Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This is the End. No, THIS is the End. No, Wait ...

Yeah, I know I should have posted stuff here a long time ago …

… but the world was supposed to end, and I have a rather large bucket list!

Boiling down the events of the past months into one cynical sentence, “An 89 year old head of a multi-million dollar radio station played on the beliefs and fears of people, used their millions of dollars of THEIR money to advance his agenda, failed to take responsibility for his failure, and now is doing it again!” Recap article is here.

Nothing is more irritating (for me) than having to sit through lunatic rantings and ravings about the end times. Never have enjoyed it, and never will. I’ve often wondered why I get so upset at cult leaders like the nutcase over at Family Radio (No, this time the world is REALLY going to end! … unless we made a mistake in our super secret math formulas. Again.) . I mean, I feel compassion towards the members, because it’s easy to fall under the spell of a charismatic person who seems to have all the answers, especially when times are tough and a person’s sense of self-worth may not be that high. But for the leaders, there is nothing but contempt in my heart.

Was I feeling more in a pirate-y mood, I’d make a comment about keelhauling or flogging or rendering into shark bait, but I’m not there today. Today I’m sitting at work with too much time on my hands and not enough things going on to make the day go by. Yeah, it’s great where I work … when there’s stuff to do. But when the doctor is on vacation, and the patients aren’t coming in and keeping me occupied, I get grumpy. And that’s what today is like.

So instead I’m wondering why people get wrapped up in this sort of end times hysteria. You would think that the whole Y2K thing would have convinced us that belief in that sort of thing is misguided, at best. We’ve done this so many times, after all. I remember hearing about Nostradamus when I was a teen. He supposedly predicted the end back in the 80s. Then it was the 90s with another group. Camping did it, too. Then I saw Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame say it was going to be 2000 (of course, he said this during one of his telethons, which didn’t lend him much credibility!). Now this. Don’t even get me started on the December 21, 2012 Mayan prediction!

So why? Why do people go for this type of thing? Why are people so eager to buy into a belief system that predicts an imminent end to the world, even after being fooled again, and again, and again …?

The only idea that I’ve been able to come up with is that if a prediction is coupled with a benefit – as in this case with the rapture preceding the destruction of the world – then it’s seen as a good thing by a certain segment of society. I saw somewhere that the baby boomers and older generations, basically those who have already experienced a lot that life has to offer, are generally liking this whole belief system. The younger bunch, especially the children of the rapture lovers, aren’t feeling it, because there’s still life to be lived.

This leads me to believe that the love of the apocalypse is essentially a suicide by proxy wish. People want to stop the pain that comes with everyday existence. It hurts to deal with relationships, careers, bills, getting older, health problems, and everything else that goes with living. We all have this desire to flee pain and move towards pleasure, however fleeting. With the belief that life will end, but people will live forever in paradise, one gets to wish for death without any of the negatives of harboring suicidal thoughts or desires. Since most religions tend to discourage, if not outright prohibit, suicide, there’s a cognitive disconnect that comes when a religious person gets weary of the pain. Looking forward to an imminent end of days brought on by a returning messiah takes care of that disconnect, and offers a way out of suffering.

I had a conversation with One Ring a couple of days ago during which I wondered what Christianity would look like if we could remove all the end times stuff. Get rid of Revelation; get rid of the chapters of Daniel that depict the end. Just wipe the Bible clean of all thoughts of an end, and get people to focus on the work that needs to be done in the here and now. You know, all that feed to hungry, house the homeless, visit the prisoner stuff. What would happen if we scrubbed the place clean of all it and focused on, I don’t know, the stuff that Jesus TAUGHT us to do?
But, of course I remembered that the guy himself was an apocalyptic teacher, as was John the Baptist before him. The Judeo-Christian tradition is rife with people who lived in horrible times, preaching that surely things were so bad that God would intervene and clean the mess up. I’m not sure what we would get if we removed that tradition, and kept the rest. I’m sure it would be wonderful, but would it still be Christian?

If it is not, and I suspect that removing the apocalyptic would render Christianity into a sort of quasi Unitarian Universalist faith, then is there any way it can be moderated? Is there any way we can help protect the vulnerable from being taken for a ride by Camping, Robertson, and their ilk? Is there any way, without becoming heavy handed and theocratic, that people can speak up and say, “No! It’s not the end! Go back to your lives and stop sending money to these morons!”

I hope so. ‘cause this is getting really old and is starting to give faith and religion a bad name.

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