Revelation


From my friend Pete Rollins. I wish I could write parables like this.

Actual site and info on Pete’s work and current Insurrection project here.

Discuss.

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at a designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to serve the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

Many of you may well have received an email that reputedly originated with Dr. John Tisdale, a popular biblical interpreter, that “interprets” Revelation 13 in such a way as to equate Barack Obama with the Beast of the Last Days/End Times. There’s not really any shortage of critical debunking of this foolishness, but since it’s come up again, and since some of my buds are actually using this whole situation as an example in a book they’re writing on the way religion is used and abused in this country, I need to take aim not only at “Tisdale’s” initial email, but at the reactions to it as well.

At the risk of perpetuating the myth, here is the email:

From: —
Subject: interesting
To: —
Date: Monday, October 20, 2008, 10:53 AM

If any of you are Obama supporters — this is not meant to offend just thought it was interesting. 🙂

Subject: Fw: Rev. 13- (about the beast)

This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School:
How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelations?
Revelations Chapter 13 tells us it is 42 months, and you know what that is.
Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.
All I can say is ‘Lord, Have mercy on us!’
According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will
be a man, in his 40’s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with
persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal….the prophecy says
that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace,
and when he is in power, will destroy everything..
Do we recognize this description??
I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to post this as many times as
you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet..do it!
I refuse to take a chance on this unknown candidate who came out of nowhere.
From: Dr. John Tisdale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear Friends,
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .’we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . .’ As with so many other statements I’ve heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.
I hope that each of you will do what I’m doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God’s help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation!
Please pray for our nation!

Ok. First off, there is a problem of perception that one of my friends has dubbed “apocalyptic narcissism,” as good a term as any for the idea that every generation of Christianity, including the first century of the New Testament and the events it describes, has believed that it is the one that will experience the events of the last days and the return of Christ. In fact, I’ve seen it now a couple of times in my life time, and I’m only 35 years old. No doubt I’ll see it a few more times, God willing I live long enough.

Here’s the point. Revelation is a prophetic book in the Jewish sense that it speaks to the current situation by use of metaphor and hyperbole. It is not a book that foretells the future, “prophecy” in the Christian sense. It is, however, a blistering critique of empire in the tradition of the prophetic “oracles against the nations.” If Revelation foretells anything, it is what “empire” always has coming, which is ultimately collapse and usually replacement. Revelation is better understood as a kind of psychedelic, Jack Kerouac-ian vision of the author’s present, which was around 90-100 AD/CE.

More importantly for Barack, though, is this business about the anti-Christ being in his 40’s and of Muslim descent and who will deceive the nations with smooth-talking. First of all, there’s nothing in Revelation that the anti-christ has to be in his 40’s. Secondly, Revelation does not predict Islam, let alone a Muslim anti-Christ. All of my studentsknow that Revelatio, as a text describing the end of the first century realities of early Christians, predates Islam by over 500 years. Islam is nowhere predicted in the Bible, although many Muslims hold that Muhammad is anticipated in the gospel of John (where the “spirit,” pneuma in Greek, is translated as “‘ahmad” in Arabic). the point is that there is no evidence at all in any book of the Bible that the Anti Christ will be a Muslim. Frankly, it angers me that this myth is gaining more and more steam, it seems. It needs to be debunked, and fast. There have been many anti-christs in western history, and I would venture to say that most of them have claimed to be Christian.

Here’s another point. I actually provided the link from which the initial respondant commented on about Barack “proudly” commenting that we are no longer a “Christian nation” in a blog earlier in the summer. As i tell my students, the country was never founded as a Christian nation. And whatever Christian principles influenced the Deist founders of the US were there, they were not the same discursive points of contemporary American evangelicalism, which is what this email assumes. Evangelicals may presume that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, a point that may well be the, but they also seem to have an assumption that Christianity is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, which is most definitely NOT the case. In any event, this quote actually misquotes (deliberately, probably) Barack in the Call to Renewal speech. I don’t know where the emailer gets the idea that Barack is “proud” of this. But Obama actually said that we are not only a Christian nation. This changes the meaning completely, and he is exactly right. In the 1700s, insofar as people were religiously diverse at all, it was all a variation of Christianity; Puritan, Catholic, Church of England, and so on. Obama’s point is that this is no longer the case, and in fact has not been the case for a long time. Read the actual speech for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

As another colleague of mine points out, concerning the idea of the US having any kind of official religion (which, Constitutionally, we do not), the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli expressly prohibits acts of hostility between the US and any Muslim nation. Note the first clause here:

“”Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

1797. Think about that. The Founding Fathers, who supposedly established a Christian nation, were still in the halls of Congress.

