News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Apocalypse WILL Be Televised

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Apocalypse WILL Be Televised

I got my semi-monthly visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses yesterday. Traveling in twos, the women walked up the driveway smelling the rosemary growing by the back-door porch while I put a T-shirt on. It's been so hot and humid here that I sit out the bare-chested famine.

We stood in the hot sun partly through my design, partly through my embarrassment at the house's disarray. The design part reflects my desire--after I learn that they're here to proselytize--that they not stay too long. The embarrassment reflects many things, perhaps foremost my disregard for keeping a clean house.

I've always tried to welcome these messengers of the Apocalypse. I imagine that they receive enough incivility and brusqueness as it is int heir peregrinations around the county. Besides, I imagine that if they want to convince me that the world is ending, I might as well make them comfortable so that they can hear my skepticism out without thinking I do so from fear of their message or dislike for them as people. ...

As you'd expect at this time in the world’s upheaval, they were more focused than usual on the coming end-time. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon has stoked their fears and anxieties and fortified their belief that biblical prophecies are playing out in their own day and age. For those who believe and expect to be going to heaven soon, the Israeli invasion and the so-called "war on terror" in general is tacit proof that the final battles described in Holy Writ are about to come true.

The end-time has achieved mainstream status in the MSM. Numerous TV news media outlets run everything from "panels of experts" to hour-long segments on the subject. In many cases, these news shows focus on the religious Right's interpretation of the events. In much coverage, the iconography of the Apocalypse is combined with assertions by politicians like Newt Gingrich and John McCain that the fight against Islamic exremism is WWWIII.

I've discussed in several postings on this blog about American Dispensationalism and its connection to conservative evangelicals. I've also noted that there are apocalypticists (those who believe in a coming apocalypse) now governing the major state powers who glare each other down with a finger itching for the nuclear button. Iran's president, the US president, and the Israeli prime minister appear to subscribe to various versions of the end of the world. Bush believes in the Second Coming of Christ, Ahmedinajad believes in the coming of the Mahdi, and Ehud Olmert believes in the coming of the Messiah.

What has become known as the postmodern world should probably be now known as the pre-Millennial world. After the specters of communism and fascism fade into the maelstrom of history, the threat of world nuclear annihilation seemingly is jammed back like jack in the box, peoples and nations of the world seem strangely mesmerized by this looming world battle that will bring final peace and lasting justice.

On CNN, last day authors Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the gargantuan best seller Left Behind series (along with its multi-million dollar line of Left Behind accesssories) and less well-known auhtor Joel C. Rosenberg, wove their apocalyptic rohrshach, while CNN host Kyra Phillips seemed to smile in blissful accord.

From the CNN transcript, Jenkins and Rosenberg said:

ROSENBERG: Well, this is -- this is about -- this is the prophecy that says that God is going to cause the nations of the world -- the leaders of the nation almost get drunk with the dream of recapturing Jerusalem. Now, the Bible says that Jerusalem will come back under Jewish control in the last days. That'll be one of the indicators. Well, that's where we are today. But, what are we watching? Saddam Hussein or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hezbollah leader [Hassan] Nasrallah, they're all drunk with the dream of capturing Jerusalem. That's what [Rosenberg's] The Copper Scroll novel is about, which is this battle, this intense battle to liquidate the Jewish people and liberate Jerusalem. I mean, are we seeing that happen? It's hard not to say that we are. I mean, that's why I've gotten invited over to the CIA and the White House and Capitol Hill, because people -- it's not that they necessarily believe the prophecies, but they want to understand the prophecies in the Bible in light of what's going on right now.

PHILLIPS: Do you think they're taking what you're saying and incorporating it into foreign policy?

ROSENBERG: I wouldn't go that far. But I would say -- I would say that Bible prophecy is an intercept from the mind of God. It's actually fairly remarkable intelligence, and that's why my novels keep coming true, because mine are on this side of the Rapture, leading up to Jerry and Tim's books, but they suggest events that the Bible does lay out that will get us closer to those events. And, in fact, one by one in The Last Jihad, my book The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, and now The Copper Scroll, have this feeling of coming true. I think that's why a million copies have sold. They're New York Times best-sellers, because they're based on Bible prophecy, and they are coming true bit by bit, day by day.
There are so many nuggets in this comment for snarky comments and snide asides in that I find I have to restrain myself from voicing them. But such sarcasm is misplaced and beside the point. Taking such an attitude--which I am not above exhibiting--misses the very serious implications of what's happening here.

I could quote ad nauseam the learned, sociologically based, studies of the apocalyptic genre and its origins in historical and social realities related to persecution of believers. From the biblical books of Daniel, the great eschatological prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel to apocalyptic works in what are called the Pseudepigripha (religious writings from Jews living from the end of accepted Jewish prophetic activity and the Gospels) to the canonical book called Revelation–all these works emanate from momentously catastrophic times when religious Jews and Christians faced personal and group extinction.

In some ways, resorting to scholarship trivializes these writings. I don’t disparage the great work–often done from a sincere desire to get closer to a more authentic faith experience–done by scholars. Yet, I have my suspicions that what gets looked at through the lens of the historical microscope often ends up pinned and mounted in a catalog of natural history’s oddities.

Having said this, my own interpretation of an apocalyptic text like Revelation would take a liberation theology interpretation, which is indeed informed by many of these historical critical studies. Yet, what I find uniquely authentic and important about the liberation theology understanding of a apocalyptic texts is that it helps to place the words and images into the present-day faith struggles with forces and powers that transcend any one human’s power of comprehension.

