Apocalypse 101

”I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe—I believe what I believe is right.”  ~ President George W. Bush (in Rome, July 22, 2001 )

Would anybody believe in something and think that what they believe is wrong ?

Private belief might not cause any harm, and one could argue it’s an individual’s right to believe what they choose, whether or not others agree, but at what point does belief take us over an edge and into collective harm?  Wars, from the familial to the social to the international are fought in part over differing beliefs. America argues over whether climate change is real, yet if it is, the consequences mount while people argue.

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan

America is called a “Christian nation” (a 2014 poll claims that  83% of Americans identify as Christian ). From the scholarly to the devout to the fanatic to the mystic, the variants of Christianity express a large spectrum of belief and the human search for the answer to the question “How did we get here and what do we do now?”

The cover of the July 2002 issue of Time Magazine featured “the Bible and the Apocalypse.” A Time/CNN poll inside claimed that 36% of Americans believe that the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally, 59% believe that the prophecies in the Book of Revelation will come true and 17% of Americans believe the end of the world as described in the Bible’s Book of Revelations will occur in their lifetimes. Almost one-in-four (23%) say the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were predicted by the Book of Revelation. 36% of those polled who support Israel say they base their support on their belief that Israel is linked to the second coming of Christ.

If people believe that the prophecies in the Book of Revelation will come true, what are those prophecies? The Book of Revelation is insanely difficult to decode, because of our lack of symbolic literacy, so the prophecies referred to by that 59% likely pertain to prophecies collaged over time by white men: most notably, John Darby, Cyrus Scofield, Hal Lindsey, and Tim LaHaye. The same holds true as regards the “end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation.”

That was in 2002. For an update, I looked to The People’s Apocalypse, published in October, 2012. It claims that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return by 2050.

Fundamentalist Version of Apocalypse

The Christian fundamentalist version of the Apocalypse goes something like this: when things got bad enough, including fulfillment of various “prophecies’ like nuclear war in the Middle East, Jesus will appear in the clouds and magnetically draw all true believers to him in an event known as the Rapture, a chaotic and dangerous event for those left on earth as cars and airplanes suddenly became driverless.

After the true believers are whisked up into the clouds, things will get really bad here on earth and the believers will sit in the sky with Jesus and watch horrible things happen – war, famine, and the like to all of us who remain on earth, not just some of us the way it is now. They will watch it like we currently watch catastrophic films for entertainment, smugly safe and comfortable. After some time of horror, known as the Tribulations, Jesus will duke it out with the Antichrist and after winning, Jesus and his followers will return to earth and Jesus will reign in peace for one thousand years.

I won’t delve into the Muslim and Jewish fundamentalist versions of apocalypse, but for anyone interested, I highly recommend the work of Gershom Gorenberg, a Jerusalem -based scholar and author who wrote the book End of days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. You could start with his article  Ariel Sharon: Messenger of Abrahamic Apocalypse

The article illuminates how the various political versions of apocalypse contributed, and continue to contribute, to the violence and ever-polarizing activities that result in the emergence of ISIS and who knows what else might be incubating in the mix of apocalyptic belief systems on all sides.

Apocalypse as Genre

The Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, doesn’t actually lay out this scenario. The Book of Revelation is a densely symbolic piece of work and the scenario that is laid out as the Christian religious version of the End of the World takes a few bits here and there from the Book of Revelation along with other bits from the New and Old Testaments to collage together a story which has  gained mental /psychic density over time and through various men.

Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, was written in roughly 95 C.E. and entered the canon sometime by the fourth century C.E.. Apocalypse was a popular genre during the intratestament times (the time between the Old and New Testament) and the Revelation of St. John the Divine is the most well -known.  The literary genre known as apocalypse refers to tales of visionary journeys in which the seer is given a view of the secret and invisible realms that underlie what we perceive as reality and the timelines of history.

Though the term ‘apocalypse’ has come to be synonymous with catastrophe, the word comes from the Greek verb kalypto, meaning “to cover or to hide” while the prefix apo means “away or from”: to uncover what has been unseen.

A common translation of apocalypse is “unveiling” and Time magazine July 2002 got poetic in their article “Bible and the Apocalypse,” saying that apocalypse literally means “lifting of the veil” and that an apocalyptic age is a time when the “veil of normal, secular reality is lifting and we can see behind the scenes, see where God and the devil, good and evil are fighting to control the future.” Take out the belief in the  battle between God and the Devil – we are indeed getting the opportunity to look behind the scenes and the ways people in power have been possessed by greedy, violent, mad plans to control the future of the planet.

The emergence of #BlackLivesMatter, as one example, demonstrates the power of technology as the genius of apocalypse in action: people’s cell phone cameras take videos that are then made publicly available via the internet, uncovering the violence that was previously only seen by the few. Rape culture the same. The internet makes it harder and harder to cover the violence that has been given permission in the culture against the ‘other’. Conversely, as America’s 2016 election and the ongoing investigations show how the internet makes it easier to manipulate people’s minds, and we return to the problem of belief: regardless of talk about people getting out of their bubbles, it’s not easy to open one’s mind to beliefs that might challenge one’s sense of identity or ethics.

