In this episode of the RavenCast, Adam Ericksen and Suzanne Ross discuss politics and apocalypse. Read the Washington Post article that led to the conversation, “Bomb Scares and the Politics of the Apocalypse.” Watch the video or listen to the MP3 above. Never miss an episode by subscribing to the RavenCast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or Podbean.
Politics and Apocalypse Transcript
ADAM ERICKSEN: Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of the RavenCast, my name is Adam Ericksen. Today we have a very special Halloween episode we are gonna talk about politics and apocalypse and here with my dear friend Suzanne Ross. Hi, Suzanne!
SUZANNE ROSS: Hi Adam, happy Halloween.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Oh Happy Halloween, Happy Halloween. Are you dressing up tonight?
SUZANNE ROSS: No, but am trick or treating, yes, and I did dress up for Halloween party over the weekend, I was one of the witches from Hocus Pocus.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That sounds like fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that movie.
SUZANNE ROSS: Oh you must.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I know, I shouldn’t have admitted that.
SUZANNE ROSS: Oh no, it’s ok.
ADAM ERICKSEN: We can still be friends?
SUZANNE ROSS: Yes, but it’s an annual tradition here, and now I have the costume so I can be Winnie from Hocus Pocus.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s good, awesome, fantastic. So speaking of Hocus Pocus and Halloween, you may have noticed that the political atmosphere in the United States is gone, I don’t know, what’s the word, apocalyptic?
SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, it is interesting, because that’s the word, we use here at Raven for a couple of reasons. one it’s very biblical. There is a warning in the New Testament about what can happen to us if we don’t reform our ways and repent. Also because Rene Girard talks about apocalyptic relationships and outcomes. We actually found an article this week where a reporter was talking about the political atmosphere as being apocalyptic.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yes, and when reporters are using words like apocalypse, my inner nerd just gets all excited. So you wanted to come on and talk about it today and that sounds like a lot of fun. I just want to read one paragraph, from this article that you found on the Washington Post, it is titled Bomb Scares and the Politics of Apocalypse. Last week was brutal. All those bomb scares and so many things happening. The quote from the article is this, it says, “This is a time of the politics of the apocalypse, an all or nothing view of the difference between winning and losing an election and of holding power or not holding it. There is no middle ground on what winning or losing means. This has been on the rise for a long time, but it has intensified of late. No One really knows how to roll it back. Politicians say it is time for the country to come together, but on whose terms?” And that’s when you get music in the background, that goes da-da-da…
SUZANNE ROSS: I mean it just struck me because it was an excellent description of what we call an escalation to extremes where the rivalries, the ‘us versus them’ thinking becomes so stark and intense that all we can see is how different we are from one another. And there seems to be no, like the reporter said, no middle ground. And when there is no middle ground, when those differences are the only thing we can see, that’s when we are most in danger of scapegoating one another. And when we find it hard to, as he said, step back from it, because we think we have got a hold of the truth and the other side, is the absolute enemy of all that’s good and true.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It’s a dangerous situation that we find ourselves in but, part of the danger of the situation is a misunderstanding of the biblical term apocalypse. Because you know, I just as much as anyone else, even though I know Girard, might throw blame around here and there and I blame the whole series titled ‘Left behind,’ for a radical misunderstanding of the biblical apocalypse. What many people think about apocalypse is the end of the world, violence, and destruction. Which is not what apocalypse mean in the original Greek language.
Apocalypse means an unveiling or a revealing of the truth and Girard in his book Battling to the End, as you mentioned earlier, says his whole career was about unveiling the truth about human violence. And Girard didn’t unveil the truth about human violence, Jesus did. So here is the unveiling when Jesus says “those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” that’s what violence does. It just repeats itself, over and over again. People mimic the violence against them. That’s why Jesus said, turn the other cheek. This isn’t about, like being weak; it’s about stopping the violence in its tracks. Because if you don’t turn the other cheek and you hit back, then you are just in this exchange of violence back and forth. So apocalypse literally means unveiling of this mechanism of violence and that’s what Jesus does. A lot of people want to look to the book of Revelation as an apocalyptic book and it is, in many chapters in Revelation you have, in chapter 18, you have this constant battle between empires from the north and empires from the south and one goes this way and the other goes this way. It’s just this constant back and forth of violence.
But what in Revelation in chapter 5, how do the Christian response to this violence? They don’t participate in it. They don’t. You can go straight to Revelation chapter 5 and it says, if you are going to be persecuted, you are going to be persecuted. You are not going fight back. That’s the whole ethic in the book of Revelation, don’t get caught up in the violence.
