In this excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell, Chapter 8: “The Powers of this World,” author Sharon Delgado uses the biblical symbols of “Babylon, the Beast, and the Dragon” to reveal the “demonic” behind the dominant institutions and systems of our world today. She also presents a vision in which “hope becomes more real, creative change becomes possible, and in the process we learn to live as fully human beings.”
A System of Global Domination
“My plea [to Americans] is for freedom from this awful naïveté and for healing from this moral flaw. My hope, therefore, as a human being, begins in the truth that America is Babylon.”
In An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow overlays these metaphors from the book of Revelation onto the world situation in the mid-twentieth century. He draws parallels between the devouring appetite and the destructive power of ancient Rome, portrayed as Babylon and the Beast, and contemporary America.
Walter Wink, too, sees the demonic at work in the United States. He believes that Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration in 1967 that “the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” is truer now than when it was uttered. He says:
“But we do not feel possessed. . . . We go about our lives largely oblivious to the demon, kissing our children before school, patting the dog, being polite to the bus driver. We are sane, civilized, perhaps a bit too given to violence and sadism on TV, but by common national consent still the most genial people on the face of the globe. We do not see that the demonic has been installed at the heart of national policy. The nation (administration, Congress, armed forces, CIA) carries out for us the dirty work required to maintain American political and economic dominance in the world. Most of us would rather not know the bloody tale of deeds performed on our behalf. We are content to be beneficiaries . . . “
But Wink goes beyond America in his analysis of the Powers. He speaks of the whole grid of interlocking worldly authorities and systems that he calls the “Domination System,” an overarching system that includes the dominant political, economic, social, and religious institutions of any given age. The Domination System, the interlocking network of institutional Powers that seeks to control human life, is a manifestation of the satanic system represented in Revelation by the Dragon, which has been playing itself out in countless ways throughout human history.
When William Stringfellow wrote An Ethic for Christians in the 1960s, he considered nations to be the preeminent Powers, with greater relative power than other institutions. Since that time, transnational corporations have expanded their reach, accumulated ever-greater wealth, and consolidated their control. Their influence over governments and global institutions lead many to claim that we are living in a time “when corporations rule the world,”as David Korten’s book by that title suggests.
The point is arguable. Corporations are still in an uneasy tension with governments and global bureaucracies. We will look at these complex relationships in coming chapters. But the power of corporations relative to these other institutions is growing quickly. Corporate wealth and power are being consolidated and corporate rights are being institutionalized. We are quickly moving toward a form of globalization dominated by huge transnational corporations that promote their agenda at every level of human society.
The most powerful and obvious manifestation of the Domination System in this early part of the twenty-first century is the global network of political, economic, and military institutions that make up the system of corporate globalization, designed by the United States and imposed upon other nations, dominated by corporations, and enforced by the most powerful weapons the world has ever seen. Another word for it is empire.
A Global System Run Amok
“Behind the spreading terror of nuclear and ecological catastrophe is a pervasive sense that there is no one in control. The demonic has become the everyday policy of national leaders trapped in the momentum of a spirituality they can neither name nor discern, but which constrains them, against the best interests of humanity, toward rationalized suicide. ” Walter Wink
Though the United States still dominates world events in many ways through economic pressure and military force, corporations are growing in power relative to governments, including the United States. U.S. policies support the system of corporate globalization, since it is seen to further U.S. interests, but the United States does not control this global empire, nor does any other nation. And although human beings consent to it and participate in it, human beings do not directly control it either.
The system that is overseeing the destruction of the earth has a life of its own and functions largely on automatic pilot. Even those people who make the rules and set its course are acting within the framework set by the system itself. In this system, like the emperors of ancient Rome, presidents, CEOs, and heads of global institutions have a degree of power, but in reality, they are replaceable. The system goes on. In order to rise to power within the system, they have to support the dominant ideology and generally accepted practices of the system as a whole, probably without even knowing that they serve a system that is idolatrous, in rebellion, and working at cross-purposes with God. They are rewarded by the system, but they are still its acolytes, servants, or slaves. Only rarely does a person who serves in a high position of authority within the system have the moral insight and courage to break out of the dominant paradigm and challenge the foundations of the system as a whole.
Even those of us who benefit from the system in small ways and simply go about our daily lives contribute to the problem. Until we recognize the monstrosity of the system of which we are a part, we are blind to its milieu and to its effects on our lives.
No one is a true beneficiary of this system of corporate globalization, for its goal is its own expansion and survival. As it acts for this purpose, through human beings, it opposes life itself. This Beast, figuratively speaking, is running amok. It is on a rampage of destruction, devouring the earth. Its work is “the undoing of creation.” It has the power of life and death over people, and uses economic as well as military power to enforce its will. It is responsible for growing injustice and oppression. It is the ultimate manifestation of the idolatry of mammon, the god of money. The degree of death and destruction caused by this global system as a whole can only be attributed to evil—ultimate evil, which the biblical authors identify as demonic, even satanic. This is not to claim that the personified “Satan” is an actual entity. Rather, as Walter Wink says,
“If Satan has any reality at all, it is . . . as a profound experience of numinous, uncanny power in the psychic and historic lives of real people. Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”
In the following chapters we will take a closer look at this global empire, at the institutions that make up this system of corporate globalization, at how the system is designed, at the underlying ideology that supports it, and at the institutional momentum that is propelling us toward a hell on earth. These topics are painful. As the awful truth of our current situation dawns on us, it becomes clear why many would rather stay in denial. But we can’t afford that luxury; time is too short.
Besides, the path of denial leads to darkness and spiritual death. It also leads us further along the path of complicity to evil and destruction. For unless we recognize the extent to which the Powers control human life and the direction they are taking us, we will fail to see how extreme is the crisis we face, and we will fail to understand the depth of our need for divine aid.
Furthermore, the future has not yet been determined. The structures of the global economy are not absolute and the direction it is moving is not inevitable. It continues only with the willing conformity and active compliance of the masses of people who support it, either knowingly or unknowingly. Without this support, it cannot survive.
There is yet hope for the earth if enough of us reclaim our identity and authority as children of the Love at the heart of the universe, refuse to go along with the dominant system, and choose another path. As people around the world join together to resist global domination and to develop life-giving alternatives, hope becomes more real, creative change becomes possible, and in the process we learn to live as fully human beings.