Far be it for me to argue with scripture, (although I have been known to do that from time to time), but our culture’s apocalyptic fascination with the “end times” and the end of things seems a bit depressing, if you ask me (and you haven’t, but that’s alright – my page – my post). Whether it’s apocalyptic preachers invoking their vision of John’s Revelation in response to the latest catastrophe, war, or famine, or scientists and environmentalists trumpeting the consequences of melting ice sheets and plastics clogging the world’s oceans, the message of doom seems to resonate with many of us. Our apocalyptic imaginations rival those of Daniel and John in the modern age, and for good reason. (If you haven’t read your Bible yet, you might want to check it out – after all, it could be your last chance before “the end.”)
Yes, it’s true – today, mankind has, at his disposal, the capability to destroy himself, and every living thing within this solar system. We’ve had that power, more or less, since we learned how to light a camp fire. We’re at risk, continuously, from our own politics, economic greed, predisposition towards violence and conflict, not to mention natural threats, whether earth based or from cosmic sources. Humanity exists on the head of a pin. It always has. This understanding terrifies us. Mortality terrifies us – collectively, and individually. Humans have a unique relationship with death – having knowledge of its inevitability – we have a personal relationship with the grim reaper, a social relationship with mortality (and the rituals that accompany it), and a spiritual relationship with death throughout our history, the “soul.” We run from it, hide from it, put makeup over it, bury it six feet under our lives, build pyramids and staircases to heaven to usurp it, and we surrender much of our life to an obsession with it. Having eaten from the tree of knowledge, we’re forever chasing the magic fruit of immortality from the tree of life – oblivious, for the most part, that we ARE that life. In our quest for eternity, the “everlasting,” we can’t wait for it all to be over with, and soon, and we’re prepared to kill each other for it.
For the first time in history, our human history, we also have the knowledge, means, and technology to counter the imminent and persistent threat of extinction – a fate suffered by nearly all living things that have preceded man since life was first cradled here on earth (yes, some four and a half billion years ago – at least according to the scripture written in the earth itself beneath your feet, corroborated, in part, by the DNA you share with all life, contained your own genes (the human genome being smaller and substantially less complex than the genome for common rice, as it happens, but I digress)). A doomsayer culture can be a double edged sword, however. On the one hand, it draws attention to the threat, real threats – while on the other, it tends to be a fatalistic response to them (and like all good prophesies, becomes a self fulfilling one) – it’s an abdication of responsibility, and of hope, at least when it comes to the life that already is you (the prospect being somewhat remedied by the notion that a ready and waiting replacement is available on some un-earthly plane). In the simplest sense, wishing for the “end,” based on some notion that a post-apocalyptic world, or heaven, will somehow be a better option than trying to fix the one we already have, seems absurd to me, Biblically, religiously, spiritually, scientifically, morally, and it defies all sensibility – seventy-two virgins for every martyr, or not. It’s a form of assisted suicide that’s cowardly, based on a notion that somehow, the end to suffering is justified by the ending of everything, and that you’ll be rewarded accordingly if you execute the right escape clause or happen to have joined the right church (a Biblical literary notion echoed repeatedly throughout scripture – the “this is messy, let’s start over” story found in the “fall” in Eden, the “flood,” and of course, the crucifixion and resurrection – mirroring nearly perfectly the peculiar history of a people who in turn, faced many “do overs,” not to mention incarnations and resurrections of their national identity). At its worst, it gives credence and legitimacy to idealogical and religious wars that account for a very large proportion of the suffering that many of us are now desperate to escape from, an insanity sanctioned by some kind of “divine plan” that you hope to be on the right side of when the smoke clears. Meanwhile, those who pull the fire alarm, write books about it, fear monger us, preach ignorance and intolerance to us from the pulpits, sell bomb shelters, bullets and missiles, are getting rich on the dime of our fearful imaginations and the spectre of horrors we’re all too familiar with already.
Do we need a revolution? An overthrow of “Biblical” proportion? Assisted by horsemen and angels, stealth bombers, or otherwise? Maybe. Maybe that revolution needs to take root in the breaking of the seals of our own thinking. We live in a world where political and economic domination, war, hunger, inequity, slavery, and poverty exist – a world not much different than the one John himself lived in when he sat down to write about his vision of the apocalypse – a world that for him, and many like him, seemed inescapable without divine intervention. The real revelation he had was that changing it all is going to mean that we need to go to battle with these aspects of our human experience. Christianity didn’t conquer Rome by war, it did so by the spread of ideas and the institutionalization of love and charity. Jesus just wasn’t that kind of Messiah, and He, unlike many of his contemporary apocalyptic messianic proponents who led thousands to their doom in futile and misguided revolts, Jesus was and remains a Prince of Peace, and never led anyone else into slaughter, despite His own sacrifice for us. Crouching in the corner of your church every Sunday, betting that you’ll be “raptured” before things get too messy, with the Bible clutched in your hand, might seem like a reasonable thing to do if you’re devout, but until then, the rest of us are fighting a different battle – a fight against the darkness of ignorance, fear, and for redemption through reason, action, and a morality based on peace, and respect for life. All life – regardless of what book it’s holding, what colour it comes in, or how or whom it decides to love.
