Whether playfully planning to be on a south Pacific island somewhere, or holding some deadly serious ritual complete with canned goods and sawed-of shotgun, the tension of the others rubs off on us. Damian Thompson's study on the roots of apocalyptic thought is a page turner, recounting just how far the human imagination will travel to avoid the possibility that nothing lies beyond this life.
From its beginnings in the prophesy of Zoroaster, a Central Asian seer in 1400 b.c., and reappearance in the Book of Daniel, at a particularly difficult time in Jewish history, the idea that a struggle between the righteous and the forces of darkness, inevitably resolving in fiery conflict and transcendence has arguably defined much of the human story.
It's hard not to get caught up in the fever when you are reading The End of Time from subtle references in rap lyrics to the more blunt tactics of doomsday cults like the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks in Tokyo, or from the comical bureaucratic race against the computers crashing when the year switches to '00 to most gloomy accounts of environmental destruction, Mr. Thompson thoroughly ties together the global preparation for midnight January 1, 2000.
At times I rebelled against the books' coherence, feeling that indeed, the ceaseless groping for 'the rapture' or something akin, not without irony usually prophesied to occur at about when the prophet him/herself was at a ripe old age, to be something taken for granted.
Besides the hauntingly enjoyable accounting of the present global countdown, the incredible fundamentalism from the states to South Korea, David Koresh and the Waco, Texas fiasco, and the secret millennial fantasies of Pope John Paul himself to name a few, The End of Time traces the story back when there was barely an acceptance of the Christian calendar, revealing the increasing sophistication of milleniarism over the past few centuries in particular, and when observing history from this vantage point it is possible to understand our intensified relationship to time, as well as how the unique stories of different peoples are contributing to some pretty funny behavior, surely only to increase (I hear the price of crystals and pyramids are goin' up!) these last 800 or so days.
I succumbed to The End of Time in the end, which I initially picked up based on the positive note by J. G. Ballard ( Crash: A Novel ) on its cover, on the strength of its writing.
Each story on its own, including a hilarious recounting of the Bohemian millenarians, the Taborites, and their devolution into the Adamites who like the Branch Davidians in Waco had to be put out of their misery by the authorities back in the 15th century, flows in to the next, providing the illusion of a conspiracy, but hinting at a certain doubt that lurks deep within our collective subconscious. I know that in these times non-fiction is particularly cliche (if not some millennial phenomenon itself, mull it over), but Mr. Thompson's spooky tale is great October reading.
Excerpt from The End of Time
"Though they had little else in common, all but seven of the seventy-two adults (in the Waco compound) had some connection with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a denomination of 8 million members whose biblical fundamentalism is overlaid with a series of highly idiosyncratic beliefs about the role of Christ and the shape of history.
This has much to do with the origins of Adventism which was born the night of the Great Disappointment, 22-23 October 1844, when the resurrected Christ failed to appear to William Miller's disciples. One of them, a farmer called Hiram Edson, left the vigil to pray in a barn, where he was given a vision which explained why the lord had not returned: a great event had indeed taken place, not on earth, but in heaven, where Jesus had begun 'the Investigated Judgment of the dead' in preparation for his return to the living.
Edson's vision was developed and popularized by the unlikely figure of Ellen G. White, a stern faced housewife who had been a sickly teenager at the time of the Disappointment. 'Sister White' fused the Investigative Judgement with the unorthodox sabbatarianism of a Boston sea captain, Joseph Bates, who taught that Christians should observe the Jewish Sabbath.
To this mixture she added a vast body of new teachings, many of them concerned with diet and health: Mrs. White regarded meat eating with horror and battled heroically against her own addiction to Southern fried chicken. She was also passionately opposed to masturbation. By the time she died, at the age of eighty-eight, she had experienced 300 visions and published more writings than any woman in history.
As a result, Seventh Day Adventism acquired a magisterium of labyrinthine complexity, little of which, thankfully, is relevant to the story of Waco. But two ideas are of prime importance. The first of them inculcated a profound distrust of civil authority which was inherited by everyone at Mount Carmel. Ellen White taught that the millennium would not take place on American soil, because the nation was in league with the devil.
True Sabbath keepers could expect nothing but persecution from a government which would force them to choose between the laws of God, and the laws of man..."