Thursday, April 17, 2003

I want to thank Bible Gateway for the online availability of the NIV (New International Version) of the bible. Needless to say, they'd be surprised if they visited my blog. The verse numbers look neater in the version you'll see if you follow the link, and the footnotes are hyperlinks.

1I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" 2I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 4Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
5When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart[1] of wheat for a day's wages,[2] and three quarts of barley for a day's wages,[3] and do not damage the oil and the wine!"
7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 8I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

There are many who believe that the events leading up to this will include The Rapture, at which time all literalistic Christians currently alive will join the select company of those who have ascended to heaven without having to experience death first. While I am not of this company, or even prepared to worry about how many of these are responsible enough to make sure their co-pilots and fellow workers at Springfield nuclear power plant are heathens or apostates, I have to admit the book of revelation is in my thoughts. And why not? Certain historical trends can be traced from Babylon through Persia, Greece, Rome, and the British Empire.

I do not believe the bible is the only inspired book in a sea of ordinary uninspired ones. I do believe that we are part of something greater than ourselves. If we can perceive diety at all, the human mind is the only lense we have. Yet if we are truly all trying to see the same thing, then our visions must all be distorted by the culture and age we live in. Some have tried to combine the best of all religions - or too include only what is common to all religions. These attempts too have of course been distorted by the time and place where the editor was born.

If god did wish to speak to us, what would be more natural than a vehicle composed in many times and places, edited by many hands? There are ways in which this seems quite plausible to me. If so, let us not let wishful thinking blind our eyes. Did he truly command the Isrealites to kill those in the land before them? Of course many peoples have claimed that certain actions were divinely ordained - but if you study human history or even primatology, it almost seems written in our genes that we should band together with those physically and culturally like us to war with other groups in certain situations. More horrifying even then a single special group (as a number of religions have suggested) authorized to kill others, is the idea that we are all instructed to do so in our very natures.

I may edit this review of Robert Wright's book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, because I've been thinking about that book a lot too lately. He believes war may at times have been part of the process of becoming human, but also that we are capable of doing much better now. One of the issues currently being considered by the Global Brain is perhaps empire - as well as other forms of world government. All of these are ways in which people have created laws larger than individual nations - and at their peak empires have often benefited the ruled as well as the rulers. Still it seems to me that the trend of history is against them, that governments controlled by people far away from a country by people largely of a different culture are less likely to be successful than local ones. Of course that is not what we plan for Iraq (except maybe a few of us, but they are far from outcastes) but already the protests are beginning, many of them do not understand our good intentions, and we do not quite understand why. It may even be that our attempts to help them build their own democractic government (friendly to us) in short order will be frustrated by unreasonable violence - and perhaps even a few in our government won't be too surprised.

It may seem odd that in the passage that began this post, conquest is one thing and large scale death another. I believe it accurate. A nation capable of creating an empire at all will be prepared first, and the casualties may be low. The wholesale bloodshed seems to come with the dissolution rather than the building of empires. It seems to be much less if someone else is capable of taking over the remains of the system, as the United States did from Britain and perhaps even Rome from other predecessors. It must surely be greater after the fall of Rome, or an even more universal empire.

There are still some who say that there will be no such empire - and yet their principle enemies do not seem to be those who say there should and will be such an empire. History is not a circle, more like a spiral. I hope that we will succeed in making Iraq a democracy. Even if the administration is truly plotting a war they deny on Syria, I can only hope for a double success in creating two democracies. God forbid we take the path of empire, I still hope the Pax Americana is the most peaceful pax the world has ever seen. Yet if we are capable of breaking the cycle of history, I think now is the time. The British empire was larger than the Roman empire at it's peak - yet not so long lasting. The less cheaply an empire and the world around it hold human life, the harder empire is to sustain and the less glorious it seems.

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