Collective Response from Lee

Hi everyone,

We’re off to a great start with these first posts. This time I am going to write a collective response rather than commenting on individual ones, and I hope each of you will continue to read each others’ posts and respond to them here and of course in class. So far, Kaitlyn has led the way in comments. She wrote her post first, actually, and sent me a copy of it because the server was down and she couldn’t post it until later.

Although there are many intriguing strands of thought that we will pursue further in discussion, for now, three main inter-related themes emerge as key to this set of posts: the question of authenticity of the Book of Revelation, Revelation as a fear-mongering text, and representation of the body within apocalyptic belief. Whitney has posed the first astutely thus: “how is the value and credibility of a religious text maintained?” As we will see with the remaining chapters from Kirsch, this entails numerous clashes of power, including bloodbaths that seem to emulate Revelation’s descriptions. It also, however, entails less visible forms of power relations that entice followers—at times, Revelation’s revenge fantasy has functioned as a supreme inducement to join a specific group of true believers, both establishment and anti-establishment. Aparna takes this question up and provides a useful way to divide the question into three levels of inquiry: 1. how an author establishes him or herself as a true visionary/prophet; 2. how institutions establish authenticity; and 3. how multiple uses and effects of 1 and 2 have occurred historically.

Concern about these three lines of thought is paramount to the posts by Colby, Emily, Ariela, and Ilirjan, although from differing angles of vision. At times, these may blur together more than they should. Here I would like everyone to think about differences and similarities between propaganda and proselytizing. Also, is it necessary, as I think Ilirjan argues, to assume a conspiracy at work in a text like Revelation? (And don’t forget, no “s” on the end—it’s a single revelation.) Colby’s point about a diminished sense of personal agency and a counter to social change is both cause and effect.

In regard to issues surrounding bodily representation, Joe’s discussion of the purified body as the one best suited for heavenly reward continues to be a key issue within apocalyptic thought to this day. How one defines purity has altered over time, which allows us to grasp some of the changes of culture historically as well. In John’s day, there was certainly a gender dualism at work, with male bodies seen as superior to female bodies. The issue of sexuality for the sake of reproduction was a vital element. Reproduction isn’t necessary if the endtime is truly “coming soon” as Jesus reveals to John. On the other hand, if one believes that it may be delayed for a while and that the earth should be populated by more godly people, then it makes more sense to reproduce a lot, which we see as a principle in many denominations. A chaste version of heteronormative sexuality is one of the main themes in much contemporary religious discourse. Again, the apocalyptic version is always the most visible, but other forms also incorporate such views. Kaitlyn’s focus on zombie bodies is also a contemporary variation on the apocalyptic body—but it is more of an inverse apocalypse, since the undead are like the chosen elect, only decayed and impure rather than transcendent and pure. A final note—Springsteen uses lots of images and phrases from the Book of Revelation, so Stephen King’s borrowing from the Boss is also from the Big Boss.

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