Mountain Tops

Idaho can be a peaceful place. I’ve spent parts of many summers there. I grew aware, over time, that the northern panhandle had an association with white supremacists, but if you stick to the touristed areas you don’t run into them. During the Ruby Ridge standoff I was busy trying to establish my teaching career in Wisconsin while living in Illinois—I guess my commuting life began all the way back then. I didn’t have much time for the news, and I don’t recall hearing much about the tragedy. It was shortly eclipsed by Waco. Jess Walter’s Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family presents perhaps more than you need to know about this story with no winners and much strange theology. In case you missed it too, here are the basics:

Randy and Vicki Weaver were an Iowa couple who were drawn into the Christian Identity movement. This was a white separatist, apocalyptic survivalist faith. Convinced the world was going to end, they moved to a remote part of northern Idaho and built a cabin on a rocky ridge and stockpiled guns. Being a white supremacist was actually considered bad in the 1990s (now it’s mainstream Republican ideology) and federal marshals and the FBI got involved. The Weavers had four children and that complicated things. Predictably, the government attempt to shoot an extremist family out of their religion ended tragically. The Weavers’ only son Samuel was the first killed, and then Vicki. The locals, including many skinheads, gathered at the base of the mountain in support of the Weavers as the feds led a military operation into a nearly two-week standoff.

Apart from being too long, Walter’s book is an important reminder of many things at this time. Even though America had a Republican president in 1992, white supremacy was considered dangerous and was characterized as domestic terrorism. The standoff at Ruby Ridge quickly became a cause célèbre for religious freedom, no matter how strange beliefs might be. Ironically, even as the trial was going on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco was being stormed. Now we have a “president” who makes it plausible that a “k” has somehow dropped out of Waco, or at least has been tripled. The national narrative is America is for whites only. It’s as if Martin Luther King Jr., Woody Guthrie, and Abraham Lincoln never existed. I would say “How the mighty are fallen,” but that might sound a little too religious for some. Even the Religious Right has, since that time, left the Bible out of the equation.

As Others Think

As analysts step in where angels fear to tread, we have been given expert opinion on why ISIS’s terror in France was counterproductive to its goals. A few voices have chimed in stating that the result of escalation is just what an apocalyptic group hopes for. Rational people, having no idea how a fundamentalist thinks, are scratching their heads. Long I have wondered why universities and other bastians of higher education haven’t sought the advice of experts. No one can understand fundamentalism who hasn’t experienced it personally. Problem is, most people who have experienced it are experiencing it still. Those of us who thought our way out of fundamentalism are passed over repeatedly for university posts, while those better connected (surely not of fundamentalist stock) are handed influential positions from which to scratch their heads. You want to understand fundamentalists? Ask someone who’s been there.

There is nothing rational, in the common parlance, about fundamentalism. It has, however, its own internal logic. If you believe with every mitochondria in your body that the Bible (or any holy book or doctrine) that you were taught is true, and truly believe it, no amount of reason can convince you otherwise. This is (partially) because the ultimate cause of all events is open to question. Science does not address ultimate causes—it can’t. The endlessly creative human mind, however, can rather simply conjure them. If God is the ultimate ultimate cause, and if God said, x, y, or z, then other interpretations are simply wrong. If God has decided an apocalypse is necessary, what use is reason in the face of the impending certainty? Is there no way out?

There is. Some of us have made it. We, no matter our credentials, are not generally well-connected drones of the middle class. Fundamentalism is prized by the poor. Those who have no future on this earth look for another, better world. This is a perspective I understand very well. Our increase in ease of communication and exploding technology with ease of access have only given new tools to those who think in terms of ultimate causes only. You can’t talk a suicide bomber out of action with reason. You need to know the language of belief. We glory in our lack of belief and rationalism. We, however, close our eyes to the fact that the vast majority of people in the world are believers. And we won’t talk to them because they make us uncomfortable. We have written our own recipe for apocalypse.

From NASA's photo library

From NASA’s photo library

Apocalypse When?

We want to understand what worms through the mind of terrorists, and yet we don’t want to be bothered with religion. For decades universities have been shutting down departments of religion because they don’t make money. Religions aren’t materialistic in that way. In the light of the attacks on Paris over the weekend, many have been turning to the media to learn more about ISIS. A piece in the Atlantic by Graeme Wood, published back in March, pointed out how we have tended to see the movement as political, not religious. Wood, however, demonstrates the apocalyptic intentions of the leaders of ISIS. They are religious. Just because you carry guns and high explosives doesn’t mean you don’t believe.

