Friday, August 08, 2008

on the rapture

I'm kind of intrigued by apocalyptic visions, especially as they keep, you know, NOT COMING TRUE. Amanda at Pandagon had a great post linking the fear of death to the strangely persistent (and growing?) belief that the Rapture will happen 'in our time':

Apocalypse scenarios put that fear to rest, especially if the apocalypse comes in your lifetime. Consider that 55% of Americans believe in the Rapture, and then consider that pretty much all portrayals of when this will happen coming from religious leadership---from the Left Behind books to evangelical pews to the Christian Zionist movement---put it sometime next week. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but really, there’s a strong sense amongst believers that this will happen in their lifetime. The fantasy loses all appeal if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, if you think about it, because the whole point of being Raptured is a) you don’t suffer a bodily death and b) history ends when you do, so you can’t be forgotten. Not all apocalypse fantasies are so simple-minded,** but pretty much all address this core fear that history will go on without you and you’ll be forgotten to the point where it’s like you never lived at all...

I do think that there’s a real danger in apocalyptic rhetoric coming from environmentalists on this issue, even if I’ve crossed that line myself in frustration. And it’s because of this theory I’ve outlined above that the apocalypse is a comforting idea. Fundamentalist Christians who believe in the End Times are trying to hustle them in, and if global warming gets stuck in that loop, a lot of people have no reason to lift a finger against it. Telling people what they want to hear---that history is going to end in their lifetimes---is not going to get them moving. I think the more realistic vision that humanity will move on, but we could be looking at a new Dark Age of a sort that’s probably hard to even predict, will be more effective...

Is there a sense that apocalyptic fantasizing is in a big upswing in our society? I say yes. The amazing growth spurt in belief in the End Times in our society is unmistakable, in fact. Why is this? I think it’s a reaction to modernity.

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