Saturday, May 1, 2021

Apocalyptic? #22: Cancel Culture: Babylon’s M.O.! (Rev. 13 and 18)

“He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.(Rev. 13:16-17 NKJV)


“And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’

“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’  Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” (Rev. 18:11-24 NKJV)


To paraphrase the well-known premillennialist Hal Lindsey (no relation of which I am aware—he even spells his last name differently): “CANCEL CULTURE IS ALIVE AND WELL ON PLANET EARTH!”


The Communist Chinese government has embarked on a plan of what they call sinification (the effort to infuse the nation’s Christian population with Chinese—now meaning:  Chinese Communist—culture and values).  The Communist government effectively cancels Christian preachers if they do not promote the Communist doctrine. 

Gregg Heinsch and Chris Lent, pastors of the Celebration Community Church, Celebration, FL, supplied me with an article from The Economist, dated April 3, 2021.  The headline reads:  Clearing out the foreign - China wants to make its Christians more Chinese.  The article states: “All religions in China are being targeted by the sinification campaign, which was launched in 2015 by the country’s leader, Xi Jinping.”  There are, according to the article, between 60 and 80 million Christians in China.  “More than three-quarters of them are Protestants, of whom about half attend house churches. The party is acutely aware of the role that Christians have played in anti-Communist movements in other countries.  In 2018 and 2019 the government published five-year plans for sinifying each of the country’s five officially recognised faiths.”  This is the very definition of “syncretism,” as I have discussed in earlier blog posts:  Apocalyptic? #7, 10, and 17.  There is little difference between King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon giving the young Jewish men—Daniel and his three companions—the “Babylonian” names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (names based on Babylonian gods) and what the Chinese Communists are attempting with their “sinification” project.  If Daniel chose to pray to the Hebrew God, he was cast into a den of lions.  If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to a Babylonian idol, they were cast into a fiery furnace. These extreme measures surely had a “cancel” effect on other Jewish captives in Babylon. 

In China, more than 1 million Uyghur muslims “have been sent to camps for ‘deradicalisation,’ which has included warning them of the dangers of foreign influence over Islam.”  This story about the sinification of muslim Uyghurs has made its way to American politicians and the U.S. mainstream news media (partly, due to the uproar over the Wuhan virus and, partly because of the rewarding of China with the Olympic games and, partly, because of criticism of Disney’s movie Mulan 2020—filmed partially in Xinjiang, the region where Uyghurs are being persecuted), while stories of the sinification of the 60 times greater population of Chinese Christians have not generally captured the attention of  U.S. politicians and media (due to a media interested in canceling Christian culture?).  Documents from 2018 and 2019, while not mentioning house churches, demand adherence to regulations on religion:

These impose tougher fines on the unauthorised use of premises for religious purposes, require official permission for religious training abroad and prohibit any control of churches by “external forces”. Without naming him, the plan condemns the “confusing and poisonous” views of a late missionary, Jonathan Chao, who supported China’s house churches from bases outside the country.

Even for many of those who attend official churches, the five-year plan’s emphasis on the need to integrate Christian theology with socialist ideology is grating. It says quotations should be used by preachers to promote “core socialist values”. These principles should feature more prominently in their training. Interpretations of the Bible should become more sinified—meaning, presumably, that they should help to bolster belief in socialism.


With Catholics, China may feel that it has made progress. In 2018 the party reached an agreement with the Vatican that gave both sides a say in the appointment of bishops. The accord means, in effect, that no party-rejecting Catholic can become a bishop in China—a victory, as the party must see it, for sinification.



While I have never personally visited Communist China, my brother has on more than one occasion. 

