The City of God and robber band nations
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Nov 5 14:16:24 MST 1999
(This was posted on warriornet, a mailing list related to indigenous
struggles. Boyle is an attorney long involved with sovereignty issues and
banning Indian mascots at colleges and universities.)
Faith and Resistance by Francis A. Boyle
Professor of International Law
before Community United Church of Christ
October 31, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Francis A. Boyle
All Rights Reserved.
Today, as you may know, is Reformation Sunday--the anniversary of October
31, 1517 when Martin Luther, an Augustinian Priest, posted his 95 Theses on
the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther, the Great Dissenter,
the Great Resister, started the Reformation on the whole question of
justification versus works. And today in Augsburg, there is an historic
reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Leadership on
this issue. They are signing it today--they probably have signed it already.
And they have come to the following understanding, that both denominations
have now agreed upon, which goes to the start of the Reformation. I guess
that gives some hope here for reconciliation among the different
denominations of Christianity.
But this is what they have agreed upon today and let me quote it: "By grace
alone in faith in Christ's work and not because of any merit on our part, we
are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while
equipping and calling us to good works." Well I think that's a good
statement of the problem of faith and action, faith and resistance.
To get back to Luther on this anniversary day. What inspired Luther to
resist the two most powerful institutions of Renaissance Europe at that
time: The Roman Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor? Luther stood up against
both of them.
Earlier this fall I was reading a biography on Luther by a fellow named
Bainton called Here I Stand--Luther's very famous comment "Here I stand, I
cannot do otherwise." And reading through this biography--which I recommend
because it's a nice thumbnail sketch of Luther--it struck me how in some of
his more difficult times, Luther would go back and read Saint
Augustine--again, Luther being an Augustinian Priest. Despite what Luther
felt was all the excrescences of centuries that had befuddled and beclouded
and besmirched the true meaning of Scriptures, he nevertheless would always
go back to Augustine, the founder of his Order, for inspiration and
guidance. And apparently still today because of this influence, most
denominations of Christianity consider Augustine to be authentic, the
founder of Christian theology. So, what I'd like to do here is, like Luther,
to go back to Augustine for a little bit and see how Augustine's theories
had an impact on Luther. I submit we can find the origins for Luther's
theory of resistance to state tyranny in Augustine. And after I've done
talking about Augustine, I will be applying this analysis here to the United
States as well, the question of faith and resistance here in America today.
So let's go back to Augustine, the City of God. Here Rome had just been
sacked by Alaric and the Visgoths. It had fallen, the eternal city and this
was a catastrophic event in the entire Mediterranean World at that time. The
Pagan idealogues were using this to attack the ascendant Christian religion.
Christianity had just become the official state religion of the Roman
Empire, and the argument was being made that this was responsible for the
fall of Rome. And, in any event, if the Christian God was any good, why did
He let Rome fall? And number two, then, of what good was the Christian
religion to the rest of the Roman Empire if the Christian God had let Rome
fall? Of course previously Constantine had moved the capital of the Empire
to Byzantlum, renamed it Constantinople, which today of course is Istanbul.
So the rest of the Roman Empire was still there intact being governed out of
Constantinople, including North Africa where Augustine wrote.
So Augustine in his City of God, tried to address these issues that were the
burning, searing issues of the time and to assert the relevance of
Christianity. Many have criticized Augustine, I think rightly so, for being
an apologist for a Christian empire. But putting that aside, let's look at
what Augustine had to say here about the Roman Empire, the Greek Empire,
and, as we'll see, the American Empire and indeed, basically, any state, any
government, in existence today. What we'll see in Augustine is a very brutal
analysis of political power.
I won't go through all City of God. It's about a thousand pages single
spaced--you'll get blind reading it. But the critical portion here can be
found in Book 4, Chapter 4 of The City of God. And I submit that this is
pretty much the way Luther saw things too, and I'll come back to Luther
The chapter is entitled "Kingdoms Without Justice are Similar to Robber
Barons." So notice what Augustine is saying here: states, any state, any
kingdom, any Empire, without justice is nothing more than a gang of robbers.
