Spiritual Warfare in Revelation

Today in my class on Revelation, we were up to chapter 12, which features, on the one hand, some classic imagery depicting a battle between Michael and Satan and their angelic hosts, while on the other hand, it features a subversive reinterpretation of the way such battles are envisaged, since it describes the “counquerors” in Revelation 12:11 as follows: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” They conquer by laying down their lives, rather than by taking the lives of others.

I was reminded in this context of a quote, the author of which I am afraid I cannot recall. The gist of it was to ask why, in view of such texts as this, we still find Christians depicting or envisaging spiritual warfare as a slightly-Christianized version of He-Man vs. Skeletor.

In sharing this image, I also realized it was dated (although some students got it). Who would be the best equivalent to use for current students? Power Rangers? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Some other folks I’ve never heard of?

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18295840754661890186 Jonathan Robinson

    Oh dear, TMNT are dated! That makes me officially old. :-(

  • Anonymous

    This doesn't directly relate to your question here, but I tend to show the U2 Elevation tour version of "End of the World" when I talk about the combat myth and how this battle imagery is part of the way we think. That song ends in a battle between the Edge and Bono, with a horned Bono losing. It helps that the song is Judas talking to Jesus, complaining about how he always is talking about the end of the world.As to Skeletor, I never did watch that one even though I'm in the right generation– so you might lose me too;)Phil H.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01300256018441903185 Keika

    "Space Ghost." Champion over Satan. I like Space Ghost because he could become invisible, and then from out of nowhere, sneak up and beat the monkey stuffing out of the bad guys. Unfortunately as a child of the '60s, I can't think of any superhero other than Jesus, who's able to beat the monkey stuffing out of Satan.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13483419817200339955 Paul D.

    I suspect that turning Christianity into He-man–versus–Skeletor battle sessions like some denominations and sects (especially the Charismatic ones) are wont to do is another example of Christians needing some replacement for emotional release and catharsis that "worldly" fantasy and science fiction provide to ordinary folks. The only problem is that a lot of these Christians have completely lost the ability to distinguish fact from fantasy, if you ask me.

  • http://mcconeghy.wordpress.com/ mcconeghy

    The moment of scantily clad hulks is, perhaps sadly for religious studies, passed. He-Man was an early 1980s show. Those kids went to college before the year 2000. TMNT was my generation. We went to college and are nearly 30 now. (Even though there was a v2.0 it was not the cultural blockbluster the franchise once was. And we're also the generation of the Simpsons, Darkwing Duck, Talespin, Ducktales, etc.)You're looking for kids that were watching cartoons after 1997 or so (if you're imagining what was culturally formative during elementary school). You'd definitely have to include Pokemon and Power Rangers. Space Ghost fits the bill, but isn't nearly as popular then as He-Man was in the middle of the 1980s. Spongebob is HUGE, especially if the kids had siblings. What has really happened is that animated TV split its audiences into tots and teenagers. You get Dora/Bob/Backyardigans/ and then South Park/Family Guy/Simpsons/Futurama/King of the HIll. Your students probably watched a lot of Disney productions (*shudder*) such as Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Zoey 101, Wizards of Waverly. See what younger brothers (until I left for college in 1999) and lots of babysitting for a family friend (in 2003-4) will do for your cultural trivia? I'd be ashamed but I think all of this stuff is fantastic.

  • http://godwillbegod.com/blog Andrew

    mcconeghy makes an interesting point. There has been a dramatic cultural shift away from the absolute good vs the absolute evil. Kids think more in sitcoms now — situational — rather than absolutes. It's come to the point now where adult cartoon shows are making fun of the traditions they come from.The Venture Brothers, for example, is about two boys solving mysteries, but their father is a failed, shallow super-scientist. The father's arch-enemy works through an organized guild of enemies that provides the service of 'arching' to high-profile 'heros' that don't, in any way, shape or form, fit the hero-idea but want to live that glorified, exciting lifestyle. I'm surprised no one has mentioned The Star Wars or Lord of the Rings influences. They don't exactly fit the He-man/Skeletor level of absolutes. And they don't necessarily fit the Christian narratives perfectly either. But maybe it just shows that there are signs of hope for the future — the He-man/Skeletor version of Christianity just doesn't sit well in the population's psyche anymore?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I think that, even if the "He-Man vs. Skeletor" allusion has lost its currency, there is still a stream of Christianity that views things in terms of that kind of conflict model. But almost everyone who comes to mind as an example is above a certain age, and so I wonder if there is indeed a cultural shift, mirrored in Christianity and in cartoons.

  • Angie VanDeMerwe

    It is easier within our present context, to ‘see” or understand a “war” between good and evil, than, to see “angelic hosts” overseeing all forms of government. Government in their day was an empire that granted the Jews the right to thier religious persuasion, but these were irrelavant to the greater empire. So, power was distributed primarily in the empire.

    In America, Christians believe in the right of “individual sovereignty” which is in total opposition to an understanding of Ceasar’s power, altho as a nation, we could be categorized as an empire. Individuals have a right to petition and even “form” their government as to legislation by the Representatives they choose to vote into office.  The images in John have little connection to reality unless one projects some ideas into the book, just as John did. And many have done so, at a price of dealing in the real world before them.

     Black and white thinking or imagery helps us to categorize easily and helps us to demogogue those that don’t agree with us, which is a common trait in humans. So, I don’t think that seeing good at war with evil is anything new. The classic/orthodox position, of course, is that God over-intends evil. This is not the view of America’s Enlightenment and Revolution,. What was considered “evil’ the taxation of the colonies without Representation was considered unjust and the colonies sought to resolve these greviances..