Barack Obama is not the Beast, he is not the Anti-Christ, and he is not the fulfillment of any biblical prophecy whatsoever.

bible_1.jpgThose of us who are engaged as students and scholars of religion and who are also engaged as cultural critics are familiar with the notion of “Idolatry of the Bible” or “Bibliolatry.” This is the perception that the Bible itself, as a physical book and especially as “information” is revered and respected to degrees that mirror idol-worship as described in the Bible itself. But there is another aspect here that isn’t talked about as much, but which is probably as prevalent. This is the recognition that the Bible does function as an idol and object of worship for “those guys” and, as such, worthy of iconoclastic attack.

What is mentioned even less, though, is that for the most part the same criteria is used to justify “Bibliolatry” and “Biblioclasm,” and I’d like to introduce this with another neologism: Historidolatry, or “Idolatry of History.” It’s an obsession with forcing the Bible to conform with our own criteria of historical veracity; the former put history to use in order to justify everything from literal, historical 6 day creation, suns standing still to prolong a battle, and Exodus and conquest stories to Noah’s Flood or the historical facticity of Job’s narrative. The Biblioclasts, on the other hand, put history to work precisely to argue that too much of the Bible’s contents are patently unhistorical. The assumption is the same; the Bible stands or falls on whether or not the Bible is “historically true.”

Now, obviously, a knowledge of the history, culture, and so on of both the events the Bible relates, as well as the historical and cultural events during the composition of the individual books, pericopes, and what-have-you, is critical. Not only that, but the Bible itself iners or even insists that certain things, in order for them to have value, had to have occured in historical time or they are worthless (as Paul insists about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15). But this is completely different than saying that the whole thing stands on this assumption, and in fact, is complicated by the fact that the Bible often gives several different versions of the same events! What the Bible is great at is recognizing that an event happened and that the event is important for community identity, and it is particularly good at preserving how different people (in different historical time, as well) remembered and represented those events. It is not especially good at giving us the event itself. We reduce the Bible to our own terms, either in defense of it, or in criticism of it, when we apply the criteria of history as the biblical standard of truth. Instead, the Bible is the testimony of a variety of witnesses, all of whom testify to the reality of God in the lives of individuals and communities.

I suggest a different tack. Since the tasks of neither history nor of the study of religion is to “prove” or “disprove” the Bible or faith, we need to employ history and the study of religion (at least, for those of us involved in “biblical religions”) to better understand and especially appreciate what it actually is that Bible (and other scriptures) is testifying to and proclaiming. Here, the so-called Bibliolatrists are on the right track; let’s put history and the study of religion to work as an aid to understanding and appreciating biblical religion, rather than as a wrecking-ball. But on the other hand, the Biblioclasts have something to offer as well, which is it recognizes the various degrees of biblical testimony and can provide people of faith, and scholars as well, with better contextual accounting for these variations.

The bottom line is that the Bible isn’t a history textbook, and despite well-meaning apologetic education and more mean-spirited critical projects, treating it as a textbook, rather than a collection of testimonies to the reality of God in ancient communities, produces shallow faith on the one hand and critical fundamentalism on the other. Biblical revelation, and its representations in the Bible itself, is conditioned by historical context, and we do ourselves enormous favors by paying attention to these contexts, but revelation cannot, and should not, be reduced to modernist criteria that negates and replaces “faith in things unseen.”

A Long Time Ago, in an Empire Far, Far Away….

It is a time of relative peace. With the legions of armies maintaing the new Order from Britain to Babylon, the Sith Lords have secured the mantle of civilization under the cloak of absolute power.

Augustus Palpatine

But a small group of freedom fighters, led by John of Patmos, have joined in the resistance to the Dark Lord and his evil enforcer, Darth Caesar.

Darth DomitianObi John Kenobi

Committed to overturning the Order of the Sith and ushering in the Empire of God, the Jedi and their followers throughout the Province of Asia band around a newly discovered secret book, while their leader has mysteriously disappeared…

Obi John Kenobi in Exile ms-1214-f090v-colour.jpg

Seraph“Cypher, the Matrix isn’t real!”

“Oh, I disagree, Trinity; I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.”

Lately, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading in memory and social theory, and I’ve been working my way through Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality. The thoughts here are inspired by Berger and Luckmann’s work from 40 years ago, but I’ve taken the liberty of combining them with some of my recent work on the book of Revelation and with the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy of Matrix films.

