We Are Babylon
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives. (Revelation 18:11-13)
Babylon. The most luxurious nation on earth. Every one of us benefits from the free market juggernaut, the control of oil fields by friendly dictators, and the expansion of American franchises into nearly every corner of the globe, sending a steady stream of money to our economy here at home.
Do I want to live in a less privileged nation? I do not. No matter my protests, no matter my awareness, I am of Babylon and I shall suffer its eventual fate.
No one expects that fate to come too quickly. Yes, the financial system almost crashed a few years ago. Yes, the value of the dollar has plummeted thanks to inflation caused by deficit spending. Yes, droughts, fires, and floods have ravaged farms and communities across the country. Yes, climate change has dried out lakes and even eliminated winter for some people, making me wonder if the prophecies of Joel aren’t already upon us.
But we’re still okay for a while, right? (Ordinary World)
I wrote these words four years ago. After Ordinary World was published, I wondered whether I’d been too dramatic, comparing the U.S. with Revelation’s land of idolatry, corruption, and conspicuous wealth. I no longer have these doubts. Our nation is run by the wealthiest people in the world, the heads of mega-corporations who purchase influence in our supposed republic. Christian values of helping the poor, welcoming the refugee, and loving our neighbor have been replaced with self-centeredness, xenophobia, and the worship of wealth. Trye community has been replaced with FaceBook and false dialog that does little if anything to promote understanding. When confronted with mass violence, we no longer ask, “What could make people do this and what can we do about it?” Instead, we dismiss their suffering and talk about controlling their access to weapons.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence that we’ve had five neo-liberal presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan, which seem to correspond with the five fallen kings of Revelation 17:10. And that the presumptive favorite, Hillary Clinton, is yet another neo-liberal, and one who supports military action all over the world. Revelation predicts one more “king” after this one, and then the Beast. And it predicts that Babylon will burn.
But it’s not speculation to observe that we have sold our well-being for the short-term gain of a few. Our spending on prisons has grown three times faster than our spending on schools. The wealthiest Americans now have a greater share of this nation’s wealth than at any time since the Great Depression. “Soft money” campaign contributions to presidential candidates ballooned from $105 million in 1992 to $2 billion in 2012. That’s a 20-fold increase! Meanwhile, our national debt now stands at more than six times our national income from taxes. That’s like earning $50,000 a year and having to make payments on $300,000 in credit card debt.
We have ransomed our future. And we’ve done it at the expense of the middle class and the poor.
Does this warrant a religious judgement? Consider the words of Isaiah:
Ah, you who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land!
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. (Isaiah 5:8-9)
Or Deuteronomy 23:15-16:
You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.
Or Matthew 25:35:
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in…
Or, more frighteningly, Matthew 25:45-46:
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
As a nation, we have turned our back on our values. We are destroying ourselves. And we are making plenty of enemies in the process, both within and without.
For those who see this, is there an alternative? Can we be more than a voice in the wilderness?
Because, let’s face it: most of us are not leaving. We are of Babylon, and we will suffer its fate.