Principalities & Powers: The Dragon in Sheep’s Clothing (1/4)

Notes from Walter Wink’s award winning 1993 book ‘Engaging the Powers – Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination‘.

The Dragon in Sheep’s Clothing

“People would not be so acquiescent to their own oppression unless they were caught in a powerful delusion. “Delude” is from the Latin deludre, “to play,” specifically, “to play with anyone to his injury or frustration, to mock, to defraud; to befool the mind or judgment so as to cause what is false to be accepted as true” (pg. 88).


(Pg. 93-95), “In order to delude humanity, to achieve a maximum level of stupefaction, the Dragon creates “another Beast that arose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like the Dragon (Revelation 13:11). This is not a natural, earthly, chthonic creature. It is not a deep archetype bursting from the unconscious. It is a wholly artificial creation. It will later be identified as the “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), whose task is to persuade people that their salvation lies in the political order. It works great miracles . . . and by these miracles . . . it deceives the inhabitants of the earth (13:13-14).

In appearance this Second Beast is as meek as a lamb – imitating the Lamb who is to rule the nations – but it speaks with the Dragon’s voice. It is a Dragon in sheep’s clothing. The Second Beast is the priestly propaganda machine of the empire. It exercises all the authority of the First Beast on its behalf, and compels the earth and its inhabitants to worship the First Beast (13:12). This goes beyond the realm of religious preference and into the domain of religio-political terrorism.

In historical terms, John is alluding to the civic cultus that grew up around the worship of the emperors, which by John’s time had become the litmus test to expose the acids eating at the fabric of empire. Anyone suspected of revolutionary designs or subversive thoughts could be required to burn a pinch of incense before the emperor’s image, and refusal was punishable by death.

The Second Beast , therefore, proselytizes by means of a civil religion that declares the state and its leaders divine. This element of power-worship is stressed over and over by John: people “worshipped the Dragon, for he had given his authority to the Beast, and they worshipped the Beast, saying, ‘Who is like the Beast and who can fight against it?’ (13:4) . . . . .

Why does the Beast demand worship? Why is it not content merely with obedience? Because the Beast knows that the public is fickle; that opinion swings wildly in response to the slightest shifts on the world scene. What is needed is something that can lash loyalty to the mast where it can ride out the waves of social unrest. Ethnic feeling is not enough. Patriotism is not enough. What is needed is worship of the state. That is what nationalism is and always has been. Nationalism is not, in its essence, a political phenomenon; it is a religious one. Only a transcendent cause can induce young men to risk their lives voluntarily in the absence of any conceivable self-interest.

Propaganda is not merely deception, then. It is the manufacture of idolatry. It is not enough that people be misinformed about the nature of the System, for powerful disconfirming truths could easily slip in to shatter such illusions. But if you can cause people to worship the Beast, you have created a public immune to truth. As studies of cognitive dissonance show, worshippers do not surrender their beliefs in the presence of disconfirming facts. They simply adjust their beliefs to neutralize the facts.

We are all too familiar with the trappings of propaganda: the big lie, or the daily small ones; doctored news dispatches and photographs, planted stories, falsified scientific reports, gossip, innuendo, slander. Even more insidious are the misrepresentation of facts carried by the mass media, which avoid stories verifiable, and important. Powerful newspapers like the New York Times often simply parrot national policy, even when their reporters are feeding them information sharply at variance with the official picture, as during the Vietnam War.

But propaganda is extremely weak, as is shown by its failure after forty-four years to convert people in the Eastern bloc to communism. Illusion requires incessant repetition in order to mimic the appearance of reality. Propaganda works only through constant reiteration. It is only in quantity that corrupt values, false perceptions, and bogus facts can be sold. Truth, by contrast, though its lot is never easy, makes its way with but a few friends, or even a single utterance. It does not need the apparatus of salesmanship, because reality itself is waiting to confirm it. Hence the power of the beleaguered prophet, or the mothers of the “disappeared” demonstrating daily in Argentina or El Salvador, or the witness by the tracks where the White Train carried nuclear explosives to Trident submarine bases: normal people with no economic stake never choose to suffer this much just to lie.

Next: Part 2 Principalities & Powers: The Dragon’s Game.

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