In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.
So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?
Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:
1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”
2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.
3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.
So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.
Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.
So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p
Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.
Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.
I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:
Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:
Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:
Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.
Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.
At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”
Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”
In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.
Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth.
Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.
Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.
Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7
There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.
So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. :)