Apocalyptic thought and politics are a deadly combination. The United States is not immune. Knowing the bent of George W. Bush’s distortion of Christianity, his terms in office were very frightening for many of us. Some Christianities, as well as some Islams, not only anticipate the end of the world but earnestly long for it. Pray for it. In the case of some Fundamentalist Christian sects, world leaders should orchestrate events to force God’s hand in bringing about end times. The fact that we had a president sympathetic to those beliefs should send shudders down anyone’s spine. The idea of an apocalypse is a religious one—there is nothing secular about it. We know the history of the concept, although universities eschew those who look that far back. Zarathustra, also known as Zoroaster, devised a new religion that reflected the basic dualism we all feel: good versus evil. The only way that good could ultimately win in such a worldview was through the complete destruction of evil. And evil wasn’t going down without a fight. This idea influenced Judaism during the Exile, and thus Christianities adopted it. And Islams. No moral relativism here.

The horsemen close in

The horsemen close in

Religion is not evil. Historically it has attempted to be a moral compass to guide believers toward right over wrong. The fact that any religion faces opposition shoves those weak of mind into an apocalyptic state. Gather the horsemen and try to prod God into action. We don’t see divine activity on any kind of scale that we would recognize. The religious events of the past—the Islamic expansion, the Crusades, the Jewish revolt against Rome—these events are merely political. Those who’ve been conditioned to see God behind human activities, however, view such things very differently. Apocalypses are religious events. No amount of reason will convince a convicted believer to look elsewhere for consolation. Yet we press on with guns and bombs and ignorance of what makes religions tick. And tick they will. No matter how secular we might wish the world to be.

Camping Out

Garsh-darn-it, I’ve missed the end of the world again! I’ve been so busy lately that I hadn’t bothered to pay attention to that which really matters. So here I find myself in the post-apocalyptic world and still waiting for a bus. Was that all there really was to life? I mean, I just found out that the world was ending on the day of. Couldn’t I get at least 24 hours’ notice? (I wish we’d all been ready?) A group called eBible Fellowship, followers of the late Harold Camping, figured out that his prediction of the end for May 21, 2011 was only the shutting of Heaven’s doors. I’d been wondering where that draft was coming from. According to the Radnor Patch, the actual end of the world, according to eBible’s calculations based on Camping’s spiritual algebra, was yesterday. That could explain a lot.

Apocalyptic groups have often had a problem getting the exact day right. No surprise there, however, since the Bible says even Jesus doesn’t know. Historically, there have been a number of options available to the budding apocalyptist. You can simply go very quiet and hope nobody notices. You can commit mass suicide (not recommended). And others would seem to suggest that you can claim it did happen, but that we just haven’t noticed yet. That was the response of some of Charles Taze Russell’s followers when 1914 saw the continuation of the world, despite a war that has scarred it ever since. Maybe the world has ended many times before. Still, the rest of us still find ourselves too busy to notice.

Here it comes.

Hyakutake, 1996. My first comet.

Apocalypticism is most prominent among those groups that hold to a biblical dating of the world. If it has only been here about 6000 years, then its imminent end seems entirely plausible. Those who take a longer view, more on the order of billions of years, seem a little less worried. That’s not to say that the world couldn’t end. A reasonably sized asteroid could finish it for our species. We wouldn’t need a supernova to do us in. Still, we can learn something from the chiliasts. We can learn that introspection is not a bad thing. We don’t need to hoard weapons, canned goods, and water, but we can stop once in a while and ask if all this insane running around we all do is really worth the effort. Since the world has ended, I’m thinking I might slow down a bit. I’ve got a lot that I still want to accomplish, but given that it’s all over, what’s the rush? I just wonder if they’ll buy this kind of reasoning at work.

Missing Apocalypses

Sharknados aside, we seem to be in a lull of apocalypses at the moment. In the run-up to the change of the millennium and 2012, we perhaps had our fill of dire predictions of the end of all things. Funny how the fears seem to run so high when the Grand Old Party is telling us what to believe. When we settle down and try to wrestle with real-world issues with real-world ideals, the need for watching it all burn seems to settle down in the back seat and let the adults drive for a while.

