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Rev. IV: The Whore of Babylon

 
 

Here is Pastor James Clarke’s fourth sermon in the series based on Revelation, “The Whore of Babylon,” for Sunday, May 22, 2016.

Listen to the sermon here.

Revelation has always been a little scary. It doesn’t make a good bedtime story. Beasts and dragons, fire and destruction. It has never been on the top of the list for either study or preaching, unless one is a millennialist; an Adventist who waits with eagerness for the end of the world.

Of course, we now know that it is a large metaphor. The beasts are allusions to evil powers and forces in the world and the Whore of Babylon is Rome, right? So it becomes less scary…. Or not. The truth is, when we study it, it actually can become even more frightening and certainly more challenging.

After a three week hiatus, we are back to Revelation. Prior to this, I shared about Revelation for three Sundays. We talked about the world of John of Patmos being “in the spirit”. Full of principalities, powers and forces… To him very real powers and forces.

We talked about the two Empires that John presents: The Empire of the World and the Empire of God and his challenge to choose the Empire of God. We talked about Babylon being a reference to Rome. John identifies this Evil Empire with Rome, but it is not just Rome. It is any time and any place where power dominates.

We ask the wrong question when we ask WHO is the Whore of Babylon. This has been asked and answered for centuries. Dante identified The Whore with the papacy. Has anyone ever watched either of the TV shows about the Borgias? The Medieval family that produced Pope Alexander VI, the most licentious pope in history! Sex, Power, opulence and debauchery.

The Protestant Reformers believed that the Whore was the Roman Catholic Church. People thought she was slavery and the South during the Civil War. And she was even identified with the Statue of Liberty. Apparently the man who designed the statue, Auguste Bertholdi, had previously crafted a statue of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis… He had just copied it, making it tainted.

Speaking of Isis, there’s the Whore for you… ISIS in all caps although they would not like to be referred to as female. Likely that would bother them more than the Babylon part.

President Reagan called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and considering Stalin, it makes sense. Actually, considering Putin, it still makes sense. We get into trouble when we use the metaphor of The Whore of Babylon as a foil against our enemies and point fingers.

There are many in the world who believe that America is the Empire of Evil, the Whore of Babylon in the world, and point to lifestyles that could compete with the Borgia popes.

The point is not to identify WHO she IS, but WHERE she is, this power of evil in the world. And she can be in more than one thing at the same time. Much like the Holy Spirit, she represents a spiritual power, not a substantial entity.

John of Patmos was writing to actual communities in his world and he was concerned about them going to the “dark side”. The communities he was addressing in Asia (current Turkey) had been slow to give allegiance to Octavian, the Emperor Augustus. They had been on the side of Mark Anthony.

So when Augustus ruled the Roman world, many of these communities tried extra hard to express their loyalty to Rome and specifically to Emperor Augustus, the Son of God.

This infuriated John – and in anger and fear he warns these people, whom he surely loves – you all better decide which side you’re on. He was writing to people who he wanted to change. not asking them to join him in pointing the finger at Rome.

He was trying to change people in his world. And to read Revelation truthfully is to look at our world, do we see parallels? Where is this Whore of Babylon in our world?        Not in our enemies – we’re not pointing fingers – but more accurately, how is Revelation challenging us to change?

The movement of the Whore of Babylon is seduction by the Powers that Be. The Whore offers attractive things….. The Christian communities in Asia received perks when they properly made sacrifices to the Temple Of Augustus Caesar — acceptance into the larger community, wealth and security.

Then, by seducing us, the Whore of Babylon coerces us into participating in a way of living and being that cooperates with domination. Seduction and Domination. This is what we have to look for.

To read Revelation truthfully, is not to wonder about what will happen, when the end will come? Who will be in and out, saved and damned? Who the Beasts are and what the Whore of Babylon will look like? I think she will be wearing Prada, and carrying a Gucci purse.

To read it in the same spirit in which it was written by John is to wonder about where the powers are today, that are like Rome who seduce the people with Pax Romana, that is, the peace that militarism provides. But along with that peace comes persecution and death for whomever doesn’t tow the line or measure up.

Well, I finally finished Battlestar Gallactica. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about it again, but only to say that at the end we learn that the people of Gallactica are not our ancestors, but our predecessors. Simply, the message is that human beings brought all this destruction on ourselves as if it is the ultimate result of seduction and domination.

There are many dystopian movies made these days about the end of the world and destruction reminding us of Revelation. Many probably are inspired by Revelation: Hunger Games, Divergent, Matrix, Eli – Denzel Washington – memorized the Bible, Mad Max, Planet of the Apes.

In Planet of the Apes, humans were seduced into the luxury provided by jour primate relatives which were essentially slaves until they revolted (which, I have to say, is the same story line as Battlestar Gallactica with the Cylons).

But the recent movie that I think is more Apocalyptic and closer to the spirit of John of Patmos is The Big Short. The Big Short doesn’t picture a future ruined landscape. It doesn’t reveal the ultimate result and wreckage of the Whore of Babylon. It is about how we may get to dystopian destruction, more like Escape from, or Conquest of The Planet of the Apes.