My personal experience with a Communist country pertains to a visit my wife, Linda, and I paid to the Soviet Union before the Cold War ended.  The cancel culture activity against Christianity was quite prominent there, at that time.  We visited what was then Leningrad (now and earlier, Saint Petersburg).  The most striking visual of cancel culture, there, was the former Kazan Cathedral, built in 1811, inspired by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  With the Communist takeover of Russia, the city could, of course, no longer be named for Saint Peter, so the name was changed to Leningrad.  The cathedral had been closed (as had all houses of worship) and then converted into a museum of atheism.  Google reports on the transformation of the Kazan Cathedral concerning a year close to our visit:

The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism is the most prominent museum in the Soviet Union devoted to the undermining of religious beliefs and the propagation of atheism. As an affiliate of the USSR Academy of Sciences, it seeks to propagate Soviet Marxism's faith in "scientific atheism". Sep 18, 1982. 

As Linda and I walked around this cathedral-turned-museum we noticed an old woman carefully caressing and polishing the religious artwork that remained on the outside walls and doors.  Her Christian religious heritage had clearly been cancelled.  But cancel culture was not ultimately successful.  The Soviet Union fell.  Christian culture was “uncanceled” and many of the readers of my blog, now, are Russians.  Wikipedia (Christianity in Russia - Wikipedia) states:  “Christianity in Russia is the most widely professed religion in the country. . . . Christianity was the religious self-identification of 47.1% of the Russian population in 2012.  . . . In the . . . year 2020 the Levada Center estimated that 63% of Russians were Christians; in 2020 the Public Opinion Foundation[8] estimated that 63% of the population was Christian.”  Revelation encourages, “Hold fast!”  Cancel culture may be Babylon’s M.O., but that is no guarantee that it is ultimately successful.


International Islamic Terrorism

The very definition of “terrorism” is the use of intense unlawful violent fear-generating events to intimidate especially civilians, in the pursuit of political or cultural aims. By the term “intimidate,” we mean to effectively “cancel” their voices by making them “timid.”  Although terrorism as a tactic of canceling voices was used by other cultures for at least two hundred years prior to the 20th Century, modern Islamic terrorism began in earnest in the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt with Arab gang and terrorist activities against British colonial rule of Palestine and Jewish immigrants.  “The largest numbers of incidents and fatalities caused by Islamic terrorism have occurred in India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Mali” (Wikipedia).  In recent years, Islamic terrorist attacks have occurred in such other countries as Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Indonesia, Norway, Netherlands, and of course, the United States, among many others.  Very few nations have escaped the onslaught of Islamic terrorism. Have such Islamic cancel culture efforts succeeded?   

Nabeel Qureshi and David Wood . . . and 2 other evangelical Christians were arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’ at Dearborn’s [Michigan] Arab festival in 2010 for simply passing out Christian literature on the sidewalk outside of the festival. . . . [T]hey were hardly being ‘disorderly’, they were only exercising their freedom of speech and freedom of religion on an American street, an act protected by our Constitution” (Dearborn, Michigan: First City In The US To Enforce Sharia Law - Page 2 of 2 - Truth And Action). 


I suspect that my scholarship was also canceled (or, at least, suppressed) in favor of Islamic culture when, following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, I submitted a journal article (entitled “The Rhetoric of bin Laden’s Battle”) to Quarterly Journal of Speech, in which I analyzed the psychotic entelechial rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and his followers.  It just seems strange to me that a previous journal article in which I had analyzed the psychotic entelechial rhetoric of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians had been accepted and published by the Quarterly Journal of Speech.  Perhaps, this earlier acceptance was because I was, then, critiquing a Christian extremist.  (Even the portion of that article in which I had applied an equivalent critique of the government’s handling of the Waco situation, however, was edited out of my earlier article.)  In a rejection letter from the editor of the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Celeste Condit of the University of Georgia, unilaterally rejected my article out-of-hand.  I was informed that I was not qualified to address the rhetoric of Islam because I am not a Muslim.  This, despite the fact that I have read the Koran from cover-to-cover, included Koranic references in my master’s thesis, had an important Islamic scholar on my master’s committee, and took my Masters in Hebrew degree from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Indiana University, a department predominately Muslim.  Furthermore, I had completed the coursework for two Ph.D. programs in rhetoric (at the University of Illinois and Purdue University).  To reject my article out-of-hand smells to me like cancel culture in favor of Islamic culture.  It deserved at least the consideration of some of my peers.  Kenneth Burke, after all, achieved great prominence among rhetorical scholars largely due to his essay, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle,” even though Burke was neither a German nor a Nazi.  That bin Laden article was, nevertheless, published by University Press of America, as both it and my article concerning Waco, Koresh, and the Branch Davidians were integrated into the first four chapters of my book Psychotic Entelechy:  The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology.  An important (liberal) rhetorician Michel Foucault identified the relationship between power and knowledge:  those in power determine what is knowledge.  The use of this power in academia is, indeed, “cancel culture.”  Right now, non-Christians (perhaps, even anti-Christians) generally wield this academic cancel power in most universities.