SUZANNE ROSS: And the very powerful image of God appearing in the form of the lamb that’s been sacrificed since the beginning, this is the vehicle for the ending of violence. Again a terrible misunderstanding that the violence in the Book of Revelation, anywhere in the Bible, gets attributed to God when the text is trying to tell us this isn’t God. God is the one who the violence is being directed at, who is suffering the violence, and, by suffering it, reveals the truth about it.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I am glad you said that because many people will look to I think it’s Revelation 19 when Jesus is on the horse and he’s got the sword and he’s got blood dripping down his gown and stuff, his white gown. And people will say, ‘you see, there He is’ like in the end, Jesus is gonna come back with a sword, he is gonna kill everyone. Whose blood is it that’s on him? He’s coming in and it’s his own blood that’s on him. The sword is always been used as a metaphor for truth. Like the sword is the white cuts through the truth and as Stephen McKenna likes to call it “the bullshit”. Right, so that’s what the sword of truth is all about.
And Jesus takes that upon himself. Now Jesus doesn’t just reveal the truth about our violence, he also gives us a way out. So, you can see it in a kind of negative way of not responding to violence with violence, turn the other cheek. Jesus says, I give you a new commandment which is to love one another, to love even those you call your enemies. So that’s how extreme this goes and the extreme that it goes to for Jesus is to go to the cross in order to show God’s radical love for everyone that responds with forgiveness. This can get misunderstood, as saying, “hey just let evil run its course, step back, just forgive it, let it happen”. But that’s not it either because Jesus certainly says no, to the corruption that is happening, and to the violence that is happening, in his world. Sometimes when you say no, to those things, those forces fight against you all the more, which is also what the apocalypse is about.
SUZANNE ROSS: Right, and I think it was an accurate way to describe our political moment to say it’s apocalyptic. Because also one of the things that Jesus calls us to do, is not to just recognize violence in others but to have a confessional stance towards our own violence. We are called to repentance, we are not called to accusation and judgment and ferreting out the bad guy. That not what Jesus and other faiths traditions, as well, have this wisdom and embedded in it. It’s a cross that reveals religions that the way to transform the world, what the divine call is toward is repentance and your own soul-searching. In the political moment, we are in, it is totally a moment of accusing the other.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Here is the way I see it most clearly in the group that I most identify with, Democrats. There is this Democratic slogan going around now that says when they go low, you kick them. And that is apocalyptic. The apocalyptic warning is when you have the mind-set when they go low you kick them, the apocalyptic warning is a Revelation that says, when they go low, you kick them, you are going to destroy yourself by kicking one another. Like the violence is going to get out of control so you have to stop kicking one another.
SUZANNE ROSS: You know we are having this wonderful debate which I think is important about rhetoric and speech and when is speech harmful, when is it inciting to violence, and when is it necessary to call out the truth. And I think one of the guides to understanding speech comes out of the whole tradition of how do you interpret biblical text. There is lots of violence in the Bible and lots of incitement to violence in the Bible. So those of us who call ourselves Christians have to deal with that, and say well, how am I interpreting that , how do I read that, do I say yeah, there are bad guys, and the disciples think that’s what their job is. I don’t remember the exact gospel passage exactly but they going through town to town and the come to this town that won’t accept what they are saying then they come back to Jesus and say, “Hey, you gave us all this powers, should we call down the wrath of God on the town?” And Jesus was like are you guys ever gonna get it?
ADAM ERICKSEN: And that’s the thing, they would have biblical precedent to call the wrath of God down as you saw in Sodom and Gomorrah.
SUZANNE ROSS: Yes, God does it, why can’t we.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Jesus comes in and says, “Hey we are not doing that, is not how we roll.”
SUZANNE ROSS: We roll a different way and the very early church father Augustine addressed this directly and I think you should say this. I only hear it from my wonderful friends who are preachers like yourself, who teach me about Augustine. But could you talk about that hermeneutic that he offered?
ADAM ERICKSEN: Well it was Augustine and it was Athanasius and it was all these church fathers. The principle for dealing with these passages is to go by Jesus teaching. Which is he is asked what is the greatest commandments and Jesus says to love God and love your neighbor. So they end up and saying wow, we are called to follow Jesus every aspect of our lives including in how we read the Bible. So they would say if this passage does not lead us to love God and our neighbor in a better way, then we find a different way to interpret it. And so, many early Christians, church fathers and highly influential ones, Augustine and end up saying, you can’t take this literally. So, they would say the conquest of Canaan looks nothing like the person Jesus revealed God to us on a concrete level. So how do you interpret that? So they interpret it figuratively, as or algorithmically as a battle raging within yourself and who is gonna win that battle. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, is inside of you, leading the charge against the Canaanites who are inside of you. Joshua is going to win, what are we going to do to help Joshua win, they would interpret it in similar ways to that.