Now of course he was referring here to the Roman Empire before Christianity.
As we'll see, he was also referring to the Greek Alexandrian Empire, but
pretty much, he's referring to any empire, any government, any state.
Well, before we get into the rest of the passage, how does Augustine define
justice? Augustine defined justice in the Christian definition of justice
given by Jesus Christ in the Bible. You remember when the lawyers tried to
trick Christ up? It's great if you read through the New Testament--it's
always the lawyers trying to trick Christ up, right--the Scribes, the
Pharisees, and the lawyers. And finally, Christ came out and He condemned
them all when He said, "Woe unto ye lawyers!"--you are constantly heaping up
burdens upon the shoulders of people and you do not lift a finger to lighten
them! This would later lead Professor Fred Rodell at Yale Law School to
write a classic book Woe Unto Ye Lawyers!--to the effect that in legal
education all we do is basically intellectual electricity and plumbing
work--no offense to electricians and plumbers out there, I did such work in
my summer jobs going through school. It's a great little book to read.
So, the lawyer was trying to trip Christ up when he said, "What is the
greatest Law?" Well, of course, if Christ answered wrong, he would be stoned
for blasphemy, or something like that. So what did Christ say? The greatest
law is "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul
and strength." And the second law, "You shall love your neighbor as
yourself." Now, of course, as you know, the lawyer was not satisfied with
that answer. He wanted to "justify" himself--as all lawyers do. So the
lawyer said: "Well who is my neighbor?" And then we get the little story
about the Good Samaritan, which I won't go through here.
But Christ very easily disposes of all of the lawyers in the New Testament
trying to trick Him up. Indeed, one year I had a student do a paper--I teach
a course on Jurisprudence, the philosophy law--the subject of which was:
"Can you be a lawyer and a good Christian?" That student wrestled with that
question for forty pages and had a hard time, I think, coming to a
In any event, this is Augustine's definition of justice--Christ's definition
of justice. You must worship the one true God first. And then love your
neighbor as yourself.
Augustine was trained in Greek rhetoric--basically what lawyers do, law
professors do, taught the subject later, became a neo-plantonist, which then
propelled him to become a Christian. So we see here a new definition of
justice, adding God into the definition of justice beyond the platonic
definition of justice.
So kingdoms without justice are similar to robber bands. Augustine was very
clear--the Roman Empire was just a bunch of robber bands. How did the Roman
Empire start? Well, according to Vergil, Aeneas and his band of men sailed
over from Carthage, landed in Italy, needed some women, grabbed the Sabine
women, raped them and reduced them into becoming their concubines and their
wives. That was the start of the mighty Roman Empire--the mass rape of
women. Now that's where the great Roman Empire came from--an act of
criminality. Behaving like robber bands. Something Machiavelli would point
out, writing at the same time Luther did in The Prince and The
Discourses--all states are founded in two things--a crime and a lie. The
crime is usually a homicide and the lie is that God set up the state. A very
realistic assessment that Augustine, by the way, would agree with. Augustine
pointed out in the first several hundred pages of the City of God that even
the Pagans could not believe in their own gods. They just didn't.
Alright, so let's go back, then, to what Augustine was saying here, because,
again, I think it had impact on Luther's perception of resistance to tyranny
and faith in action: "And so if justice is left out, what are kingdoms
except great robber bands? For what are robber bands except little
kingdoms?" Notice what Augustine states here--states, empires start out as
robber bands. That's how they start out. They're nothing more than robbers
and killers and rapers and pillagers.
How did we start out here in the United States of America? Well, the
Europeans came over here and exterminated almost our entire Native American
population. Stole all their land and the few remnants that were left were
removed to "reservations," which were called bantustans by the criminal
apartheid regime in South Africa. Thus Augustine would agree that this is
how America was founded--in criminality. No different, no better, no worse
than any other state--but pretty much the same.
