I may have missed a few days of Sunday school, but the way I heard it, the rapture is just the beginning. If indeed it does take place, I expect the next thing we’ll hear as we’re cleaning out the houses of the elect, is that Osama bin Laden has risen from his watery grave, revealing himself to be the Antichrist. Then, there will be a big war between the Antichrist’s army and the army of Jesus, a seven-headed dragon, the Whore of Babylon, seals being broken and all sorts of nasty spilling out and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding around spreading Conquest, War, Famine and Death. (Apart from the awfulness, inconvenience and attendant issues caused by the deaths of billions, this will look totally bitchin’ in HD, won’t it?) Then the Jews will pull down the Al-Aqsa Mosque, rebuild the Temple and sacrifice a perfect red heifer to consecrate it. At some point this autumn, according to the prophecy, Jesus will come back and hold Judgment Day. (Thus presumably nullifying any issues caused by the NFL lockout.) Those who find their names written in the Book of Life will dwell in paradise forever; those who do not will go crackle-crackle-crackle with Satan and the rest of the fallen angels for a very uncomfortable AC-free eternity. So, I imagine that we’ll have at least a few additional papers in the remaining few months of reality, covering local reaction to the Apocalypse and offering very cut-rate subscription deals. That is, if we here at Ulster Publishing don’t all get raptured …
Let’s pause for a deep breath. As every other prediction of the end of the world has turned out to be wrong — Google “The Great Disappointment” for a particularly poignant episode which took place in a part of upstate New York more upstate than we are — you gotta think this one is going to be wrong too. If I didn’t think that, the tone of this editorial would be far different, I assure you. But what is it about “The End” that makes it so compelling to so many people?
My take is that end-of-the-world fantasies (and you can include all the 2012 stuff in this category too) are more comforting to many of us than the awful, soul-crushing reality that life will go on and that we are just part of an ongoing saga. It’s a form of brash egotism, is it not, thinking that our sins and our wickedness are so awful that God is finally fed up and is going to end the whole thing. As if what we are doing today is worse than what people did in the 1930s and ’40s. There’s the escapist element, too. People are desperate for some supernatural force, be it the Legions of God or the Saucer People, to come down from above and smash the modern world as we know it, so we don’t have to worry about the fact that our 401(k)’s are gone, we’ll never get to do what we really want to do with our lives and that no one will give much of a damn about us after we’re dead, as they’ve got their own problems. Somehow, we need something to flip the script, to make everything all right in one giant, spectacular gesture.
That’s not the way our lives as human beings are, though. We are bounded and defined by our finite natures; the fact that our lives will one day end confers upon us an urgency and an appreciation of life’s value that immortals will never know. Superman isn’t coming to save us from the angst of being alive and in a grossly imperfect world; we all have to struggle, suffer and sort it out on our own and hammer out our own meaning and value. Maybe, when we die, there’s a next phase — I personally believe there is, and no, I am not just saying that to hedge my bets on Saturday — and our essences and self-awareness will persist in another form. Maybe there won’t be, but anyone who says they’re sure one way or the other is answering an unanswerable question.
But I wish people would stop it with the end of the world stuff. It’s fearmongering (usually aimed at getting people to fork over money to the fearmonger) and just wastes energies better spent at making happier lives for ourselves and our fellow creatures in the here and now. See you next week!