Berger and Luckmann argued that practically from birth, what we understand to be “real” is a social construction that is imposed on us through a variety of instruments of the dominant culture of the world that we find ourselves in. When that dominant culture ultimately has the power to impose its cultural perspective (or worldview) on other ones, and proceeds to do so, the result is a programmatic presentation of “the real” that says “our” reality, whatever it is, is the ultimate one, and this by necessity must replace any alternative ones. In other words, once a culture establishes a hegemony over others that would not normally be inclined to share, appreciate, or employ the instruments that the culture uses to construct reality at home, it is in a position to say to everyone else that the way we are is the way everyone should be. This kind of imperialism doesn’t have to be through military force or violence against earth, air, and flesh (although it can be, and often is); more pervasive and dangerous is the seductive nature of the instruments of cultural imperialism. Violence and seduction are, and have always been, two of the most potent agents of social control and the imposition of “reality.”

To viewers of the Matrix, this should sound familiar, and one wonders whether the Wachowski Brothers had a copy of Social Construction of Reality around when they produced the films. The entire trilogy turns on the questions of What is Real, and What is the Matrix? In the trilogy, we learn that the Matrix is the reality constructed by the dominant Machine World that, through violence and seduction, is imposed on the world of human beings in order for the Machine World to maintain its hegemony and its control of human life. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, recognizes that there are at least these two realities, and he challenges Neo (Keanu Reeves) to recognize that he has to choose which reality he is going to accept, since both are Real. In Berger and Luckmann’s terms, the Machine World is able to force its worldview, its reality, onto the Human through the instrumentality of the Matrix. For those living in the Machine World, the majority of humans do not realize that their reality is artificial and constructed and have no need for or interest in knowing otherwise. The dominant culture of technocracy, as it were, has defined what is real and literally constructed the instruments to make sure that things stay the way they are. Theirs is the “ultimate reality,” as Tillich might express it.

In any event, the story of the Matrix is that the reality imposed by the dominant Machine World is not the only reality, and in fact needs to be challenged because the human race is not destined to be batteries and puppets that empower the force of empire and its artificial instruments of violence and seduction to keep control over those who resist.

And if this sounds like a familiar story, you’re right. This is exactly the story of the book of Revelation. Revelation is a call to see the Matrix for what it is and an invitation to look behind the screen to see the ugliness of the reality of its version of the Machine World, that is to say, the Empire, the violence of the Beast and the seductions of the Whore that are the instruments of imperial worldviews of reality. For the author of Revelation, the Roman Empire is the latest version of the Matrix, an artificially constructed reality that had plagued Israel in a number of x.0 versions since the days of Egyptian bondage. But as with the theatrical Matrix, Revelation recognizes the reality of the Empire/Machine world every bit as much as it recognizes the world of the Saints/Zion. Both realities exist and coexist and join together through complex processes of mimicry and symbiosis and are locked in a struggle that simultaneously defends and destroys the other. The Matrix and the Empire are paragons of the power and order of the Machine World and the dominant force of Imperialism in all its forms. The heroes of Zion and the persevering Saints of first century Asia, on the other hand, recognize the reality of the Matrix of Empire, but refuse to accommodate themselves to imperial control; for Morpheus, Neo, Trinity, John of Patmos, Christ, and the embattled saints of Asia, imperial reality is a Beast operating the machine mainframe, a reality that ultimately will lead to nothing but the utter destruction and annihilation of this world as well as the other. Revelation and The Matrix thus show that these competing worlds exist in symbiotic opposition to each other, but are not condemned to eternal conflict. As the Oracle tells Neo, “One way or another, Neo, the war is going to end.”

The story, of course, continues now. The Matrix of Empire is a constructed instrument of persuasion designed to convince others that the pax romana and pax americana is the ordained and one legitimate ultimate reality. But Revelation and the Matrix show us that, confronted with the reality of imperial pax, we who were called out of Egypt now need to be called out of Babylon, out of the power fields of the Machine world. And here in the Matrix, there are too many who know that something is seriously wrong with the seductive doings of empire, who know that we ourselves are complicit in the violence done to the earth and to each other in the name of maintaining things “as it was was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever more.” We feel the splinter in the mind and its driving us mad. And if we are truly to come out of Babylon, as the Seer of Revelation cries out to us that we must, we have to take the plunge, and find the courage to take the Red Pill, and hack into the Matrix.