If you look at our world today this is what you will see:
1. A global economic recession, never seen in its scope before. Millions have lost their jobs or are going to lose them - This is particularly critical for young adults who have just graduated from university or college but cannot find a permanent job in their careers AND requires Churches/Christian organizations to help ours where possible ;
3. Israel and radical Muslims are making every effort to escalate the situation in the Middle East to a violent war - The Arab Spring (over 6 years now) supported by the past Obama government has failed to improve the lives of people it promised and was hijacked by Muslim extremists which in turn started wars of divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Syria and Iraq, killed many innocent Muslims and minority Christians (the scapegoat in Girardian language) and are now attempting to recreate an Islamic Caliphate which threatens to raise the black flag of Daech/ISIS over the entire free world - Al-Azhar Muslim University and its Imam in Egypt alone adhere to the same doctrine of ISIS but unjustly claim that Christians and Jews are the ones who cause terrorism;
4. A global food crisis continues to rage in Africa, South America and the underdeveloped countries caused in part by insufficient resources that are already controlled by local dictators and an increasing imbalance between the wealth of the North and that of the South caused in part by an imperialistic American and Western European free-market monopoly;
5. The most influential moral voice in the world, that of Pope Francis, is attempting to be moderate in his exhortations and homilies but demands European governments to open their countries boundaries to the above-mentioned refugees thus unknowingly exposing European countries to the possibility of receiving terrorists among those refugees in the name of compassion. This requires more screening of refugees who land in Europe usually through Greece and Italy. Turkey on the other hand claimed that the European Union failed to repay Turkey for the many refugees it held in order not to cross to Europe.
Can we read the beginning of the end in today's events? We know that, according to modern Biblical scholarship, the book of Revelation was written in the late 90s, as Apocalyptic literature to warn Christians and give them hope in the persecutions of the 1st century. Having said that, let's look afresh at Revelation and see whether there can be any interpretation for our world today as well. Sometimes the same text can reflect a myth and a literal event too. Can this be the case here? The New American Bible Revised Edition (approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) in the introduction to the Book of Revelation says "The Book of Revelation had its origin in a time of crisis, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the face of apparently insuperable evil, either from within or from without, all Christians are called to trust in Jesus' promise, 'Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20)"
Revelation is a complex book, so I intend only to show similarities from the Book to what we are seeing today. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are 5 important symbolic figures: The Lamb, the woman, and her seed; and opposed to them, the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land.
Scholars dig deep into the Old Testament: The main idea is taken from Genesis 3:15. "I will put enmities between you (the serpent) and the woman, and your seed and her seed". The woman is arrayed in heavenly splendour; a crown of twelve stars on her head and the sun and the moon under her feet (cf. Genesis 37:9-10). She is in travail. Her first-born is destined to rule all the nation (Psalms 2:8, 9). She herself, and her other seed, are persecuted for three and a half years by the great dragon who tries to kill them. The great dragon is Satan (Genesis 3:1). He is cast out of heaven. With his tail he drags after him one-third of the stars. Taken from Daniel 8:10. The fallen stars are the fallen angels. The beast from the sea is in great part taken from Daniel's description of the four beasts (Daniel 7). It arises from the sea; has seven heads marked all over with blasphemies (probably a reference to Rome - City of the Seven Hills, called also Babylon or the Harlot in the New Testament since at the time it was the center of evil and idolatry for Christians). It had also ten horns, like the fourth beast of Daniel; it resembled a leopard, the third beast of Daniel, it had feet like a bear, the second beast of Daniel; and teeth like a lion, the first beast of Daniel. The great dragon gives full power to the beast, where all the world will worship it. The followers of the beast have its mark on their head and hand. The beast from the land has two horns like a ram. Its power lies in its art of deceiving by means of tokens and miracles. Throughout the remainder of the book it is called the false prophet. Its office is to assist the beast from the sea, and to induce people to adore its image.
The first act of the drama concludes with a promise of victory over the beast by the Lamb of God. We can safely see in the woman Mary immaculate whose seed is Jesus the Lamb of God. Other interpretations think of it as a symbol of the Church in her suffering and ultimate glory. The drama completes when the "New Jerusalem" is founded. She will need no light because the Father and the Lamb will be her light - the light of the Holy Spirit. A great number of people; thousands over thousands will be in the triumphant city. Meanwhile let's attempt to follow the visionary.
We can see in the Dragon the Devil. But who are the Beast and the False Prophet? The New Jerome Biblical Commentary in 1990 gives a contemporary interpretation pointing out that the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth have both mythic and historical references. Sea in the Old Testament is an opponent of God (Cf. Ps. 74:13). In Revelation, the beast from the sea is a mythical symbol of chaos and rebellion. The beast from the earth (13:11-18) is also a counter image to the Lamb. The beast from the earth is described as a false prophet, probably an agent of the Roman empire who promoted the cult of the emperor and the goddess Roma.
