Living under the Empire... (2) Where is Babylon?

We were driving back from school last week, talking about books that we had been reading and my younger son, Ciaran, asked me "Where is Babylon?" I have to confess that my history is better than my geography, and I said that it no longer exists as an inhabited city, but its ruins were to the north west of the current capital of Iraq, Baghdad. When I checked however, I discovered that it is actually about 50 miles south of Baghdad and the modern town is the administrative centre of the province of Babil...
But just as the modern city is but a shadow of the historic capital of 2 ancient empires, first under Hammurabi in the 18th century BCE and then the "Neo-Babylonian" empire (under Nebuchadnezzar etc) in the 6th century BCE, so the earthly Babylonian empire/s was/were fleeting in comparison to the enduring metaphorical idea of Babylon.
The original Empire under Hammurabi was probably the ultimate origin of some of the early Biblical stories, including the "Tower of Babel," but the experience of the Jews at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar shaped the subsequent thinking/worship  of the entire Jewish nation whilst the metaphor was subsequently adopted by the early church as a cover for criticism of the Roman Empire.
Because of the identification of Babylon with Rome, particularly in the book of Revelation, some of the earlier reformers subsequently identified Babylon with the Roman church, and some within the more fundamentalist wing continue to do so... Though others point to the treaty of Rome as the foundation document of the European Union, and so identify the EU as the evil empire. Others have pointed to the United Nations, or (for example the Rastafarians), the British Empire (which by extension makes Queen Elizabeth II Revelation's Whore of Babylon), or the USA.Historically black pentecostal traditions tended to do this, being descended from slaves who could see a direct equivalence between the Jew's Babylonian captivity and their own. In more recent years there have been others who have compared contemporary USA to Babylon from both conservative perspectives (criticising modern America for its moral laxity and pagan pantheism) and more liberal ones, pointing to America's misuse of its economic and military hegemony.
My own feeling is that Babylon can be different things at different times. For me it is the prevailing socio-economic system we find ourselves living in at present... an aggressively capitalist/consumerist culture that perhaps emanates from modern America, but should not be uniquely identified with the USA. This culture pervades the whole of life and demands loyalty of all within its sway.
But just as the Jews of Babylon and the Christians in the early Roman empire refused to live entirely according to the culture they found themselves under, we too need to reflect on how far we kow-tow to wider society, whether that be the wider socio-economic culture, or more local powers and principalities, whose territories may be marked by flags and painted kerbstones (as in certain areas of this city) or by much more subtle signs...
The Kngdom of God cannot be marked out on a physical map, and neither can contemporary Babylon... Both battle over the territory of the human heart and mind.



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