Babylon

“If God will intercede to stop humans from destroying the earth – which 39% of respondents believed to be true – why legislate limits on carbon emissions?”
Half of Americans think Climate Change is a Sign of the Apocalypse

 

One of the more interesting things Carl Jung observed in dream analysis is that when an item is coming to consciousness for the first time it will often present itself as double, as twin images. One side often embodies the dark, twisted and sick while the other light, wholesomeness, and health. It is as if consciousness, when confronted with something larger than it is able to cope with whole, approaches it piecemeal. By working with the opposites the mind is lead towards harmonizing disparate aspects of itself. Identifying this process has provided an illuminating key to some very interesting interpretations of stories and stages of psychological development.

For example, in developmental psychology it is common to observe in young people a clean cut separation of the world into two opposite camps; the sheep and the goats. Later in life, as experiences accumulate, a more mature view develops that recognizes the potential for good or ill resides in each and every one of us.

Christian theology is no stranger to the splitting process; the Christian Bible itself could be characterized as bookended by just such phenomenon. It starts its tale of humanity in the Garden of Eden in which there are two trees; one the tree of life granting immortality and the other the tree of good and evil bringing death. At the end of the Bible is the Book of Revelation in which an evil trinity of sorts confronts the holy trinity and the end of the human world is the result.

We have been exploring the esoteric roots of western traditions in an attempt to find insight into the ongoing Eco- crisis. This point of view reads symbolism as expositions of human experience and lessons learned. Though our rational mind would like all its lessons cut and dried and delivered in unambiguous prose the nature of our perceptual, emotional and cognitive experience is such that only symbols are able to capture the essential elements of the most profound lessons and insights we are able to share with one another. Symbols can also be mined for allegorical or metaphorical meaning yet remain inviolate at the end of the day.

Consider for example the symbolism of the two types of trees in the Garden of Eden stories. Over the centuries buckets of ink have been spilt “explaining” how they represent one aspect of our experience or another. One family of explanations sees in the story the loss of childhood innocence with the coming of sexual knowledge. Another reads the tale as an explanation of undifferentiated consciousness falling into dualism while yet another family of interpretations insists on reading it literally (perhaps the apple was some new kind of neurotransmitter allowing the hominid brain to develop – that’s as far down that path I’m willing to go). This ability to host numerous insights is what makes the symbols of our stories so fruitful. Those fascinated by a particular set of symbols never tire of contemplating them.

Perhaps nowhere in the western intellectual tradition is this more obviously the case than in the lurid symbolism found in the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. Scholars have poured over every dot and tittle and offer an interpretive key to the symbolism by recognizing the coded allusions to the Roman Empire and Emperor they contain. Historically the book is concerned with the collapse of that empire as well as the imperial cult of Emperor worship. It calls Christians to refuse to partake in the imperial cult even at the risk of martyrdom.

Apocalyptic literature is the literature of societal collapse. This alone would bring it within the purview of mindful ecology which is concerned with how people are reacting to the age of limits. That it is in the news daily only adds another good reason to take a look. But beyond these there is the elephant in the room, the specific detail that fits hand to glove within these Faustian times. Or so, at least, it seems to me.

Before adding my own two cents for how we might think about these symbols, let’s take a step back and look at the larger Biblical picture. The most defining feature is how time is being characterized as having a clear beginning and end. History is being presented as a linear progression throughout, with each event corresponding to some hidden purpose. The earth is presented as a type of backdrop or theatrical stage scene in which the real drama, the drama of souls, plays out. It is worth pointing out in passing that although this model of time has played a fundamental role in western thought it is not the only viable model nor does it correspond to what we know about relativity in physics. An earlier post mentioned an alternative in which the present moment outflows endlessly, like the center point of a mandala. Interestingly the culmination of celestial visions in the Christian Bible is also presented in a mandala form.

Recognizing this linear model of time it is not difficult to see how the Biblical symbolism lends itself to the mystical insight, the esoteric point of view. We find the symbolism relating very directly to the experiences of the ego. The western stories, more so than those of the east, take the ego on its own terms and spin out the consequences. The mind comes into awareness at some moment in early childhood we do not recall. The soft nurturance of infantile innocence and dependency gives way to struggle and toil as we enter childhood and adolescence and work out for ourselves what lights we will live by, what strikes us as good and ill. Garden of Eden story: check. At the other end of life we face our demise and with our death comes the end of the world – for us. Book of Revelation story: check.

