Lesson 15: Truth and Revelation

The Lamb of GodThe Bible describes salvation as God’s attempt to save humanity from self-destruction and sees this, in part, as unveiling the truth that humans fail to discern. From beginning to end, two of the primary ways the scriptures explain our failure are that our violence and greed get in the way.

The prophet John attempted to unveil the truth for his own time and place by demonstrating that the economic and political systems of the Roman Empire were satanic. His treatment in Revelation got rather colorful as he compared the empire to a prostitute who sold her soul.

If you read the book intelligently (How’s that for the kind of self-promotion that cuts off discussion?), you see it was an attack on violence and greed. Christ was hailed as the slaughtered Lamb of God and the blood that appeared on him was always his own. Like him, his true followers were to use only non-violence: the Word of God, prayer, and their lives. The violence that pervaded the work was always the result of Rome’s actions. The main thesis of the book was that the other nations of the world would soon turn on Rome and bring her down with the same violence she practiced.

The nations would revolt, because Rome’s power was based on impoverishing the other nations of the world. One of the most telling images, almost always ignored for obvious reasons, was the multitude of ships bringing the wealth and resources from the other nations to the eternal city. In fact, the only ones pictured grieving her fall were the merchants who owned these ships. Listen to one of the most critical passages:

“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives. The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your dainties and your splendor are lost to you.” (Revelation 18)

Notice how well written and damning this passage was. Their souls longed for dainties and splendors so much that they sold human lives, not only slaves but their own souls as well. Isn’t it interesting that this biblical passage condemning slavery is never cited? I have always suspected this neglect is based on our refusal to acknowledge the evil of our underlying economic and political systems. We prefer to pretend the passages are about some silly off-in-the-future actions when God gets “them” not “us.”

The corollary of this basic thesis was that, knowing this truth, Christians should get out of Rome. My intention in last week’s lesson was along these lines, not necessarily getting out of the political and economic systems that are leading us to self- destruction, but at least correcting or replacing them. Most of those who responded got this, adding their own illustrations of power and greed trumping truth. Some, however, thought I was rehashing the presidential election, attempting to paint everyone with the same brush. They offered illustrations of people who acted generously and compassionately inside the system.

Of course, there are always good people. The point is the economic and political systems as they exist at the present time are self-destructive. When we act as if innovation and creativity are dependent only on each person selfishly going after the most power and money they can get, we sacrifice not only the souls of the weak who are never able to compete, by our own as well. I maintained the present radical separation of rich and poor is symptomatic of an obscene society, obscene even if the money might be the going rate, obscene whether it is given to an athlete, a hedge fund manager, a CEO, a former president, or anyone else, and that includes me. Gee, I was being nice; the Prophet John says it is satanic.

Again, acknowledging something as obscene or satanic is not name-calling in the sense of blaming another. It is pointing to the self-destructive nature of evil. From a biblical perspective, salvation lies in acknowledging the truth that is unveiled by God. That includes presently in addressing what Gunter Sachs regards as the basic ethical question of the 21st century, “How much is enough?” As we attempt to do this, we do well to remember John was right: Rome is long gone, God’s Word is still with us.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    Thanks for this, Fritz! Time for me to go back and re-read Revelation! Hopefully, with my parish!

    • Fritz says:

      This is right up your alley as it attests to the power of words. Rome tried to silence his spoken prophecies against the government by isolating him to Patmos. So he wrote down the prophecies, sent them by mail to his congregations, asked them to read them out loud, and presto: God speaks as if his prophet was in their midst. I remember one of the scholars I read suggested the only way to really understand them is to take your class into a darkened church and have someone read them from beginning to end in one sitting. I think it is one book that it is necessary to read with a good commentary, such as Krodel’s, so you can see all the references to Roman history and emperor worship.

  2. Fritz says:

    I wanted to share with you some of Lupe’s thoughts on truth. Notice especially the last section where she reports an international court has cleared her of the charges that had placed her in prison for standing for truth:

    I wrote a long thing about truth some weeks (or months?) ago, but ended up abandoning the effort, mainly because I got so wound up in my winding thought processes that my mind felt like a tangled skein of conceptual wool.

