Friday, November 19, 2004

Verily Lord Jesus Come Quickly (Revelation 22:20)

One way of escaping credit card debt is to drop dead before you reach your limit. I’m sure plenty of spendthrifts have found themselves contemplating that out. The financial, environmental, and international policies of the administration have a similar logic. They are perfectly prudent and reasonable assuming the Rapture occurs before 2010 or so. If not, they are criminally irresponsible. Various right-wing spokesmen explain that we need not do anything about global warming because the science is unclear, for example, and some of them may even believe their own line, but the deeper explanation of the indifference is the sense that the physical world is getting old and decrepit anyhow and doesn’t matter very much except as a suitably bleak setting for the eschatological drama. No reason to give up smoking if you’ve already got lung cancer.

As Keynes famously observed, “in the long run we’re all dead.” On the other hand, there’s something to be said for leaders whose time horizon extends to their grandchildren. At the very least, since we plain don’t know what America or, for that matter, the human race as a whole can reasonably expect or hope for in the future, it would seem prudent not to foreclose possibilities unnecessarily. Eschatological thinking, however, is not merely appealing to unscrupulous political leaders. It offers the mass of their followers the allure of the extreme. End-of-the-World fantasies aren’t just for psychotics. Indeed, Heidegger got it wrong in Being and Time. The ultimate temporal horizon of an intrinsically social being is not individual death but universal apocalypse. In this respect, Tim LaHaye not only possesses more commercial savvy than Heidegger but also demonstrates a sounder grasp of existential phenomenology.

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