The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America

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The psychologists then asked both groups to provide feedback on essays that were written by Christian and Jewish students. Their findings corroborated the theory:. The students who had experienced reminders of their own mortality were significantly more critical of the essays written by the Jewish students; their criticisms at times bordered on the anti-Semitic.

Just as worldview defense had predicted, the Christian students who had been reminded of death sought to bolster their own worldviews by denigrating the beliefs of others The Norse, confronted with death, followed this same pattern of events. The same threats that eventually brought about their demise also pressured them to sustain their cultural worldview, even after it became extremely apparent that it was no longer tenable. The reason people in the United States have become entranced by the apocalypse is because that cultural worldview has become fundamentally eroded.

Despite abundant evidence that the age of perpetual economic progress is over, people grip hold of it to give their lives meaning. The desire that we feel for an apocalyptic moment is the desire to vindicate our beliefs. Our faith in this culture has become so shaken that we crave some sort of indicator that will prove to ourselves and to others that we are right, and reveal beyond all doubt the path this culture needs to take in order to reach the foretold Golden Age— whether that Golden Age is a Kingdom of God or a solar-powered technotopia.

Having been backed against a wall, liberals and conservatives both strive for a way to preserve their cultural worldview, to sustain an unsustainable standard of living. It is as impossible for Americans to consider a world in economic decline as it would have been for the Norse to adopt igloos and start eating fish. At the same time that cultural worldview is just as impossible to sustain as the Norse worldview was in The reality is that:.

The rhetoric of the apocalypse gets it backward: this is not the most important time to be alive— being alive is the most important time. The world before us will still be marked by laughter and love and art and joy; a life is no less valuable or beloved if one lives in an age of decline, when the tides are running out, than in an age of progress An important first step will be to recognize the apocalypse for what it is: an indicator that the cultural worldview that we have lived within is no longer tenable.

We need to find the strength to do what the Norse could not.

America's fascination with the apocalypse

We need to replace a dysfunctional culture with living, breathing ones that can prepare us for the difficult times to come. We need to stop treating climate change and environmental destruction as apocalyptic events situated in the future that will awaken humanity to a green future.

We need to see these issues as dangers that are facing us right now, that need to be resolved through immediate action on our part.

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In a world riddled with problems, needs are not hard to locate. And by helping to fill those needs, we can resist a dominant culture that prioritizes a system of economic growth over the continuing existence of life on this planet, and work to foster cultural worldviews that accept the reality of a world in decline.

Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. The laboratories, the observatories, and the museums that Bacon imagined for his New Atlantis , and that the Royal Society created, were designed to realize a prophecy made in the Book of Revelation's most important Old Testament source, the Book of Daniel : "Many shall go to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. Some radical philosophers combined social with intellectual revolution. In the years just before , the Dominican Tommaso Campanella hoped to lead the miserable peasants of his native Calabria in creating a Utopian City of the Sun , and drew on the most up-to-date astrology and astronomy of his time to deconstruct what he saw as the myth of Christ's divinity.

Others, Newton most importantly, confined their breaches of decorum to the sphere of the intellect.

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By the early s, in other words, the millennium was firmly established as a richly mutable object of historical research, one which rewarded study from many different points of view. Scholars realized that millennialists, in the west, were far too diverse to be characterized by simple formulas, and their goals and movements far too complex to be forced into a single analytical pigeonhole. The university—in America, at least—is another country. Outside the tight little world of scholarly conferences and journals, the end of history, or the end of History, is more than an object of study.

This is owed not least to a central fact of American popular culture, which is that in the course of the s and s the millennium came back into the collective consciousness, in a big way. Sometimes it took modernized forms: predictions of ecological disaster or devastating warfare inspired movies such as Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes , while economic catastrophe was evoked in The Coming Crash of ' Sometimes it updated traditional predictive arts.

Haight-Ashbury and a thousand road-company theatres echoed with the modernized astrological scenario for world history: It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. In the precincts of fundamentalist Christianity, at the evangelical compounds where earnest prophets deciphered computer bar codes as the Number of the Beast and identified the government's black helicopters as the engines of a secular authority as corrupt as Nero's, the old millennium also came vividly back to life.

