Sunday, January 15, 2017

No Need to Drown in a Sea of PC

It was entirely foreseeable, but unavoidable nevertheless. The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads.

The sad thing is that it is all a mirage of their own manufacture. Political correctness is the ultimate vanity of the self. The self presumes to judge others as unworthy of it, or as threatening to it, or even as indebted to it -- in other words, political correctness builds up the self at the expense of the other. Ask yourself: just who is it who makes the determination of what is and is not "correct"?

The phenomenon is the prime example of what Elias Canetti described in 1960 in Crowds and Power:
A man stands by himself on a secure and well defined spot, his every gesture asserting his right to keep others at a distance. He stands there like a windmill on an enormous plain, moving expressively; and there is nothing between him and the next mill. All life, so far as he knows it, is laid out in distances — the house in which he shuts himself and his property, the positions he holds, the rank he desires — all these serve to create distances, to confirm and extend them....

These hierarchies … exist everywhere and everywhere gain a decisive hold on men’s minds and determine their behavior to each other. But the satisfaction of being higher in rank than others does not compensate for the loss of freedom of movement. Man petrifies and darkens in the distances he has created. He drags at the burden of them, but cannot move. He forgets that it is self-inflicted, and longs for liberation. But how, alone, can he free himself?
(My emphasis added.) How, indeed? Canetti's insight was that in such individual acts of discrimination, and in the psychological, self-induced fears that they generate, crowds have both their genesis and their reason for existing:
Only together can men free themselves from their burdens of distance; and this, precisely, is what happens in a crowd… Each man is as near the other as he is to himself; and an immense feeling of relief ensues. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no-one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd.
So it is with political correctness. An individual's fear of being viewed as "different", or as a victim, or as inferior, weak or helpless, dissolves when that individual can link up with others of like mind and form a crowd which possesses the collective power of their groupthink: they can express a condemnation of the source of their fears that has the illusion of being well-nigh universal. "Everyone agrees that ...  " "No one would ever be so cruel as to think that ..."

Despite the seeming power of a crowd, it is ephemeral and illusory. So long as it has a defined direction, it can continue to grow. But if it splinters into groups headed in different directions, or meets an insurmountable barrier, it breaks up, dissolves, and loses its apparent collective force.

And that is what we are witnessing in the aftermath of the election. The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction -- which is supplied by a leader.

As the successful candidate has demonstrated time and again, the best defense against political correctness is to refuse to play along with its illusory power -- indeed, to do the very opposite of what it "commands" in any given instance. By saying and showing that the emperor has no clothes, the bubble of the illusion is popped, and sober reality steps in.

But it is not enough just to prick the balloon of political correctness. The reality that replaces it has to be a genuine reality, or else it, too, will devolve into just another variety of PC miasma. And to be genuine, that reality has to be experienced as having its own integrity -- as possessing an inherent guiding force that derives from its goals, and from the means employed to achieve them.

Such a reality has been but dimly encapsulated in the campaign slogan "Make America great again." It needs to be fleshed out with concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions that are designed once more (as they were at the country's outset) to foster American exceptionalism, in order to allow both Americans and others to be comfortable with a world leader that seeks no one's subjugation, no territorial conquests, and no applications of force save in the defense of America herself, or of her allies.

We are not there yet. Such a program has not yet taken discrete form.

But there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made -- is being made as I write -- and that, with God's grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

And in the meantime, it will not hurt to pray for those currently drowning in the sea of their own political correctness: that they may shake off their self-absorption and fear, and emerge onto the firm, dry land of an America that could put them to good purpose as well.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The End Times in Jesus' Own Words - Pt. IV

On this last day of Advent season, it is fitting to conclude this series with a post on the second coming, or parousia, of Jesus. We begin with a short review of the points Jesus made in his discourse to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in the last week of his earthly life -- the clues to when it would happen (of which the first point below is the most important):

  • “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36 ESV)
  • “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.” (Matthew 24:15-18 ESV) [Note: This and other clues referred to in the two previous posts on the Great Tribulation indicate that there will first have to be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.]
  • “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:11-12 ESV)
  • “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 ESV) [Compare Rev 14:6: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”]
  • Jesus then makes clear that He will come again, in glory, at the end of the times of tribulation described so vividly in John's retelling of the vision Jesus gave him in the Book of Revelation (Matthew 24:29-30 ESV, with my emphasis added):
    Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 
    This event will happen, however, very suddenly: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27 ESV) Compare the elements of Jesus’ description of his parousia with the John’s description of the events following the breaking of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17 ESV):
    When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
    Compare also these passages with those in the Old Testament -- starting with the ancient words of the prophet Joel:
    The Day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-2, 3:14-16 ESV) 
     Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
    Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
    For the day of the LORD is near
    in the valley of decision.
    The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

