Tuesday, 22 May 2007

An Influential Psychosis

Anyone who believes the Christian Bible is boring has never read the Book of Revelation, the last canonical book of the New Testament. This is the part of the Bible based on prophesies of the last days of Earth. It's all about the second coming of Jesus, God's final judgment of humanity, and the apocalypse that destroys the Earth and condemns all non-believers to an eternity of suffering in Hell ... exciting stuff.

The Book of Revelation was written by somebody called "John of Patmos" (Patmos is an idyllic little Greek island situated in the Aegean sea), but nobody really knows exactly who John of Patmos was. All we know is that, for reasons never adequately explained, John was exiled to Patmos. It's quite clear though, from reading the book, that whoever he was, and for whatever reason he was exiled to Patmos, John was profoundly mentally ill and suffered from severe psychotic episodes. John's book is based entirely on two of these episodes, which clearly had a big impact on him. In the book he calls these psychotic episodes; "Visions" and relates how during these visions, first Jesus, and secondly God himself, appeared to him and told him some extremely scary stories.

At the time John wrote the Book of Revelations (somewhere between 60AD and 100AD) the science of Psychiatry was yet to be invented and it was not uncommon for the "visions" of psychotics to be misinterpreted as messages from the divine. Ironically, during the middle ages the reverse tended to be believed by Christians. Far from experiencing messages from God, people with a mental illness were considered to be "possessed" by Satan and were consequently imprisoned, tortured and frequently killed. In modern times, mentally ill people still experience scary episodes but thankfully we now have science, which attempts to explain these episodes in non-metaphysical terms and therefore help the sufferers progress to a less-scary place in life.

Despite the long litany of visions experienced by other mentally ill people throughout the ages since 100AD, for some reason not one of them ever joined the visions of John of Patmos in the Christian Bible as examples of God's Word.

Today, despite our understanding that visions such as those experienced by John of Patmos, are actually the result of an ill brain, there are many, many people who choose to believe the psychotic episodes described in the Book of Revelations represent a true and accurate prophesy from God Himself about actual events to come. A lot of these people believe the events described in Revelations are due to befall the current generation, and they are actively preparing for, and looking forward to the end of the world when they will be saved and taken to Heaven to live with their friend Jesus.

Despite being described by some commentators as a dangerous lunatic fringe, this movement of Apocalyptic Christians has been able to wield considerable political power in America and has been largely responsible for placing the current President in office and keeping him there for two terms. The reason they have chosen to support this particular president is because they believe he is one of them.

Though it has not been firmly established, it is the source of wide conjecture, that as a born-again Christian, George W. Bush is, in fact, also a believer in the impending Biblical apocalypse. He has often publicly identified with and shown strong support for the far Christian right and claims that God speaks both to him and through him. Since the failure and stagnation of his war on Iraq, Bush has turned his posturing to strengthening an enmity with all sworn enemies of Israel, most particularly Iran. Israel also happens to be the focal point of the final apocalyptic battle prophesied in Revelations. This battle occurs in a town called Megiddo, (the Hebrew Har-Megido, or Hill of Megiddo, became known as "Armageddon" in the modern Bible). Is it simply coincidence that America’s foreign policy under the current administration has consistently sought to increase the divide between Israel and its enemies?

Imagine for a moment the scenario where an insane, apocalypse-believing fundamentalist religious sect is allowed to significantly influence the foreign policy of a major military power. Imagine if control over the fate of the planet was handed over to a man who believed in, and actively looked forward to its destruction, in order that he and his brethren got to ascend to some fictional salvation?

Sounds scary doesn’t it? But we’d never be so stupid as to let something like that happen ‘round here, would we?


Dalben said...

Hmmm...reminds me of Kubla Kahn. Wasn't Coleridge sick and ripped on opiates during the writing of that? Too bad a visitor didn't come and interrupt John during one of his 'episodes' and prevent him from finishing.

Peter said...

Good point Dalben, and it may be that "Revelations", like Kubla Kahn, has some literary merit ... maybe, but because no religion ever decided to hang its hat on Kubla Kahn it never became a justification for a government's policy (not that a religious document should influence govt. policy anyway)