Each stage helps to lead to the next as the values of the people change over time as influenced by military, political, economic, and religious developments.
In the first few stages of an empire, its pioneers propel it to power as it expands its territory by conquest. Later, the materialistic values of businessmen take over at the highest levels of society during the fourth and fifth stages (or ages) of empire building. Their societies downplay the values of the solider normally not "from motives of conscience, but rather because of the weakening of a sense of duty in citizens, and the increase in selfishness, manifested in the desire for wealth and ease," as Glubb Pasha maintains. Instead of taking more land to expand its influence, empires at this stage build defensive barriers instead, such as the Roman Emperor Hadrian's wall near the Scottish border or the Great Wall of China. The wealth acquired by conquest and business investments made possible by the political unity provided by the empire is later spent to establish educational institutions such as universities and schools. During the age of intellect, these may produce intellectuals who are skeptical of some of the values and religious beliefs of the founders and developers of the empire they live in.
Over time the elites of society and the general masses discard the self-disciplined values of their founders that helped create the empire. Moral decay begins to set in due to the morally corrosive affects of wealth and affluence. The empire increasingly grows weak and subject to destruction by forces either arising inside or outside of it or both. It eventually collapses due to factors such as an outside power (e.g., the barbarians in Rome's case) or an internal force (e.g., the communists in Czarist Russia's case).
The stage of America's empire
Has the United States entered the latter phases of its empire? Does it have the same values or cultural developments that past empires such as Rome had before they fell?
For example, who are the nation's heroes, and what does their selection indicate about the values of its people? Today, in America people admire and pursue gossip on celebrities such as sports stars, actors, and musicians. Mr. Pasha notes that the heroes of the people change over time as their values do. Soldiers, builders, pioneers, and explorers are admired in the initial stages of the empire life cycle. Successful businessmen and entrepreneurs are held up for admiration during the ages of commerce and affluence. The intellectuals and academics are also increasingly admired during the age of intellect.
Flag of the United States of America
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During the last stages of decadence and decline, people in an empire often admire and emulate the athletes, actors, etc. regardless of how corrupt their private lives are. Remarkably, Pasha found in tenth-century Baghdad, during the Arab Abbasid Empire's decline, writers complaining about the corrupting influence of singers on the young people!
Characteristics of decline
What are some common features of an empire's culture in its declining period? Pasha and Bernard Goetz in When the Empire Strikes Out describe developments such as the following:
The decline of sexual standards, an aversion to marriage in favor of cohabitation, and an increased divorce rate. The first-century A.D. Roman writer Seneca cynically commented about Roman upper class women, "They divorce in order to re-marry. They marry in order to divorce." The birth rate declines and abortion and infanticide both increase as family size is deliberately limited. The historian W.H. McNeill has referred to the "biological suicide of the Roman upper classes" as one reason for Rome's decline.
An influx of foreign immigrants into the empire and the lands it controlled. The diversity stemming from this cosmopolitan element introduces an (inevitably) culturally divisive element into the empire.
- Frivolity and pessimism increase among the people. The spirit described in 1Corinthians 15:32 spreads in society, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." As people cynically give up on finding solutions to the problems of life and society, they drop out of the system and turn to mindless entertainment, luxuries and sexual activity, and drugs or alcohol.
The government provides extensive welfare for the poor. For example, the masses of the city of Rome were kept content by government-provided bread and spectacles at the Colosseum. Although this provision may seem to manifest Christian compassion (Mark 14:7), it also can encourage laziness and dependency as well (2Thessalonians 3:10-12), especially when the poor perceive relief as a right.
After examining the list of indicators of an empire's cultural and moral decline, it become obvious the United States has entered the stages of decadence and decline. It should be noted, however that some indicators of decline are not yet that bad in America. Nevertheless, the present influx of immigrants are far more apt to be a divisive force because of the adoption by many of multiculturalism as an ideal. Additionally, in a process that he has dubbed "sexual suicide," the sociologist George Gilder in Men and Marriage states that the feminist values presently enshrined in the American culture lead to demographic decline.
Given the information presented in this brief article, how should true Christians react? Believers living in declining empires should redouble their efforts to warn the world's nations (Matthew 24:14) about their fate if they do not repent of their sins. Christians should also be wary of adopting, in their own lives, the negative beliefs and practices they warn others not to adopt. Ultimately, as Peter stated to those on Pentecost he called to repent, Christians must make every effort to save themselves from the corrupt society in which they live (Acts 2:38-40).