Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mystery Babylon

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.
And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
-Gen 6:1-8 (NKJV)

The "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" have raised many questions with some claiming that it represents the interbreeding of angels and men. My point in this post is not to go into that debate except to make a short case for a fully human explanation, and use it to shed light on what the Scripture means when it talks about Mystery Babylon. I am going to be approaching the Scripture from a traditional inerrantist framework as I discuss this issue, despite any misgivings I have about that whole topic at the moment.
An immediately relevant passage to the whole identity of the "sons of God" is found in Matthew 22:25-30, where Christ tells us that the angels do not marry. This indicates that angels are sexless beings and thus incapable of such relations with humans. Additionally, God calls them "flesh" in verse 3 of Genesis 6.
In verse 4, the Hebrew word for giants is indicative of someone with great stature. This seems to be descriptive of the children of the sons of god who were "men of renown." These giants or "Nephilim," as the Hebrew may be transliterated (see NIV and NRSV), were such not so much in the sense of their physical stature (although they may have been) but of their social stature.
The situation being described is best explained by an article from Associates for Biblical Research titled "Who Were the Sons of God in Genesis 6?" The solution proposed there indicates that these "sons of God" actually references a system of divine kingship where earthly rulers legitimize their standing and activity through collusion with preists and general manipulation of religion:

"Clever men (priest-nobles) manipulated the populace’s religious instincts to cause them to follow and obey the local god’s “son.” He owned the people and land, in theory at least. And he acted either as god (in Egypt), or as his representative (in Mesopotamia and other cultures). When all the literature and monuments were used to glorify and exalt this man as the son, or representative, of god, religion became the opiate (binder and blinder) of the people! Manipulation of religion for political purposes began in Sumer, was picked up in Akkad (Old Babylon), revised with the same themes in Assyria and Neo-Babylonia, was enjoyed by Persian monarchs, captivated Alexander and his successors (Antiochus “Epiphanus” means “the revelation of god”), and was copied by Rome. (It is even found in Africa, the Far East, and the Americas.)
"'There would be nothing extraordinary in a worldwide diffusion of divine kingship: the doctrine evidently has exercised a great fascination over the human mind. Greece and Rome shook it off in their youth, but returned to it in their old age. When Alexander claimed to be the son of Zeus he was merely continuing, reviving, or borrowing from the East an ancient belief that the first-born of the king was really the son of a god who had assumed bodily form in order to lie with the Queen, a belief which was current in Egypt under the Early Dynasties of the Empire, if not earlier. The later Romans had to accept the divinity of kings with their empire...Having thus re-established their sway over Western Europe the divine kings of the world did not again surrender it except to another Divine King, a Spiritual King, incarnated once for all in order ever after to rule over the souls of men' (Hocart 1927: 15–16).
"This is most interesting when one recalls that Nebuchadnezzar (a “divine” emperor whose name may mean “Nebo has protected the succession-rights”) had a vision in which kingdoms having divine kingship were finally smashed by the kingdom of Christ, the true King who was truly Divine (Dn 2)."

You may recall the dream in Daniel 2 that prophesied five kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and one last kingdom. Each of the first four kingdoms was characterized by a cult of divine kingship. The last kingdom at its destruction will be characterized by the same thing. This is WHY the kingdom of the Antichrist is referred to as Mystery Babylon, as it follows in the grand tradition of claiming divine headship and blessing.
The Antichrist truly is a figure that is a counterfeit Christ, setting himself up as a son of God in the tradition of Genesis 6 and Babylon.

The lesson is to be truly wary of any religious or spiritual justification for political entities or activities. More generally, we are warned about the dangers of integrating church and state. Truly in America, that group that is known as the religious right is playing with fire and imbibing of the spirit of Mystery Babylon.

I personally stand against all recognition of political realities in the church, be it advocating for a candidate, promoting political change, opening up the church as a voting location, or even commemorating July 4th or any other patriotic event. I prefer to not even see an American flag in the church building.

Taking the discussion in a little different direction, I find it interesting in the article where it discusses religion as the opiate of the people. This reminds us of Marx's evaluation of religion. Marx's distaste for religion appears primarily grounded in the historical reality of divine kingship, whereby the political rulers of this world utilize religion to maintain their power and oppress the common man. The honest Christian cannot deny that this is this case with religion. It is enough to make one want to give up on religion entirely ...especially in 2011 America where the religious right and the Tea Party are on the march against dozens of supposed "bogeymen" like Obama, healthcare reform, taxes on the rich, gays in the military, etc. If this is Christianity then I want no part of it.

If we take the futurist view that the end times are coming in the future, how is it that our modern, enlightened society moves from social democracy to a place where it will once again accept some idea of divine kingship? Will this divine kingship utilize some co-opted form of Christianity?

It is tempting but I must resist the temptation to see America's religious right as the precursor to Mystery Babylon. Certainly it is wrong-headed and abominable, and something that Christians must refrain from being a part of. However I am convinced that any coming Antichrist figure will be atheistic. Daniel describes his god as a "god of forces," suggesting some naturalistic spirituality.

The current world economic crisis is setting this stage for resource wars and armed conflict. On the other side of these things lay a new, improved world that will have nothing to do with the old order of things. I believe the American christian religious right is setting the stage for its ultimate destruction, and all of Christianity will be caught in its wake. Our society will continue to modernize and progress away from religion in general. Christianity may come to be viewed as the primary contributor to an upcoming world crisis. In fact, the strong alliance between Christianity and unfettered capitalism (Tea Party, etc.) is setting the stage through which both capitalism AND Christianity will become hated relics of the past.