The Book of Revelation offers the members of such circles exactly what it provided a thousand years ago for the kind of Christian scholar whose folly Saint Augustine had tried to reveal: God's detailed, day-by-day plan for the scourging that the world deserves, and will receive, the encoded but precisely accurate history of the future which is about to come upon us.

These books start with the Rapture—the disappearance of the truly faithful around the world, who rise, stripped of clothing and possessions, to meet the Lord. And they follow the adventures of the pilot Rayford Steele, and his daughter Chloe, and the Princeton graduate and journalist Cameron "Buck" Williams, and the flight attendant Hattie Durham, and Nicolae Carpathia, the mysterious, charming Romanian leader whose knowledge of languages and passion to create a world government in New Babylon identify him, to readers in the know, as Antichrist. Immured in prose so dry that it is almost petrified, a language without qualities, these texts have the appeal not of fiction, but of secret society cryptography. They confirm the readers' long-held suspicions about Israel and the UN, the American communications elite and the Third World—not to mention the Freemasons and the Bavarian illuminati. LaHaye and Jenkins show the Apocalypse taking place, seal by seal, with grim literal-mindedness, as the nature of the events and their connections to prophecy slowly become clear to the characters whose romantic adventures they narrate.

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The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America Paperback – March 6, Mathew Barrett Gross is considered one of America's top new-media strategists. Mathew Gross and Mel Gilles have given us a wonderful introductory volume on apocalyptic thought in. During the first dozen years of the twenty-first century, apocalyptic anticipation in America has leapt from the cultish to the mainstream. Today, nearly 60 percent.

As Horseman after Horseman spills the blood of humanity, the characters talk and mate, plot and counter-plot before up-to-date scenery made of the best cardboard: flight lounges, suburban houses, and television studios, where the props include bibles with commentary and the most modern forms of electronic technology. It is a grisly mixture of The Rapture and You've Got Mail , a bizarrely flat and monstrously distorted rendering of the life we live now:. Rayford was grateful that Chloe had begun getting to know Amanda better by E-mail.

When Rayford and Amanda were dating, he had monopolized most of Amanda's time, and while the women seemed to like each other, they had not bonded other than as believers. Now, communicating not in the technical sense, of course daily, Amanda seemed to be growing in her knowledge of Scripture. Chloe was passing along everything she was studying. Between Bruce and Chloe, Rayford found his answers about the fifth and seventh seals. It was not pleasant news, but he hadn't expected any different. But how was your day otherwise, Mrs. It would take a heart stonier than mine to read the death scene of the two witnesses of the Apocalypse, here named Moishe and Eli—two Jews who testify that Christ is the Messiah and work many miracles before being blown away dramatically by Carpathia—without snickering.

Yet most readers don't snicker. These snazzily printed novels have reached far more readers than The Pursuit of the Millennium and the works of Cohn's successors taken together. Three and a half million copies—not to mention related chatchkes and Left Behind: The Kids— have been sold.

The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America

The most recent volumes have hit the Times's best-seller list, and Amazon. So out there, amid the ceaseless democratic buzz of the Web, on the evangelical call-in shows, in apocalyptic comic books and pamphlets, millennial visions flare and flicker. The most up to-date of practices offer admittance to the most atavistic of fantasies:. During the Reformation, Luther's close friends Philip Melanchthon and Caspar Peucer cast horoscopes and scanned Revelation with equal fascination, as Robin Briggs showed in his fine study of Prophecy and Gnosis, following a trail blazed long before by Aby Warburg.

In the modern world of Christian prophecy, similarly, pagan and Christian prophecies, exegesis and astrology burgeon on the same websites. Next to quotations from the Bible, one finds a "Nostradamus Update. The author admits that "Well, the Seventh Month of came and went without any Kings of Terror descending. Want to combine victim feminism with ameliorism Millennialism?

