Every July, I like to take a few weeks off of work and spend time with family, and this year is yet another in that wonderful tradition. I avoid the internet as much as possible during that time and that means avoiding even this blog. But that time is over now.
“The Imperial Cult” refers to the worship of the Caesar’s as gods or demigods. During the Roman kingdom, the Kings were just men. During the Roman republic, the Consuls were just men. Even in the times of dictatorship – a fully constitutional mechanism in Rome – the Dictators were just men. Julius Caesar began comparing himself to Jupiter and other gods, but died before anyone else made that association. His nephew, however, in discreetly replacing the Republic with the Imperium made sure that the worship of the Princeps was universal to bind everyone together. Sure, there was that pesky Judea where they’d rise up en masse and get themselves killed rather than worship anyone but their weird “one true God”, but Judea is far away and isn’t going anywhere.
In the next couple of centuries, however, something unexpected happened. From the perspective of the Caesar’s, a small sect of Judaism – at first barely noticeable even in Judea itself – had begun spreading out across the whole empire in major cities like Corinth, Alexandria, and even Rome itself. These “Christians” brought that strange “one true God” worship with them, and despised the Imperial Cult. No longer confined to Judea and growing rapidly, this was becoming a bit of a problem. Not a religious problem – the Romans were cosmopolitan, diverse, egalitarian, and pluralistic when it came to religion. You could worship anyone you wanted as long as you also added the Imperial Cult. This was a political problem, a problem of divided loyalties. These Christians served “God” first, not Caesar. The solution was, naturally, to burn them, the throw them to lions, to persecute them, and to always make it appear that the Christians were the ones being irrational – all they have to do is burn incense and they can continue on in all their other strange, foreign beliefs. Just burn the incense.
You probably know where I’m going with this.
In the decadent but declining West of the 21st century, the Imperial Cult is alive and well. Instead of worshiping Caesar, it worships depravity and death, somehow being even worse than the Imperial Cult of Rome. The Roman polytheism was purple; the American polytheism hasn’t stopped adding colors. The Imperial Cult of Rome was political; in America, every major business, university, media company, newspaper, non-profit, etc also belongs to it. In Rome, the Imperial Cult was part of the state. In America, the Imperial Cult is part of the total state.
But what are Christians worrying about? In Rome, all they had to do was burn incense to Caesar and they could keep all of their beliefs. In America, all they have to do is use the right pronouns and acknowledge the infinite virtue of egalitarianism, diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. That’s the contradiction though; the central claim of Christianity is the Gospel. We worship God alone, trust in Christ for our salvation, love what He loves, and hate what He hates. He loves goodness, beauty, truth, virtue, life, and us. He hates sin and death. To participate in the Imperial Cult of America is to hate what God loves and to love what God hates. It isn’t something a Christian can merely add to his beliefs, for it is in perfect contradiction to his beliefs.
I’ve had jobs risked over my rejection of the Imperial Cult. I’ve been banned from communities because I wouldn’t burn the incense of Diversity/Inclusiveness/Equity. The Imperial Cult permeates so much that it’s hard not to be faced with demands to burn incense almost every day. And just like the Imperial Cult of Rome, the advocates of this false religion don’t see it even as a religion. For them, it’s neutral common sense. That’s why their reaction to disobedience isn’t to fall back on their purported pluralistic tendencies and say “you do you”. When you reject their religion, they react like you’re some strange person with strange beliefs, just like the pagans of Rome viewed the Christians over their day.
We aren’t quite in the same situation as the ancient Christians, however, because our modern Imperial Cult is a bastardization of Christianity; we are dealing primarily with heretics, not with pagans. Even still, American churches need to start seeing the Imperial Cult for what it is, rather than thinking this is some passing, fleeting, even trivial thing. It’s not; we’re dealing with a state religion and great cost for rejection of it. When we’re told dozens of times in Scripture to help fellow Christians in need, we need to understand that this is exactly the sort of time that demands such action.