I was nosing around through scripture last night and found myself looking at Revelation, a book that — thanks to the promptings of a dear old religious sister who was my spiritual advisor for a while — I have learned to love. I’d not read Chapters 12 or 13 in a while, and if you’re not familiar with them, this is where we get the bits about about the dragon and the beast — the dragon pursues The Woman, who flees into the wilderness, to a place prepared for her by God, and then Michael defeats the dragon. He is thrown down to earth along with his minions. In Chapter 13, we read that the dragon takes his stand on the seashore — perhaps one of those natural amphitheaters where the ancients would preach — and the dragon introduces the beasts (there are two). The first rises from the sea, and has seven heads, one of which has seemingly been healed of a mortal head wound.

And the whole world is impressed. They worship the dragon for giving authority to the beast, and worship the beast as well, saying “who is like him?” A second beast arises from the earth and facilitates the first beast.

I’m always intrigued about scriptural or other prophecy that suggests “the whole world” would gaze upon a particular creature or event in wonder. The world was much smaller when John was writing from Patmos, but even still, the notion that the entirety of humanity would be able to witness something happening together, and in real time, would have been unthinkable. Now, of course, it’s the norm for sporting events, concerts and wars and earthquakes and chaos are all transmitted live, until the world has become benumbed. And if you think we are not benumbed, consider the fact that the two stories of tragic, horrific mass shootings that occurred last weekend — sickening stories of human beings murdered while peacefully shopping for their groceries and congregating at church — have already fallen below the fold, so to speak. We are barely hearing of them.

Think of it. Two shooters decided that people who were not just like them were hate-worthy and killable — as expendable as tin cans lined up on a fence, to be picked off one by one. In one case, the shooter livestreamed himself, which has happened before. And after the initial gasps of horror and outrage, what is today being talked about is Monkeypox, Johnny Depp, “Brazilian Butt Lifts”, and the demise of People Magazine.

Thinking about these shootings, though, after reading about the dragon and the beast, I couldn’t help but wonder whether John the Revelator was shown some deranged young man livestreaming himself as he walks into a grocery store and begins shooting people who don’t look like him. He would have had no context in which to know what he was seeing. How might he have described it? The shooter was wearing body armor, including on his head. What would that have looked like, to John? Perhaps his narration would have featured a creature, half human, half demon, with a hard and soft exterior, looking ant-like, and many eyes that looked both within and without, whose voice could be heard by many even those far away, living in distant places. Perhaps John would have described the automatic rifle as a spear of fire, one whose sparks could travel far, and enter into human bodies with precision, bleeding them and destroying life all around.

And of course, he’d tell of a world that could see it, watch as it happened.

I closed the book and prayed Night Prayers out of my breviary, with a mind toward asking a blessing upon the whole confused, divided, angry and hurting world — that we might be delivered from the illusions and delusions that mark our era, and will further impact the era to come, all of them meant to keep us distracted, awestruck, misdirected and looking at many, many things, but not Christ. At truth, goodness and beauty, not so much.

And then this morning, moving about the internet in search of headlines, I saw this one on the Drudge report:

With the wild images of Revelation still in my head, this got me thinking about how convincing the deep fakes are becoming and how they might be misused to mislead. They’re already so good that we are probably already looking at false images without realizing it. We saw some of it used in Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” production, meant to enhance and clarify some dingy old film and unclear audio while rendering all of the Beatles so sweetly that they each looked 22 years-old and much healthier than they likely were.

I couldn’t help pondering the possibilities.

Imagine a scenario (what a movie it would make!) if say, some politico has a rally at which he introduces his/her “special guest” who is meant to excite and motivate the crowd with an endorsement speech, and then — perhaps on a screen or even walking out on stage via an excellent hologram — we suddenly have John F. Kennedy standing before us (or, for the Trumpian Q-Anon folks, JFK Jr!) and speaking in that familiar Bostonian accent. Imagine if he is joined by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy — all suddenly healed of their mortal head wounds and standing before us, convincingly speaking to the age, their words generated by others, voiced by Artificial Intelligence and good mimics. Imagine what the world would do, how it would scream and roar in approval and worship all of it — the illusion, the technology that brought it, the entertainment of it, the tantalizing possibility of tragic losses suddenly recovered. Some people (because people can make themselves believe anything if they really want to believe it) will even call it reality, will insist that anything that can be dreamed up and brought to market is it’s own reality, as well. And we will watch society collectively move further away from the simplest of truths in search of…I’m not sure what.

Ah, yes. What a movie it would make.

Or forget the movie — it would be a streamed series, introduced on Disney+ for the whole family and showcased weekly, right between The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Or, no! It will become a streamed reality series on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime (with appropriate purchasing tie-ins). It may even live streamed, with the screens ubiquitous to our shops and restaurants all featuring The Dragon and The Beasts in America as they move about fomenting their chaos with smiles and laughter, with special guest appearances by whomever is currently in vogue. A nation sits in rapt fascination, quickly embraces whatever new cool product or lifestyle trend or philosophy the showcased duo are promoting or slyly recommending.

Wow. And I haven’t even had my second cup of coffee yet. Maybe during my summer sabbatical I will try my hand at writing some fiction. Some crazy fiction.

Or maybe I’ll just spend more time at my oratory.

Btw, the featured image is a detail of The Beast and the Temple, from the Beatus Manuscript. It is featured in the Word on Fire Bible (Acts, Letters and Revelation Edition) which, though I have left Word on Fire, I still recommend because it is not only beautifully wrought but full of great commentary from many sources.