Liturgies of Empire

Liturgy literally means “work of the people,” so something that communities do together that shape them as a community. Another word would be “ritual” where a ritural is laden with meaning, even if that meaning is not obvious to us at first.

Liturgies are rituals that we engage in that shape our desires, our language, our imaginations about what is possible and what is “out there.” Liturgy shapes us by telling us we are in a certain story. The American empire fueled by late-stage capitalism is rife with liturgies.

I am concerned with liturgies that:

  • Shape our desires by the kind of story we see ourselves a part of (if we are the good guys and “they” are the bad guys then we will see our actions as benevolent)
  • Shape what we believe is possible
  • Dull our senses so that we are not aware of the suffering of our neighbors
  • Drive us towards seeing the “sacrifice of others” (or scapegoating) as a necessary part of what we do in order to maintain the peace.
  • Distract us by excitement, sensationalism, and spectacle that feels good to be on the inside of but keeps us from actually knowing what is going on

We are surrounded by these kinds of liturgies from when we pickup our phones and scroll the news or social media, to the ways we rally over and against one another politically, to what we passively consume whether it be news or other forms of media, to where we live, and how we worship and who we worship with.

I have been greatly helped by James Alison‘s article, “Worship in a Violent World” around this subject.

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