Moab writers dispel apocalyptic fears in 'The Last Myth'

Are you a female technophobe, not given to being analytical and trying to see the big picture? Don't worry, you can learn all you need to know about how to keep yourself and your family safe on www. The apocalyptic gloop is everywhere, not just on Fox. But is it the same everywhere? Do these images always perform the same functions? The images that no longer resound in mainstream churches do, to be sure, decorate our movie, television, and computer screens. Kitsch media such as science fiction, horror movies, and millennial television series present millennial threats and schemata, visions of destruction wrought by everything from aliens to angels, to a vast general public.

In the realm of popular culture—now as in the Reformation—night visions and apparitions, celestial harbingers of wrath and plots against humans dedicated to evil flicker before rich and poor alike, as they did in Durer 's time.

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As the movements multiply on their pages, as the players proliferate until no scorecard can help you remember whether you are reading about the Millerites or the Mormons, Johanna Southcott or Jim Jones, so do the disapproving adjectives and adverbs, the little hints of condescension or impatience. In practice, this plays out through a process of aporetic debate, reflection on the act of debating and the final revelation of a plausible conclusion, i. The central thesis here is that apocalyptic thinking has commandeered our psychological approach to a number of national and global challenges, and it leads us to obsess about moments yet to come when we should be considering trends that are manifest in the here and now. He also has several years of academic research experience in molecular neurobiology, with a focus on the molecular genetics of familial neuropathies, and CNS tumor biomarker development. Show More Show Less. New York: National Security League, , pp. Download the free PDF.

Yet their impact is completely different. Mainstream consumers go to the movies and watch television to enjoy—from a safe cultural distance—threats of horrors to come couched in the cheerful form of noir murder mysteries about attractive FBI agents. A huge gap surely stretches between the dispensationalists who eagerly match headlines in USA Today to the sensational events described by LaHaye and Jenkins, and the secularists who kick back in their Barcaloungers, munching corn chips as blood is shed and plots thicken on "Millennium" or "The X Files.

The educated know that the universe will eventually end, and appreciate that poisoned air and water, crazed microchips or a stray asteroid may take us out of the picture long before; but we no longer believe, deep in our being, that this will happen—or at least that it will happen soon enough to matter to us, to threaten our lives or well-being, or even to require that we change our lives.

After all, as Jean Baudrillard observed almost a decade ago, "we have to get used to the idea that there is no longer any end, there will no longer be any end and that history itself has become interminable.

People are building technology that could survive the apocalypse

We bathe ourselves in lukewarm fear in the hope of finding emotions we know we have lost. From now on, this end will revolve and continue to revolve around us untiringly. The Apocalypse is decidedly not now, not for us, not really. It is a curiosity, a script idea, a marketing strategy, something to generate magazine theme issues with relentlessly upbeat tones and mildly ironic stories about scholarly debates.

And so the millennium is at once everywhere and nowhere in our culture. Members of the educated elite, even if they practice a mainline religion, often have no exposure in childhood to the millennium, any more than they do to other unpleasant aspects of Christian tradition which is why a descendant of Lithuanian and Russian Jews such as myself has to introduce the doctrine of double predestination to my Presbyterian students, who have rarely heard of it.

We may avidly follow the adventures of attractive FBI agents through noir mysteries on television, or read all about the excitement that supposedly prevailed just before the year , without ever realizing that large numbers of our fellow citizens take such matters very seriously. The language of Millennialism, like almost all the old language of religion, has become foreign to us--so much so that the federal agents at Waco who heard David Koresh refer to the Seven Seals thought he was talking about performing animals.

The need for some sort of instruction seems great. It is a challenging time for specialists in eschatology. The millennium confronts historians with both a problem and an opportunity. On the one hand, they must try to understand how, at a single moment and in a single civilization, the visions of John precipitated such sharply different kinds of mental weather in different cultural microclimates.

And they have an ample heritage of excellent scholarly studies to draw on as they do so. On the other hand, they have to communicate their findings, intelligibly and attractively, to a wide readership—the educated, secular, or respectably religious readership that does not follow university scholarship or consume apocalyptic bodice-rippers, but does want to understand past and present in a deeper way.

Finally, they have to explain how it is that these visions have dwindled to become the property of limited, if sizeable, groups, few of whose members hold much economic or political power.