Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Carrying the Cross

Saturday, 5 November 2011

(Counter-/Anti-) Apocalypse in Catherine Keller

I've been working my way through Catherine Keller's 1996 book Apocalypse Now: A Feminist Guide to the End of the Word for a little while now and I'm just rounding the corner and getting into the home stretch, with only two chapters remaining (to be fair, there are 310 pages of text and only seven chapters in total, but who's counting?).  The first two chapters function as an introduction and basic exegesis of the Revelation of John of Patmos, while the remaining five each address a separate subject area that has felt the apocalyptic influence of St. John's writings.

One of the interesting motifs that Keller utilises throughout the book is the notion of there being three distinct types of 'apocalypse' which have manifested themselves throughout the two millennia since the writing of Revelation.  She identifies, first, apocalypse, the revolutionary struggle towards the hoped-for redemption of humanity and the world as St. John explicitly describes in the text.  In apocalypse, what may often begin as a faithful attempt to bring about the promised transformation almost inevitably ends in carnage and bloodshed (unfortunately also indicative of the biblical text).  Other times, the violence is foregrounded from the start, drawing upon the warrior mythos of the 'returning messiah' of Revelation.

If apocalypse is the raison d'être of the revolutionary, then anti-apocalypse exemplifies the amillenialist eschatology of the empire.  The radical fervour of the former is entirely removed in the anti-apocalyptic move, according to Keller, who sights the institutionalization of Rome under Constantine as its true origin.  Citing Constantinian theologian of the court Eusebius of Caesarea's equation of the eschatological millennium with the reign of the Church, Keller rightly conflates the Whore of Babylon with the institution prophesied to overcome it.  She writes, "Thus the eschatological banquet translates into the feast of imperial Christianity.  If the angels of Revelation invited the birds to feast on the carcass of Rome, Rome now appears as the consummate host" (97).  Ironically, it is this "anti-"apocalypse which should prove to be the most violent, trampling upon the rights and freedoms of the non-Christian, white, aristocratic male peoples in the course of the Church's imperial moves.

Seeking to drive beyond the violent tensions underlying both apocalyptic understandings, Keller advocates for a third counter-apocalypse, a movement which would honour the anger and frustrations of traditional apocalypse, while navigating these feelings towards a stridently non-violent progress.  Utilising the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, in which she is well versed, Keller sees the eschaton in every moment of becoming, in which this "edge" is always providing the opportunity for greater transformation.  Without the destructiveness that comes with the end of time and space in the traditional Revelation account, the counter-apocalyptic eschatology sees God's movement in creation as never-ending.  The God who works persuasively--not coercively--in every moment is the God who calls us to economic and ecological justice, gender equality and a voice for women, the loving acceptance and empowerment of LGBTQ persons, and to the undeconstructable to come (to quote Derrida) of social justice.

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