Today's readings from the daily office include Revelation 17. This passage and chapter 18 describe the punishment and fall of mystical Babylon, the mother of abominations who rules over all the nations of the earth:
Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. (17:1-2)
To the first or second century readers of Revelation, Babylon of course was imperial Rome. But what interests me more than a historical-critical interpretation of this imagery is the idea of the embodiment of idolatry. Babylon is incomparably wealthy, riding upon the beast of imperial military and political power, drenched in the blood of the innocent, with all the nations are under her spell.
What particularly potent imagery for what Walter Wink refers to as the Domination System — an idolatrous system of power and privilege based on imperial culture and the myth of redemptive violence. In The Powers That Be (which I started reading a few days ago), Wink interprets the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish as the archetypal narrative of the myth that social order and cohesion must be maintained and reinforced through repeated sacrificial violence.
The Romans were the first century inheritors, through the Pax Romana, of the myth of redemptive violence. The Domination System ruled through Roman imperial power and through its descendants in Christendom and later the modern nation state.
One does not have to look too far to see Babylon's modern sons, who continue to insist it is necessary to destroy entire societies through suffering and bloodshed in order to save them. These days however, redemptive violence is waged under euphemisms like 'structural adjustment', 'collateral damage' and 'staying the course'.
They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. (17:14)
The great promise of Revelation is that such oppression and violence will be overturned, ultimately and nonviolently, by the Lamb. Might is not right, and ultimately will not prevail.