Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Apocalytpic Ethics (II): No Escape Via "Rapture"

A flooded world from radical climate change. Don't look for any specious "rapture" to save you from it!

In the previous blog I examined the extended example of life in a post-apocalyptic world, where all animal and plant life has been decimated, and people prey on each other (in cannibalism) or become prey themselves, or simply starve. It is a hellish world as manifest in the film, The Road, and one option is to invoke a provisional ethics and simply kill oneself or engage in familial suicide to escape the horrors.

But the question arises in certain fundagelical corners: Can one depend on an alleged "Rapture" to escape before all hell breaks loose?

Hardly! The reason is that the Rapture is pseudo-scriptural foolishness created in Scotland in the early 19th century and somehow transferred to American evangelical mythology along with their belief in personal Savior tripe.

The Rapture nonsense actually began with a young, Scottish child's schizophrenic vision ca. 1830, in which she evidently "saw" numerous future horrors, flames and tarnation....and in the midst of it all, the "godly" and "just" being swept up into the heavenly arms by force or forces unknown. Her vision, however, was too raw, too lacking in detail and so had to be fleshed out. This was accomplished by John Nelson Darby, a British preacher of the late 19th century.

It was Darby to whom we owe the original spurious connections to assorted scripture passages, which the moronic fundies base their insipid claims on today. It was also Darby who devised the concept of "dispensations" or distant epochs in "God's time". Darby's genius was in reconciling his fulsome claptrap with scriptures and neatly skirting over all the inconsistencies and discrepancies. (Where've we seen that before?) Indeed, he found a way (like most fundies) to rationalize all the inconsistencies, as well as any anomalies appearing in assorted prophecies.

Perhaps the first American theologian to thoroughly skewer this con was Barbara R. Rossing, in her remarkable book, The Rapture Exposed. While only a few Catholic thinkers would touch this garbage with a ten foot pole (e.g. Andrew Greeley comes to mind), most backed out. Rossing in her very accessible book, bashes this baloney in a straightforward way, exposing it not only as rubbish but as a multi-million dollar per year racket, designed to fleece the gullible and stupid.

She's made an important contribution, since many of these gullible, semi-educated types are also bible-believing zealots and cranks who've actually adopted LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series as a kind of future history or blueprint. As Rossing puts it:

"The trouble is, the interpretation of the Bible on which these books are based is also fiction. Today's end times writings draw on a method for looking at prophecy that was invented less than 200 years ago and, by now, is a dominant American view - but not European. In this system, the Bible - particularly the Books of Daniel and Revelation- spell out in detail God's pre-ordained script of predictions for the end of the world".

To her credit, Rossing uses good old, standard textual analysis (the type we were exposed to as young frosh at Loyola University in the 60s) which relies on the original texts and languages (not dubious makeovers, as in the corrupted King James Bible, based on deformed mss. by Erasmus in the Latin Vulgate) to expose the nature of all the scriptural contortions needed to invest in any remote "rapture". This is why I've always endorsed a sound interpretational policy when one reads any scriptures, and why I've shown you can't just have a one to one unfiltered absorption of any given passage or page. When people fail to do this, for whatever reason, they fall into a hole of wild, intemperate bunkum - whether to do with Christ's alleged godhood, the existence of Hell, Satan or the "Antichrist" or the plausibility of a Rapture.

The Antichrist itself was invented based upon a passage or two (or three) taken out of context in the scriptures and has emerged as a myth that rivals that of the Abominable Snowman or Bigfoot. It is fodder for the weak-minded, to launch a spurious basis to attack and denigrate what they don’t understand. It’s also a facile way to demonize people, especially those of other faiths and most of all "nonbelievers".

How did the myth of a personal Antichrist originate? Some allude to Revelation, and mention of the “beast”. Even so, as a former Jesuit theology professor noted (from a theology course I took at Loyola University in 1964) this declares no personal entity. It could as well refer to a beastly spirit, or pervasive hate that offends, defeats and detracts from the love that the actual rabbi, Yeshua, sought to convey. Hence, against Yeshua (presumed to the “the Christ”) and so “Anti’ Christ – in the same way that anti-matter is the opposite of matter.