IMG_1309

I recently came across The End Times Bible (now out of print). Published in 1999, this Bible had a not-so-subtle message that the end of all things was nigh. As it had been before, and, knowing human nature, will be many more times again. I imagine myself, in a Left Behind fantasy, watching a neophyte trying to make it in the post-apocalyptic world with a Bible. References to the end times are rare in Holy Writ, and dreadfully obscure. Reading Tim LaHaye or Hal Lindsey you might think the Bible has step-by-step directions for negotiating the wrath that is to come. As if the Bible were a recipe book and you wanted chocolate-chip cookies. Ironically the world is full—over-full in point of fact—of people with advanced degrees in Bible who’ve spent years and years of their lives learning to uncover the minutest hints that the Bible gives. Most of these folks are unemployed and wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that simplistic apocalyptic pie baked up by the premillennialists. And yet, the world goes on.

Even as I was researching The End Times Bible, however, I began seeing references to the next apocalypse. Some are hopefully suggesting 2019, since, apparently, God likes round numbers. The reprieve we’ve been feeling, I have no doubts, is only temporary. In the course of human events we will have alarmists elected to high offices and once again panic will begin to build. The Maya let us down, and Howard Camping up and died. No worries—there are other arcane civilizations and the world knows no shortage of prophets in button-down shirts. Still, I’ve kind of enjoyed this little vacation without having to hush the irrational fears that God’s non-biological clock is inexorably ticking.

The biblical world is a simple one, in its own way. Created in six days just a few thousand years ago, it topples off its pillars and ends in a fiery demise in some millennial scenario, if only it can keep its own story straight. And like any good story, children will come back to it time and again.

Jonahado

SharknadoSome movies are so bad that they become classics. Some are just plain bad. The jury in my head is still out on Sharknado. The story, obviously tongue-in-cheek, is so far-fetched as to be pretentious, and anyone who knows something about either sharks or tornadoes, or both, will likely find credibility waning from the first scene. For those sensible among my readers, who’ve not seen the movie, the title gives it all away. A global-warming-induced hurricane hurries toward Santa Monica with its forever young sun-worshippers. The hurricane floods the California coast, bringing sharks to the city streets. As our protagonists drive around somewhat pointlessly, the sharks attack their car, eventually eating everyone who’s not family. At one point the family tries to buy rations at a liquor store, only to have the news announce that this is the apocalypse. The store owner scowls that it’s the government, not God, that’s bringing this upon them. Then the waterspouts appear, morphing into tornadoes carrying sharks, still hungrily chomping at everything as they fly through the air.

Ironically a biblical theme comes about with the swallowing of Nova. As she falls from a helicopter (don’t ask), a great white shark snaps her up in mid-air, and since she’s about the only character you can care about, the movie seems to have reached its nadir. As the tornadoes dissipate and the sharks coming raining down, the eponymously named Fin is swallowed whole by a huge great white, while still holding his chainsaw. We already know that this latter-day Jonah will make his way back out, and we are supposed to be surprised that this is the very same shark that holds the reborn Nova, who admits her real name is Jenny Lynn. Like Neo in The Matrix, she is the convert to a new faith, this time in the family of Fin, whose only fault, it seems, is that he cares too much for others.

While a made-for-television B movie (although C or D might be more appropriate), Sharknado demonstrates the popular conception of the apocalypse. Not that it will involve flying sharks and destructive wind-storms, but that the end of the world is somehow inevitable. We have convinced ourselves that its a matter of when, not if, the world will meet its demise. Global warming, clearly our fault, is blamed by the movie (as is the government), but the story is that the flimsy culture we’ve constructed is subject to utter ruin by a hurricane and maritime predators. Or I could be reading far too much into this. Religious tropes may be picked and chosen at will. And when things really go wrong, like accidentally switching on Sharknado, we have a ready arsenal of religious ideas at hand to blame. And the apocalypse may be the least of our worries.

ABCD

Among the sensitive crowd known as biblical scholars, the chronological designations Before the Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE) have long been in use. Perhaps it is because, at some point in the recent past, Christian scholars realized that the Hebrew Bible, until then called the Old Testament, was also the Bible of Judaism. All of history, in the European version, is divided by the figure of Jesus, or more properly, Christ. BC stood for Before Christ, after all, and AD not for After Death (which would leave an embarrassing gap of about three decades), but Anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord.” The conventions of BC/AD had become so entrenched that few bothered to linger over the implications, but implications there are. A case might be made, purely on historical grounds, for maintaining BC. There was a time before Jesus—even the Bible agrees on that point. And, again, from an historical view, the worldview of Christianity forever changed the direction of events for at least two millennia thereafter. It still does, if we pay any attention to the posturing of the Religious Right. We have to start counting somewhere, don’t we, to know where we are in time?

