First, A Note
Before I delve into something that’s gonna look a lot like religious eschatology, I want to state that I am quite consciously and deliberately projecting my own ecological worldview onto a text that was clearly intended for another time and place. I make no claim to special divine knowledge or to anything mystical in the text itself. My project is mythmaking and I consider everything I do with regards to biblical subjects a matter of creativity.
There are indeed a lot of parallels between the Bible’s apocalyptic texts and our current situation. I do not believe this is something mystical-magical however. I believe this works because we know, deep in our collective unconscious, that our impetus to empire can only lead to global collapse — it is the only logical outcome of a worldview that sees the natural world as something to be conquered, that is, destroyed. Revelation was written by a Jew to address the source of his oppression, the Roman Empire, to say something like: “You fools, just you wait, you will destroy yourselves.” We are the cultural heirs of the Roman Empire, and if we want to be conscious of what we are doing, it would behoove us to pay attention to what our critics have told us about ourselves over the millennia. Especially when that criticism comes to us in the form of our most sacred religious text.
The circumstances of our demise are unique, but follow the same pattern as fallen civilizations that went before us. I believe that we can, and should, pull what we can from our mythology so that we can orient ourselves within the context of rapid and radical changes.
Revelation 13 describes two beasts: a beast from the sea whom the entire world worships, and a beast from the earth (small “e” as in ground, soil, dirt) who performs “great signs” and deceives the entire world to worship the first beast. Christianist eschatology calls the first beast “the Antichrist” and the second beast “the false prophet,” imagining that these are literal individuals who are possessed by a literal devil.
I want to introduce two other verses that I think clarify this nonsense and make the “beast” symbolism potentially relevant. First, 1 Peter 5:8 (Amplified Bible):
Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.
Second, Ephesians 6:12 (Amplified Bible):
For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.
So the supposed “Antichrist” and “false prophet,” being evil, should match the descriptions of evil given elsewhere in the New Testament. The idea of a literal world king with a magician sidekick does not match the given descriptions. The “Antichrist” and the “false prophet” should instead be a despotic power that rules “this present darkness,” and that roams around like a lion in fierce hunger seeking whomever it might devour. Moreover, this despotic power must be firmly aligned against Elohim, a.k.a. Source, a.k.a. Nature (capital “N”).
Is there anything around that matches this description? Why indeed there is: cancer-stage global capitalism.
It is not a stretch to see that the description of the beast from the sea is also a description of global capitalism and its goal of total world domination. From Revelation 13:
The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea…. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority…. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”
[The beast] was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
It is also not a stretch to think of “the false prophet” as technology in the service of global capitalism. More from Revelation 13:
Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
The details of the symbolism are less important here than the spirit of the description — illusion and deception culminating in a worldwide economic system that coerces participation and “worship” of the first beast. Is our technology not an ongoing parade of “signs” — or as other translations say, “signs and wonders?” How often do we despair about ceaseless media lies, or speculate that capitalism is indeed like a religion? And is not all of it for the purpose of quarterly profits? Who can wage war against global capitalism?
All the symbolism here could be broken down to the atomic level and applied to every little thing in modern life. This is not my goal, nor do I think it is necessary (though it could be an interesting exercise). What I hope to demonstrate is that we are not without context, we’re not just swirling down the drain in a giant void of meaninglessness. Our mythology really does understand us and we can look to it for meaning as we sink deeper into the abyss.