Prolonged rain has turned my abode into a dank sarcophagus. It reeks of still, dead air. There’s no point in sneaking out, nothing to gaze upon below. There’s little news. We’ve stopped talking, meowing, grunting, snoring, playing music. Even the sad woman has lost her voice. Silence reigns. And rankles.
A propitious time to consider Doom!
Odds are that, whatever you believe, you personally feel that the problems we face today are far worse than usual and that some kind of ruinous reckoning impends. You could be religious, secular, Green, Lavender—or Red, White & Blue. Your toilet paper may derive from recycled newsprint, or your SUV might sport a sticker that says Out of Work and Hungry? Eat an Environmentalist!
You may be a born-again Christian anticipating the Rapture, a New Age devotee of the Mayan calendar, an expansionist Israeli Jew, a Muslim awaiting the Mahdi, or a hardcore materialist watching icecaps melt.
You think the end of the world is coming. Soon.
A lot of people have pitched cataclysms over the years. In 1831 an Upstate New York preacher named William Miller started heralding the Second Coming. People sold their businesses and homes to await Christ in accordance with Miller’s Biblical arithmetic. When 1843 failed to yield the Apocalypse he’d predicted, Miller announced that his count was off by a year. October 22, 1844 brought ‘The Great Disappointment.’ As many as 100,000 spent the evening on hillsides awaiting the Light. Miller spent years explaining he’d fixed on that date because his followers had done so; it seemed a sign from God.
The Bahá'í think the Savior did turn up that day, but in Persia.
More recently, Sun Myung Moon predicted that the Kingdom of Heaven would begin its reign in 1981. Moon was an honored guest at President Reagan’s inauguration that January. Things must have seemed awfully promising for the self-styled ‘Savior’ till the Justice Department threw him in prison for tax fraud. Ronald Wilson Reagan had three sixes to his name….
None of the forecasts have come true. So why leave Apocalypse to the professionals? Ordinary folks wish to play an active, democratic role in the process of terminating our pathetic existence.
So it is that missionaries trawl New York’s subways in search of Jews to convert to Christianity because The Book Of Revelation says 12,000 Jews from each of the 12 tribes (good luck, most of those tribes haven’t been seen for millennia) must accept Christ in order to facilitate the Apocalypse. Some Israelis want to blow up the mosque complex that lies atop the wrecked Temple of Solomon so they can rebuild the latter.
The End: Our Only Friend?
Christian American farmers are trying to breed perfect red heifers whose ashes are needed to purify the Jews who would pray in that new temple. Why such ecumenical charity? These dispensationalists think it will bring on the Antichrist.
I know that sounds counterproductive, but it’s supposed to force Jesus to return in the Second Coming. Perhaps annoyed that His followers are so pushy, He is expected to liquidate any Jews who don’t convert. (At least Christians and Jews agree on the first, uh, constructive part.)
Not to be left out, Muslims concur that Christ will reappear, but as an Islamic prophet betokening the Final Judgment. So if Christ does return, either a billion Muslims or a billion Christians will be disappointed in His religious disposition.
It’s easy enough for secular folks, if any still exist, to laugh at all of this. But Karl Marx was an outspoken atheist, and his most positive predictions reek of prophecy and Apocalypse. (After certain tribulations, eternal justice for workers!)
Today’s atheists, agnostics, humanists, and whatchamacallits preach that The End Is Near, too. Secular Apocalyptics assert that their own exciting views of catastrophe are rooted in science and measurable observation. (“But Glacier National Park used to feature glaciers!”)
My favorite path to secular meltdown is as big as anything the Evangelicals embrace. Referring to a quantum physics principle that says particles function differently when we measure them, two Midwestern professors suggested that by noting the existence of dark matter in 1998, mankind may have drastically reduced the odds that the universe will ever stabilize from the Big Bang. (Yeah, it’s complicated.) Since aliens somewhere are gauging matter, too, I’m thinking this particular End won’t really be our fault.
Human society can’t have known many times in which everyone—from religious fanatics to logical materialists—agreed about doom. Bird flu freaks don’t even rate. We regard H5N1 as a passing phenomenon, horrific but endurable (if you’re lucky).
The Book of Revelation does mention four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and one of them is often said to be Pestilence. But only Death is named in the text. The identity of the other riders is, um, guesswork, divination.
So what can it mean for a society—for the world—when everyone but Buddhists and the occasional atheistic Republican who disbelieves in global warming agrees that the game is over?
More on this next time … if there is a next time.