Notice how the mystical reading moves these things from some far off and abstract dogmatic assertions about how the universe is and bring them as close to us as our breath. Though the mystic is typically considered to be rather head in the clouds and pie in the sky types, here we see something extraordinary; it is they who stick with the evident; grounding speculations in experiences rather empirically. Something similar was found when we examined ‘cold reason’ and found that without emotion being properly involved, reason goes off the tracks. Here we are finding that without personal experience to add wisdom to these stories, we all too easily end up with compassionless dogmas and holy wars.

From this wider view another feature of the Biblical symbolism stands out running parallel to the shape of time. That is how these stories imply that the experiences of history’s nightmare somehow all make sense in light of some final revelation. This special revelation has inspired Gnostics of every stripe in every generation. This is where the myth of Faust finds its roots in Christian cultures and it should come as no surprise that such cultures have excelled in the sciences. In the book of Revelation the seals unfold and the trumpets blare and each time the reader is made privy to another event hidden from the beginning of the world. The western idea of progress captures this expectation that someday in the future a final, ultimate understanding will finally dawn and from it will come utopia.

Another feature the Book of Revelation lends itself to supporting is the idea that the real life of this life we experience exists elsewhere than where it appears. The book is constructed as a puzzle box, a set of nesting dolls where the reader is lead on into unfolding events with ever increasing anticipation of a final revelation. There are seven seals that are opened but the opening of the seventh reveals seven trumpets which blare, the seventh one of which, in turn, reveals the throne vision etc.

We are in the basement of the mind as it were, where the shape of what can or cannot be considered meaningful for us personally and collectively is molded. These major stories are like a tutor talking to us in the language we immediately perceive, the language of dreams.

Which brings us back to the phenomenon of splitting Jung observed. It has become cliché to speak of self-fulfilling prophecies when discussing the Apocalypse. I suggest the splitting phenomenon adds weight to this insight by lending it a nuance that makes it a helpful heuristic by which we might comprehend the nature of the changes our societies are going through today. It is not just that we are unconsciously seeking out an Armageddon level of confrontation with the infidels – though we are – but also that we are turning our worship to the dark trinity as well. It is not just that we are idiots conflating personal death with planetary death and both with ultimate culmination of righteousness (immanentize the eschaton!), though this too is in play. What splitting suggests is that we are also struggling to grow into a new awareness. I think culturally we are somewhat like the child who wants to leave their parent’s dogmatic religion to experience something more valid and real for themselves.

Just what this awareness might be only our descendants will be able to identify with certainty but an examination of the symbolism involved can provide us with clues. It seems to be related to empires, trade and economics; some lesson about sustainability perhaps.

The split in the Apocalypse occurs as a war in heaven and its spilling over to the earth. The God-Father, Christ-Son, and Holy Spirit collection finds its mirror image in the Dragon-Father, Whore-Daughter, and unholy beast (which is itself split).

Ecologically oriented as I am I cannot help but point out a few details I think are telling. It is my opinion that in general we human beings are not nearly as unconscious as we let on. We understand a lot more about our existential situation than we dare to admit within the very limited confines of our everyday waking consciousness. One of the ways I see this manifesting is in the care with which we have crafted the neoliberal globalization message to fit so well with the apocalyptic symbolism. Here in the basement of the mind…

Babylon is the central player here just as Christ is in the corresponding light trinity. The book does not say that much about Babylon but it is enough to be recognizable:

  • Her doctrine is that of the anti-Christ: anti-compassion aka selfishness
  • All the nations of the earth are made to trade with her, in case you thought gun-boat diplomacy was something new
  • “Merchants of the earth grew rich trading in her desire for luxury” or what the King James Version calls “delicacies.” This is not globalization to spread well crafted necessities to as many people as possible but to adorn the one percent with baubles
  • “The kings of the earth fornicate with her.” Sex sells. And we have already looked at the incestuous pyramids of kingly hierarchy where the revolving door between say, politicians and armament manufacturers still spins

Babylon seems made to order as the poster child for the fossil fueled, globalized, industrial civilization, the consumer culture it sustains, and the neoliberalism by which it justifies itself. Now isn’t that an odd thing for a (formerly?) Christian culture to do? As if a splitting phenomenon is unfolding on a massive scale as the eons turn…

Half of all Americans think climate change is a sign of the end times. I quoted an article earlier about how young Muslims are joining ISIS because they think by doing so they will participate in the final battle of Armageddon. There is no escaping how all this is bundled together in our intellectual history. We have turned to the dark side to receive our revelation. I wonder what it is going to be. How much further do we need to go in molding events to confirm our beliefs?

Here is my two cents about what the story in the Book of Revelation means; it’s like an inside view of the resurrected life, life beyond robots. It is a rather simple message really, involving the mystery of ever-present time:

The war is over – the good guys won. The Apocalypse has been cancelled.

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