‘One God, One Faith, One Empire” marked a significant imperial shift in the Roman Empire under Constantine in the 4th century. This ideological development provided a much-needed political boost at a critical time in the empire’s history. It laid the basis for another millennium of Roman rule from their then new eastern capital of Constantinople.
Christianity offered the emperor, Constantine, the universalist mechanism for reviving and justifying “the dream of empire and world expansion,” according to Eric Cline and Mark Graham in their recent book Ancient Empires From Mesopotamia to the Rise of Islam. However in order for Christianity to serve as the “great unifier” Constantine had to force it to deal with some basic theological divisions over the divinity of Jesus.
To this end “Constantine convoked and presided over the Council of Nicaea” in 325. The resulting Nicene Creed furnished the foundational definition for Christianity. As Cline and Graham note: “The focus of universalism was now a fused image of empire and Christ.” This, of course, meant significant changes as well for Christians.
As John Driver writes in his book How Christians Made Peace with War: “It is noteworthy that between 100 and 313, no Christian writers, to our knowledge, approved of Christian participation in warfare.” However, “from 416 on, only Christians could serve in the army of the empire.”
Ideas and beliefs shape government policies and perspectives today as much as they did in the days of Constantine. Foreshadowing the direction of next week’s federal budget, some recent government actions at the national level point to a disturbing shift away from the basic tenets of democratic governance and citizen participation, which we had come to hold over the last generation. What beliefs spark the change?
This last week my email in-box filled with news of the dramatic government cutback in funding for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which has a 45-year history of assisting the poor of the world in dealing with the basic survival challenges facing them. Its funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) dropped from an expected $44.6 million over five years to $14.5 for the same period. Remember similar cuts to the ecumenical organization KAIROS or more recently to the Mennonite Central Committee?
Kirsten Shane, of Embassy magazine, reported earlier this week that this may be, in part, because “Canada has turned its trade sights to Asia in recent months.” And with these new priorities “CIDA focused its contribution to development and peace in the countries where programming will most likely produce tangible results,” according to Justin Broekema, a spokesperson for CIDA’s Minister Bev Oda.
One blogger, Mike Flynn, a former director of development and peace, provided a frank analysis. “The Harper government’s strategy is now designed to corral voluntary sector energy into the service of government by subverting it to trade and commercial interest that serve the rich.”
The Justice for Refugees and Immigrants Coalition, formed from groups like the Canadian Coalition for Refugees (ccrweb.ca) and Amnesty International, have also chosen to speak out against a recent federal government action.
In their case it is against the omnibus immigration and refugee bill, C-31, now making its way through Parliament. They see this as a “dramatic shift away from the Canadian tradition of welcoming the stranger in our immigration policy.
“The concentration of enormous and vaguely defined powers in a minister, with no mechanisms of judicial accountability, displays a dangerous inclination away from the rule of law and principles of responsible and democratic governance.”
Coupled this with other developments on the immigration and refugee front, such as an increasing emphasis on temporary guest worker programs and the undermining of the commitment and capacity of this sector’s civil society organizations, and we see a government orientation favouring market priorities trumping humanitarian concerns.
Both these examples strongly suggest a government that orients its policies primarily towards accommodating corporate interests. Democracy or rule by the people should logically place people and their needs at the centre of any political or economic consideration. A corporatocracy puts people after profit. Is that where we want to go?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.