Saturday, June 10, 2017

Revelation Nonsense

Although I've done my best to write about Revelation in a historically and Biblically literate way, it's a tough subject to research. There's a lot of nonsense about Revelation on the internet. Some of it is intentional nonsense, pernicious misinterpretation to attain power and money for the purveyors of misinformation. Some of it is somewhat innocent - true believers who have a laser like focus on the nonsense and can't keep track of God's character and love anymore.

Either way, it's harmful.

Here's a video which exemplifies this sort of nonsense. (The first version of this video was deleted... hopefully this one will stay online? If not, just search for "revelation monster energy drink")

The passage of concern here is Revelation 13:18 "This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

I realize this passage is intriguing to conspiracy theorists, because it's a secret code. How fun! Now you can feel like the hero of The Davinci Code as you figure it out.

Or, you could ask yourself a better question. Why tell this story in code?
Apocalyptic stories are all told like this. (It’s a lost genre.) We can’t fully understand spiritual realities, so they are told with images and metaphor.

In the time period Revelation was written, it wasn't safe to speak freely. Freedom of speech was not a right for the author and audience in this story. Saying “Emperor Nero is wicked" would be a crime. But saying “The Beast is wicked” gives a little room for interpretation. Still, for people living in that time period in that area, most of these metaphors and symbols would be clear and not confusing at all. (If I wanted to talk in code about my dislike of President Trump, I might refer to him with an insult based on orange. Everyone now would now who I was talking about and why, but it 1,000 years, people might be puzzling over the symbolism of the color orange.)

Six-six-six could be code for Euanthas, Lateinos, or Nero Caesar. (Here is one such explanation._ These were wicked Roman kings who caused great harm to the people they were supposed to rule wisely. 

Or, 666 could be empathically short of the perfect number 7. Don’t get obsessed with interpreting it. Some things that were perfectly clear at the time don’t make sense now, and people will start seeing 6’s everywhere if you are looking for them.

Here's a few of the examples I've found online of people obsessing over 666:

Obama! He's a secret Muslim, and also the antichrist.

Math! I've always said it's fun

Anything can be a 6 if you work hard at it

Working hard to keep this updated - any "new" thing is the Mark of the Beast, but any old thing is  The Good Old Days
It's sad how quickly these conspiracy theories become dated. It's not cool to say Obama is the antichrist anymore; since he's out of office and power, you really need to get over it. But young people don't know how long the antichrist game has been going on. (By the way, there is NO character in Revelation called "The Antichrist")

The Pope is an ongoing favorite for accusation. Every pope has been accused- so nothing on this chart will make sense after Francis passes away. 

Every US president (or potential president) gets a share of accusation:

1990s: President Bill Clinton

2000-2008 George W. Bush

2009-2016 President Barack Obama
Presidential Candidate Hilary Rodham Clinton 2016
President Donald Trump 2017 - present

When my mom was my age, Gorbechev was a popular contender:

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Islamic leaders are also common options:

 Saddam Hussein President of Iraq, 1979-2003
 Or, just combine a hatred of Islam with a hatred of Catholicism and smoosh them together.

I also found two accusations which frankly shocked me:

Billy Graham: world famous evangelist from 1940s to 2000s
The Apostle Paul: major New Testament character and writer 
 One could argue that all of these people have done wrong things, perhaps even things that were against (or anti-) Christ. However, calling any of them "The Antichrist" - a one singular evil person who would bring about the end of the world- is both selfish and silly. All it takes if for that person to die or to lose power for your prediction to be worthless. That's why they keep writing new books and pretending like the old ones never happened.

However, if you took the time to simply criticize what that person did wrong- why their beliefs, teachings or actions were contrary to God's love and God's will, you may accomplish something useful.

You can take anything you don't like and apply Revelation symbolism to it

Let's return to the Monster energy drink video.

This woman focuses on secret symbols. She imagines that someone's soul is damaged by turning a cross upside-down by accident. She suggests that satan gets some sort of benefit by a symbol that looks vaguely like a Hebrew letter. What benefit could it possibly be to satan? Here's how satan benefits: when people hurt each other. When people hate. When people misuse God's name to ignore the suffering of others.

Monster Energy is not a Christian company, as she observed. There are potentially harmful things about using cursing and sexualization to market a product. There's much harm in capitalism in general: greed, false advertising, oppression of workers, promotion of unhealthy consumption, waste, lack of care for the Earth. But she doesn't focus on any of that. She's only concerned with secrets, conspiracies, and feeling proud of herself for having secret knowledge. (By the way, I do think there's a good side to American innovation- creativity, challenges, and teamwork.)

Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and inventor, CEO of Apple until his death in 2011
I can summarize this into two main problems:
  1. A nonsense interpretation of the history of Revelation- thinking John of Patmos looked into the future, saw Monster Energy Drinks or Barack Obama, and felt the need to tell his contemporaries about it.
  2. A nonsense interpretation of the present: that rather than considering the good and bad deeds of world leaders, we focus our attention on secrets and conspiracies.
The symbolism of 666 is not the most important thing. The most important thing about the Mark of the Beast is allegiance. The real question is: Is our allegiance to God, or to wicked rulers? We can use secret symbols to justify following bad leaders, or to let them distract us from having good discernment about leadership. Or we can look at the big picture, and make decisions based on following a God of Love.