Revelation itself is a wonderfully rich symbolic representation of the faithful’s interpretation of historical events from the perspective of those trying to understand God’s will in the world of social, cultural, and historical facts. Using the symbols and themes of apocalyptic, early Christian believers who were not historians or anthropologists or sociologists attempted to make sense of the impending disasters that threatened them and their small communities.

Consider the following statement from Revelation:
Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What [city is] like unto this great city! And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
It does not seem to stretch the bounds of reason to say that this passage refers to a great trading capital. Symbolizing this great economic power as a whore–a licentious and wanton power that will do anything for money and financial gain–the early Christians documented their awareness that power and economic interests go hand in hand. Not only that, but this power- and money-hungry entity brings terrible suffering and desolation to the powerless and poor.

I am not conversant enough with Hal Lindsay or the Left behind authors to know how they interpret these verses in their mythology. From my own perspective, I think that the image of the Whore of Babylon could be applied to the United States as easily as it can ancient Rome or any other current politico-economic powerhouse.

Recent polls show that many Americans buy into this end-time scenario. The idea that the world is headed for flame and damnation fits into an ever-growing, deepening despair on the part of Americans. Unfulfilled with their consumer life-styles, a workplace unusually precarious for its insecurity, shadowy threats of terrorism by peoples half-way across the world... all these shades and mysterious movements bewilder a person who has no time to eviscerate the lies and deception perpetrated by their own government nor the equally fatuous and empty criticisms put up by the "loyal opposition."

As the media blitz continues, and Armageddon and its iconography begins to form an accepted backdrop for our lives--as we search the trees and rocks for tell-tale signs of the end-times--what will be lost in our understanding of world events as they apply to our lives is something more precious than innocence. This innocence that Americans pride themselves on, but which is an innocence that the writer Kierkegaard called demonic. For it is an innocence that denies the true nature of our ability to perpetrate and rationalize evil through violence and political intrigue.

It is this demonic innocence that gives birth to the pride that we Americans have in washing themselves clean of the past and making a fresh start. But no one can be born fresh from nothing–either through becoming a citizen of a nation or through the sacrifice of innocent lives. As Americans, we believe that we have shielded ourselves from the evils that beset the old world. By uprooting ourselves from that world, we think can now bring the experience born of the democratic experiment to cure those old ills and maladies.

We cannot uproot ourselves in the way many Americans believe you can. The past comes back to haunt us, whether we will or no. And this past goes back to the Eden now known as Iran and Iraq, that paradise left behind when I or you or any other decides to perpetrate the worst crime of all--making ourselves gods who believe that they can bring about their own beginning and end in wishful and demonically innocent daydreams.

When the ladies who witness to Jehovah walked away under the sun that omens a new kingdom to come, I think of the biblical passage that I could not find during our discussion about what it means to witness for Christ. Later, I find the passage, Matthew 25:31-46:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee]? or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee]? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
The world may indeed be in its last moments. Or not.

If so, I imagine that what judgements might take place will be measured by this criterion: what were you doing when the angels came?

Right now, at least, many of the religious in America are selling books wishing death and destruction on their enemies.

They fantasize about getting on the news so they can see themselves–as though that will legitimate their cause; as though their faith requires everyone to think, feel, and believe as they do. It is as though they think that having this message and these beliefs plastered on the TV screens somehow makes what they believe real.

That belief either says a lot about how much people reared on television and the news media believe that if it appears on TV then it must be real and true, or it is a pitiful commentary on how much despair lies at the heart of many of the religious right.

That is, if you require legitimacy from the multitude or demand that your beliefs become the status quo, then there’s more to you wishing your faith to be so than that it is so.

Update 1 The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, writes:
In her recent article, “The Insane Brutality of the State of Israel,” American, Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst says, “The state lashes out in a crazed effort, lacking any sense of proportion, to reassure itself of its strength.” She continues, “A society that can brush off as unimportant an army officer’s brutal murder of a thirteen year old girl on the claim that she threatened soldiers at a military post (one of nearly seven hundred Palestinian children murdered by Israelis since the Intifada began) is not a society with a conscience.” The “situation” as it has come to be called, has deteriorated into a war without boundaries or limitations. It is a war with deadly potential beyond the imaginations of most civilized people.
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Anonymous said...

I went down to see the librarian but, alas, the librarian was all booked up! Seriously, seldom have I ever read an item as full of insights and truth as yours. In line with it, you would undoubtedly enjoy Googling and reading "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" (the bizarre, short-lived history of the "rapture" that LaHaye doesn't want you to know about), "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)" (the "genius" LaHaye etc. lean on for historical research!), "Pretrib Hypocrisy," and "Famous Rapture Watchers" - all from the historian who does know what he's talking about. Cheers!

Danny Haszard said...

-A heads up on the Jehovah Witness-

There is no Armageddon that will annihilate 6.5 billion people,and install Watchtower leaders as world rulers.

The core dogma of the Watchtower organization is that Jesus had his second coming 'invisibly' in the year 1914.Their entire doctrinal superstructure is built on this falsehood.

Jehovah's Witnesses door to door recruitment is by their own admission an ineffective tactic. They have lost membership in all countries with major Internet access because their false doctrines and harmful practices are exposed on the modern information superhighway.

There is good and valid reasons why there is such an outrage against the Watchtower for misleading millions of followers.Many have invested everything in the 'imminent' apocalyptic promises of the Jehovah's Witnesses and have died broken and beaten.

Every Jehovah's Witness member will grow old and die just like everyone else.
Danny Haszard Bangor Maine 'expert witness on the Jehovah's Witness'