Unfortunately, terrorism as a tactic is not the sole province of Islamic extremists.  The goal is to intimidate and, thereby, cancel voices, resulting in the syncretism of elements of the terrorist value system into the victim culture.  Jesus understands how cancel culture works, and he cautions Christians not to allow the cancel culture tactic to be successful, as he tells the church at Pergamum: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells(Rev. 2:13 NKJV). 


Western Christian Civilization

The Communist China move and Islamic terrorism are both cancel culture and syncretism.  But, while Christians might expect such a cancel culture in Communist China and, certainly, in Islamic countries, what about western “Christian” civilization? 

In April, 2021, featured a story concerning an on-air BBC interviewer who was discussing abortion with a guest clergyman.  When the guest disclosed the number of abortions that had happened, the interviewer commented that the number sounded like a holocaust.  The BBC interviewer was then warned by the broadcast company that, if he ever made such a comparison again, he would never again appear on the BBC.  The author of the news story asserted that clergy will lead the way in the diminishing of religious freedom.  In America, many clergy already do.

Two days after the initial publication of this blog post, reports that a member of Parliament in Finland faces possibly six years in prinson for "questioning the leadership at the Finnish Lutheran church she attended.

At the time, the church had sponsored the LGBT event 'Pride 2019' by using an image with a Bible text."  

"I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible's teachings on marriage and sexuality," Räsänen said in a statement.

"I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech," she asserted. "I hold on to the view that my expressions are legal and they should not be censored. I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets." 

In the June 22, 2020 edition of Christianity Today, David Robertson writes: “According to the online dictionary, ‘Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.’"  What, then, is considered “objectionable or offensive?”  All too frequently, the answer is Bible-believing Christian values.  Social media giants in America have now moved to cancel the speech of anyone who disagrees with their frequently anti-biblical biases.  Employers in public and private arenas routinely censor or cancel the speech of their employees, even to the point of firing them.  Businesses run by Bible-believing Christians are targeted for lawsuits for failure to acquiesce to “politically correct” values when they are in conflict with biblical values.  While this is syncretism of a new sort (masquerading as the politically correct speech police), the victims of this new cancel culture are far-too-often Christians, especially the Bible-believing variety.  The message is plain.  If a Christian wishes to conduct income-producing activity (whether as a private business or as an employee), s/he will face increasing constraints from cancel culture.  This, then, is syncretism:  the forced implementation of non-biblical values into the Christian culture.  Modern culture (unlike ancient Babylon) is not threatening the Christian with lion’s dens or fiery furnaces, but with financial deprivation, as did Babylon the Great at the time Revelation was written.


Babylon the Great

This is the M.O. (modus operandi) of “Babylon the Great” from Revelation.  Revelation 13:11-17 introduces a second beast (not identical to, but similar to the Beast (of Rome) whose number is 666.  While the first beast (Rome) arises out of the (Mediterranean) “sea” (13:1), this second beast (13:11) arises out of the “land” (of Israel).  Even G. K. Beale (p. 707) who almost always wants to mistranslate the word “land” as “earth,” here correctly translates it as “land” (though he fails to see that the “land” of Israel is intended).  While the first beast has ten horns (13:1), the second beast has “two horns like a lamb” (13:11).  Compare these two horns of a lamb with the seven horns of the Lamb (Jesus) in 5:6. The “lamb” reference has been seen by Revelation scholars as indicating that this beast is performing a primarily religious function.  The beast from the land is also identical to the “false prophet” (16:13, 19:20, and 20:10), another religious epithet. I further stipulate that the second beast/false prophet is identical to the Harlot Babylon, synecdochically.  The synecdochic description involved is that of the container representing the thing contained.  Babylon is the city (container) that “contains” the second beast/false prophet. 