    The LORD roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
    But the LORD is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel.
    (See also the other OT “Day of the LORD” passages -- Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:7, 14-18, Ezek. 30:3, Obad. 15, and Mal. 4:5 referenced on pp. 7-8 of the second downloaded handout for this series.)

    In John’s Book of Revelation, this “Day of the LORD” commences with the blowing of the last (seventh) shofar, which is the signal for the seven angels to empty their seven bowls of the wrath of God upon the unbelievers who have survived all the wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues and other catastrophes up to that point (Rev 11:15-19, and ch. 16).

    This time there will be no survivors. All who refuse to repent undergo the most disastrous calamities, cursing God the whole time, until at the end they are slain by the Lord Himself at his triumphant second coming, to become carrion food for all the remaining birds of the earth. The Beast and his False Prophet, who led the unbelievers into resistance, are cast into the everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 19:17-21 ESV):
    Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.  
    It is a terrifying finish to such an awful Tribulation. Jesus makes clear, however, that those who have remained alive and faithful to him up to that point will be spared what the unbelievers go through, in words that follow immediately after those quoted above as Mt 24:29-30. For in Mt 24:31, Jesus says (my emphasis):
    And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
    There is your “Rapture” -- notice how it dovetails neatly with Paul's description of the same event in 1 Cor. 15:51-52 (my emphasis again):
    Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
    See also Paul's description of the Rapture in 1 Th. 4:14-17, quoted in the third post of this series. It, too, dovetails with the passages just quoted.

    Jesus and Paul both tell us, therefore, that the part of the Tribulation which Christian believers will be spared is its final days, when God's wrath spills out upon those left on earth. There is no warrant, as I have pointed out in describing the many passages that refer to the deaths of believers during the days of the Antichrist and his False Prophet, and the rewards which those who die for their faith will receive in heaven, for assuming that Christians will be raptured before the Great Tribulation begins.

    To teach otherwise, I submit, is to become one of those “many false prophets [who] will arise and lead many astray,” as Jesus predicts in Mt 24:11. Moreover, such a false assurance, when it proves to be untrue, may well be the occasion for the “falling away” of many believers predicted for the start of the Tribulation in Mt 24:10. (If, on the other hand, I am wrong in my reading of the passages about the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation, then at least it will not matter -- Christians will be saved before having to undergo any of the Tribulation! But the same is not true the other way around.)

    Chapter 20 of John’s Book of Revelation is our only source for the events that will take place after Jesus’ parousia (Rev 20 ESV):
    Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 
    Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. 
    And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
    The final part of John's vision, recorded at the Messiah’s own command, describes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1-8 ESV):
    Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 
    And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
    And thus we conclude this series of posts covering the End Times, as related in his own words by Jesus to his disciples, and as shown by Him to his faithful servant, John (Rev 22:20):
    He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” 
    With John, we may therefore say in closing: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

    A blessed and merry Christmas to you all.

    Thursday, December 22, 2016

    The End Times in Jesus' Own Words - Pt. III.B

    B. The “Great Tribulation” - Other Perspectives from the Bible

    In the previous post in this series, we examined what Jesus had to say about what he called “the Great Tribulation” in Mt 24:21 -- a time in the future “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” [Greek: eos tou nun oud’/kai ou me genetai]. We observed that based on the events to date in recorded history, these words could not be interpreted as having been fulfilled at some point before the present. Such a time of trial and tribulation, if Jesus’ prophecy is correct, would have to belong to the future.

    In this post, I want to demonstrate from other sources in the Bible that Jesus was not taking liberties with Old Testament scripture, or going out on a limb, when he foretold the time of the “Great Tribulation.” (To follow the discussion below, you should have before you the second handout downloaded from the link in the previous post; if you have not yet downloaded it [a .pdf file], you may do so here.)