Anno Domini is a tad more colonializing. Short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, “in the year of our lord Jesus Christ,” those two letters make an assumption that the shared lord of the readers is indeed Jesus. For centuries in Europe and the New World, apart from those Muslims that from time-to-time made their presence felt, and the Jews who were conveniently suppressed, this worked for just about everybody. If you disagreed, after all, you were welcome to return to your backwater homeland and count your time by burning hour candles between your toes, if you wished. For the forward march of history, it was onward, Christian soldiers. AD held a proselytizing imperative. But then Christians began to notice two more ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, both with pedigrees that predate AD. Not that this was a problem from a missiological point of view—we can just convert them, after all—but scholars began to consider the implications.

Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia

Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia

Time is inexorable. At least in our experience of it. No one stopped to begin counting when Adam and Eve were wandering about Eden, and the simple reference to the lifetime of a monarch seemed sufficient for most pre-capitalist business. What fueled the change to attempt an absolute time was the conviction that it was all about to end soon. Jesus seems to have predicted an imminent apocalypse; “some who are standing here will not taste death,” Luke tells us Jesus said. If that is the case, AD is the final countdown. With a delayed onset. Instead of Anno Domini, it might stand for Announcing Doomsday. And since that clock is still ticking, it might be time to acknowledge that we do indeed live in a Common Era.

Heat Wave

Stewing in the heat of the wave washing over much of the east, my thoughts sometimes turn to the cool, refreshing flood of Genesis. I’ve been Tweeting the Bible for some months now, and I am in the midst of the stories of the flood. Noting the many contradictions and discrepancies, it is a wonder to me how many of the religious are able to overlook or harmonize infelicities for the sake of a consistent faith. Most famously the story states that Noah took one pair of the clean animals, but also seven pairs of clean animals. The rain came down forty days. Or was it 150? One of the reasons that people continue to believe this story may be its specificity. No approximations or guesses, the numbers are precise, as if written down by an eyewitness at the scene. In actual fact, the story is among the oldest of recorded civilization and has its origins at least as far back as ancient Sumer. For as long as people told stories about the gods, they told stories about world-wide floods.

As a species that is able to think ahead, we have long been concerned with the fate that might befall us. Consider the amount of hype about the end of the world that has accompanied the random calendrical dates we’ve assigned to the cosmos: the world has been expected to end nearly every year since 2000, and that is only the most recent incarnation of this foreboding. If there are gods out there, they must have it in for us. The very fact of our being human seems to anger the deities. Even after God promises the world will never again be destroyed, he adds a caveat—not by flood, anyway. By the time we reach the letters near the end of the Christian Scriptures the future torment has turned to fire. There’s always something out there looming on the horizon.

“Prometheus teacher in every art brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends,” so reads the quote from Aeschylus behind Paul Manship’s statue of Prometheus. Prometheus was the Greek god (Titan, actually) favorably disposed toward humanity. His name means “forethought.” When humanity cowered and shivered in the dark, Prometheus brought the light and warmth of fire. It is easy to suppose the Greeks to have been more enlightened than earlier or contemporary civilizations, but Prometheus had offended Zeus and was subject to eternal torment for his thoughtful gift. Perhaps it is just the divine way—gods are jealous of us although they hold all the power. As I continue to tweet the good news of an angry god, I am starting to understand the power deities will always have over their vulnerable creatures.

Denying Truth, For Profit

Sometimes I’m questioned about why I bother with creationism. Everyone who’s intelligent knows it is religious ideology masquerading as science and people will eventually figure it out. But will there be time? An editorial in yesterday’s New Jersey Star-Ledger pulls the curtain back on creationism’s incestuous cousin, climate-change denial. As the editorial notes, key documents of the Heartland Institute—one of the major propagators of climate change as “just a theory”—have been leaked and show that they have learned their lesson from creationist tactics. They want “debate the question” instilled in science classes in lieu of facts. And much of their money comes from big oil. It is the hope of such institutes that an American public already woefully pathetic at understanding science will be led to believe “just a theory” equals “likely not true.” The data are stacked completely against them and the entire rest of the developed world knows that.

