Monday, April 18, 2005

The Tribulations of "Revelations"

There's been a lot of buzz about NBC's mini-series "Revelations," a sort of mainstreamed version of the Left Behind novels. The Washington Post's TV critic Tom Shales pretty much buried the series as television drama. And in a more ideological corner of the media, The New Republic's TV critic Lee Siegel tauntingly suggested that this saga represented the secular cooptation, and potential taming, of the fundamentalism so rampant in U.S. politics in recent years.

I'm prejudiced on this subject, being sympathetic to Martin Luther's view that the Revelation of St. John should be expelled from the canon of Holy Scripture as "fundamentally un-Christian." And I've also been influenced by the New Testament scholars who tell us that Revelations was not a prophecy, but a classic apocalyptic text motivated by the incredible trauma of the Romans' destruction of the Second Temple, at a time when Christians had not definitively separated themselves from Judaism.

Still, the obvious fascination of American Christians with what can only be described as a predictive interpretation of Revelations is impossible to ignore.

I'm not sure at what point the premillenial theology of The End Times, with its antinomian interpretation of Western Christendom as actively Satanic, escaped its pentecostal and adventist ghetto and began to conquer ostensibly postmillenial Calvinist turf in the major fundamentalist denominations, such as the Southern Baptists. Maybe it coincided with the decline of the confident, triumphalist Moral Majority and the rise of the pessimist, counter-revolutionary Christian Coalition, and more recenctly, its openly seditious cousin in the radio ministry of James Dobson.

Lee Siegel views "Revelations" as the potential beginning of a secularly-induced cooptation and corruption of militant Christian Fundamentalism. I personally view much of contemporary militant Christian Fundamentalism as secularly motivated in itself, a misuse of Holy Scripture, including Revelations, to support a secular cultural conservatism that has little to do with the Bible or with Christianity. And the premillenial trend among historically postmillenial denominations may simply represent this same process of secularization, without any help from popular culture.

Watch Revelations if you wish, but if you want to see a truly interesting presentation of premillenial theology set against the worst features of secular culture, rent a copy of The Rapture, Michael Tolkin's bizarre and fascinating 1991 film, featuring Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny, which alternates between graphic couple-swapping sex and a very literal depiction of the The Tribulations, with a morally and theologically challenging twist at the very end.
-- Posted at 10:44 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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