America: The Modern Phoenicia (Guest Post by Todd Miller)

In Apologetics for the 21st Century, Louis Markos writes, “Phoenicia controlled a mercantile empire run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line, and they set up outposts all over the Mediterranean world to ensure their control of the sea” (Pg.86). Markos further describes them as being considered “bad pagans” by such different countries as Rome and Israel. It is something upon which even these ‘enemies’ could agree, and something that I think many modern nations would agree with as well. The question we have to ask though is could modern America be a descendant of ancient Phoenicia?

Mercantile empire. Check.
The United States trades all over the world. We import more products than any other country. Our multinational corporations sit in every country in the world. We export everything we can, and these days we are exporting work as much as products. According to the US Department of Transportation, the United States exported 901 million tons and imported 1,238 million tons in 2012. Mercantilist empire? I would say so.

Run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line. Check.
We only have to read the latest article of white collar crime to see that greed is everywhere. Years ago John Stossel did a report titled “Greed Is Good” for 60 Minutes. He discussed how greed is actually what leads people to create new products and services, to start businesses, and to build economic success. While I believe that there are a lot of businesses still built on a vision to make a difference, our largest companies, the mercantile empire, tends to be run by greed where decisions are made based on what is in it for me instead of what is best for the organization.

Can we even doubt that our nation has become a collection of laws and rules based on realpolitik? Realpolitik is essentially politics based on power — coercion. It also focuses more on the practical and material rather than ideology or morality or ethics. The headlines are rampant with politics of coercion in this country. Politicians threaten their detractors with retaliatory actions rather than discuss, debate, and compromise. Recently in Houston, the mayor and city attorney chose to ignore a petition with adequate signatures and in turn subpoenaed five churches to provide “all communications from pastors” regarding the mayor, homosexuality, and the petition. Many believe that this is the first step to quiet the voices of the Church and potentially its members regarding city politics. This is realpolitik in action. It is the use of power to quiet the people.

In addition to the greed and realpolitik, the bottom line rules the day. Business decisions, government decisions, leadership decisions, all decisions are based on the bottom line. Does it prosper us? Will it put money in my pocket or take it out? We lay off thousands of people to ensure that the bottom line does not suffer, while ensuring that those in power make their numbers and get their bonuses. I was part of a layoff in 2000, along with 16,000 other people, but the co-CEOs each got their million dollar bonuses for making their numbers. Business decisions are based on the numbers at the end of every quarter with little regard to what that will mean to the business in the long term or to the employees who have to continue to deliver more with less. These decisions cannot be restricted to business and government leaders either. We decide not to fund public schools, our own children’s education, because it might mean a few more dollars in taxes. I have been involved in many conversations lately about the bond vote for our school district this fall. People complain about schools being overcrowded and not having enough resources while at the same time denying the district the funds it needs to build new schools. The bottom line is what matters.

They setup outposts all over the … world to ensure their control of the sea.
The United States has the world’s most powerful Navy. We have warships that can deliver ordinance anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. We maintain control of shipping lanes with our Navy, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is evident that we control the seas. A recent trip to the movie theater to see Captain Phillips shows how involved our Navy is in the world’s oceans. Halfway around the world, it was the United States Navy that showed up to rescue the captain, crew, and cargo, not the navy of some nearby country.

We are indeed the Phoenicia of modern times. Mammon is our god, and we serve him well. Our materialist culture has more than it needs and still does not have all that it wants. We want more, and we are willing to sacrifice our lives to attain it. We work overtime, seven days a week to ensure that we have the funds to pay for the house we had to mortgage our lives to buy, to fill with furniture that we bought with interest free credit, to park our cars that we bought with no money down and low monthly payments, so that we can send our kids to every activity ever created by man. We kill ourselves for our god. We serve our master well.

Maybe there is still hope for us though. We have yet to succumb to the most heinous of the Phoenician traditions – child sacrifice. This is the practice the Israelite and Roman alike despised the Phoenicians for doing. But at least we Americans do not look at children as a mistake that will only ruin our chances for a prosperous future, that will only cost society money in welfare, and that will only cost us money and time in the long run. We have long given up on this notion with the help of science. Now we can get rid of them before they become a problem, when they are still just a “blob of cells,” so we are clearly more advanced and more civilized than those Phoenician barbarians. Maybe there is hope for us.

* Todd Miller is a graduate of the University of Houston holding both a Bachelors and Masters in Business Administration. He has spent a lifetime studying leadership and strategy and most recently taken up the challenge of a Masters in Theological Studies at Houston Baptist University.

0c66361He is particularly interested in theologies of work, business, and leadership. He is a huge fan of Walt Disney, the man and the company. He happens to have a family that is equally Disney crazy, which makes it easy to justify annual journeys to the happiest place on earth.

Follow Todd on Twitter: @toddscottmiller.

The Great Irony of American Christianity

I’m currently leading a group of folks at my church through Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  I first read it last year (it was highly recommended to me) and I think that it is one of the best “popular level” introductions to the theology & ethics of John Howard Yoder & Stanley Hauerwas (with a good measure of N.T. Wright and Richard Hays thrown in as well) that I have read.

The book has spurred some great conversation among our group and as I was preparing for our next meeting I was struck by the following quote:

“This is the great irony of American Christianity: exalting the nation that affords us ‘freedom of religion,’ we set aside the way of Christ in order to preserve the religion we supposedly are free to practice.  We kill our alleged enemies in order to ‘worship’ the God who teaches us to love enemies.  The most important question about our pledge of allegiance is not whether we pledge allegiance to a flag under “one God,” but to what god we are pledging our allegiance.  Perhaps it is, after all, not the God revealed in Jesus Christ we are worshiping, but the god of the nation-state, the god of power and might and wealth.”

Do you agree with his assessment of the “great irony of American Christianity”?  
Can you think of any other examples that would support his argument? 

Meet Mike…

Mike Skinner is the Lead Pastor of First Colony Christian Church (Sugar Land, TX) and has served in that role for just under 5 years. He also teaches full-time at a local high school, Fort Bend Christian Academy. His class at FBCA is the freshmen Bible course which covers the four Gospels and the book of Revelation. In his free time, Mike is finishing up a master’s degree in Theological Studies at Houston Baptist University. He is particularly interested in hermeneutics, political theology, theological ethics, homiletics, and patristics. Since he is also currently writing his master’s thesis on Cyril of Alexandria, it would be fair to expect some reflections on Cyril’s work and theology. Mike is looking forward to offering some thoughts and interacting with readers on these issues and more.

Follow Mike on Twitter @mike_skinner and listen to his latest sermon from the Resident Aliens series – Don Quixote (Daniel 4).