All three entities control the financial/merchandising activities of the “land” (of Israel) and have the power to cancel anyone who does not acquiesce to their authority.   Revelation 13:16-17 (cited at the beginning of this post) describes this financial control (exercised by the second beast): “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name(NKJV).  Revelation 18:11-13 describes the extent of this financial merchandising activity (of Babylon): “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men” (NKJV). 


The Jewish High Priesthood

Who was in charge of buying and selling in the land of Israel?  The high priestly family in Jerusalem.  The temple trade, including money changing (currency exchange) was completely in the hands of the High Priesthood (a religious [lamb-like] office that doubled as a financial/merchandising power).  John’s reference to the second beast’s great sign (Revelation 13:13) of making fire come out of heaven is a reference to not using “strange fire” in the burning of sacrifices (Leviticus 10:1).  Instead of providing their own man-made fire for sacrifice, priests needed to use fire that was sent from Heaven by God. Theirs is the only financial/merchandising power in the gospels that Jesus ever condemned.  (He even went on record: “Render to Caesar.”)  And, Jesus was deeply emotional about the financial/merchandising power of the High Priesthood.  His cleansing of the temple and overturning the tables of the money changers (John 2:13-16, Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48) is recorded in all four gospels.  Jewish pilgrims from all over the inhabitable world flocked to Jerusalem, at multiple annual festivals, to offer sacrifices at the temple.  Rather than bring the animal sacrifices with them from distant lands, they converted their animals into cash and brought the cash to Jerusalem.  There, the high priestly family rooked the pilgrims by money-changing, converting their foreign currency into their own at thievery rates.  Then, they turned around and sold the pilgrims animals to sacrifice at a vastly inflated price.  Jesus’ tirade(s) against this practice may well have been a (or the) primary catalyst for the High Priesthood’s decision to bribe Judas into betraying Jesus into their hands.  They wanted to “cancel” the message of this man who threatened their financial dominance.  They held a monopoly regarding the “gold and silver” exchange in the temple.  They then sold the “wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep” to the Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem at various Jewish festivals so that they could offer up sacrifices at the temple.  Their financial/merchandising power also made the merchants who dealt with them wealthy.  On page 30 of my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, I point out:

Babylon in Revelation is called a harlot.  J. Massyngberde Ford points out, "The harlot . . . is also a Jewish OT theme depicting Jerusalem . . . and there is no clear indication that Babylon is Rome . . .." Ford further states regarding the harlot epithet, "[A]ll idolatry was considered as adultery or fornication.  . . . [T]he faithful community is the spouse of the Lamb . . .; Babylon is its antithesis and is presented as a prostitute . . ., as is the faithless Jerusalem." Reflecting on the teachings of Qumran, Ford concludes, "These texts together with the OT ones indicate that the harlot in Rev 17 is Jerusalem, not Rome.  . . . [T]he harlot depicts particularly the condition of the high priesthood."


On pages 89-90 of my book, I explain further concerning the high priesthood:


According to Jewish historian, Solomon Zeitlin, when Herod the Great was king of Judea:  "Herod himself, not being of the priestly family, could not succeed Antigonus as high priest.  He felt it to be politically dangerous to appoint a member of the [legitimate] Hasmonean family to a position of such great prominence . . . therefore, . . . he appointed Ananel (Hananel), a priest from the Babylonian Diaspora."

