t tell him what his dream was!
Daniel not only slept in his enemy’s dream – he dreamt his enemy’s dream and then interpreted it. It seemed like a rather simple dream to cause so much drama. There’s two main objects in the dream: a metallic statue and a rock. The statue was of a man with a golden head, silver chest, bronze belly, iron legs, and feet made of an iron and clay mixture. The rock was cut out from a mountain without hands and crashed into the feet of the statue.
The Rock vs the Statue
All the kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had some continuity to them. One flowed into another, although they were governed by leaders of different origins, languages, and cultures. They all had the same value systems of dominating others, extracting all the resources they could for themselves, and expecting the downpressed to look up to them. Jesus describes it this way: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors’” (Luke 22:25, NKJV). He commanded his followers not to copy that example. Our greatness is to be shown by exercising service toward others rather than authority over others.
Rather than continuity of values, the kingdom of God replaces all others with a cataclysmic break. The statue in Daniel 2 was made of various metals and clay – mined, refined, fashioned and molded by human ingenuity. God’s kingdom is represented by a rock, cut out from a mountain without hands. There is no mining, chiseling, smelting, alloying, or molding any human elements into the foundation of God’s kingdom. It isn’t just communism that will be destroyed by the Rock, but capitalism will come crashing down as well. Authoritarian and democratic regimes will alike be ground into dust and whisked away by the wind. He won’t be recycling any of our handy work. All our expertise in economics or politics will be discarded. It all comes short of God’s glory.
This dream reframes and strengthens Daniel’s hopes. Daniel had experienced the siege of Jerusalem, the looting of the temple, the tortuous trek to Babylonian exile, and the attempted forced assimilation through name changes and immersion in Babylonian philosophy. There was nothing in this world left for him told hold onto, except God’s unchanging hand. It didn’t matter how holy the kingdom of Judah seemed at one time, or how esteemed the golden kingdom of Babylon or how strong the iron empire of Rome were, they were all temporary. However, the dream of citizenship in an eternal kingdom allowed him to operate freely while in captivity. He couldn’t be flattered by bribes nor intimidated by threats. He could accept or refuse any role that jeopardized his higher citizenship, while adding value to his present environment – whether that of Babylon or Persia. His faith had more staying power than all the successive empires striving for supremacy.
The Spirit of change
Wind in the Old Testament is commonly translated from the Hebrew word ruach. In in the New Testament it is derived from the Greek word pneuma. These words for wind are also translated spirit. The same Spirit that was active in the creation of Genesis 1 is the same Spirit that sweeps away the remnants of worldly empires in Daniel 2. God’s Spirit will be active in the recreation of the world, just as it was in the beginning.
The same Spirit led Jesus to reject the allure of imperialism during the wilderness temptation (Matt. 4:1-10). He didn’t dispute whether Satan had dominion over earthly empires. It was His recognition of Satan’s corrupting influence over empires (spoken of Luke 22:25) that prompted Him to reject the offer. His followers likewise must resist the notion of a Christian nation. Leo Tolstoy was onto something when he asserted, “the words a ‘Christian State’ resemble the words ‘hot ice.’ The thing is either not a State using violence, or it is not Christian.”
Something more revolutionary than the Declaration of Independence is necessary to establish true justice instead of trading one form of tyranny for another. As Jesus fasted forty days in the windy, stony, dusty wilderness, these elements of Daniel’s dream were reminders of the end game he was fighting for. No, he wouldn’t bargain for the shiny kingdoms of this world that only appeared strong, yet rested on faulty foundations. He was the Rock the nation builders of this world rejected and continue to reject. When he displaces them, their allure will have waned and we will be ready. Even the earth itself is groaning with this readiness for re-creation. Remembering this can help us resist temptations of temporary fixes that may cause us to act out of harmony with the Spirit through whom our eternal change is gonna come.
Until then. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Keep dreaming – with eyes open.
By Carl McRoy