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Longing for the Apocalypse

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

 Way back in 1975, when I was 14, I’d already had two years of study with a Jehovah Witness friend. I was a bookish child, and her challenging of my beliefs led to my flirtation with the small colourful books full of Bible facts that the Witnesses used in their evangelizing. The lush illustrations and easy quizzes satisfied my curious, literal, pre-teen mind.

 

That year, I read an interview in our local paper with a Jehovah’s Witness who claimed the End Times would arrive in two years. This excited me. I only had to be good for two more years! Then the end would come and everything would be all right. 

 

The Jehovah Witness version of the end involved evil people being thrown into a lake of fire, eventually followed by a “new Heaven and a new Earth” of bliss for the good ones. I wasn’t really focussed on punishment…more on the idea that I could be accepted, cleansed and living in paradise. I was willing to overlook a lot to hold to that vision.

 

It shocks me now, what I put my parents—and myself— through, before waking up and deciding to live with the uncertainty of the real world. Since then my suspicion of apocalyptic narratives has remained steady. The black and white, us and them, good and evil dynamic is just too tiring, too emotionally draining. The requirement to spread the faith, convince others, convince oneself, and remain pure and consistent is exhausting.

 

After many subsequent faith-based adventures I found myself adopting a non-dogmatic pagan appreciation of Nature, taking up yoga, and falling in love with Buddhism. In Buddhist practice the goal is not redemption or perfection, but the cultivation of skillful mind states and actions that reduce suffering. This is a no-fault philosophy whose aim is to appreciate and contribute to the beauty of life, right here, right now.

 

If there is a Buddhist apocalypse, I don’t want to hear about it.

 

However it seems some form of Armageddon is determined to find me. A recent article in the New York Times “From Doomsday Preppers to Doomsday Plotters,” (1) details the process by which far right groups are tempted to bring about, rather than simply await, disasters that would clear the decks for a “better” world— one in which “natural elites” rule society in a new “feudal contract.” (2)

 

If the majority of the left doesn’t so much long for the apocalypse as accept its inevitability, there is certainly a sense of anticipation in some depictions of how the world as we know it will end. In Starhawk’s influential novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, environmental catastrophe is the catalyst for the emergence of an ecotopia, built by those wise enough to have prepared for calamity. And there are certainly radicals who feel it’s past time to tear down “the system” in order to free those oppressed by it. The hope is that, whether through inevitable disaster or justified revolution, a fairer and more sustainable world will emerge.   

 

The strains of hope and fear in our expectation of cataclysm can lead to an unsettling intensity of language and emotion. On the far right, there are the outpourings of QAnon “essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.” (3)  

 

Even on the non-violent left, there is language that gives me pause: Naming capitalism “the beast” (4) calls up “the beast” of Revelation 13, the avatar of ultimate evil. Meeting a public suicide at a protest with the words, “Blood has been spilled and the voluntary sacrifice has been accepted,” (5) seems to conflate tragedy with triumph. Both remind me uncomfortably of the extremities of my Witness past.

 

I want to turn the temperature down on all this, on any sign of the kind of apocalyptic fervour that runs like a red thread through history, fuelling everything from witch burnings to crusades. Perhaps that is a foolish wish in a world where the temperature is quite literally going up and we are assaulted by fire, flood and plague in truly “Biblical” proportions. 

 

But maybe that’s all the more reason to step outside this story of winners and losers, saved and damned. To search out that “field beyond good and evil” that Rumi speaks of. (6) To find the perspective and the trust in Nature and in the human spirit that will allow us to work together. To ask and allow for whatever changes will ease our suffering during this crisis—our latest practice-run for the end of the world.

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  1. Amanda Taub, Katrin Bennhold, “From Doomsday Preppers to Doomsday Plotters,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/07/world/accelerationism-qanon-day-x.html)

 

  1. “Far Right Politics,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far-right_politics

 

3.   Michelle Goldberg, “the Christian right is in Decline and It’s Taking America With It,” New York Times, July 9, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/opinion/religious-right-america.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

 

4. Starhawk, “The G8 Meeting in Kananaskis: A Strategic Moment,” https://starhawk.org/Activism/activism%20writings/2002%20June%20G8%20Summit%20Calgary/2002-05-THE%20G8%20JUNE%20MEETING%20IN%20KANANASKIS_%20A%20STRATEGIC%20MOMENT.pdf

 

5. Starhawk, “Cancun Journal 16,” (https://starhawk.org/Activism/activism%20writings/2003-Sept-WTO-Cancun/Starhawk_%20Cancun%20Journal%20%2316.pdf

 

 

6. Rumi, “A Great Wagon.”in The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 

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