We’re reaching out to the stars, exploring other worlds, reaching deep into the secrets of life itself, understanding, for the first time, how and why we came to be – what we CAN be, and we’re delving deep into the mysteries of time, and the nature of the physical universe, and we see there, hope, great hope, that we’ll evolve beyond our brutish beginnings, and rise to the challenges that limit us, to transcend them, and reach even further in this, beautiful, awesome and immense “heaven” that we are already a part of and continue to awaken to, and evolve within. It’s a “heaven” we’ve only recently grown into – much larger, vaster, and more mysterious than ever imagined by our ancient ancestors – bequeathed to us through an amazing dance of complexity, and luck, over eons of time – in such awe are we, that even our very notion of “God” seems paltry in comparison to the revelation that the prophets of science have provided us with (and if you do believe in God, you must admit, He’s certainly a LOT bigger than Moses could have discerned on the mountain – a burning bush that is not consumed is awesome, but a burning universe that is not consumed is absolutely mind blowing). Are these the end times? I hope so. The end of ignorance, of inequity, poverty, racism, slavery, the end of madness. The end of fear.
It may be, that one day, soon, our world will indeed end. Extinctions, as I said, happen all the time, and we’re by no means exempt from this rule, at least not just yet – but many of us believe we can change that. Looking to blood moons in the sky, labelling anyone from the Pope to Castro as the prince of darkness, and pointing to our own reckless abuse of the planet as “signs” of impending doom worthy of us abdicating all sense of reason isn’t going to help us clean up our mess as a species, or help it evolve beyond its own limitations – let alone fulfill any “divine” plan. Running back to our medieval caves, selling off the farm, and waiting on hilltops with signs strapped around our bodies proclaiming the end is near isn’t just ridiculous, it’s an abdication to ignorance – a surrender to darkness. It’s a cop out, an escape, and a cheap excuse to tolerate evil and abuses that can, and should, be remedied by man, while leaving our notion of the divine to wipe the evolutionary slate, and the planet, clean. “We’re saved, so we don’t have to do anything but wait for the rapture,” is not a legitimate, let alone loving, response to any of humanity’s earthly challenges or sufferings. I don’t want people like that in my idea of heaven. And if we do face our end, I’m not going to help you do it, and frankly, I don’t want you “helping” me or my friends get there sooner either.
Can we cure disease? Overcome poverty? Create a sustainable future for ourselves, and our planet? Can we harness energy without destroying our environment? Can we live longer, much, much longer? Can we put people on other planets, and live there too, amongst the heavens? I think so. I know so. It’s within our reach, our understanding, and our grasp, right now, right here. There are still powerful forces that hold us back, antiquated belief structures, biases, prejudice, and ignorance, mostly of our own making and tolerance, but we can, and have, overcome those in our growth as a species, and we will continue to do so. Some institutions, religions, governments and corporations are going to be threatened with this idea, and will have the hardest of times adapting to change, changes that must come, and that won’t be pretty, to be sure. Does it mean you won’t have God anymore? Or be able to enjoy a nice cold Coca Cola on the beach? No. Of course not. What it does mean is that for the first time in humanity’s brief history, you’ll have a choice. You’ll always be free to be ignorant, at least until it kills you. Being free to learn, to understand, and to think – now that’s something worthy of our hope, and it’s a freedom now available to every man, woman, and child within reach of a book, a keyboard, or television – within reach of technology, technology that allows that freedom to reach beyond it’s own limitations. Until very recently in the human experience, knowledge, wisdom, even having access to the written word, has been coveted and controlled by a few, made powerful by virtue of it’s exclusion from the majority – the mysterious fire that now illuminates all of our lives, within reach of our fingertips. The universe is sharing its story with us all, and we’re a part of it. Will you open that book as well, before it’s too late?
Heresy, you say? Maybe, but I’m in good company. Newton, Galileo, Darwin, and even Jesus Himself, were all heretics in their own time. We’ve outlawed, persecuted, burned and nailed to crosses far too many of them in our struggle to hold onto the very madness that we seek salvation from. What greater evil to man, or to God, can there be than the deliberate, willful, and perilous embrace of ignorance, the persecution of truth, the demonization of discovery, or the invocation of suicide through divine extinction, provoked or otherwise by jealousy or some “sin” injurious to some omnipotent eternal entity, of a whole species in the name of it’s “God”? Any species willing to carry out such a plan, in my opinion at least, isn’t worthy of evolving further, in this world, or any other – divine “do-overs” excepted, but I wouldn’t count on it. Maybe it’s time we stopped nailing our modern day healers, teachers, revolutionary thinkers and heretics to a cross. The Book of Revelation may have been a comfort to early Christians who felt persecuted and oppressed, and to some who still feel that way today, but the game has changed now with the prophesies of the likes of Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the events over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. God’s kingdom won’t be built on those ashes. Nothing will. Don’t want to invite me to your church picnic? I can understand that, but, it’s not the end of the world.
For my part, I certainly don’t want someone who wishes it’d all end in a silent puff of smoke, with angels looking on, holding the briefcase with the red buttons as a divine souvenir, watching my back, or looking out for my soul. Neither, really, do you.