While the issue may seem less religious than creationism—which is based on getting Genesis 1 in the classroom as science, no matter what you call it—it has deep roots in that same insidious cocktail of politics, religion, and dirty money. Biblical literalists tend to believe the world is about to end. The belief has been around for at least two millennia. It is a damning and damaging belief that declares the world was made for raping because it is about to end. This deranged thinking is fueled, literally, by unrestrained economic interests. Sometimes the groups can’t see beyond the Bible to realize that they too are being screwed. Science is objective, and it is science that has been challenged by various religious and political groups since the 1920s. Today, when there is far too much information for anyone to stay on top of it all, and in an American society deeply distrustful of higher education, I smell an explosive amount of methane in the air.

Climate change is real. The “theory” is so well supported by evidence as to be fact. Is anyone really surprised that supporters of the Heartland Institute have also backed Newt Gingrich’s campaign? We have placed ourselves in a very dangerous position as the last remaining “superpower.” I tried to read a book on environmental issues that Routledge published, but was so scared after the first three pages that I had to put it down. What is the lesson here, class? Is it not that money is the root of evil? And that, my dear literalists, is biblical.

The future of human economic evolution

Alas, 2012

Having just survived a year with two purported Christian apocalypses, we now enter 2012 with its more potent Mayan apocalypse. The mysterious Mayan people, we are led to believe, could not foresee a world beyond 2012, and many otherwise rational people are seriously nervous about it. Whether it is the unread pages of the Bible or some stone inscription in a language most people have no hope of verifying, we venerate ancient wisdom. Especially when that wisdom indicates the dissolution of the entire world. I would suggest that the reason we do this has to do with the society the Bible built.

All the available evidence suggests that many early Christianities existed. Even the early disciples couldn’t always agree among themselves. Serious research over the past several years has indicated that what won out as “orthodox” Christianity was but one stream of the many faiths inspired by Jesus’ life and teaching. Gnosticism, surviving only in very small pockets today, was equally deserving of the title “Christian” and perhaps even outnumbered the “orthodox” variety early on. Other sects and splinter groups counted themselves among the followers of Jesus only to be labeled “heretics” by more dominant groups. Eventually one branch received government sanction and became the official copyright holder of the title “Christianity.” Amid all this confusion brewed a concern of correct teaching. The main reason was that many early Christianities believed the end of the world was imminent.

Gathering the writings to prove their point (more or less) into the Bible, this “orthodox” variety continued to grow and splinter. By the end of the First World War, technology had revealed just how much damage people could do to one another. “The war to end all wars” proved to be anything but, launching the world into a sequel within less than two decades. These wars were apocalypses in the own right for millions of people. Armchair theologians yearned for that old time religion and since saints and apostles were all long gone, the Bible was the only thing tangible left. Throughout the twentieth century the Bible grew in grace and stature until it became a god itself. Because of the veneration of this now ancient document, other ancient texts became sacred by association. Enter and exit the Mayans. These people would have been forcibly converted to Christianity, had they hung about. Because their writings are old, however, they are treated like Scripture. Therefore we tremble.

You don't have to read it to believe it!

We have lost our fluency with ancient rhetoric. Our finesse with self-destruction has underscored the point. 2012 will not see the end of the world unless it is caused by our own death-wish that has grown from the Mayan earth heavily fertilized by misinterpreted writings of early Christianities.

Robopocalypse


Yesterday the long anticipated novel Robopocalypse was released. Although I seldom indulge in hardcover fiction, I headed to my local Borders to purchase a copy. Sadly, it seems, my local is cutting back on first-day releases because I walked out of the store empty handed but with a robotic Armageddon in my head. Last summer I became acquainted with Daniel H. Wilson’s How to Survive a Robot Uprising, but word on the street is that this novel is serious. Steven Spielberg purchased the movie rights even before the book was released. And the concept owes its existence to religion.