Go back to Augustine: "The band also is a group of men governed by the
orders of the leader, bound by a social compact, and its booty is divided
according to a law agreed upon." So yes, the robber band has a king or an
emperor, a president, call him what you want. Yes, there is a social
compact, a constitution. They divide the booty. And there is a law. But
they're still a robber band. And that's how all states start. That's how the
Roman Empire started. That's how the Greek Empire started. As I'm suggesting
here, that's pretty much how the American Empire started as well -- just
taking Augustine's analysis and applying it to our own situation.
"If by repeatedly adding desperate men this plague grows to the point where
it holds territory and establishes a fixed seat, seizes cities and subdues
people, then it is more conspicuously assumes the name of kingdom..." So
notice, how do states start? Well they start out with a robber band and the
robber band goes out there and rapes, robs, loots, and pillages. This is
something one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, pointed out in Common
Sense where he talked about the British Monarchy and he said: Who founded
the British Monarchy? It was that Norman bastard, William the Conqueror--he
used the word bastard. And he and his gang of "ruffians" came over to
England in 1066, conquered England, killed the people, subdued them all, and
then they set up a monarchy. And of course Paine's purpose of writing this
was to completely discredit the British Monarchy as an institution for our
Founding Fathers and Mothers during the days of the Revolution.
So the robber band is successful like Aeneas and his men, like William the
Conqueror and his ruffians. Like some of the colonists coming over here from
England and Spain into America. So they add desperate men to this
plague--it's a plague. Augustine is quite clear what these people are--it's
a plague on humanity.
"Grows to the point where it holds territory and establishes a fixed seat,
seizes cities, and subdues peoples." It's interesting that is the
requirement today for international recognition of a state under
international law. You must hold territory, have a government, cities, and
people. So very interesting--this is the requirement for recognition of a
state today. So if you start out as a robber gang and a bunch of killers,
you seize land, you set up a government, you subdue people. Well then you
are entitled to be recognized as a state. I could think of a few states
off-hand today that would fill that requirement.
"...then it more conspicuously assumes the name of Kingdom..." So notice, at
some point in time the robber band grows and it's so successful in its
criminality that it decides to call itself a kingdom--no longer a robber
band. In other words to give all this criminality "legitimacy." So, well
we're no longer robber bands now, now we're a kingdom, now we're a state,
now we have a government, now we have an emperor or a king or a president,
but we're no longer a robber band any more.
"...and this name [kingdom] is now openly granted to it..." So notice the
heads of the other robber bands who have called themselves kingdoms now
grant diplomatic recognition to the new robber band and say, right, we will
no longer call you a robber band; henceforth we will call you a kingdom
because we all know how states are founded. We were criminals too, but now
you know we want to put all this in the past. So let's all mutually call
ourselves kingdoms instead of criminals.
"...and this name [kingdom] is now openly granted to it, not for any
subtraction of cupidity..." So notice the kingdoms, the states, are still a
gang of criminals, cutthroats, murderers and killers. That hasn't changed,
Augustine points out.
"...but by addition of impunity." So in other words, now by calling them a
king and a kingdom and a state, the fellow robber bands gain impunity. You
don't try to try us for our crimes and we won't try you. We'll give you
impunity for all of your crimes. Henceforth you're now recognized as a
state, as a government, as a legitimate leader.
This is something General Pinochet is dealing with right now in London,
right. I hope someday we'll be having Henry Kissinger and Bob McNamara
dealing with these problems as well. Last year I had a call from
Canada--some peace people up there. Henry Kissinger was coming to Canada and
they wanted to do to him the same thing that had been done to Pinochet. How
do they track down Kissinger, arrest him, and put him on trial certainly for
what he did in Viet Nam, Southeast Asia? And the same for Bob McNamara, I
And here we'll conclude this little passage from Augustine. "For it was an
elegant and true reply that was made to Alexander the Great..." So notice
he's commenting on the Roman Empire. So notice what he's done to the Roman
Empire. The great Roman Empire has just been reduced to a robber band. And
Aeneas is out there with his men raping the Sabine women. It's a plague.
