Revelations and materialism

I finished reading through Revelations yesterday. 

I share these observations with a bit of hesitation.  It was recently pointed out to me that Revelations contains the instruction to neither add nor take away from itself.  It also contains the promise that we benefit simply be reading the book.

Clearly, the conclusion is that we add to read more and interpret less.  In a way, our interpretations can become a sort-of adding to the text. 

So please take my suggestions with a grain of salt.  It’d be better to read scripture than read my blog.  But seriously?  You already new that.

The thing that struck me is that you don’t have to work very hard or look very deeply for distrubution of wealth and capitalist greed to become a central theme of Revelations.

So much has been made of the number of the beast.  Above all else, it seems to me a license to participate in the world’s economy.    Chapter 13 says: 

“He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. “

When things are ugliest, Babylon falls.  Babylon seems to be a superpower.  But it’s not about military might, really:

For all the nations have drunk
      the maddening wine of her adulteries.
   The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
      and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Later, in Revelations, we get a list of these excessive luxuries: 

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
   ” ‘Woe! Woe, O great city,
      O Babylon, city of power!
   In one hour your doom has come!’

 11″The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men. ”

Not a single thing provided by Babylon was necessary for life.  It was all over-the-top.  Decadence.  As I look at the last few words, I wonder if the bodies and souls of men means slavery in the strict and obvious sense or if this might be a reference to the ways we get addicted to being pampered, the ways we, in our comfort, can forget looking after the widow and the orphan.

It seems a pretty astounding understanding of globalization.  There are even references to the mourning of those who shipped Babylons goods, and to the businessmen who made it all happen. 

I’m not here to say “Babylon is really _____” or “The world is happening at _____.”  Really, what I’m trying to say is that materialism is identified as an evil in scripture.  Having a surplus when others do not have enough is seen as a wrong.  We will weep when Babylon falls, but Babylon must fall before God’s kingdom can come.