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Death Wish: Why Are We So In Love with the Apocalypse?

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Author Topic: Death Wish: Why Are We So In Love with the Apocalypse?  (Read 157 times)
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« on: May 20, 2010, 01:12:54 pm »

No rhetoric is more powerful than apocalyptic rhetoric, no greater motivation exists in the human repertoire than the belief that one’s every action is crucial to the final destiny of the human race.

    Millennialism brings out the most noble and most base of human behaviour, from the genocidal rage of Crusaders and Nazis, to the extravagant love of a Francis or a Gandhi. If we don’t understand millennialism, we don’t understand a critical element of one of our culture’s greatest passions.

    It is powerful and seductive; and yes, it can be incredibly subversive, incredibly dangerous. In 19th- century China a village schoolteacher named Hong Xiuquan fused Christian tracts with native millennial traditions and formed the Taiping Heavenly Army. Up to 35 million died as Hong fought to establish paradise on earth. And this was in an age before modern weaponry!

    I would argue that the Nazis and the Bolsheviks should also be understood as secular apocalyptic movements, further underscoring the potentially traumatic consequences of millennial belief.

In The Apocalyptic Year 1000 which you edited, you argue that although the popular idea that there was mass panic in Europe on the eve of the first millennium is a myth, there was nevertheless a sustained apocalyptic period in the decades before and after the year 1000, evidenced by mass movements, signs and wonders in the sky, an increase in references to the Antichrist in texts etc. The year 2000 was likewise a dud- but do you think we could be experiencing a similar ‘long apocalyptic moment’ today? And if so when did it start? Was it in the 70s with Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, or Hal Lindsey’s bestselling books of popular prophecy?

    That’s an interesting way to look at it. I’d take it all the way back to 1968, when many people in the West believed the world was going to change, that bomber jet planes were going to transformed into butterflies, and John Lennon was lying around in bed with Yoko Ono in the name of world peace. That was a classical millennial theme- admittedly in an unbelievably shallow form- that if you changed your life, you could change the world.
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