05 June 2006

Visions Revisited

1:48am; need a 3 hour nap before work.

What do I believe?
Sometimes I dont know the answer, but thats because I don't have the information to define it ... yet.

I had been about to post here that, for various reasons, I was renouncing my Christianity. As reasons I intended to cite tenets of faith that were simply at odds with the physical world and portions of Holy text that appear to be at odds with everything. Chief among these would be the book of Genesis which appears to consist largely of mythology, much of it not even of Hebrew origin. I'm not just talking about Creation or the Tower of Babel. I mean that I have serious problems when the basic identity of the main characters appears to have been subjected to revision. Another significant, but related, issue that I have is when the Book of Revelation trots out the ida of a New Heaven and a New Earth. That idea is basically a repackaging of a much older "pagan" religious idea of continuous cyclical destruction and regeneration of the world. I cannot very well be a Christian knowing that if this can even happen, the time scal would be in millions of years between the bounteous part of the cycles. The universe tends to not support physical regeneration.

Before I went ahead and posted that, self restraint urged me to do some research. My main inquiry went something along these lines:

1) Modern Christianity is based upon the New Covenant with God, established through the travails of a historical figure named (variously) Iesu. [How anyone can get 'Jesus' from a Hebrew name is beyond me - I'm fairly certain that it begins with a "Yah" sound, but thats an entire other discussion]

2) That being the case, I should restrain my criticisms to the body of work entitled the New Testament. That effectively reduces the mythological and mystical content by about 75-80%.

3) For the purpose of simplicity, I'll forgo critiquing the Gospels. There is surely plenty of meat there, but the preserving of oral traditions always results in problems like the bias of the authors. I'll call them the rough edges of perspective then, and move on.

The bulk of the NT is actually well edited for content. The epistles of Paul and a few others formulate a nice handbook for Christian living. There persists some debate on semantics, and who the real author of some letters were, but in general, I'll forgo those issues as well.

Thus my main questions boil down to these:
We go through the entire Bible, when all of a sudden, in the last book, we get all kinds of new bad guys on the scene. Where were these guys before?
I'm referring to the Anti-Christ, the False Prophet, the Beast, and a host of imagery and Evil Forces. Also, as I mentioned, we get amazing detail about what the last days of the world will be like. Where did all this stuff come from???

So, my first inquiries were as to when the Book of Revelation was added to the canon of the New Testament. Had it been added later (for whatever reason) that might add reasons for my distrust. The early Church, however, was very careful about selecting which texts to preserve in the face of severe persecution. The earliest documents on the subject clearly include the Book of Revelation as already part of canon (if I use that word correctly) attributing it to being written at about the same time as the gospels (roughly 80 C.E. or so - all the survivors who contributed to first hand accounts of Iesu were dying). So it was definitely not a later addition.

I was rather at a loss for how else to approach the problem after I had determined that Revelation was canon. Then I read an article in Christian Archaeology (I think I'm murdering that periodical title) about "the Throne of Satan". That greatly illuminated, and clarified the issue for me.

The "Throne of Satan" was the Great Altar at Pergamon, which was initially dedicated to Zeuse and Athena, and in time became consecrated to Roman Emperors, including Diocletian.
The message to the Christian Church there emphasized the great peril that they were in, since Diocletian, among other things, tried to preserve the pagan religions and persecuted Cristianity with renewed zeal. That was the answer that I was looking for.

The portents and imagery of the Book of Revelation can be read in several ways. Some choose to interpret them as pertaining to the End Times; the last days of civilization on Earth. They can also be interpreted as short-term prophecy, where the Great Beast is Rome, the Anti-Christ is Diocletian, and the False Prophet probably Nero. It is in this short-term sense that the Book of Revelation makes more sense to me. In this context, the messages to the churches have greater urgency. In this context, the promise of a position of honor in Heaven - not just of a vague treasure - must have been particularly heartening to those who lived in danger of imminent martyrdom. For the Christians living in the shadow of Rome, Revelation portrayed not a dark vision of the End Times, but a vital promise of ultimate victory when the Church faced its darkest days.

Sitting here, in a swivel chair within my messy apartment, I think I can forgive all three John the Revelators if they decide to dust off physical reincarnation of the world (and the body) in their message of hope.

Because it appears to me that the message was recieved.