We hear a lot these days about Armageddon, the Apocalypse, the Rapture, End Times. More than a current cultural phenomenon, they appear to be a persuasive motivating force for millions of Americans. These words are now part of our vocabulary, and as metaphors, they show up all over the map — Carmageddon as the nickname for the I-405’s weekend closure in July 2011.
But, where do they come from? As many of you may know, they come from the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament. But how did they get there? Who wrote this? What does it mean?
This week’s guest, religious scholar ELAINE PAGELS, author of The Gnostic Gospels, considers the Book of Revelation to be wartime literature. She points out that it was written by a Jew following Rome’s resounding defeat of a Jewish uprising, and interprets it as an attack on the decadence of the Empire. Soon, however, a new sect known as “Christians” seized on it as a weapon against heresy and infidels of all kinds. I believe that weapon is still active today in American culture and politics.
We’ll talk about Revelations, and we’ll talk a bit about the Gnostic Gospels and the over 50 texts discovered hidden and preserved in Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945. And about the impact of politics and culture on religion, highlighted by the moment when Constantine converted to the Church of Rome. Christianity went from being the religion of outsiders and freethinkers, to being the religion of the Empire. And we’ll talk about how all of this plays out today in the US and around the world.