The Big Short is about the near economic collapse of 2008 closer to the world we live in. A number of people, unrelated and simultaneously, see the housing bubble that brought about the crisis.

In one scene, a couple of men go to Florida to investigate the mortgage business.     They run across this group of mortgage lenders, all under 40, drinking martinis… drunk and having a great time. And why not…. They are rich! They brag about how easy it is to sell off mortgages.     They even sell them to a person’s dog. And they’re rich! Oh the seduction of it!!

Meanwhile people are being abused and hurt. The stripper in the movie who thinks by buying houses she can get out of this lifestyle she’s caught in. What will happen to her when it all collapses?

But even before the obnoxious, debauched mortgage lenders, there are the bankers who were also seduced by the chance to make the big bucks. Armed with subprime loans, credit default swaps, lax regulation, Collateralized debt obligation (CDOs), shadow banking, short term investment horizons, and lax capital rations. The seven seals of the Apocalypse! They greased the system to their advantage. The seduction and the domination…. In walks the Whore of Babylon, Prada graced and smiling.

In their book, Unveiling Empire, Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther suggest that the place of power in the world today is not primarily in nation states or leaders, either Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump.

Empire today, we contend, can be found in the complex but discernible phenomena that we call here “global capital.”

 The process of economic globalization is shifting power away from governments responsible for the public good and toward a handful of corporations and financial institutions.

 Formal religious institutions are largely irrelevant to empire’s self-serving proclamation.

 The economics profession serves as its priesthood… to question its doctrine has become virtual heresy.

For Howard-Brook and Gwyther, this system is possessed by the Whore of Babylon because it seduces in order to dominate and in the same way that John of Patmos discouraged the Christians in Asia not to participate in the cult of the Emperor. They call us to resist this system of seduction and domination.

We do not identify the Whore of Babylon with any single thing – global capital included. We look at OUR world truthfully, honestly and critically and wonder about where there is this process of seduction and domination.

Seriously, just watch advertisements. They are all about seduction, aren’t they? They tell how much happier we will be if we buy this product. This car will make us feel so much more sexy. Or how about the seduction of Monsanto?

I remember when I was a youth in the church we were boycotting Nestle’ and Shell Oil.  Nestle because they marketed formula in Africa discouraging breast feeding and causing malnutrition. Shell Oil for their involvement in apartheid. Then when the Exxon Valdez spilled in Prince William Sound I stopped going to Exxon…. I still don’t. Exxon has been tenacious about supporting lawmakers who oppose climate change. I confess that having that new Mobil Station is a temptation…

So I Googled most evil corporations and there are a number of lists. But some companies appear on a regular basis and Monsanto is one of them. Wal-Mart – no surprise there. The seduction of Wal-Mart is low prices and having a store for the poor to go to.    Meanwhile they have sweatshops in third world countries, are responsible for decimating small towns, and hire illegal aliens, work then 7 days a week and imprison them in the store. That’s domination.

Bayer – when I was growing up Bayer was THE aspirin. When it was discovered that a blood-clotting drug was contaminated with HIV they took it off the market….. in the US.         And then sold it in Asia and Latin America. The seduction of the hominess of Bayer Children’s aspirin and the persecution of the third world.

Chiquita – the banana company has been involved in dirty politics in Colombia for decades. They’ve stolen land, persecuted and killed workers and are connected with assassinations. Those dancing bananas are the Whore of Babylon! Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “When you touch a banana you touch the world.” When he said that he was referring to Chiquita

Remember the stripper? Who was buying houses? Our literal image of the Whore of Babylon would be closer to her: heavy in makeup, lean of body, sexually seductive. But then she goes home to make dinner like everyone else, Kraft Mac and Cheese again, which is a subsidiary of Monsanto and has had its own trouble with whoring.

And the Whore is living in the mortgage lenders. In their Armani suits sipping martinis. Probably at the strip club where the woman works. Where are people being selfish and controlling? Where are people being taken advantage of? Where is power being concentrated, and others are being left out?

Where do we see seduction and domination? Patronizing malevolent corporations is analogous to sacrificing at the altar of Caesar.

One more quote from the book: Corporations have been enthroned… an era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people… until wealth is aggregated in a few hands… and the Republic is destroyed.

 These are not the words of Howard-Brook and Gwyther. These are the words of Abraham Lincoln.

I told you that when we look at Revelation truthfully, it is not less but more scary. It’s not about literally dragons and beasts in the future, it’s about beasts that live amongst us right now that seduce us – with comfort, riches, security, entertainment, and dominate the world: Halliburton and Big Pharma, Smithfield Foods – if you have a concern for animals, Phillip Morris, BP and Citicorp.

Revelation is about revealing the truth. That’s what it means. It pictures the future, but like all prophecy, it is not prediction. It may imagine a future, but the meaning and power are about addressing the present. And that is difficult, alarming and challenging.  Amen.

 

Cedar Cross rainbow

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