New world coming:
Apocalypse, then & now
'The enemy is no longer outside us but within us. Global capitalism won the cold war in the short term but in the long term has the unrestrained greed of our own consumerism become a force beyond our control and will it lead to our self-destruction?'
- Prof Stephen Oliver Beasley-Murray
The original study course, ‘New World Coming’, was designed over a period of two years in the mid-1980’s for the mandatory ‘Major Biblical Themes’ class, a required course for all students graduating from the private American Liberal Arts college which at that point was in the middle of transforming itself to become the publicly funded Hong Kong Baptist University of today.
Most students had little interest in religion, looked to the secular West for its values but had wholly imbibed Chinese cultural traditions to the core of their very being. They happily lived out of the contradictions of East and West. They felt the differences were so great as to be immiscible like oil and water; to some degree sought to understand them but mostly were intent on surviving school and working hard so as to succeed in their future careers. On the mind of everyone, however, was the return of Hong Kong to Communist China, the ending of the 100 year lease imposed by Imperial Britain on nineteenth century China. It was exciting but there was also trepidation, what would it be like to live under Communist rule? The cold war was still being waged and the fear of nuclear holocaust was always present in the back of everyone’s mind. On top of that, no one could avoid the misery of overpopulation and pollution of every kind - air, noise, water, soil and the filth of the surrounding sea. Given these factors, the multi-cultural context, the impending political and constitutional crises and the unavoidable ugliness of environmental degradation, it seemed to me that an entirely different approach to teaching this course was needed. Biblical text was selected, organised and presented in such a way that its major themes could naturally generate critical questioning relating to the bible’s own overarching theme: a ‘New world coming’, for which students would be required to think up answers; answers given in the context of their life and times.
Looking back twenty-five years later, the project now seems quaint because the problems those days pale compared to the global problems of the third millennium. The issues now are sheer survival and urgently concern the whole human family. The question is not about making the world a better place but will we change our ways in time to avert appalling environmental disasters, catastrophic death and suffering of a kind we can only begin to imagine? The enemy is no longer outside us but within us. Global capitalism won the cold war in the short term but in the long term has the unrestrained greed of our own consumerism become a force beyond our control and will it lead to our self-destruction? Pax Americana fragments as China rises to become a superpower; Latin America breaks free to become an independent power block, and the Middle East along with Africa continue to be the theatre of Imperial ventures for oil and mineral resources. The cast of characters and mythic animals in a computer animation of the Book of Revelation have now begun to look strangely like characters in the globalisation drama of our times. The intent of the book of Revelation is the concern of this book, the struggle to find hope in a time of overwhelming hopelessness. Beyond that though, biblical apocalyptic imagery is also questioned as to whether it is not a symptom of our problem rather than a source of the solution. For example, biblical apocalypse presupposes the Zoroastrian dualistic world view, the forces of dark waging against the forces of light. Its heroes are male and its archetype of evil is woman, the temptress and whore of Babylon, though there is an allusion to Mary as the queen of heaven riding on the moon. Idolaters are vermin to be exterminated. The apocalypse assumes that the Mediterranean is the middle of the world. It knows nothing of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and nothing of Science and the world of the computer-video-twitter- telephone technological revolution. It knows nothing of the critique of theism as it occurs in the West and simply ridicules atheism (unlike the Orient). Though the images of apocalypse are what fascinate, unfortunately it is in its images where its most serious problems lie.
Although the redemptive hero of the Book of Revelation is the ‘Blood of the Lamb that has been slaughtered’, the connection to Jesus the Nazarene in its imagination is obtuse. The image of the armies of Jesus blowing up and torturing the enemy smacks more of the American military in the Middle East than of a nonviolent revolutionary of love from Nazareth. Apocalyptic imagery is a prisoner and offspring of the culture of patriarchy. It tends to monotheism but despite its abhorrence of images of the divine, the images of polytheism pale in comparison. Holiness is imaged in literal forces of destruction and war; God is imaged as Super Male; the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the epitome of domination and brute power, the jealous owner of woman; the silenced and passive woman wholly at the mercy of a male. Its images of sacredness are those of holiness abstracted from nature and flesh. Sin is a synonym for sex and sensuality. The search for an understanding of evil, the source our undoing, is a focus of this study and in the conclusion a reflection is given using the text to explain this, but it will be a deeper understanding than the simplistic dualism found in the Apocalypse.
The vital importance of this study course is its invitation to re-image what it means to bring about a better world and urgently address the crises of our time that have become apocalyptic in nature. The task is one in which the whole of our human family (people of any religion or none) are invited to participate because it is our problem (it must not be projected onto the devil!) and only we together as a loving family can use this crisis as an opportunity for creating a new age, one in which the human family lives together with mutual respect. War and violence must be rejected as a way to solve problems and mother earth loved and respected along with all her biomes and all her creatures.