If it were not for human religious sensibilities, would the concept of an apocalyptic end have ever arisen? Probing into the ancient psychology that lead Zoroastrians to suppose an ultimate conflict was just down the theological road, it is clear that even a strong moral sense alone does not dictate ultimate dissolution. By personifying evil in the form of Angra Mainyu, Zarathustra gave a (divine) human face to wickedness, and thus opened the possibility of battling against it. Evil as an abstract, non-personified force might simply be accepted as part of the universe we inherited. By providing it with will and intention, however, Zoroastrians allowed for a natural human response. Fight or flight is hardwired into our brains, but would we have dared fight a foe that is immaterial, amorphous, and completely abstract?

The nature of the enemy has transformed itself many times over the ages. Wilson, a scientist working with robotics during his education, has taken a religious theme and placed it in the context of a godless world of cybernetics. I must use caution here, since I haven’t yet acquired a copy of the book, but it remains clear that it is the humanization of non-human entities that gives force and pathos to a final conflict. Jesus charging his white horse into a foul-smelling cloud lacks the same impact. Thus mythologies are born. Mythologies that people live by and for which they frequently die. I do hope it all holds off until I can get a copy of Robopocalypse to read. Better yet, the end won’t come until after the movie is released.

Vulcan’s Anvil

Volcanoes have long been the prerogative of the gods. Saturday’s eruption in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex in southern Chile joins last month’s outburst from Grimsvotn in Iceland for divine fire-storms. In the days before geology, the only explanation for these impressive explosions was the gods. The concept of Hell was fairly late in the development of ancient Near Eastern religions, otherwise volcanoes might have been labeled as Hell breaking loose, literally. Many historic eruptions have influenced the course of history, most notably Thera and Vesuvius. Ancients would have been hard pressed to see such spectacular—and obviously divine—displays as “natural.” Indeed, the concept of “natural” events was itself slow in evolving since the gods were always lurking in the dark corners of the evolving human psyche.

Fortunately, beyond disrupting some air travel, these two latest outbursts have been fairly benign from a human point of view. This too is an evolved perspective since we tend to see ourselves as the overlords of the natural world. Watching industrialists poke new orifices in the planet’s crust for personal gain even in rare and delicately balanced ecosystems, who can doubt that we are masters of our own domain? Much of the misdirected sense of such entitlement comes from interpreting the Bible as declaring the planet ours from the days of mythical Eden. Some of the more perverse applications of this principle include those who try to force the hand of God into sending the Second Coming due to their creating conditions appropriate to an apocalypse. Others declare that since said Second Coming is nigh, why not trash the environment? We won’t be needing it much longer.

Apart from the obviously failure of logic here, the anthropocentric view is also misguided. The earth was not created for us—we simply evolved on it. The corollary also stands true: long after any human intelligence is here to read these words, our planet will continue on its weary track around the sun until it blossoms into a red giant and consumes our final cinders. There are no horsemen in the clouds, but this planet is all that we have (even the space station depends upon it) and when we grow too arrogant, the planet unconsciously gives us a spectacular display to remind us that we are mere guests upon this globe. We need to treat it with respect.

Of the Zombies, By the Zombies, For the Zombies

In what is sure to be a controversial move, the Center for Disease Control has posted an official government blog post entitled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” (Be warned, if you click on this link it may be considerable time before the page loads—it has been receiving a tremendous number of hits.) Written by Ali S. Khan, the Assistant Surgeon General and head of the CDC, the article is actually about hurricane preparedness, but with zombie furor being what it is, many on the Internet are taking the warning seriously. Literally even. Citing the tsunami in Japan and the concerns for leaking radiation, the article begins with a lighthearted fear-fest that then reveals the actual concern. Humor in the government? This is something we should all encourage!

The analogue with the current rapture fever was immediately obvious. I grew up in terror of the rapture, but when I began to take courses on the Bible from scholars who knew about apocalyptic literature, its context, and what it was intended to do, I realized that the rapture was invented in the nineteenth century by evangelists with no critical training, misreading the book of Revelation. As much as we like to break history into discrete units, time simply keeps flowing and the current of fear generated in the nineteenth gushed into the twentieth century culminating in the birth of the Christian fundamentalist movement. For many people in the twenty-first century, fundamentalism and Roman Catholicism are the two ancient strands of Christianity that legitimately lay claim to the title. At least half of this history is backward.