The following is my own interpretation based on my readings, but mostly based on what we are seeing today. I think, and I stand to be corrected, that the False Prophet is Radical Islam and the Beast is the materialist postmodern world of the West. We can consult the "Clash of Civilizations" that Samuel Huntington wrote in the 1990s, although this is not necessary.
The False Prophet: From a historic perspective, I do note that the human race was warned in 1917 by Our Lady at Fatima and that the "Third Secret of Fatima" was officially interpreted as the assassination attempt on the life of Saint Pope John Paul the Great. But may be that attempt was only the first of calamities that humanity will have to suffer as the sons and daughters of Abraham, Jews and Muslims, fight to death. Recall also that for 60 years now, Israel is back as one Jewish nation, and since 1967 it has reoccupied Jerusalem thus fulfilling the prophecy of the end of time attributed to Christ "and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21: 24). Furthermore, we can go back to the early 1930s and find the established "Muslim Brotherhood" which claims support from Muslims worldwide. But two centuries earlier Mohammed Ibn Abdel-Wahhab had preached a puritan form of Islam that forbids devotional customs such as shrines for saints and visitation of tombs. He and his followers made a pact with Mohammed bin Saud whose successors prevailed in Arabia and were given the land by the British after World War I. Today Saudi Arabia, a rich Arab Sunni Muslim country, exports the Wahabbi/Salafist thought (with oil from its oil reserves) to other countries in the world and has its own agenda as a regional power. In addition since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been tirelessly exporting its strict Shiite doctrine to the entire Islamic world. In 1972, President Sadat released Muslim extremists from jail and was subsequently assassinated by one of their groups in 1981. By 1982, the motto "Islam is the Solution" had appeared in Egypt. It is no accident that the revival of fundamentalist Islam has spread in all the Arab world and the Muslim nations in spite of persecution by governments loyal to the West. From Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India there is a huge following of fundamentalist Muslims. There have been incidents of fundamentalist rebellion in the Philippines (Abu Sayyaf).
This is only a general picture. Now, I would like to give some details: Although many people are driven to think that this is a Western propaganda and political conflict, I believe that the Vatican would not have protested repeatedly in recent years against persecution and killing of Christians in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India, Algeria, and Egypt unless there was ground for such violation of human freedom and dignity. Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. who lives in Egypt explained in 2002 that Christians there were being forced to convert to Islam and up to 20,000 conversions have been taking place according to the late Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Fundamentalist Islam today, spreading in Europe at a huge rate of 230%, is one of the major forces that Western Europe had to deal with since 9/11 and is still unable to contain. The late Libyan leader Qaddafi was quoted to have said in 2007 that by 2050 Europe will be completely Muslim. Huge money is spent on building mosques and Islamic schools and supporting Muslim organizations in the entire world. Financing is coming from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Libya. In Ontario, Canada, the Muslim community attempted, in 2007, to have its own Sharia legalized for Muslims living in Ontario, but their attempt was declined – Muslims today have their own quarters and villas north of Toronto the industrial capital of Canada, and a Muslim politician is today the Minister of Immigration in the Trudeau Liberal Government of Canada. The Trudeau Government plans to bring some 45,000 refugees (mostly Muslims that may include terrorists) thus exposing Canadians to terrorism. The exception is the new American Conservative administration under Donald Trump that promised to fight radical Islamic terrorism. Add to the above the violent character of such organizations as Hamas, governing Gaza in Palestine and until now refusing to recognize the right of Israel to exist, and Hizbullah which has a majority support in Lebanon since its victory over Israel in 2006. Iran, another regional power hopeful and opposed to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is attempting to build its nuclear power and its leaders have vowed to extinguish Israel. Is this enough for describing a false prophet?
The Beast: This is the great desolation of Western civilization. If I have to explain it in detail it will take me a full week. Just briefly: It started with the Reformation in the 16th century. Martin Luther thought that every individual Christian is free to interpret Scriptures according to what he feels the Holy Spirit is telling him. This idea created "individualism." Individualism is rampant today, thanks to other modern philosophers such as the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre - Only me counts -"The other is my hell." It is interesting to note how this has been applied successfully in contemporary thought and technology too. Nothing is done in a vacuum. One thing you must understand is that we are all related in this cosmos. Following Luther in interpreting St. Paul, Calvin thought that God predestined people as he willed to heaven or hell so if they were destined to heaven they will also be blessed here on earth. John Courtney Murray, S.J. who was the main contributor to Vatican II's "Declaration on Freedom of Religion" wrote how Calvinism re-emerged in North-America. Calvinism was brought by the early Europeans to America. Soon enough the idea of individualism combined with the idea of blessedness on earth and produced the idea of Capitalism long before Adam Smith thought of it in economic terms. In simple terms, if I am blessed here as a Christian, I would rather use all the resources available to me to realize this blessing on earth as much and as wide as possible. This is greed in the form of Capitalism. Sure I will help the needy but I will also help myself much more from what they have. The earth is mine and I will explore its richness to the end! Today, Capitalism rules the earth. Free market enslaves people. Recall the political and economic pressure by the IMF on the underdeveloped countries to free their economy in the 1980s and 1990s. What is the global crisis but the result of that greed globally? Why is the globe in economic recession today but because of the powerful wanting more power and meanwhile robbing the nations of Africa and Asia from their resources? It is part of the nationalist movements' claims in the underdeveloped world. The entire U.N. charter is only ink on paper...Along with Capitalism a twin ideology was born: materialism.