SUZANNE ROSS: Right and of course Islam picks up on that interpretive tool as well to say the battle between good and evil is within us, each one of us. And we must strive for the good but to take responsibility for our own behavior. I think this is sort of coming back to that question raised in the news article was, how we gonna step back from this. What’s the way out. And to say love often sounds like as you say like a cop out well then, wishy-washy, then you letting the forces of evil live.. You can’t just love the bad guy, whatever. But that’s getting again into this divide of emphasizing differences rather seeing our common humanity.
And I just wanted to bring into the conversation, maybe it’s a good way, sort of tie things up here. Because I recently watched the movie that came out earlier this year, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s won a lot of awards, it also got a lot critique, because it’s so violent and so filled… It’s a movie filled with hate and violence. But one thing I learned from my friend Garreth Higgins, who is a movie critic. He taught me that there are movies with violence in them and there are movies about violence. Meaning, in other words, to diagnose and understand how violence works, you going to have some violence in the movie. And that’s what’s in the Bible as well. The Bible is a book about violence it is not just gratuitously there. It is there for reasons to reveal to us how we get caught up in it. But in this movie, I know you didn’t see yet Adam, did you? No. I am not gonna give all the plot, it’s ta complicated story, a and very moving. But it ends with the sheriff in the town who has been the subject of hate and vitriol coming from the mother of a girl who was murdered in the town. And she is just pissed at this sheriff Willoughby that he hasn’t solved the crime yet and hence the three billboards go up calling him to account and whatever. Just as she is angry to the point of violence. She is violence in the movie.
Sheriff Willoughby has a young cop working with him, who is also angry and violent ,but he’s violent in defense of the sheriff, and he wants to protect the sheriff. The officer’s name is Jason. Anyway, the sheriff is… I won’t tell you why he commits suicide, but he does commit suicide at the end of the movie and he writes a letter to Jason. He writes a letter to a bunch of other characters, but this part where he writes a letter to Jason to me demonstrates what it means to say that love can transform someone, can turn them away from this virulent hate and anger that leads to violence and how it works. I just love that it’s in the voice for this wisdom comes from the sheriff who’s been trying to keep the peace in the town. He never pulls his gun out of his holster but he is trying to keep the peace.
If you can indulge me, I’ll read the letter not as well as Woody Harrelson does it, who is the sheriff, Sheriff Willoughby. Here is the quote “Jason, Willoughby here, am dead now, sorry about that. But there something I wanted to say to you that I never really said when I was alive. I think you’ve got the makings of being a really good cop, Jason, and you know why, because deep down, you are a decent man. I know you don’t think I think that, but I do, dipshit. You play hopscotch when you think no one is looking, for Christ sake. I do think you too angry though, and I know it’s all since your dad died, and you had to go look after your Mom and all. But as long as you hold on to so much hate, then I don’t think you ever gonna become what I know you wanna become, a detective. Cos you know what you need to become a detective and I know you gonna wince when I say this, but what you need to become a detective is love. Because through loves comes calm and through calm comes thought and you need thought to detect stuff. Sometimes, Jason, it’s kind of all you need. You don’t even need a gun, and you definitely don’t need hate. Hate never solved anything but calm did and thought did, try it. Try it just for a change.”
And I absolutely love it because to me the symbolism of being the detective is for me the search for what is true, what’s really happening. And how do we find the truth and move through some sort of solution to our problems together. I just found this to be so moving and such a beautiful expression of what we mean when we say “hate is just gonna escalate into violence and love is the way through it.’ And what love looks like here is helping someone see the truth about themselves, that they don’t even know about themselves.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, seeing the truth about our own selves, as you said earlier we are caught up in the violence mechanism as well and how to tease that out, so powerful story. So thank you for that. Thank you Suzanne, I hope you have a great rest of your Halloween.
SUZANNE ROSS: Oh it’s all the candy now.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It’s 1:30 New York time, when does Halloween start?
SUZANNE ROSS: In about 2 hours.
ADAM ERICKSEN: About 2 hours?
SUZANNE ROSS: I will go trick or-treating with the grandkids.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Wonderful
SUZANNE ROSS: It’s So much fun.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome, thank you, everybody, for watching and stay tuned for our next RavenCast episode, until then…
SUZANNE ROSS: Adam, do you want to put a link into our interview with Christian Picciolini as well, at the end of this?
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yeah, we will do that. Because there been a lot of horrific white supremacy happening and Christian has a lot of wonderful things to say about how to move beyond hate and especially for white supremacists. So he knows from experience. We gonna link to that, so thank you for bringing that up, and till next time take care.
SUZANNE ROSS: Bye, bye.