"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, December 12, 2014

Repent! The End Is Nigh–Or Stop Worrying About Nothing

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.  And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh (Revelation 19)

I know a lot of people who are worried about Armageddon.  An estimated 22 percent of Americans think that the end of the world will come within their lifetime so this is not surprising.

Not everyone, however, thinks that the world will end in the same way. The more traditional envisage a Biblical vengeance where The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse thunder down from on high and slay saints and sinners alike, preparing Judgment Day.

God destroyed the world once when he drowned it with The Great Flood; but he gave Noah and his descendants a chance to redeem themselves, to follow His way and the path to eternal salvation. After millennia and countless opportunities, Man persistently disobeyed God’s laws and injunctions, and the apocalyptic annihilation of mankind was the result.  Those who had in fact been faithful and obedient would survive Judgment Day and would enter the Gates of Heaven; but for all others, the fiery pit of Hell awaited.

Others have said the Four Horsemen, like much in the Bible, are allegorical.  The End would indeed come, but how was an open question. There is always a lot of conflation regarding Biblical prophecy, and many confuse Milton’s (Paradise Lost) Lake of Fire (after the Fall) with Armageddon:

Forthwith upright he rears from off the Pool His mighty Stature; on each hand the flames/ Drivn backward slope their pointing spires, & rowld In billows, leave i'th' midst a horrid Vale./Then with expanded wings he steers his flight Aloft, incumbent on the dusky Air/ That felt unusual weight, till on dry Land He lights, if it were land that ever burn'd/ With solid, as the Lake with liquid fire;/ And such appear'd in hue as when the force/ Of subterranean wind transports a Hill Torn from PELORUS, or the shatter'd side/ Of thundering AETNA, whose combustible And fuelled entrails, thence conceiving Fire,/Sublimed with mineral fury, aid the Winds, /And leave a singed bottom all involv'd/ With stench and smoke: Such resting found the sole/ Of unblest feet…

Hell fire and damnation have been a part of Christian liturgy for centuries; and so those who believe in a fiery Armageddon have popular tradition on their side.  The senior priest at St. Maurice Church was one of the most compelling apocalyptic orators I have ever heard.  He took every Biblical prophesy, every literary reference, and every layman’s fearful visions and wove them into his powerful, transforming sermons.

“Look around you”, he began slowly and deliberately, smoothing his elegant white silk robes and adjusting the heavy gold cross that sat comfortably on his breast. “Do you see him?”

“Who?”,we wondered.  Christ? God? The Devil?

“He is here among us”, continued Father Brophy.  “Look! There! In the rafters…The faint breeze that moved the pennants. Look! At your feet.  The scurrying of his evil spirit.  Do you smell him? Do you smell his fetid, unholy scent?  He is here among us.”

How could that be, we all wondered?  The Devil in God’s sanctuary and not afraid of the Body and Blood of Our Savior in the tabernacle?

“He is even here”, answered Father Brophy on cue, “and YOU…”, he shouted, sweeping his had over the congregation, “have invited him.”

This scary scenario was but a mild introduction to Father Brophy’s sermon which went on to describe the horrors of Hell even better than Milton.  The fiery lake was never so horrible.  Satan was never more demonic. “The Evil One will suck out your souls”, the priest went on, leaving us hollow, godless, and alone.  Here he quoted T.S. Eliot, no Catholic and no true believer; but Father Brophy was nothing if not a consummate actor:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

“The Devil did this”, he said. “He has sucked your spirit dry and cast you aside as stuffed scarecrows in the dried grass, never to see God”.

He was a master.

The ‘fiery lake’ scenario has the most currency because of Global Warming and Nuclear Armament. Environmentalists believe that the world will indeed end in a fiery Armageddon of Man’s making. Unchecked climate change can only end in a holocaust of burnt corn, dried lakes, a latter-day Flood, and eruptions, hurricanes, and tidal havoc.

Anti-war protesters are convinced that unless Man’s insane collection of nuclear armaments is stopped, someone will pull the trigger and release the fiery destruction predicted in the Bible.

Millennialist cults are common throughout America.  Perhaps the best know is the Church Resplendent and Glorious whose leader predicted a few years ago that a nuclear Armageddon was nigh.  She even predicted the date which was perilously close.  She instructed her believers to construct a warren of underground bomb shelters so that they could survive the holocaust and emerge years later to repopulate the world.  The holocaust never happened of course, and the power of prayer saved the day.

Those who believe that the end of the world will come within their lifetimes are not like you and me.  We pull the curtains to check on the weather, but they look for ominous signs – a gathering apocalyptic storm, lightning, and thunder.

“It’s coming”, said Marge Phillips. “Let’s prepare”; and as she took her three children down into the storm cellar, she smiled. “We will soon meet him”, she said.

The doomsday-sayers of Washington, Berkeley, and Boston are not so dramatic.  Grand guignol is very déclassé, and they couch their apocalyptic warnings within a progressive, logical framework.  “The rising temperature of the Humboldt Current….the shifting of the Coriolus Effect…the melting of the polar ice caps, the linear function of the Gulf Stream….” are “indicators of climate shift”.  Their moderate, carefully crafted language scarcely hides the Biblical fervor of their prophecies.  The End of the World is nigh, they believe; but are too steeped in Descartes to make much more of a fuss. 

‘Progressives’ are not the only ones to be duped into an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it mentality.  Many religious fundamentalists are convinced that the Devil is behind Feminism and gay rights. The Bible is perfectly clear about homosexuality.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (NKJ, Leviticus 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (NKJ, Leviticus 20:13)

How could this be more clear? So if one believes that the words of the Bible are divine, then all Hell is to pay for Man’s transgressions.  Regardless of The End, whether fiery, or a simple existential rubbing out of Mankind, we deserve it because of our willful disobedience to God’s Law.  If we don’t put an end to buggering, the wrath of God will be visited upon us.

The Old Testament God spared nothing to punish mankind. The Ten Plagues of Egypt were only a taste of His judgment – lice, frogs, locusts, flies were nothing compared with the total destruction of which he was capable.

Either one takes all this seriously – that we do in fact risk God’s wrath and plague, pestilence, and penitential fire are sure punishments for our transgressions – or we dismiss it all as myth, manipulative software of the Church, and hocus-pocus.

Those of us who according to the Census are ‘Indifferent’ to religion will smile at the frets of evangelicals and at the Chicken Little prophesies of the Liberal Left.  Fundamentalists are legitimately Biblical in orientation, and we have to grant them that. Environmentalists and secular Apocalyptics are in another category altogether. They, as objective intellectuals, should understand the neutrality of history.  Historical events roll on in predictable cycles.  There is no such thing as progress or improvement in the human condition, so why worry?

Both environmentalists and Biblical literalists pull the drapes in the morning and hope that the End has come?  It would be gratifying and legitimizing. The rest of us hope that rain will not spoil our golf date.

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