Buddhist views of our dilemma come in handy here. A foundation of ethics combined with mind training to relax the tense grip of the mind and it’s tendency to become deluded about reality, and within that frame of delusion, careeen ever more wildly between grasping and clinging to what it thinks will bring pleasure and push away that which might cause pain. At its more extreme poles, that pushing away causes violence and violent belief systems (who is the “them” that is threatening “us” and how do we get rid of “them”?) while dreaming of some supernatural reward for the chosen believers.

The easiest way to read the Book of Revelation is as a revenge fantasy by a traumatized human being after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. How can one tell the difference between revenge fantasy, delusion, hallucination and authentic vision? The tricky thing about being human is that the immature, violent and self-serving gets blended up with the altruistic and visionary. If you doubt this, do some research on gurus and cults, who often offer, especially in retrospect, a version of that blend.

Other Perspectives

Sociologist Gil Baillie, in his book, Violence Unveiled, asks, “What, then, is veiled, the unveiling of which can have apocalyptic consequences? The answer is: violence. Veiled violence is violence whose religious or historical justifications still provide it with an aura of respectability and give it a moral and religious monopoly.”

Writer D.H. Lawrence was certain that Revelation was a composite work written over some two centuries beginning as a “small Pagan-Jewish apocalypse written in symbols” then “written over by other Jewish apocalyptic,” and eventually put into its current form by John of Patnos.” Jungian analyses of Revelation also considered there to be differences in symbolic “language” that suggested editing and overwriting. (The sun/moon woman of chapter twelve is considered to be the oldest and most complete symbol, a remnant of the “small” apocalypse Lawrence refers to.)

Lawrence considered Revelation to be a reworking of a “ pagan record of initiation” of six stages of mystical death with a seventh stage that is both death and birth. The metaphysical treatises on Revelation (Fredierick Carter, Morgan Pyrse) also contain references to astrology, the seven chakras and the seven alchemical processes.

Fundamentalist Tim LaHaye, in an interview with Terry Gross, admitted plainly that the “primary purpose” of the apocalyptic Left Behind series “is to encourage people to convert.” When asked if he would like to be alive during the rapture, he answered, “We [speaking of him and his wife] would love to be part of the rapture instead of either one of us having to face the death of the person we love. …the neat thing about it’s that everyone of our listeners today, if they would recognize that they would recognize that they need to receive Jesus, they could have that same hope.”

If it’s true that the Book of Revelation is a symbolically encoded text that records stages of internal, mystical death and rebirth, then fundamentalism has turned it on its head to become a fantasy of escape from death sparked by the mega-death of others -the great War of Armaggedon.

Archetype of the Apocalypse

Jungian author Edward F. Edinger’s Archetype of the Apocalypse is an important work for giving context to our times.  An archetype, as he defines it, “is a primordial psychic pattern of the collective unconscious that is at the same time a dynamic agency with intentionality.”  He answers the question, “What does the apocalypse mean psychologically?: “The “Apocalypse” means the momentous event of the coming of the Self into conscious realization. (Self as Jung defined it refers to the divine image or spark in the center of every human being.) …the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.”

Structure of Apocalypse

Edinger  identifies four features of apocalypse as we know it : “Revelation, Judgment , Destruction or Punishment (as the consequence of Judgment) and then Renewal in a New World.”   Author Arthur P. Mendell, in his book, Vision and Violence, also describes four features of apocalypticism: “total rejection of the present world, the radical division between the sinners and the saved, absolute faith in the imminence of an ideal, divine Kingdom of the saved and emphasis on the terrible violence that will accomplish the miraculous transmutation”.

This looks a lot like the basic recipe of war: making the world safe for democracy through mass murder, destroying the infidel, the oppressed rising up against the oppressor in a revolution for a better world, though they generally simply take their turn as the oppressor, thereby changing nothing but their own place on the cycle of oppressor / oppressed.

A true visionary text can be read many ways, from the most exoteric to the esoteric, and once upon a time texts were guarded from those who lacked the maturity of consciousness to engage them though that could also become a power play rather than wholesome discrimination. This was obviously much easier during times when most people couldn’t read or write, and before the printing press, much less the internet. Imagine yourself reading or writing at a time when such activities were a sacred (same root as ‘secret’) act for the initiated few.  But even with that, mystical  and alchemical texts had encoded ways of being written, not straightforward.

At it’s most esoteric, all the events of “out there” are mirrored ‘in here. At it’s most basic, the Book of Revelation is a revenge fantasy within the highly charged situation of the Roman occupation and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Within that context, there is a warning about a way human power relationships play out over time: the oppressed understandably seek freedom, justice and relief, yet usually their options guarantee they become the oppressor, which only keeps the same wheel turning. Oppressors need to oppress, and those oppressed become the next oppressors, who need someone to oppress.

To become a being who neither oppresses others (which can happen through extremely subtle forms of aggression) nor lives in doormat consciousness out of a desire to be nonviolent (which often perps the cycle by giving doormat-type consent) is a major challenge, perhaps THE major challenge,  of our apocalyptic times. The current unraveling and unveiling in the American psyche offers the opportunity to unravel the ways we’ve been conditioned.

Becoming aware of unacknowledged binary strategies is central to what I mean by ending the self/other war. In order to not be part of the binary, dualistic, violent apocalypse as we know it, one must emigrate in consciousness. This is a difficult and at times lonely road.

 

next up: the Great Gamble

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