The Bible itself, when read in context, shows the errors of the rapture-hungry. The idea is a blend of obscure bits of Paul’s letters, mixed into Revelation and stirred vigorously. Then half-baked. The Bible does not give us a rapture. The CDC does not give us a zombie apocalypse. We know where the myth of zombies originates (I have posted on the topic before) and we know zombies are as fictional as griffons and centaurs. Nevertheless, faith springs eternal. Those dissatisfied with all that life has to offer turn to zombies for an equalizingly grim future for all humankind. It’s all gonna rot, baby. Except, of course, for those who’ve been raptured before it happens. When the zombies fail to show up after Saturday’s non-event, all of us will feel pretty silly just looking at each other as Ali S. Khan comes up with his next zinger.

The author, upon reading the CDC blog.

That’s All, Folks

As May is now upon us, in keeping with the spirit of Beltane, we are being warned to make ourselves ready for the end of the world. At Rutgers Day on Saturday, the eBible Fellowship was out in force, handing out tracts declaring in no uncertain terms that this month will see the dissolution of all things. Now is the time to buy things on credit, apparently, but make sure the payments aren’t due at least until next month! I’ve written a few posts on this particular prediction before, but the flyers I received have helped clarify a few things for me. I wondered why the god of eBible Fellowship had chosen this year to end it all. It turns out that this is the 7000th year after the flood! Things have been going swimmingly for seven millennia, so it is time to call it all to a halt.

Reading further, I was amazed at how accurate the reading of the cosmic timeclock has become. According to the pamphlet, the Church Age ended May 21, 1988. At that time I was too busy trying to get into doctoral programs in Bible to notice, I guess. According to eBible, the Bible states that the tribulation began then and would last for 23 years. That does explain my career history. Reading the passages they cite, however, I just don’t see the numbers adding up. eBible claims that God stopped using churches in 1988, so if you’ve been spending your Sundays there, I guess the joke’s on you. It kind of makes me glad that I was never ordained.

Samuel de Champlain does not endorse eBible Fellowship

Intrigued, I decided to look at their website. For a temporary site there do seem to be a number of incomplete pages announcing that more is coming. There are podcasts about what to do in case you are not raptured on the twenty-first, as well as proof that the world is 13,000 years old, unlike the traditional Ussher date (his name is misspelled on the website). The group, which is based in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, states: “We are living at a time when the Bible is being highly exalted by God.” A classic statement of bibliolatry – I was not surprised to note that the King James Version is the one the Fellowship approves. I didn’t see that they calculated the fact that 19 days before the end of the world the KJV would become 400 years old. The only significant event I could find for May 21 of 1611 is that Samuel de Champlain returned to Québec from France. I sure I am missing the hidden meaning of that event, since crossing the sea is almost certainly a metaphor for the flood and Samuel is a prophet in the Hebrew Bible.

This Year’s Apocalypse

Sundays are notoriously slow news days. The local paper, therefore, ran a whimsical headline: “Will the world end on May 21? Are you ready?” Nearly 40 billboards are asking Garden State commuters (as if they aren’t already stressed enough) if they are prepared to meet their doom. This year’s apocalypse is sponsored by Howard Camping, a California prognosticator with an history of calculating the world’s end. Given that our daily experience confirms uniformitarian processes on this planet have been in place for millennia – and even longer – the belief in a cataclysmic termination of billions of years’ work is rampant as ever. The end of the world, as touted in the media, is always based on religious precepts of some sort or another. Our scientifically scheduled apocalypse is about five billion years away when the sun becomes a red giant. (The biggest threat to capitalism since the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

Why do so many religions want to see it all burn? Life certainly has more than its fair share of misery and suffering. Apocalyptic scenarios abound in disadvantaged communities – the final leveler of all inequalities will put us all in the same place. Privilege creates as many problems as it does boondoggles. A truly evolved race would wish to share its good fortune to those without access to resources of the more fortunate. It is a severely effaced line between inequality and iniquity at the best of times. Those who don’t get a fair shake in this life look for a better lottery pick in Heaven’s jackpot.

But why do affluent people share this urge to watch it all explode to a theological fantasy-land? The local electrical engineer funding the billboards, is quoted by Star-Ledger staff as saying, “Seven billion people are facing their death! What else could I do?” My humble suggestion would be to put that money toward helping those who do not have enough. The underprivileged could be made to suffer considerably less with the obscene income of the Left Behind franchise. Instead that money is being funneled into questionable political causes. Maybe it is best that the world end next month after all. I’ve put it on my calendar, but I’m still expecting to be around for the 2012 apocalypse as well.

An apocalypse worth waiting for!