    Most scholars agree that this time of great tribulation, which Jesus says will occur shortly before He appears in glory at his second coming (Greek: parousia), can be identified with the “time of Jacob’s troubles” spoken of by various authors in the Old Testament (see page 4 of the second handout linked above). I will not go into the details, but in reading these passages (Jer. 30:7, Dan. 12:1-4, Zech. 14:1-2) anyone should be able to see the degree to which they support Jesus’ description given earlier.

    The principal Biblical testimony as to the horror of the “Great Tribulation”, however, comes from the last book of the Bible. Often referred to mistakenly as “the Revelation of St. John the Divine,” as the King James version titles it, its proper title when translated from the Greek is: “The Revelation of Jesus the Messiah to John.” Thus the things revealed in this book stem from Jesus the Messiah; John is the amanuensis.

    There is much, however, that can confuse the present-day reader of Revelation -- it is a style of writing called “apocalyptic literature” which has no parallel anywhere else in the New Testament. (The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek ἀποκαλύπτω [apokalypto], a verb which carries the meaning of “to disclose, uncover, make known; reveal”.) The hallmark of apocalyptic writing is an abundance of vivid imagery, visions and fantastical descriptions -- something akin to how one would describe a dream that one felt was prophetic, yet whose meaning went beyond our ordinary understanding.

    Revelation is perhaps the one book in the Bible that gains most in our understanding by being read and listened to aloud. Like the famous radio script of Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds, the  words, symbols and events as narrated stimulate our imaginations and mental abilities as no other part of the Bible can, even to the point of overwhelming our ability to synthesize the whole of it -- and hence leaving us uncertain and confused by what the author intended to convey.

    The key to making sense of such writing is to realize that it presents a narrative that is not linear -- from one event to the next, in a rational, chronological sequence -- but rather is cyclical in character, in the form of an ever-widening spiral. There are many objects and events presented in groups of seven (the lampstands, the churches, the seals on the scroll, the angels, the trumpets, the bowls of wrath), and these form the basis for the structural cycles around which the book presents its message of how the End Times unfold, on all levels at once.

    Thus John was not describing End Times events from a single vantage point. He constantly shifts his perspective from that of earth to that of heaven and back again. Things that he narrates as happening on earth have simultaneous parallels in heaven, but the two tracks are circular instead of linear. They keep looping back on themselves, and instead of returning to the same point, each cycle takes us to a new level of intensified distress, calamity and destruction that leads inevitably to the final replacement of heaven and earth by a whole new creation. In each cycle John presents to us, it is the seventh and final stage that is either the climax of what came before, or else the transition to the next level of upwardly spiraling intensity. I shall try to illustrate these points in the discussion that follows.

    The handout linked above presents (pp. 4-6) most of the text of Revelation chapters six through nine, parts which in my opinion depict and corroborate principal elements of the Great Tribulation that Jesus described in much more abbreviated fashion to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse of the synoptic Gospels (reviewed in the three earlier posts in this series). The excerpts begin with the unsealing of the scroll, and continue up to the point of the blowing of the last (seventh) trumpet.

    The text is presented without chapter and verse numbers so that the reader may experience its impact  as a verbal whole, whether as read aloud or internally. I suggest you read it through aloud to yourself (or others, as well) before starting on the commentary that follows. It will also help to review the corresponding passages from the Olivet Discourse that precede it, on pages 1 through 3 of the second handout.

    The apocalyptic cycles that we encounter in this reading are the unfolding of the End Times scroll in heaven, as Jesus Christ (the Lamb who alone is worthy to do so) breaks its seven seals, with each unsealing followed by a calamity on earth. The breaking of the seventh seal takes us to a new level of intensified events and the start of a new apocalyptic cycle -- the seven angels who are each to blow a shofar, a ceremonial rams-horn trumpet. These in turn generate another series of woes on earth, up until the silence (in heaven) before the seventh angel sounds his shofar.

    Remember, as one would experience things in a dream, these events are not occurring on a linear timescale. What is more important to John's vision is that he experiences them on many planes and dimensions all at once, but he can narrate them only sequentially, as they come to his memory in the retelling of what Jesus Christ and the heavenly angels revealed to him. The key to understanding his presentation is, as I say, appreciating how the various cycles of events overlap and interrelate.

    The groups of seven also may be analyzed (if it seems helpful) into a group first of four, then of three. Thus with the breaking of the scroll's seven seals, the first four correspond to the celebrated “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, which I submit signify the events Jesus described (Mt 24:8) as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” The first two horsemen bring conquest and war (“wars and rumors of wars” in Mt 24:6), while the second two bring famine and death (“plagues and famines” in Lk 21:11).

