Monday, May 23, 2011

Where Were You When the Rapture Hit?

The Day Within the Octave of the Rapture

Well, the Rapture came and went and we're still here.  (Aren't we?)  That means
  1. It happened and we are among the damned who have been Left Behind
  2. The Rapture, like the Higgs boson, is not what we expected it to look like (cf. Millerites, a.k.a. The Great Disappointment)
  3. The Rapture didn't happen
The subcategories of #3 include
  1. It didn't happen yet because Camping made an arithmetic error
  2. It didn't happen because God was so impressed with Camping and his followers that he granted a reprieve
  3. It didn't happen because Matt. 25:13 says we will know neither the day nor the hour.
You gotta admit that a preacher-dude is full of something (and likely not the Holy Spirit) when even the Baptists think he's impious and blasphemous.  (What part of "You shall know neither the day nor the hour" do you not get?) 

It seems to be always these cult-of-personality mullahs/preachers who come up with the whackadoodle stuff.  Possibly because they have no anchor, no bottom.  You never hear of the Traditional Churches launching stuff like that.  I think it's because they have ballast.   

If you know statistics (Which you should) you will know that the smaller the sample size, the more variable is the estimate of the average.  Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack and Bait Shop will not have a very big space-time footprint, as it were, and hence such nickel-and-dime sects may vary all over the theological map.  And do.  They generally spend their time calling one another heretics, casting aspersions on the Whore of Babylon (Rome), and forgetting the Orthodox Church even exists.  It has eerie similarities to the salafist movement in Islam. 

OTOH, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and Ancient Eastern Churches have a near-2000 year old tradition and have remained essentially consistent for all that time.  They have age-old ceremonies and liturgies.  They are all normative, meaning they have a mechanism that calibrates beliefs; viz., the ecumenical councils and the popes or patriarchs.  Further, they have the whole tradition: John to Polycarp, Polycarp to Irenaeus; Peter to Mark and Clement; and so on.  To some extent, the Anglican and Apostolic Lutheran Churches also share the tradition.  And even the Protestants who rejected the traditions have roots half a millennium old.  The accumulated consensus and conversation across the ages serves as a control mechanism to prevent wild swings of woo-woo.  The only thing modulating Camping is.... Camping. 

Remember, all this Rapture stuff dates from only the 19th century and the do-it-yourself novelty religions.   Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans are themselves three centuries older. 

[n.b. Anthony Sacramone, a Lutheran, had similar thoughts here.] 

A Broader View

There is a broader context that is easy to overlook.  While among religious folk the apocalypse/rapture thing may take on a religious flavor, it is by no means restricted to religious folk.  The Singularity has been called "the Rapture for Nerds" and not without reason.  A great deal of so-called "transhumanism" is simple eschatology stripped of religious language.  Instead of leaving behind our corruptible bodies and putting on the new man, we will leave behind our corruptible bodies and download our minds into computers, and thereby live forever in a transformed state with preternatural powers.  In 1677 Leibnitz prophesied that in five years all reasoning would be reduced to numerical calculations and so all questions would be resolved with the certainty of arithmetic.  This universal language and logical calculus would be easily mastered by everyone in the world and there would no longer be any cause for disagreements and misunderstandings.  It was the 17th century version of the Singularity.  (Leibnitz backed off the forecast only two years later.) 

On the grimmer side, we have seen other forecasts of the end of the world. 
  • Nuclear apocalypse survivalism, in which true believers divested themselves of encumbrances, retreated to the wilderness and prepared for the end times.  They were mostly smart enough not to put dates on matters. 
  • Paul Ehrlich's prophecy of famines in the 1970s or 1980s (depending on which edition of The Population Bomb you get);
  • Limits to Growth prophesied industrial and economic collapse in the 1980s.  
  • The Y2K millennial panic when planes would fall from the sky and all sorts of other things. 
  • The final, no-foolin collapse of capitalism prophesied every time there is a cyclical recession
  • The Global Warming Climate Change apocalypse with various dates given for sundry catastrophes from collapsing Himalayan glaciers to Noah's flood. E.g.,
    • James Hansen's prophecy in 1988/89 that by 2008/9 “The West Side Highway [in NYC] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.”
A further parallel is the response when these things do not happen.  Like Pastor Camping or (in the 1833s) William Miller also claimed: their calculations were off, or "the Lord relented/had mercy."  Well, not the Lord, but "because we raised these alarms, public action was taken which averted [or merely postponed] the [catastrophe]."  Ehrlich has postponed his famines [which were temporarily averted due to his book!]; the Limits to Growth catastrophe is now put off to ca. 2050. 

How Come?
The basis for the end-times may vary with the milieu: a religious subtext for some, a scientific one for others; political or economic for still others.  Regardless of genre, there seems always a fraction of humans who will glom onto the end of the world-as-we-know-it - and not without a certain amount of self-satisfied relish.  (I'm one of the Righteous; sorry about you.) 

I am told that there is a rush in preparing for the end, of getting right with God or right with Gaea or the Inevitable Freaking Tide of History, as the case may be.  There is a sense of participating in Something Larger Than Oneself.  All the evils of the world will be swept away and the new world that follows will be a better one, with the Righteous now in control. 

Some of the
19th century Millerites, despite being disappointed on two(!) occasions, remained faithful to Miller because they did not want to give up that euphoria they found in divesting themselves of worldly concerns, of being utterly and completely free and =ready=.  They became the Seventh Day Adventists.  

"Knowledge is power," Meghan Duke points out. "It empowers us to act." Knowing when the world is going to end provides a heady sense of power over one's own life; and as Nietzsche wrote: The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power (Will to Power #534).  So in the new Late Modern world, that very feeling of empowerment means that the prophecy must be true.  (That's why philosophical egoism is so attractive, esp. to young adults.) 

(Again quoting Duke:) When the end of the world failed to happen, the believers
could no longer live in heightened anticipation of [Christ's] coming. "The cares and dangers of life were no longer minimized by the second coming looming large on the horizon and the perplexities that had been simplified by their clear and immediate end came crowding back in. The frustrations of existing in time drifted in with the appalling snow." 

Hence, like many modern believers in all sorts, they were eager to believe it was only a matter of calculation error or of God's mercy, or better yet, that it was put off because of their own efforts.  [That feeling of empowerment!]  Yesterday was Camping's second end-times prophecy.  Miller himself made two, as well.  Ehrlich has made several.  And their followers believed each time. 

The Worst Thing in the World

Of course, the worst thing in the world is the realization that those who build the new world will have only ever known the old. 

"When confronted by decadence, authoritarianism, and a sense that ones liberty is slipping away, it’s easy to comfort oneself with the notion... that the system will soon be swept away by economic and political collapse. But for one who sees the apocalypse coming, it is more horrifying to contemplate the possibility that the system might not collapse- and that ten, forty, or a hundred years from now, America will feel pretty much the same as it does now, even after a few more financial meltdowns or wars- or even after the apocalypse. Isn’t there something horrible about this? I think so- who wants to think that even an apocalypse can’t change “the system”? But I lean towards thinking that something like this horror is true – after all,  if the people have become so habitually rapacious or complacent to rapine that collapse is inevitable, they will carry these same habits with them into the world that must sprout up after the collapse. Whatever you build after you smash “the system” must be built by those who have only ever known “the system”. We think that there must be some purgative effect in starting from a clean slate, when in fact we can only give the clean slate to the very people who have just written what we wanted to erase.
-- James Chastek

1 comment:

  1. Hey sorry to bother you, do you mind commenting on dguller's post on Dr. Fesers latest thread on Coyne?


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