Friday, October 3, 2014

Ebola, Ignorance, and "Knowledge"

My stalwart adult ed class and I are cranking our way through the Book of Revelation these last few weeks, and it is going as one might expect.

John of Patmos has a wild, fever-dream way of articulating faith, and negotiating the complex and intentionally obscure mess of symbols and images that make up that peculiar book isn't always easy.   I'll freely admit it's not my favorite book of the Bible--not my least favorite, but certainly among the bottom five.  It's also not a book that any honest teacher will attempt to definitively interpret, so I don't.

I'll present the scholarly options, sure, and some of the most viable interpretive hypotheses.  I can also say that some interpretations--particularly those that respect the context and community that initially received the  book--are more likely than others.

What I've been especially intentional about NOT doing is interpolating any of John's wild mix of apocalyptic imagery into current events, or trying to say I know more than can be possibly known about the intent of that willfully obscure book.  That's always been the temptation for readers of Revelation, and it has always, always been the wrong way to approach that difficult book.  Can you?  Of course you can, in the way that we see images in the clouds or the face of our first lover in a rorschach blot.  But it's projection, not prophesy.  And we project when we don't want to really know or be changed.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the terrible spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, and its recent nudging out into our nation.

The smorgasbord of plagues and destructions layered on top of destructions that are served up in that Book get plugged into just about any catastrophe.  As, indeed has Ebola.  Of course, it's not clear which of the inchoate swirl of visions it might be.  Is it the last of the four horsemen, who brings pestilence in Rev. 6:8?  Or  maybe it's the work of the two witnesses, striking the earth with any kind of plague they want.  (Rev. 11:6)  Or perhaps it's the first cup poured out by the first angel.  (Rev. 16:2)

It's that latter one that seems to be making the rounds in West Africa these days, spread by those who want their own spin on the nature of things to actually be the nature of things.   And so we get a group of conservative Christian leaders in Liberia announcing, as things fall apart, that it's "homosexualism" that's responsible for Ebola.  Not directly of course, but the Creator of the Universe is so angry at gays and lesbians that a disease has been sent to kill innocent children and their mothers, as they hemorrhage to death in fetid conditions.  It's the first cup!  The end times are upon us!

That one can say that "God is Love" on the one hand and then "God Willfully Kills Children With a  Hemorrhagic Fever to Punish Us for Tolerating Gays" on the other isn't just hypocritical.  It's remarkably dissonant.  That kind of dissonance is the heart of madness, and what turns faith from the source of our hope to the source of our horror.

There's something more at play here, though.  The drive to plug terrible events into an existing worldview is basically, terribly human.  Our yearning to find a "why" behind this know the secret behind both a fundamental human urge and a dangerous one.

The honest human yearning for deepening knowledge--as found in the epidemiology and the hard science behind serious efforts to find a cure for this terrible disease--is our hope in combating Ebola.  But the human tendency to want to imagine we already know, that fusing of our thirst for knowing with our hunger for power?  That's dangerous, both spiritually and materially.

It's not just my ultra-conservative African brethren who do this.  Ignorance knows no cultural bounds.  The whispering, paranoiac corners of the American internet are already buzzing and humming about how this disease is a genetically engineered plague, and about how government efforts to contain it are just part of a great conspiracy to keep us from the truth and to restrain our freedom.

Instead, we should place our hope in buying the "essential oils" being marketed by the hucksters spreading this "truth," and whispering subversion of those systems upon which our hope for restraining this plague rest.

Ignorance has always been the enemy of transformation, and the stumbling block we set before ourselves.

As terrible as ignorance is, willful ignorance is worse.