It's not entitled to any respect at all. And the same with the Greek
Alexandrian Empire. Alexander was an even bigger pirate, terrorist, murderer
"For it was an elegant and true reply that was made to Alexander the Great
by a certain pirate whom he had captured." Now notice here, here's the
scene. There's Alexander in his great throne room and there is this pirate
that's been captured, obviously facing death. And Augustine is siding with
the pirate--not with Alexander, but with the pirate, saying it was "an
elegant and true reply." So notice he's siding with the pirate, the alleged
criminal, against the Emperor, Alexander the Great, a much bigger criminal.
"When the King asked him what he was thinking of, that he should molest the
sea, [the pirate] said with defiant independence: 'The same as you when you
molest the world! Since I do this with a little ship, I am called a pirate.
You do it with a great fleet and are called an emperor!'" Notice how
brutally frank Augustine is here about both the Greek Empire and the Roman
Empire that everyone had admired, saying: no, they molested the entire
So, you know, molest the entire world. That's what emperors do--they molest
the entire world. That's what the Greek Empire did. That's what the Roman
Empire did. And I would suggest, that's pretty much what the American Empire
does today. We have "seven" fleets and we sail all over the world--exactly
what Augustine was saying. And we blow up any country that we want to at any
time we want to, right? And no other state in the entire world has this
capability but the United States of America.
So the pirate concedes he's a pirate. Sure I'm a pirate. But you are
worse--you are an emperor. You molest the entire world. And since you do it
with a great fleet, they call you an emperor instead of a pirate. But you're
far worse than a pirate.
Very interesting--the little parable here of Alexander and the pirate led
Professor Noam Chomsky at MIT to write a little book called Pirates and
Emperors: Terrorists in the Real World, where Chomsky pointed out that the
real terrorists in the world are the United States, Britain, Soviet Union,
Israel and the criminal apartheid regime then-ruling in South Africa.
Chomsky conceded there might be some pirates out there in the third world.
But these states were the emperors, these were the gangs of criminals that
Augustine was talking about. Chomsky drew the distinction between wholesale
terrorists and retail terrorists. These states terrorize entire races of
I remember in 1989 I was lecturing in the Soviet Union on the subject of
terrorism. Gorbachev had just invited over the CIA to coordinate with the
KGB on the question of terrorism. TASS asked me what I thought about this
and I said: "Oh, this is the case of the wholesale terrorists getting
together because they're upset that the retail terrorists are cutting into
their market shares. The KGB and the CIA are the two great terror
organizations in the history of the world!" Well, we see here in Augustine a
devastating attack on the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire fell then because
they were not just and they deserved to fall. And it was the same with the
Greek Empire. Despite all the pagan idealogues, Augustine says there was
nothing of value there. They were all a gang of cut-throats, criminals, and
Well, I think that the analysis of political authority that Augustine
developed from a Christian theological perspective could be applied pretty
much to any political authority. Luther again, standing up to the Roman
Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor single-handedly--imagine the courage of
this guy. They were repressing people because of their religion. And indeed
one of the arguments Luther made toward the end of his life was that
Christian magistrates should have a right to resist the Holy Roman Emperor
in the event that he persecuted people on grounds of religion--the right of
This argument that Luther made would later emerge in a very important
pamphlet, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, "Defense Against Tyrants," written
probably by Philippe Mornay--a Huegennot nobleman in France. Huegennots were
a Calvinist sect who were brutally repressed by the Catholic autocracy in
France. And Mornay argued that Christian magistrates should have a right to
rise up against this tyrannical government and overthrow the tyrannical
government. And then towards the end of the pamphlet he said that
occasionally there are individuals who are specially called by God to rise
up and overthrow a tyrannical, unjust government.
This is the closest anyone had come at that point in time in Europe to
arguing a personal, individual right of revolution. And the next stage after
Mournay would of course be John Locke, the Second Treatise of Government,
where Locke argued that everyone--not just those specially called by
God--has a right to rise up and overthrow a tyrannical government. And it
would be that philosophy articulated by Locke, preceded by Mornay,
influenced by Luther, that would lead Thomas Jefferson to write the American
Declaration of Independence. And you can read Locke's theory of revolution
right in the American Declaration of Independence. As Jefferson said:
"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."
