It has been suggested that the use of the expression mene mene tekel u-pharsin in my previous blog was “very strong stuff”. In defense I would stress that it was applied to global power structures and not to any specific regime or organisation. It was also expressed in the superlative mood as a possibility for consideration rather than a prophecy.
However, Michael Northcott entitles the penultimate chapter of his book (A Political Theology of climate Change) “Revolutionary Messianism and the End of Empire” and the sub-section on William Blake as “The Apocalypse of Albion – Christ”. Hardly weak language. As a liberal Christian I am wary of applying apocalyptic language to contemporary situations but I find the parallels between the industrial society challenged by Blake and the global economic situation facing us today remarkably convincing.
So let us consider that mysterious expression from the book of Daniel, phrase by phrase as it might apply to our 21st century world.
Mene – “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Our post-Christian society may think it can dispense with God but it cannot dispense with history. Every previous civilisation has come to an end and it is the height of arrogance to suppose that ours will be an exception – that we have in fact reached the end of history. It is indeed apocalyptics gone mad.
Tekel – “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Suppose it were true, that history had in fact reached its goal, that there was nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. Would it be ground for satisfaction, let alone pride? We are slaves to the fear of terrorism; international security rests on the mutual threat of a nuclear holocaust; refugees flee from war or famine and the countries in which they would seek security fear the threat to their comfortable living standards; where the privileged enjoy luxury others depend on the charity of food banks to satisfy their hunger………. Can there be any doubt but that the global power structures on which the welfare of the world depends are wanting?
U-pharsin – “Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Mention of the Medes and Persians makes it clear that the expression applies to a particular historic situation, namely the capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C. It is futile to attempt to apply the particulars of a specific situation in 539 B.C. to a totally different situation two and a half millennia later but the intention of “u-pharsin” to explain how the end implied by “mene” was to come about is clear. It remains to be seen how history might bring an end to the empire of contemporary political and economic powers but there is no shortage of candidates – a nuclear holocaust, climate chaos, an Islamic Caliphate…….
But do we need to be so negative? Might not the demise of the present political/economic empire be a cause for hope rather than despair? Whatever the faults and dangers of cyber-technology it has given rise to a real sense of the empowerment of ordinary people. They are waking to the realisation that they do not have to accept slavery to the pressures of media, the economists, the politicians, the global corporations……… Here is hope for a saner, happier more peaceful world.