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The End of the World, Part I

December 8, 2012

“Apocalypse” is quite a loaded term to our  ears, especially with all that Planet X nonsense and the Mayan Calender circulating around. There are constant romances about the Zombie Apocalypse, about mass extinction of the human race due to large scale disasters, and World War III also being circulated around. To say that our experience in planet Earth will go out with a bang is certainly more entertaining than being subjected to disease, or a mass infertility killing us off (as P.D. James said in her novel Children of Men) or some random meteor coming and blowing us up. But where did this notion of the end of all things first come into being?

This idea that the human race will die out and there will be a great war probably began with the Christian tradition of the apocalypse, which was chronicled – however ambiguously – in the book of Revelation. It was a very mysterious, strange letter written to various churches throughout the places in which Christians lived, which seemed to be a warning as well as a way of encouraging the churches to continue on in the faith. It was written by John, supposedly the same individual who wrote the Gospel of John; he, according the the text, was on the island of Patmos when he wrote the book.  The book itself reads not unlike other apocryphal works, that is, books such as Daniel or Bella and the Dragon (some very specific imagery seemed to be taken word-for-word from the latter, a non-canonical book). It is, for all intents and purposes, a mystery. There is another non-canonical book, decided as such by the Council of Nicaea, called the Revelation of Peter, which has fallen out of face. Why is that? It is not very clear. I have not gotten my hands on that text yet.

Why do we, as twenty-first century people, long having abandoned the various tropes and symbols and tropes found in Revelation (the constant mention of precious stones, the horsemen, and so forth), still want to work with it, and still believe that “the end is near?” The end of the world was not something oft-reflected on before the Christian era or even during. Indeed, during the Christian era, people believed that the end could very well be tomorrow. But now, since we have moved so far into the future, we look for signs of the “end times.” Books like Left Behind and The Third Millennium come onto our shelves, and suddenly Russia is the “Beast” described in Revelation – or maybe Pakistan or whatever America is fighting against right now (interesting, how the Bible becomes so politicized).

Before we continue, it must be noted that the Bible was pretty much the reason for people becoming literate. It was for religious reasons that people took to education, and moved out of the darkness of the middle ages and formed the modern way of thinking, and eventually postmodern, however ironic that it is. Now we are eschewing the modern or postmodern way of thinking in favor of more fanciful things, which we find in romances like Left Behind. We want there to be “an end” and we forget about the forward, intellectual sort of thinking that has infused so much of our past. America was built on the backs of thinking, intelligent people. How sad it would be to see it fall into a sort of nonsensical theocracy. So many people stake their politics in religious thought. History moves in a circle, it seems. We used the Bible to fuel our intelligence and wisdom, move outside of it, and then do a one-eighty.

I am not saying, however, that using the Bible for reflective thoughts and inspiration or what have you is bad. I am saying that the literalistic interpretation of the Bible that was so common in the dark ages and following is being revived. People, in general, were able to be rational thinkers and still believe in God, even the God of the Bible in modern times and postmodern times. Now, in this new era, we flee back to religious diatribe and outrage, trying to forget rational thinking. In that sense, there must be some kind of balance of rational thought and religious conviction. To be kind to each other and rational, while at the same time not forgetting our roots, appears to be the right thing to do.

The end of the world, then, stands as something that has influenced western thought for generations. We throw around words like “the antichrist” or talk about “666” as some kind of evil number. Why do we do this? Earlier thinkers thought that the Earth was everlasting. As science progresses, we see this is not the case. We are finite beings, on a finite planet. Let us, then, spend that precious time not thinking or dreading the end, but thinking about new beginnings. As C.S. Lewis said of his Great Dance, the End is the Beginning. Yes, we may die out from natural causes, or from a great meteor, but new things will come about on this planet. As for the hereafter, I will cover that in Part II.


From → Philosophy, Religion

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