Monday, July 29, 2013

In the Year 2525

The signs held up at the ball game always read John 3:16, but the cheerleaders of violent revolution prefer Revelation 22:20*. It doesn’t matter if it’s our nuts or theirs. Both Christian and Muslim devotees of apocalypse await the second coming of Christ, though the Islamic version doesn’t feature a resurrected God—their Jesus as more like the slumbering King Arthur. An antichrist features in both renditions, though; and both kinds of apocalypticism feature the same characteristic incoherence and bizarre imagery. Even by the low standards with which we judge the rationality of theological ideas, they don’t make much sense. There’s a reason that movies like the Omen and Constantine have plotting problems.  

The Boston bombers were apparently influenced by apocalyptic ideas involving a vengeful army of believers advancing from Central Asia under the black banners of Khorasan. There's a huge irony in that. Islam, like other religions, has always had end-of-time fantasies; but there is no Book of Revelation in the Koran. The current prevalence of talk of Antichrist and Armageddon in the Middle East seems to have been partly inspired by the remarkable increase in interest in such things in the West since World War II. Our crazies call out to theirs. There are now Islamic best sellers that are counterparts to Left Behind and the Late Great Planet Earth. There’s surely also an element of convergent evolution involved here—Muslim and Christian fundamentalism share in the world-wide protest that Jeffrey Herf calls reactionary modernism—but the idea is definitely contagious.

Of course, just as not all Christian Zionists dream of war, not all Muslims awaiting the second coming of Christ are calling for violence. Still, the apocalyptic strain in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam appeals to the dark side of human nature and can inspire destructive acting out.

* For those who flunked Sunday school: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

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