Since the Enlightenment in the 19th century West, philosophers and scientists have been asking whether there is indeed any reality beyond matter. Some great materialist/atheist philosophers include Hume, Voltaire, Marx, Carnap, Wittgenstein of the Vienna Club, Derrida, more recently Michel Foucault and many others such as the late atheist author Christopher Hitchens and Harvard's Steven Pinker. The "New Atheists" of today such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are scientists who devote much time attacking religion because they constrain their research to what is observable in the cosmos. In schools today, our children learn mostly what constitutes physics but very little, if any, about metaphysics (i.e. beyond physics).
Today we see how our consumerist society has invested in this ideology. Businesses flourish based on selling products to consumers. The more we consume the more business flourishes. This is the child of materialism married to capitalism. With globalization in the 1980s-1990s and beyond, large businesses and huge investors were able to reach the entire globe. Europe and the Far East imitated America and did the same. Who paid the price? Small business, and ordinary people like you and me. Materialism also bore the ideology of Communism which was carried out in Russia and persecuted religion from 1917 to 1989 in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Today Communism still lives in political pockets in Europe and is widely known under a more moderate name as socialism. Communism robbed people of their rights to private property. People became enslaved to the government of their land. It engulfed a whole generation of thinkers, even within the Church particularly in Latin America where people remain quite poor. Capitalist America supported dictatorial regimes in Latin America in order to suppress these movements.
Another twist of the moral order took place in the two World Wars. Because many men were sent to the battlefield women were forced to work in order to support their families. The radical feminist ideology was born in the early 1920s and grew quickly in the 1940s and 1950s. Women started building their own career like men. Equality with men, not in dignity as known in traditional Christianity, but in all aspects of roles in business as well as at home was furiously demanded. This started the collapse of the family as we know it. Today we know many men and women who are, contrary to the moral Law, legally divorced. The feminist movement also produced legalization of abortion as the right of woman according to the land's law has a priority over the existence of the fetus in her womb. The Western civilization lost millions of unborn babies in this genocide. By the 1960s the sexual revolution was in the making, this time freeing people from the sex complex as defined by Freud. Soon afterwards, it became common that young people practice their intimate sexual "love" in the public with no shame. Today we know of couples who live together a life of sexual promiscuity and adultery without marriage or within marriage by prior agreement.
The last evil came under the influence of the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (died a patient in a psychiatric hospital; 1900) who is known by his proclamation of the "the death of God". The ideology is known as Moral Relativism: Nietzsche sees the slave-morality as a social illness that has overtaken Europe — a derivative and resentful value which can only work by condemning others as evil. In Nietzsche's eyes, Christianity exists in a hypocritical state wherein people preach love and kindness but find their joy in condemning and punishing others for pursuing those ends which the slave-morality does not allow them to act upon publicly. Nietzsche calls for the strong in the world to break their self-imposed chains and assert their own power, health, and vitality upon the world. In Relativism (called also Postmodernism), everyone is right. There is no absolute right and absolute wrong. This helps political correctness in the pluralistic world of today.
In my humble opinion, we need to pay attention to the present, learn lessons from the past, and pray for the future. We seem to have lost our way between the False Prophet (Radical Islam) and the Beast (Western Civilization).
There is a tremendous thirst in the young generations for spiritual nourishment that gives meaning to their lives. Let us focus on those ones for their deprivation of spiritual nourishment leads them to emptiness and depression which in turn cause suicide or worse they could join the extremist Jihadists (as we already see in Europe and North America) and we end up having a crazy army of terrorists killing themselves and us in the name of God as prophesied "children will rise against parents and have them put to death"(Matthew 10:21). Churches are "not museums" according to Saint Pope John XXIII. They must be the light for nourishment of Christians, notably the young and (almost) lost generations, in everything that they need to learn to live spiritually and survive materially i.e. to develop in their knowledge and love of God and of others.Virtual websites for Church activities and online social networking need to be developed for those who are far.
The world needs a lot of prayer and intelligent collaboration in good faith to avoid a clash of civilizations and a third World War, something that Pope Francis warned about. Christians need to respect and love their fellow Muslims who worship the same God - The crimes of extremists cannot be counted against the majority of Muslims. We hope that the warnings of Fatima will be avoided. Mary is the mother of both Christians and Muslims, and as Bishop Fulton sheen said, Mary will bring them all to her Son.
But more prayers are needed to save the civilization of the West from destroying itself internally. This is the harder one. We believe in what the Saviour said 'Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20).