I’m still in the process of exploring what it means to me to be a “cultural Catholic” in the way that some of my friends are “cultural Jews:” I like the art, dig (some of) the traditions, but don’t have any love for the outright insanity and bigotry of Mother Church. Rational materialism is too sterile and bland for me, and while I have a lot of appreciation for neo-Paganism, it feels contrived and precious sometimes.
So I’ve been messing around with reclaiming my Catholicism; or, rather, those parts of it which seem relevant and inspiring. The art, as I’ve said,and the architecture: a lot of cathedrals are AWESOME. The spooky mystery of the Tridentine Mass appeals to my love of ritual, the rosary and crucifix are powerful symbols to me, and the Calendar of Saints conveniently includes a lot of the pagan deities I venerated as a young hippie.
And let me just put it out there: the scary, eschatological Christianity of The Book of Revelation speaks to something within me… especially when given voice by someone like Johnny Cash.
Fortunately, a lot of work has been done by the exponents of teología de la liberación (liberation theology), the radical, outlaw movement started in Latin America in the 50s and 60s.They stress the “social gospel” in Jesus’ teachings, and were informed by Marxist thought in those bad old days of strongmen and United Fruit. Liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff and others developed an exegesis (interpretation) of Revelation as a liberatory text.
Think of the context in which “John the Revelator” wrote. Jerusalem had been destroyed and Judea was a Roman province. Jews (and Judeo-Christians like the Revelator) were dispersed, living as refugees in a Greco-Roman empire which held values that were alien to their way of life. Rather than a description of the end of the world, then, the fantastic imagery of the Apocalypse can be seen as God’s promise that the empire will fall. The liberation theology exegesis shows how the world of mid 20th-Century Latin America parallels Judea of the 1st: their way of life destroyed, a greedy empire (the Beast) ruling over all. In the words of the Chilean priest Pablo Richard Guzmán, “Revelation is not an isolated book, one belonging to a sectarian or desperate tiny group, but rather a universal book that pushes for radical reform in the church and a new way of being Christian in the world.”
The Beast of today? Rapacious, predatory capitalism, in all its guises: a profit-before-everything ethos which puts money ahead of people; the destruction of the living environment and the denial of the evidence of global climate change; the commoditization of food and of water. “And they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” (Rev. 13:4) “There is no alternative.” (Margaret Thatcher)
Lutheran pastor Barbara Rossing sees the great struggle not as the end of times, but as the beginning. “Instead of people going up,” she says of the Rapture, “it is God who descends.” This utopian dream is at the heart of the apocalyptic vision (from apokálypsis; “lifting of the veil”) of Revelation as liberation.