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Thursday, September 27, 2018

The End Of The World Is Nigh! Apocalyptic Visions Of The Horrors Of American Conservatism

The Book of Revelations speaks about the end of the world. 

“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.

“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-17).

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Revelations 6-10 makes it clear that once the end of days begins, there is no hope, and all will be lost in unimaginable misery.

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.

The New Testament God is just as vindictive, cruel, and unforgiving as that of the Old.  The only difference is that the Christian Bible holds out some hope.  There is always time to repent, to find Jesus, and beg for his divine mercy.  Yet over forty percent of Christians believe that while personal salvation may still be possible, delaying the inevitable and soon-to-come apocalypse is not.  No less of a Christian icon than Billy Graham said, ““We see the storm clouds gathering and events taking place that herald the second coming of Jesus Christ.”

Those who believe in doomsday cite twelve signs, all derived from the four books of the New Testament, of which the following are the most important:

* The emergence of false prophets

* Rumors of and preparations for cataclysmic war

* Calamities – floods, earthquakes, pestilence, and violent storms

* Persecution of Christians

* Love, Compassion, and Tolerance will disappear in an age of iniquity

Once the twelve signs have been realized, the way is paved for the coming of the Antichrist, and after the final battle of Armageddon, Jesus Christ himself will return to earth.

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To many it sure seems like Biblical prophecy is coming true.  For Christians the rise of radical Islam alone is enough to satisfy three of the five signs; and even the most casual observer sees that natural calamities are on the rise.  Devastating fires in the West, increasingly powerful and destructive hurricanes in the East; AIDS and outbreaks of even more dangerous emerging viruses like Ebola; consumerism, bare-knuckled capitalism and the concentration of wealth and economic power all conform to prophesy. 

Muslims subscribe to the same end-of-time beliefs. The  hadith contain several events, happening before the Day of Judgment, which are describe as several minor signs and twelve major signs. During this period, terrible corruption and chaos would rule the earth, caused by the Antichrist in Islam), then a messianic figure will appear, defeating the Dajjal and establish a period of peace, liberating Islam from cruelty. These events will be followed by a time of serenity when people live according to religious values.

However sixty percent of American Christians reject any notion of imminent doom.  Jews have never considered New Testament prophecy valid but have their own eschatology, far more benign than the Christian.  Until the late modern era, the standard Jewish belief was that after one dies, one's immortal soul joins God in the world to come while one's body decomposes. At the end of days, God will recompose one's body, place within it one's immortal soul, and that person will stand before God in judgement. The idea of a messianic age has a prominent place in Jewish thought, and is incorporated as part of the end of days. Jewish philosophers from medieval times to the present day have emphasized the soul's immortality and deemphasized the resurrection of the dead.

Hindus and Buddhists see the universe as eternally becoming, light and dark, creation and destruction; so the idea of one, eliminating purge makes no sense. 

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It is not surprising that a country like the United States, one of profound religious roots, an expansive Christian fundamentalism, a history of Utopianism, and a deep-seated belief in progress and perfectibility, would believe that the end of days is upon us.  Although expressed in secular terms, there is no mistaking the apocalyptic tone of environmental destruction, a dangerously distorted economic system, military adventurism, social intolerance, and lake of compassion – vices and evils persistent and growing in the United States and inflicted on the world.

Progressives feel an obligation to do God’s work and to reform the world to his liking.  Although the Bible only talks of resurrection, rapture, and salvation – that is, it does not suggest that history or divine prophecy can be altered, political advocates insist that despite the appearance of apocalyptic times, the doomsday clock can be slowed; and if enough energy, commitment, and passion can be invested in the existential struggle, it can be stopped.

For progressives Donald Trump is the Antichrist, an incarnation of the final evil that will be visited on the world.  He, they say, not only acts irresponsibly but actually espouses the very evils cited in apocalyptic literature.  He is singlehandedly provoking the world to war, dismissing the fiery end to the earth’s resources, contributing to the rise of hatred among people and nations, and, thanks to his indifference, contributing to the rise of natural calamities.  He is a man with no moral principles, no social conscience, no compassion or understanding.  If not the Antichrist himself, then he is the closest thing to it – a Satanic creature who defies both reason and faith in his desire to create a kingdom of evil.

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While the most religiously fundamental conservatives see progressivism as the work of the Devil, thoughtful political philosophers of the Right are less demanding and less hysterical.  They know that the progressive agenda is built on fragile, temporal assumptions.  They dismiss liberal claims that their views on gender are the final, ultimate, and permanent ones.  Sexual polarity is only a historical and cultural construct which has had its day.  Sexual fungibility is the enlightened conclusion of a long history of sexual evolution.   Biological and genetic determinism, Biblical injunction, and the history of art, literature, and ideas make bi-polar or bi-modal sexuality the only conclusion. Religious faith may indeed be eroded by agendas which favor rights over morality, intend to recalibrate sexuality and put it on a fluid spectrum,  and to neuter individual enterprise and freedom in favor of government patriarchy; but these are not existential events. While man might have something to do with the warming of the planet, it is inconsequential compared to his adaptability, resourcefulness, and intelligence.  In fact, constant, perpetual, change and adaptability to it have always been the rule.  All these progressive existential concerns are unfortunate but predictable secular outcomes of secular influences.  One may certainly be judged by God, but his judgement will have little to do with the glass ceiling or deforestation.   It will be a matter of morality, faith, duty, and grace. 

It is quite natural for those who devoutly believe in social progress to take an apocalyptic view of the future and to mix secular and religious metaphors.  To those most passionate advocates of social and environmental justice, it must certainly seem like Donald Trump is the antichrist – and just when America with Barack Obama was on the verge of social, environmental, and global justice.  The visceral feeling of justice and right can be at its most passionate a religious one.  There must be an absolute goal to human progress towards a more just world, otherwise it would be just one more current of history.  In other words, social progress is in and of itself and absolute good.  The utopian ends are the inevitable result of such goodness.  The means are even more important than the ends.

The reason why the country is so politically divided, so angry, violent, and intolerant is because the battle is not secular but profoundly religious.  There is an absolute good to all reformist claims.  Although advocates might not express environmental protectionism in these terms, the Earth is divine.  It cannot simply go up in smoke like a dying star. 

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