Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Imperial Meaning Story

After considerable delay, here at last is my consideration of David Korten's "Imperial Meaning Story" as heard in his talk on Alternative Radio last month based on The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Communities....

For this story, I'd like to quote Korten directly.
This next story is a little harder for some people, but it is the foundation of the empire stories. The imperial meaning story tells us of a God who commands us to go forth and establish dominion over the earth. The God who favors the righteous with wealth and power, and who commissions his favored to rule over the poor, who justly suffer divine punishment for their sins. We may not know what those sins were, but they must indeed have been horrendous. Meaning is found in obedience to God and to his appointed representatives.
I wish I had a way to represent his intonations because a lot of the comic effect is lost in transcription.

It's important, and a bit disheartening, to hear Korten's claim that this meaning story is the foundation of the other two empire stories. It's relatively easy for Christians to point fingers at the imperial prosperity and imperial security stories, though we too often participate even in those. But at some point we have to recognize how deeply we are implicated in the whole matter.

To be sure, the imperial meaning story is a distortion of the Christian message (and isn't targeted exclusively at Christianity), but it's not a distortion we can entirely claim ignorance of. In fact, not even our sacred scriptures are clean of this distortion. The imperial meaning story begins precisely where the Biblical story begins, with people being given "dominion" over the earth. And the story develops as the Biblical story develops, with righteous people being rewarded and wicked people being punished. The question is, where do we go from there.

Korten offers Stonehenge as an icon of religion as "earth community" and contrasts it with the Pyramids as an icon of religion as tool of the empire. In reality I suspect that in most religions, and certainly in Christianity, these two things have usually existed side-by side. Here's a picture of that co-existence:

So what do we do about this? I think it's possible to read the public ministry of Jesus as a confrontation of precisely this issue. Jesus, following the prophets, taught us that institutions are not nearly as important as interconnectedness, that we don't live to advance our own interests but rather to lift up those in need around us.

The Christian story is a response to the Imperial Meaning story, but we have to struggle to preserve it as such.

Imperial Prosperity Update 2

I heard a story on NPR this morning about Cuban doctors defecting from their assignments in Venezeula, ultimately hoping to find assylum in the U.S. It's an interesting case.

Venezuela reached a diplomatic agreement with Cuba wherein Venezeula provides oil to Cuba and in exchange Cuba assigns doctors to work in Venezuela. The doctors are providing free health care to the poor in Venezuela. The U.S., seeking to close this gap in its economic stranglehold on Cuba, has adopted a policy specifically aimed at getting Cuban medical professionals to defect.

There's a little ambiguity here. One can argue that if the Cuban doctors want freedom, it's good that America can provide it, whatever our ulterior motives may be. On the other hand, it is absolutely clear who the victims are in this case: the poor in Venezuela, who suffer as a result of America's political goals.