Well, since we're getting into Jefferson and the founding of the United
States--I've already given a few comments on that. It's nice to read the
Declaration. Of course realize "all men are created equal" did not apply to
Black Slaves or American Indians or Women or Poor Whites. There are serious
problems with that Declaration.
But let's go to contemporary United States. Again, from a Lutheran
perspective. And here a very interesting book by a Lutheran theologian, the
Reverend Jack Nelson-Pallmayer called War Against the Poor. And I would
encourage you to read it. It's a fascinating book. Here is a Lutheran
theologian coming from a Lutheran perspective looking at the United States
of America and he concludes that today the United States of America occupies
the exact same position in the world that the Roman Empire did around the
time of Jesus Christ. And he goes through this analysis in great detail. I
won't do it here--but pretty much like my taking the Alexander and the
pirate story and applying it to the United States of America. Well I hadn't
really thought of contemporary America along the lines of the Roman Empire
at the time of Jesus Christ, which is what of course Augustine had so
soundly condemned. But it made a lot of sense to me.
And there Nelson-Pallmayer was talking about U.S. intervention in Central
America during the Reagan administration where we killed 35,000 in
Nicaragua, 70,000 in El Salvador. And in Guatemala from our overthrow of the
democratically-elected Arbenz government we probably killed a quarter of a
million people. And Nelson-Pallmayer went through all this in his book.
And then he concludes the book with this fascinating chapter of theology
where he goes through all these Christian theologians: We get St. Paul and
others and they're all in there, marshaling these religious authorities in
support of his thesis. I encourage you to read it. Then he has a passage
from Luther to support his analysis. And then when you turn the page, there
I am right after Luther. I didn't know Nelson-Pallmayer. I don't know why
I'm in there after Luther. I don't know exactly what the connection is, but
there I am right after Luther saying that once Reagan came to power our
country began to be governed by a gang of criminals and we have to do
everything we could to stop them. So I thought this was quite interesting.
There I was--right after Luther. Still wondering about what that means.
At the end of the book Nelson-Pallmayer says, I don't have any
recommendations to make for Christians. He says, I think my insight is valid
in and of itself, it's a new insight, I don't have recommendations to make
about what you need to do. And of course I had not really thought of it that
way myself: that the United States of America is just like the Roman Empire
at the time of Jesus Christ. But it's true!
Then along came the war against Iraq in January of 1991. As some of you
know, I worked with a Protestant minister up in Chicago, Reverend Don
Wagner, to organize a National Day of Prayer to prevent that war the Sunday
before it began. We commemorated and participated in that here. Then that
evening I was asked by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to join him and
Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas in a national campaign to impeach Bush
if he went to war. At Clark's request, the next day I did the first draft of
the Impeachment Resolution that Congressman Gonzalez would introduce into
Congress the day after the war started. Going after the Emperor!
Bush killed probably 200,000 people in Iraq--an outright massacre. A hundred
thousand of them were civilians. A hundred thousand were soldiers--just
massive bloodshed and killing. But all of them glorified by the American
news media. And you remember the great celebration there on the Washington
Mall when all the troops came home after the massacre and bloodshed and
killing. Reminded me a bit of the Nuremberg rallies held by Hitler and the
Nazis in the 1930s. But we continued to fight against the war and fight for
those who were in the armed forces and refused to go as a matter of
principle, helping to defend them long after the war was over.
Since the war ended, 1.5 million Iraqis have died because of the economic
sanctions that we have continued to impose on Iraq. And of those 1.5
million, according to UNICEF a half million are children--were
children--dead--killed because of our government's policies. And Iraqis are
dying today at the rate of about 4500 a month. Remember that when our
children trick or treat for UNICEF today.
This massive bloodshed and killing led Nelson-Pallmayer to write another
book: Brave New World Order analyzing the Gulf War. And he said that this
confirms what he had said in the preceding book. But we're even worse than
the Romans--we're getting close to the Nazis. Now this is a Lutheran
minister and theologian saying we're getting close to the Nazis. And he
cited Dietrich Bonhoffer, the great German Lutheran theologian and pastor
who was the Chaplain to the anti-Hitler resistance and later executed by the
Gestapo. He cited Bonhoffer and his book Cost of Discipleship where
Bonhoffer said: you know we churches here in Germany, all we're preaching is
cheap grace. We're telling people yes they're saved but they aren't doing
anything about it. Justification alone, no good works, no cost.
