The Call of the Apocalypse

In discussing various polemics against religion, such as those by Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher, I have frequently stated that they have a point, but they have ignored the good that religion hath wrought. It is like an Anti-Julius Caesar – the good is oft interred with the bones. Then the news goes and validates their polemic. The arrests yesterday of the leadership of the Christian militia calling themselves the Hutaree (I’m sorry, but it sounds like a happy Boy Scout gathering) highlights once more the danger that religion poses to an already unstable society. I’d not heard of the Hutaree before, and chances are I would never have heard of them had they not plotted an apocalyptic war against the United States’ government that landed them on the front page.

Few people are willing to admit just how dangerous apocalyptic thought is, or how deeply rooted it is in American politics. Tracing the roots of this form of belief is not difficult – apocalyptic first appears in the Bible when revelation through prophecy met and mated with Zoroastrianism’s dualism. The offspring of this union was the belief that a new, and better (!), age was about to dawn. God would usher in an era of peace, but it had to be precipitated by an era of war. Presidents drawn from the Religious Right have held this belief. Some have even eagerly begun wars in hopes that this ancient Afghanistanian religion would lead to the Christian apocalypse. At least the Hutaree were up-front about it: they believed that armed conflict with the government would flush out the Antichrist and usher in the end.

Last night in my Prophets class student questions indicated just how much interest there is in apocalyptic. We live in an era when information is all-too-easy to find, and yet many otherwise intelligent people believe that a hidden knowledge about the future is available in the Bible. It is not. For those who have ears to hear, Daniel was written about Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Revelation was written about a Roman emperor (perhaps Nero or Domitian) who threatened nascent Christianity. The apocalyptic battle was already underway. The future they longed for was peace. Modern apocalypticists see all of this as future prediction and believe that they must start the war. All of this makes me feel strangely vindicated. The FBI and other government officials are starting to demonstrate an awareness that to prevent religious extremism you must understand it. Now if only universities would catch on and realize that the study of religion is vital to national security I might end up with a full-time teaching post after all.

The original Antichrist

9 thoughts on “The Call of the Apocalypse

  1. Antiochus IV, dang I thought it was the commies.

    You don’t have to look far if you have done a bit of archaeology and dug up a 70’s edition of the “New Schofield”. The annotations are clear enough. Daniel 12 really is about the beast or abomination as related to us in Revelation.

    I’m not confused, my Schofield gives me my best routines in my life’s comedies for totally unappreciative audience.

    A question Steve, every now and then in the casual reading material I spot the word Juddin as a term used for something like “peoples who are trusted” under the reign of the Persians.

    I’ve not spent any time cross referencing the term as I thought it was just a coincidence or sheer bad internet. What thinkest thou Dottore?

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  2. I don’t know why Christian Zionists and others seem so enamored of apolcalyptic thinking. It didn’t work out too well the first time it was tried. Just led to destruction and the end of the Second Temple.

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    • Quite so, David. Some people are very slow to learn, i.e., the whole “left behind” crowd. Their apocalypse isn’t a picnic for anyone!

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  3. Now if only universities would catch on and realize that the study of religion is vital to national security I might end up with a full-time teaching post after all.

    I hope public schools learn that too (though it wouldn’t help with your employment situation). I have a friend who teaches religion in a public high school. He is a conservative evangelical teacher but respectfully understands the constraints to teaching the material in a public school. More religion classes, at all levels, I hope would help dispel the notion that religion has been forced from the schools.

    Question, a bit of an aside, do you think (or can we know?) the apocalyptic authors like those you mentioned wrote with the assumption that their audience would know it was not prophesy about the future, but rather interpretations of current events (“for those with ears…”)? It seems reasonable to me to assume that to be the case, though conservative religionists will say the writing would only be deceptive under that scenario.

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    • Actually, it is a little of both, I think. The original audiences recognized their own situation, I’m sure. But apocalyptic is easily applied to future scenarios as well, so future readers could do the same. I think that is one reason it has such appeal. Problem is, after 2000 years many modern people in the western world don’t seem to realize that the message wasn’t written for them. The strangeness comes on our end, not on that of the first century!

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  4. If I may Atimetorend, sometimes if you get into a discussion with people like that (in my case, family) the discussion will always have circular queries that can only be answered in their world view.

    Its like they establish their answer in the question.

    I have now developed a new technique and have passed it on to other like wise sufferers. You ask for a question that you can answer without using a point of view.

    In the case of end timers, if you don’t believe what they believe you must be a preterist. No, not at all, but explaining that to them is doubly hurtful to them; you deny what they believe and you deny what they believe to be true of you.

    The same logic is expressed in arguments with homeopathy lovers.

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  5. Just a casual glance, the word appears/ appeared to be similarly by Zoroastrian Persians as Jewish people used the term “Gentile”.

    Current documents seem a little bit more vociferous on the matter.

    Wish I owned a Mazda now!

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