    Things have gotten so much worse now with a President in the US who thinks the truth is a disposable thing, replaceable and changeable at will, with “alternative facts”, and with demonstrably false-speaking authorities calling those who attempt to tell the truth or come close to it “liars”, so that true and false become one and the same commodity. Of course, our own President has nearly always thought so, and acted accordingly, but now he feels vindicated. Oh dear.

    And yet, they who lie, who do not respect truth and do it intentionally (politicians have always been on the side of malleability in factual speech), are not counting the cost to themselves (when they do tell the truth it carries the same negligible weight as their lies) or to society when falsehoods come to be seen as morally defensible in the pursuit of some personal or shared political or business goal.

    Asserting one’s own views as the truth and even the only truth when convenient is a practice with a long, long history, especially in religion. It became an excuse for burning at the stake, for torture at the hands of inquisitors, for imprisonment, exile and excommunication. I happen to “know” the Virgin Birth to the true, and you happen to “know” the Pope is an agent of Satan, and Germans “knew” Jews were behind all evils, and we “know” all Muslims are terrorists-in-waiting, and thus we humans create refugee camps and death camps and use gas ovens or gas bombs on our own population, and feel justified.

    Scientific truth is based on studies and tests and examples and “proof”. It has high credibility; and yet we discover that it is NOT true that smoking pot will fry your brain, or that mastectomies are the best way to deal with breast cancer, or that psychoses are treatable with drugs. So even scientific truth can twist and bend.

    And yet, there is truth, it does exist, and there must be a standard for individuals, for science, for politics, for history and for our lives. It is a subjective standard in many ways, and it leans heavily on Ethics (not the Ethics committees in Congress), but on a “gold standard” that has been developing for centuries since Aristotle and is now being seriously impugned by your President (and his admiring followers in Europe).

    You can see, my dears, that the skein of wool is once again winding around my brain, without clarity or… ultimately, truth. As for Biblical “truth” there are issues there, too… even with the words of Our Lord, so often deformed by others, possibly ambiguous in the original (as a translator, I know whereof I speak when I say translations are not necessarily true to the mind of the speaker even if they reflect the words literally). And yet, I admire truth and practice it as much as I possibly can in my life (I am, like George Washington, incapable of out-and-out lying, but oh, I can certainly use my Jesuitical skills to speak the truth and deliberate create the image of something else in the listener. Oh dear.

    Thank you for making me think about these things. I have been finally vindicated and cleared of all old and persistent charges, the Costa Rica Human Rights Court’s ruling has been recently (only a couple of weeks ago) published in Bolivia in the Official Records Gazette, giving it Force of Law, so that my image and reputation have been upheld and cannot be questioned. The truth has been defended and was victorious. At what length and cost… this is nearly impossible to say, but in this case, at least, what was true to us (and to documented facts) has been held by the Court to be true in Law. Marvelous. Seldom achieved, but in this my case at least, miraculous. So there is Truth, and truth and what we do for it and to defend it and how hard it is fought and vilified. So complicated. Much love, Lupe

  3. Rita Yeasted says:

    A quick comment. I have loved your Frontline essays on truth and the situation we find ourselves in, personally and nationally. As an aside, I saw “Death of a Salesman” on Sunday with Father Vernon. It was a remarkable production, best “Salesman” I have ever seen. But the lying to oneself and to others that goes on through the play had never touched me as it did with this play, which I’ve taught and seen numerous times. He is a salesman, and his whole job was to be “liked,” even “well like,” the secret of success for the salesman. He never faces the truth, never tells the truth to his wife or sons, and he allows each of them to live in their own “lies.” It stuck me how much it captured the President and many politicians at least to a lesser degree. They have to sell themselves as well as their party and programs, and lying is simply “accepted.” Which probably explains why people accept it of Trump where they might not have with another candidate. They knew that he sold real estate, the “deal.” And we have come to overlook “some lies.”

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