This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Reinterpreting Revelation

The New York Times Book Review section is review Elaine Pagels new book on the Book of Revelation, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy,  and Politics in the Book of Revelation .  You can read the review here. 

Pagels examines the imagery of the book and ties it into the controversy in the late first century over whether new converts must adhere to the Ancient Law and keep Kosher.  It turns out that John of Patmos did not like Gentile Christianity, which he saw as tainted by the corruption of imperial Rome itself.  The nasty imagery, therefore, is not directed at some future Anti-Christ, but at the Pauline Church of the day.  If John was a committed Jew, writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jerusalem Church, one can see the point of his resentments and his belief that God would come and set things right, especially since his side had effectively lost.

As someone who has made of study of apocolyptic literature, I find this finding incredibly freeing.  The return of the Lord is not just around the corner, at least not as far as geo-politics is concerned.  Instead, the return of the Lord is a very personal phenomenon - coming both at death (since Christians are a resurrection people) and if you are listening, before that.  We are meant to encounter the Lord Jesus in others who need us, and to be Christ to them as well.  Indeed, a quick look at the history of end-times prophesy shows it often has more to say about the current political climate than it does about the future, which is why Islam, the Protestants or the Papacy are often its targets. 

Every age thinks it is the last one.  So far, none of them have been right.  While it is very spiritual to wait for the Lord, doing so does not absolve us from action where it is appropriate.  If you wait for God to solve all of your problems without effort, you will be waiting for a long time.  The parable of the ten talents indicates that God expects action in accomplishing his works - and none of that action involves slaughtering your enemies.  Indeed, the hope of John of Patmos that the Lord would return to smite the Gentile Christians could not have been more wrong.   He won't smite the Muslims, the Democrats or the 1% either.

What the Lord expects from us is Love, both for our enemies and each other.  If we are not doing that, we are acting at the promptings of someone else.

This is not to say that nothing apocolyptic is on the horizon.  The current situation cannot hold, either economically or politically. It cannot be God's will that more and more people control less and less wealth, or that we allow agriculture or industry to continue to poison the water supply.  The Church of Rome also cannot hold to its current course.  The old biases against women and gays are dying off as those who hold to them experience their own personal apolyptic events and those who remain will have no patience for maintaining them.  Neither can we continue to demand that workers make due with less and limit their fertility accordingly while our productive capacity goes the other way - although we must find a way to expand to meet that productivity without despoiling the planet.

All this is great fodder for apocloyptic stories, although you are more likely to find these stories in a cyber punk novel rather than in religious literature.  Mostly, however, current conditions are a call for action.  The real message of revelation is that God will set things right - but it will happen through us rather than through some kind of cosmic battle - which is actually a great relief (unless you are a Dominionist or a Catholic Trad).


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