This "Babylonian" priestly family then was the one who ruled Judea and the Temple Cult until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  It is precisely this high priestly family which the Gospel accounts present as engineering the crucifixion of Jesus.  . . . John 19:14-15 records a comment made by the priesthood to Pilate which may have been typical of the attitude of the priesthood toward Rome.  Pilate "said to the Jews, 'Behold your king!'  . . . The chief priests answered, 'We have no king except Caesar!'"  Referents for the second beast and the image may be found, if they are identified with the priestly family in Jerusalem.  The high priestly party could easily have been understood to be the talking "image" of the beast who compelled people to worship Rome.  Zeitlin observes:

On the 28th of Tebeth, the beginning of January 66, a great assembly was convened in the temple for the purpose of establishing a government to carry out the necessary preparations for the war.  It chose as head of the government the High Priest Ananus, a Sadducee who inherently was for peace.  . . . This government turned out tragically for the State of Judea.  It played a double role.  It thought it would achieve its goal by shrewdness.  Speaking openly for war, inwardly it was for peace.  It wanted to disarm the extremists so that it should have all power concentrated in its hands and thus be allowed to make peace with Rome.  It failed utterly.


The second beast/false prophet/harlot/Babylon is the Jerusalem high priestly party, considered the “wicked priest,” incidentally, by John the Baptist’s compatriots in Qumran (land of the Dead Sea Scrolls).  The high priestly family is identified throughout the New Testament as the Jewish entity most responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (in league with the “kings of the earth/land”—"Roman" rulers, Pontius Pilate and Herod)—as well as the persecution of the church throughout the book of Acts.  The goal of the high priestly party in terms of both Christianity and the Jewish Revolt against Rome was to “cancel” both efforts.

The Mark of the Beast

What, then, was John referring to when he talked about the mark of the Beast on the right hand and forehead? 

Revelation scholars have seen that the allusion is to the Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries on their hand and forehead, based upon Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18, and Exodus 13:9 and 16.

·         Exodus 13:9 (NKJV) states: “It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.” 

·         Exodus 13:16 (NKJV) agrees: “It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

·         Deuteronomy 6:8 (NKJV) says: “It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.”

·         Deuteronomy 11:18 (NKJV) corroborates: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Clearly, John had in mind a religious practice that was unique to Judaism.  The chief enforcer of Jewish practices, including sacrifice, was the High Priest.  Even lepers who had been healed needed to show themselves to the priest (Luke 17:14) so that they would be free to conduct themselves socially (and in the marketplace?).  Matthew 23:5 (NKJV) shows that Jesus was unimpressed with the showy implementation of religious practices such as the phylacteries: “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.”  The exhibition of phylacteries was an attempt to gain the approval of the religious establishment.  This practice, then, became John’s mark of the Beast.  If you are to buy and sell in the temple, you need the approval of the religious establishment—the High Priest.  But, was the High Priest actually promoting syncretism with the Roman Beast?

In Revelation:  The Human Drama (p. 89), I observe:

While emperor worship was not conducted by the high priestly family, the temple was semi-abominated with a Golden Eagle, the symbol of Rome.  A common activity was to offer up sacrifices and prayers on behalf of the Emperor in temple services.  Perhaps even the "image" of Caesar (Mark 12:16 and parallels), on the coinage which was exchanged in the temple "currency exchange system," which Jesus battled, was one further identification between the second beast (priesthood) and the "image" of the beast. 


These elements constitute syncretism.  Add the fact that the “head of the government the High Priest Ananus . . . who inherently was for peace . . . played a double role.  It thought it would achieve its goal by shrewdness.  Speaking openly for war, inwardly it was for peace.  It wanted to disarm the extremists so that it should have all power concentrated in its hands and thus be allowed to make peace with Rome” (cited earlier).  Given the High Priest’s protestation to Pilate, “We have no king except Caesar,” we begin to see the true relationship between the High Priestly party and the Beast.  One could say (as John did): “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast” (Rev. 13:16-17 NKJV).  This indicates a cancel culture, championed by Babylon the Great.  This is Babylon’s M.O.


Nevertheless, the point of Revelation 6-18 is that this cancel culture of the harlot Babylon the Great will itself be eternally canceled.  The seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven last plagues offer up the gory details.  Moving to those elements in the next post. 

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