Monday, October 22, 2012

Box Seats for the End of Days

This is sort of piggy backing off my entry looking at human agency in different eschatological narratives, but I happened upon an interesting documentary titled "Waiting for Armageddon", which explores Evangelical Christianity's preoccupation with the event, and the potential for political action based on trying to bring the events about as quickly as possible.

One quote stuck out, which crystallized the moral bankruptcy of the longing for the end of the world so prevalent among Evangelicals. It occurs little under half an hour into the film, during a sequence where a tour group is being baptized in the Jordan river. The tour leader is talking to the camera about the battle of Armageddon:
" In the tribulation, this will be the final battle ground, and there are lots of different thoughts where the battle happens or any of those things. As a believer in our lord Jesus Christ, we'll have the greatest seat of all to watch it. That's something that's fantastic to me; we will not be here but we'll be able to watch it"
 Absolutely chilling, when you stop to actually think about what he is saying; genocide as a spectator sport. It isn't enough that these folks are actively longing for the mass murder of the majority of humanity, no; on top of that, they want to watch the whole thing go down. The obvious reasoning is of course that everyone who isn't "saved" deserves to be horribly murdered (before spending an eternity in writhing agony), and that the enjoyment those who get to watch will experience isn't sick or twisted, it's comeuppance. The Book of Revelations, after all is one giant revenge fantasy; those who suffer and are persecuted for Jesus will be rewarded and those who did the persecuting will get what's coming to them. While I believe his initial giddiness is based upon his actual beliefs, I think he takes a second to think how someone "of the world" would view his unabashed sadism at the prospect of Armageddon and tries to back peddle:
"The final battle I think will be a lot of fun to watch... Not fun in the sense of knowing that people are dying without having received Christ as their saviour, but at the same time seeing the prophecy fulfilled, seeing god's word come out.
On second thought, this doesn't seem like a back peddle at all (what I get for writing while watching). He doesn't do the decent thing, like say, "Oh, you're wondering why I said watching millions of people being horribly murdered would be fun to watch; what I meant was...". But no, he actually sticks to his perspective adding that he isn't happy about people dying without "getting saved". So the tragedy isn't that people are being brutally murdered as the streets overflow with rivers of blood; the tragedy is that people didn't convert to Christianity, and now they get to suffer for it. The sentiment expressed is unimaginably cruel, while at the same time unbelievably sanctimonious.

The problem is that this isn't just some zealots fevered nightmare vision of the future, millions of people believe this and share in the sentiment that such a scenario is something everyone who has a conscious ought to be hoping, nay praying for. Think about it won't you, one of the most common Christian prayers has such a sentiment within it. "The Lord's Prayer", found in Matthew 6:9-13, contains the passage "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done". Side stepping the hermeneutics of this, at its most obvious the prayer is wishing for the coming of the "Kingdom" of the Christian god, and how when is that going to be coming again? Well according to folks like the fellow quoted above, right after most of humanity is wiped from the face of the earth. I'm not sure how many people actually make the causal connection between this sentiment and the events of Revelation, but it is certainly there.

This perspective is commonly referred to as Christian triumphalism, and the more I learn and interact with Christians, the more common the sentiment is. It stems, I believe, from having been the hegemony for so long. Christianity is, in Western culture, the default position, and with this comes an inbred sense of entitlement. Amazing then that when one reads articles like the article I discuss here, they have the tremnity to perceive themselves as still being a persecuted minority. A textbook example of what the phrase "having ones cake, and eating it too", the obvious superiority the religion has been written across the pages of western history since 391 CE. Yet today in a culture so deeply beholden to its influence that any attempt at minority groups to attempt to get a fair shake is seen as an erosion, an attack on said religion. Not to be too derogatory, but the idea of a "default position" is something which is so pervasive it is almost rendered invisible; at least to those who share the position. The triumphalism trumpeted from the pages of WND may be the most blatant and obvious sort of example, but the idea runs far deeper, and across a much broader swath of traditions.

Even among many of my family, friends and co-workers, the sentiment is expressed and sustained, despite the fact that few would even consider themselves "religious". Again, when ones only frame of reference is the dominant cultural force that is the "default", everything else becomes "the other", "weird", etc. It doesn't matter how many ludicrous or clearly fantastic hagiographic tales about flying monks abound; that's normal. But some guy saying a prayer to the sun, bizarre. It may seem like I'm getting away, to some degree, from my original purpose in writing this post, but it all ties in. The guy quoted in the first couple of paragraph's, with he raging hard on for the end of days, is as I pointed out, not an aberration; far from it. While many of the more liberal or "open minded" of the Christian tradition would claim otherwise, he is simply the logical end of the sort of ideology which monotheism in a much broader sense, instills in its adherents. To be clear, he isn't advocating genocide; he isn't saying we must kill those who will not be converted. I doubt very much that the man would even have a proclivity towards violence. As an individual he is very likely a moral individual. The issue, the chilling moral callousness of his world view, is something which expressed in a group, can become very dangerous.

The idea of millions of otherwise moral individuals longing for a day when billions will die in the most horrific ways imaginable, calls into question just what it means to be moral in the Western cultural tradition. If the reward for "goodness" is that you get to sit in box seats, and witness the "wicked" cleasned from the earth, what does it say about the kind of morality which underlies a huge percentage of the "religious" in the West. Is it the funniest sort of irony when a group of people, who still percieve themselves in the same light as their historic forebearers, lions and all, now await for their turn to shout, cheer and cry out "well washed!"?


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