Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Christian Apocalypse as Sophisticated Dystopian Mythos

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I don't have a lot of enduring interest in the Book of Revelation (a.k.a  the Revelation to John on the Isle of Patmos) for a couple of reasons.  One is that people who spend their time talking about it seem to be interested in scaring people into being spiritual, which I think is self-defeating for anything much other than getting people to show up and give money; and another is that people who spend their time thinking about it seem to stop paying attention to life other than to read "signs" into current events.

This preface is necessary because any attempt to relate an old prophecy to modern politics is going to sound like some nutty appeal to the Religious Right.  (Random Kanye interjection: I just want to say that Bill Maher is a clown; and not a good kind of clown.  Kind of like a mime, but without the wonderful silence.)

Let's re-frame the significance of this book:  If there were a political situation that offended cultural sensibilities of Muslims embodied in their eschatological mythos, many on the Left (those not rabidly against all non-secular religions) would cry out that we need to be more sensitive, especially since there must be something rich and deep and beautiful in such a cultural treasure.  Too often these thoughts, when they are more than vague sentiments are not applied to Christianity, since that is the root of American traditionalism that must be rooted out by progressivism--the competitor in America for the rapidly supplanting progressive value system.

So... Suppose that the Book of Revelation is another eschatological myth.  Perhaps it stands out because it came about around a time when the Roman Empire didn't like competing religious visions.  Most traditions would place the writing of the John's apocalyptic vision after the upside-down crucifixion of St. Peter (i.e. Cephas, the apostle from Galilee).  So maybe it lends itself to modern times because it is written for an age of empires.

Is it a bad thing to fear the consolidation of power into a world government?  Progressives would tend to say "No," by their policies if not by their words.  While many libertarians and conservatives have more practical reasons for disliking the idea, the Revelation gives many Christians reason to fear that a terrifying abuse of power will follow from a consolidation of world power.

Social scientists like Jonathan Haidt who found himself unable to see outside of his intellectual bubble of social science liberalism until his postmodern exercise of living with Hindus in India forced him to try to understand the world on their terms -- social "scientists" like Haidt will probably have trouble seeing any sort of rich cultural heritage in the Vision of Patmos, and not simply because of their Western intellectual antipathy toward Christianity (though that would be reason enough).

Consider the potential meaning of The Revelation:

The Creature that rises from the sea will be a political leader rising to power with promises of peace and plenty.  He will obtain power by playing to people's appetites.  Babylon the great prostitute/idolatress will ride the Beast until it is time for her to be destroyed.  (Eventually the Big Party will be over; the people will find out that they sold their liberties away for libertinism.)  People won't see him--the Creature or Beast as he described-- for what he really is, because they will instead see a walking, talking image of him -- someone else will decide what the people see, and they will become enamored with an idol.  He will cause people to act against their religion and their conscience by having absolute control of the world economy.  People won't be able to make transactions unless they are down with the Central Power's program.

Buying and selling will be done through exclusive codes, and everyone will be marked with a code that enscribes them with the number of man--expressed numerologically as a triune expression of man as the source of man's worth, man's values, man's rights.  As George Orwell outlined in 1984, totalitarianism becomes possible through collectivism, that is some form of fascism/socialism that promises a Utopia in exchange for the centralization of Power.  Collectivism has been thus sold as Maoism, National Socialism (Nazism), Stalinism, the Cultural Revolution, etc.  The Harlot and the Beast will be "drunk on the blood of the saints."  The greatest persecutions of the Christians in the last century have been the collectivist utopians, seeking the path of Humanism and devolving into the inhumane.

This grand world experiment will end badly.  The infrastructure on which the entire world will have come to depend will fall apart.  Possibly set off by a series of disasters, famine will ensue, pestilence and epidemics, and ultimately, wars as society collapses.  Mass uprisings and slaughters.  The Rape of Nanking will seem like a practice run for the big global event -- if this happens.

Oh, and the Creature of the Revelation of St. John will also persecute the nation of Israel in addition to persecuting the Church.  Many think that this will involve the Antichrist fulfilling the prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation-- that on Israel's holiest site, the World Government will enact something perverse as an affront to the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.  Things are expected ultimately end in the bloodiest battle of history in the Valley of Megiddo.

A rather sophisticated eschatological myth, I think.  Seems almost like some sort of libertarian dreamt it.  In modern terms, the Harlot could be Hollywood (if one takes the commerce aspect of Babylon very metaphorically); the soothsaying False Prophet could be the media moguls that manipulate the perception of current events.  It's subjective interpretation, sure--there are many and have been many interpretations applied.  But long before there was 1984, We, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, there was the Book of Revelation.  Dystopia.  Before there was Big Brother, there was The Beast.  Only a certain kind of elitist would expect 1984 to have a claim to my circumspective powers and inherent skepticism but not the Book of Revelation to hold a similar claim.

Anyway, pleasant dreams.

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