Friday, October 01, 2004

Revolutionary Revelation and My Vague Speculations about Apocalyptic Literature

There's an interesting post at Crooked Timber on apocalyptic Christianity - interesting, with interesting comments, but I must confess that, having had some acquaintance growing up with the sort of people they are talking about, I always find many of the pontifications on the matter as silly as some of the views that are talked about. The comment by James Kabala is a good one, though, since it corrects a number of misconceptions. Misconceptions about apocalyptic religious views are always common; there is, for instance, the common view that they are usually somewhat hysterical and paranoid whereas I think in practice the views usually serve a function that is more moral in nature: they provide a framework for thinking of issues of moral law, political justice, and moral providence by way of mythos or imagery. Something like this is, I think, actually necessary; and if we didn't have it in apocalyptic imagery, some other imagery would have to rise to take its place, with issues and problems of its own. One could argue, perhaps, that apocalyptic's great rival for this is gnostic imagery; after entertainment journalism, perhaps!

I find that people who call other people 'fundies' are not any more likely to understand the people they are talking about than any other sort of name-callers; I suppose it's my naivete, but I really can't understand the mentality of appealing to critical thought in one sentence while stereotyping people with derogatory labels in the next. That seems naive to me; but, as I said, perhaps I'm just missing something.

Incidentally, I think it's important to recognize the politically subversive character of the apocalyptic genre; apocalyptic literature is by its nature revolutionary, a sort of populist revolt against the powers that be in the name of a greater justice: it's a refusal, at the level of an imaginative picture of the world (we all have some sort of imaginative picture of the world), to allow the political categories to be imposed from above by other human beings. It's difficult, I think, to find a discourse or rhetoric that is more capable of taking a forceful stand against oppression and injustice. Can you really get much more unequivocal than Revelation 18? Some of the criticisms of the Bush government, I think, have been extremely limp and feeble gropings after something like this discourse; I sometimes want to say, "Come out and call it the Whore of Babylon already; you know that's what you're really trying to say!" And you'll find, I think, that a lot of people who have apocalyptic tastes in the U.S. really do have at least an occasional nagging worry that the U.S. sounds a lot like Babylon, "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth," with whose adulteries and wealth kings and merchants have become intoxicated. Were some of the people who like to consider themselves progressives more interested in understanding people than mocking them, they might learn enough of the language to bring a genuinely progressive message home to the people who use that language. It's certainly well-suited for it. Apocalypse is about revolution, sometimes forceful (Revelation), sometimes rather gentler (Shepherd of Hermas), but it's about changing things that need to be changed.

Since we're on the subject, the blog "Obsidian Wings" has a discussion of what is perhaps the latest dangerous temptation toward Babylon-style adultery with the tyrants of the earth (my terms, of course, in keeping with the apocalyptic theme; the technical term is 'extraordinary rendition'). At least, it is if the analysis there is right; I don't have quite the patience for law codes I should. (Hat-tip to Cliopatria for the link.)

And no, I'm not going to make it a regular thing to talk apocalyptically about politics; there's certainly too much of that already, feeble as it may be. But some things, perhaps, require it. Sometimes, perhaps, one needs the lion to roar against the kine of Bashan and the princes of the earth.

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