    With the breaking of the fifth seal, the scene shifts suddenly from earth to heaven, and we see all “the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given.” These correspond to the passages in Mt 24:9-10, Mk 13:9 and 11, and Lk 21:12-16, in which Jesus warns that his followers will suffer betrayal and death on account of the testimony they give of their faith.

    I omit discussion of the sixth seal in this cycle, because it parallels the “Day of the Lord” texts which I propose to address in my next post. As is characteristic of the events toward the end of a given cycle, they serve as a ramp to the next level in the increasing spiral of intensity. In this case also, the breaking of the seventh seal provides the transition to the next group of seven calamities, as the seven angels “who stand in God’s presence” prepare to take up their trumpets.

    With each blast of a trumpet, the tribulations on earth intensify. Apart from the the “great signs and wonders” of Mt 24:24 and the flashes of lightning in Lk 17:24, John’s imagery here goes beyond what Jesus gave specifically in his Olivet Discourse, although He described it in Mk 13:19 more generally as “a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.”

    As with the seals, so the first four trumpets relate to terrible physical calamities occurring on earth. The fifth trumpet involves a shift of scene -- from earth not to heaven this time, but to the Abyss, from which smoke and hordes of stinging locusts come forth. The sixth trumpet presages, as we shall see, the Day of the Lord again, and the seventh trumpet ramps us up to the next level of intensity: the seven bowls of God’s wrath, poured out in judgment on those remaining unrepentant on earth:
    The rest of the people who survived these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands or stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. They did not repent of their murders, their deeds of witchcraft, their acts of sexual immorality, or their thefts.
    Beginning with his text in what we know as chapter 10, John mingles images of the heavenly and earthly events surrounding the parousia of the Messiah with the earlier events preceding it. Thus in Rev 10:6-7 the angel “standing on the sea and the land” announces:
    … there will be no more delay; on the contrary, in the days of the sound from the seventh angel when he sounds his shofar, the hidden plan of God will be brought to completion, the Good News as he proclaimed it to his servants the Prophets. 
    But in chapter 11, John shows the outer court of the Temple still in the possession of Gentiles as the two witnesses God has sent to convert and punish them are given 1,260 days in which to accomplish their mission. We are again in the days of the Great Tribulation, in which the two beasts (elsewhere called the Antichrist and the False Prophet) make their appearance, slay the two witnesses, and then have a final 1,260 days to impose their degradations (including the “mark of the beast”) on mankind and their defilements upon the Temple (ch. 13).

    Chapter 14 again contains a description of the events immediately preceding the parousia, including a total destruction of Jerusalem, “Babylon the great” (identified as Jerusalem in Rev 11:2 and 8) -- which has become polluted entirely with the sacrileges and desecrations committed in the final days of the Great Tribulation, including the murder of tens of thousands of those who remained faithful unto death, to receive their reward in heaven. (See Rev. 6:11, and 13:10 [“This is when God's holy people must persevere and trust!”].)

    Note (for those who believe the Rapture will take place before any of the faithful have to suffer through the Tribulation) how many of God's faithful elect are described as meeting their mortal deaths on earth during these final days. It is difficult to read any kind of dispensation for Christians into all of these passages -- and wait until we consider Jesus’ own words about the Rapture in the next post.

    These events with the two beasts and Babylon, keep in mind, are best read as an overlay on those already described above, associated with the seals and the trumpets. They are all happening in parallel, although John describes them (as he has to) in separate passages of his book (remember: chapters and verse numbers came much later; the original had neither, like the excerpts given in the handout).

    In such a tumult of catastrophic images, it can be difficult to draw precise parallels, or establish a definitive timeline. But that is not the point. Unlike the authors of the Gospels, John in Revelation is not giving us a narrative of events, but more of a kaleidoscope of what he saw and heard all at once in the vision Jesus gave him of the final days. The emphasis is on the sheer magnitude of the horrors that befall the unrepentant and the stiff-necked, even as those horrors multiply and intensify around them. John contrasts those images with the beatific faithfulness, even unto death, of Jesus’ followers, and the blessed and joyous reception that constitutes their reward in heaven.

    The next and final post in this series will focus on the terrifying “Day of the Lord” as foretold in the Old Testament, and the parousia as Jesus describes it to his disciples, and shows it to John in his vision.