But the myth didn’t really acquire jet burners until 1988 and the publication of Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ – which set the stage long before the “Left Behind” series took hold in already weakened brains. Lindsey was so exacting in terms of his biblical forecasts and interpretations, he was led to go out on a long limb of forecasts (another cautionary warning against taking passages too literally!).

Lindsey built his interpretation on the identification of Israel with the “fig tree” and the coming of the Beast within one generation of its emergence (birth of a Jewish state). Since that birth occurred in 1948, and Lindsey designated one generation = 40 years (biblically) he reckoned that the Antichrist would make his first public appearance in 1988, and the Tribulation (the alleged 7-year period for his reign) would commence then. Everyone in the Antichrist’s dominion would have to be marked with the magic letters ‘666’ which Lindsey surmised would function like an electronic code similar to the product UPC codes triggered at checkout in a supermarket to get prices. Without this special numerical code, no one would be able to buy, trade or work and hence couldn’t’ survive.

This tableaux also fit in with Lindsey’s other interpretations, including for the “ten heads” in Revelation, since at the time, the European Union featured ten members. Thus, the Antichrist was to arise directly out of what was the original Roman Empire, and also be in charge of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem (atop one of Islam’s holiest sites). The price for this was to be worshipped by the Jews.

According to Lindsey’s timeline, this meant the consummation of the world would arrive within seven years of 1988, or 1995. In other words, the Rapture would have to take place before the Tribulation (1987 or early 1988) and Christ would march into the world for his “Second Coming” by late 1995.

Of course, none of that happened! There was no Antichrist, no Tribulation, no Rapture, and the European Union now sports more than twenty members. When you try to pin these knuckleheads on exactly where and when this "Antichrist" will eventually arise, their only retort is that "the time and place is known only by God". Typical, convenient and bunk.

Lindsey himself has now been long forgotten, but hey – a good fiction idea like the Antichrist never dies – so Tim LaHaye and friends since picked it up and integrated it into their Left Behind horse pockey or what I call “The Dark Materials” series for the slow of wit and lesser imagination. (They need garish scenes painted in over the top colors and hues to get scared enough to read it.)

But changing the novelistic basis doesn’t make it a reality. Though delusional thinking always finds a home, and sure enough- millions now believe that when the planetary shit hits the fan they'll be well out of it without having to commit suicide! What's not to like? You get lifted by a special thread directly to your heavenly reward and escape hell on Earth, while all those nasty unbelievers are...tada...LEFT BEHIND to deal with the shit storm!

The fact is there is no Antichrist, just as there is no Abominable Snowman. Each is an artifact of a defective brain which, if not leashed in by reason and skepticism, tends to go haywire in inventing things and projecting reality onto them. (Look at the latest palsied efforts to prove the Shroud of Turin as real, despite the fact we’ve know for some time it’s a clever Middle Ages fake – probably devised by Leonardo da Vinci).

Returning to Rossing's book on exposing the Rapture for the irredeemable crap it is, an obvious question that might arise in some Christianoids' hollowed skulls is : Why should any unbeliever fret over it, if he doesn't believe in it? Rossing delivers on this issue too, noting that a sinister political subtext is also at work. Thus, subscribers to this codswallop believe that the Jews absolutely MUST control all of their original territory - before the Temple can be rebuilt and Jesus returns. There is thus a political (and to an extent military) impetus to ensure the very apocalypse feared becomes a self -fulfilling prophecy.

For this reason, Rossing warns that all unbelievers (as well as normal believers) ought to pay attention to this unfolding nonsense spread by the likes of Tim LaHaye and cohorts. They (fundies) mark a raw brand of Christian Zionism with an 'all or nothing' template that scripts Israel as a player in an ongoing dispensionalist Christian drama that most Israelis even have a hard time understanding.

If we don't keep an eye on these morons, and ensure their political cage-rattling doesn't become militarily driven (especially in a war-mongering nation that appears to demand a "dog in every fight" - as Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens put it), we may well play a role in initiating the nuclear exchange (perhaps beginning with Iran annd Israel - with the Russians entering to back the former) that leads to a world exactly like that depicted in The Road! Ironically then, it is the Rapture bunch and their enabling ilk who are most likely to send us hurtling toward a grotesque, death spiral future - probably even worse than in the film.

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