Wainwright Ch 11. The Transformation of Society.

It seems to be reasonable to interpret the Apocalypse as predicting a time of peace and justice on earth. Both the early Chiliasts and the postmillenialists had such hopes. In the 18th C Samuel Hopkins "gave the impression that the world of the millenium would be a sanctified welfare state"! Hopkins expected this to begin in 2016, and as Wainwright says, if he was alive today he would see how far short of his ideal the world is at the end of the 20th C. Another interpretation has been to see the millenium and the New Jerusalem as symbols of a just society on earth. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Kingsley and Alfred Lord Tennyson all Interpreted happenings of their own day as the precursors of a just society on earth.

Biblical scholars such as A.S Peake saw the New Jerusalem in terms of a new social order. R.H. Charles and Beckwith used the Apocalypse in support of the Allied cause in World War I, and also looked to the book for resolution of the social and economic problems after the war.

For Americans, the dreams of the millenium were likened to the view that the United States was destined to bring about a transformation in society. The concept of "manifest destiny" reflected this belief in the 19th C. Walt Whitman reflected the apolcalyptic hope in his portrayal of America as a "Beautiful world of new superber birth". The Shaker Frederick W. Evans expected a "Shaker reconstruction of the American Government", in which poverty would disappear. Julia Ward Howe understood the American Civil War in an apocalyptic sense. According to Wainwright, in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", she portrayed the struggle between North and South in terms of the Advent of Christ. The Apocalypse has also been used in regard to Latin America in the second half of the 20th C. Latin Americans Ricardo Foulkes and Dagoberto Ramirez Fernandez in the late 1980s place the United States in the role of Babylon, in marked contrast to earlier writers such as Philip Freneau (1752 - 1832) who saw it as the setting for the New Jerusalem.

Also in the 1980s, Boesak, the black South African church leader, saw the Apocalpse as protest literature, challenging people to choose between God and Caesar. He identified the beast from the sea with the government and the beast from the sea with the Dutch Reformed Church, both of whch supported apartheid at that time. Daniel Berrigan, campaigning for nuclear disarmament (1977) turned to the Apocalypse. The beast works through the military industrial establishment, the beast, the bomb, and the imperial state are all one. In 1973, William Stringfellow described Babylon as a parable of all nations. Over time it has been Rome, Nazi Germany, and now the United States. Any nation that sets itself up as God is Babylon. Purely secular interpreters of the Apocalypse include Robert Owen, writing in 1817 in the shadow of the Industrial Revolution. He was a social reformer who believed that his mission was to provide people with adequate education and improved working conditions, leading to mental liberty and a second creation of humanity. His attempt to found a Utopia in Harmonie, Indiana failed, but it remained a cultural and scientific center. Engels and Marx also produced a secular version of apocalyptic literature, recognizing the similarities between socialism and the attitudes expressed in the Apocalpse. "In spite of the hostility of Marxism to religion, Engels respected first century Christianity as depicted in the Apocalypse." For social reformers the book expresses a dream of a new society, free from the ills of our present world, whether those dreams are achieved by social activism or by God's control of history.

Joan Kidd