And indeed if you read through Bonhoffer's Cost of Discipleship and several
of his other things, you'll see him taking a position very similar to what
was agreed upon today in Augsburg on the relationship between faith and good
works; namely, if you do believe in God and you believe you are saved, then
you must go out and do something about it--which Bonhoffer did and it cost
him his life.
And what Nelson-Pallmayer was saying is, after the Gulf War, we're in a
similar situation here in America. We need to take Bonhoffer seriously. Are
our Christian churches just teaching cheap grace? And of course the
suggestion he was making is, yes. We need to emulate Bonhoffer's example,
Nelson-Pallmayer was saying, again from a theologically-based Lutheran
At the end of the book, Nelson-Pallmayer offered a list of suggestions of
what concerned Christians could do about the American Empire to keep it from
going the same way as the Nazis. I won't go through the list here, but two
things really struck me on the list. First he felt that as a minister, a
theologian and a concerned Christian, he had a moral obligation to
discourage anyone from going into the U.S. Armed Forces because they don't
protect anything. They simply rape, rob, loot and pillage around the world
today, and this is inconsistent with Christian moral theology as he sees it.
The second point he makes is that he believes he is obliged to pray against
the United States achieving its objectives around the world. Very powerful
statement by Nelson-Pallmayer. I would encourage you to read his book--it
speaks for itself.
Well, everything the analysis I gave you here today from a Lutheran
perspective can also be confirmed from a Catholic perspective. Very
different. Using the same sources of Scripture, Catholic liberation
theology--Guttierez, Boff, Casadalliga, Father, later President Aristide,
etc. But a very different perspective on the exact same problem. And the
Catholic liberation theologians in America's southern hemisphere would agree
with everything Nelson-Pallmayer said from a Lutheran perspective but they
would add the following: Oh yes, the United States of America is just like
the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus Christ and the only thing we would add
is that if Jesus Christ came back and reestablished his ministry today in
Latin America, the United States government would kill Him--just like the
And the primary case in point of course being the assassination of
Archbishop Romero in San Salvador, the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador,
who was assassinated for publicly criticizing a CIA-imposed military
dictatorship back in 1980 while saying mass in church on orders of Roberto
Daubisson. He was trained by the United States government, working with the
Central Intelligence Agency at the time. And the United States government
did everything humanly possible to cover up and justify the assassination of
And this story can also be found in another book by the Revered Jack
Nelson-Pallmayer, a Lutheran theologian and minister, called School of the
Assassins, so-called School of the Americas. Nelson-Pallmayer explains how
the United States government since the end of the Second World War has
armed, equipped, supplied, and trained some of the most brutal military
dictators in Latin America including Daubisson, Noriega, Cedras, and a whole
list of other genocidal monsters. These are our creations. Since this is
Halloween, these are our Frankenstein monsters. We created these guys.
And then of course at the end of the decade of the 1980s once again the
brutal military dictatorship in El Salvador murdered six Jesuit Priests
involved in the peace movement in El Salvador at their home as well as their
housekeeper--just murdered them--blew their brains out. And the murderers
and killers were in the Atlacatl brigade trained courtesy of the United
States government. And the U.S. government did everything possible to lie
and cover up about these murders.
So the Catholic liberation theologians I think would add and say, yes if
Jesus Christ were to come back today, the United States would kill him. I
Well, I don't know where that leaves any of you one way or the other. But
certainly that's the way I see the question of faith in action. Faith and
resistance. I agree with Nelson-Pallmayer. I agree with the Catholic
liberation theologians. I think it's interesting that we see an almost
identical analysis of the theological problem from a Lutheran perspective
and a Catholic perspective. Each operating independently of each other but
they come to the same conclusion.
And since we are at the conclusion of the hour, let me conclude with those
stirring words of Martin Luther: Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God
help me. Amen.
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