A brief history of end times
Just as I thought! There is something universal and innate about the human need to indulge in visions of Armageddon.
(Scroll down to read Wes Pruden's (and my) take on the coming global warming apocalypse according to the church of the Rev. Al Gore.)
Here is a great article from "The Economist" that takes a fascinating look at the history of end-time beliefs.
I've often wondered about this tendency we all seem to have to indulge in visions of doom and impending catastrophe. In some ways I've always thought that these apocalyptic tendencies were rooted in our own intimations of mortality -- our own personal "end of the world".
How much more comforting to think that perhaps we are near the end times anyway, so it's just as well that we will be leaving this world along with everyone else. (Or at least they won't be partying while we are moldering in the grave.)
The end of the article contains these telling words about the environmental movement, even though this article is over 2 years old:
Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.Even though, no doubt, the modern socially aware environmentalist regards himself as supremely good and governed by nothing less than pure reason and science, his basic world view is nonetheless one of unabashed misanthropy, for he regards all humanity (except himself, of course) as hopelessly evil and depraved and bound to despoil and pollute by his very presence. Indeed, the most extreme form of environmentalism takes this concept to its ultimate conclusion and avers that only the extinction of the human race can save the planet from ruinous pollution and degradation.
At least all other millenarian philosophies offer man the hope of redemption, even in his fallen state. And if you think about it, this tallies with the cult of death that defines modern liberalism, with abortion and euthanasia as sacraments of the holy cause.
The end of the world A brief history Economist.com
Which way to Armageddon?
Why do end-of-time beliefs endure? Social scientists love to set about this question with earnest study of the people who subscribe to such ideas. As part of his investigation into the “apocalyptic genre” in modern America, Paul Boyer of the University of Wisconsin asks why so many of his fellow Americans are “susceptible” to televangelists and other “popularisers”. From time to time, sophisticated Americans indulge the thrillingly terrifying thought that nutty, apocalyptic, born-again Texans are guiding not just conservative social policies at home, but America's agenda in the Middle East as well, as they round up reluctant compatriots for the last battle at Armageddon. (It's a bit south of the Lake of Galilee in the plain of Jezreel.)
Behind these attitudes sits the assumption that apocalyptic thought belongs—or had better belong—to the extremities of human experience. On closer inspection, though, that is by no means true.
Properly, the apocalypse is both an end and a new beginning. In Christian tradition, the world is created perfect. There is then a fall, followed by a long, rather enjoyable (for some) period of moral degeneration. This culminates in a decisive final battle between good (the returned Christ) and evil (the Antichrist). Good wins and establishes the New Jerusalem and with it the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus on Earth.
This is the glorious millennium that millenarians await so eagerly. Millenarians tend to place history at a moment just before the decisive final showdown. The apocalyptic mind looks through the surface reality of the world and sees history's epic, true nature: “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word meaning to uncover, or disclose.
Norman Cohn, a British historian, places the origin of apocalyptic thought with Zoroaster (or Zarathustra), a Persian prophet who probably lived between 1500 and 1200BC. The Vedic Indians, ancient Egyptians and some earlier civilisations had seen history as a cycle, which was for ever returning to its beginning. Zoroaster embellished this tepid plot. He added goodies (Ahura Mazda, the maker and guardian of the ordered world), baddies (the spirit of destruction, Angra Mainyu) and a happy ending (a glorious consummation of order over disorder, known as the “making wonderful”, in which “all things would be made perfect, once and for all”). In due course Zoroaster's theatrical talents came to Christians via the Jews.
This basic drama shapes all apocalyptic thought, from the tenets of tribal cargo cults to the beliefs of UFO sects.
[...]The Raelians' claim to be atheists who belong to the secular world must come as no surprise to Mr Cohn, who has long detected patterns of religious apocalyptic thought in what is supposedly rational, secular belief. He has traced “egalitarian and communistic fantasies” to the ancient-world idea of an ideal state of nature, in which all men are genuinely equal and none is persecuted. As Mr Cohn has put it, “The old religious idiom has been replaced by a secular one, and this tends to obscure what otherwise would be obvious. For it is the simple truth that, stripped of their original supernatural sanction, revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism are with us still.”
It's this or redemptionNicholas Campion, a British historian and astrologer, has expanded on Mr Cohn's ideas. In his book, “The Great Year”, Mr Campion draws parallels between the “scientific” historical materialism of Marx and the religious apocalyptic experience. Thus primitive communism is the Garden of Eden, the emergence of private property and the class system is the fall, the final gasps of capitalism are the last days, the proletariat are the chosen people and the socialist revolution is the second coming and the New Jerusalem.
Hegel saw history as an evolution of ideas that would culminate in the ideal liberal-democratic state. Since liberal democracy satisfies the basic need for recognition that animates political struggle, thought Hegel, its advent heralds a sort of end of history—another suspiciously apocalyptic claim. More recently, Francis Fukuyama has echoed Hegel's theme. Mr Fukuyama began his book, “The End of History”, with a claim that the world had arrived at “the gates of the Promised Land of liberal democracy”. Mr Fukuyama's pulpit oratory suited the spirit of the 1990s, with its transformative “new economy” and free-world triumphs. In the disorientating disconfirmation of September 11th and the coincident stockmarket collapse, however, his religion has lost favour.
The apocalyptic narrative may have helped to start the motor of capitalism. A drama in which the end returns interminably to the beginning leaves little room for the sense of progress which, according to the 19th-century social theories of Max Weber, provides the religious licence for material self-improvement. Without the last days, in other words, the world might never have had 65-inch flat-screen televisions. For that matter, the whole American project has more than a touch of the apocalypse about it. The Pilgrim Fathers thought they had reached the New Israel. The “manifest destiny” of America to spread its providential liberty and self-government throughout the North American continent (not to mention the Middle East) smacks of the millennium and the New Jerusalem.
Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.
Noting an exponential acceleration in the pace of technological change, futurologists like Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil think the world inhabits the “knee of the curve”—a sort of last-days set of circumstances in which, in the near future, the pace of technological change runs quickly away towards an infinite “singularity” as intelligent machines learn to build themselves. From this point, thinks Mr Moravec, transformative “mind fire” will spread in a flash across the cosmos. Britain's astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, relegates Mr Kurzweil and those like him to the “visionary fringe”. But Mr Rees's own darkly apocalyptic book, “Our Final Hour”, outdoes the most colourful of America's televangelists in earthquakes, plagues and other sorts of fire and brimstone.
So there you have it. The apocalypse is the locomotive of capitalism, the inspiration for revolutionary socialism, the bedrock of America's manifest destiny and the undeclared religion of all those pseudo-rationalists who, like The Economist, champion the progress of liberal democracy. Perhaps, deep down, there is something inside everyone which yearns for the New Jerusalem, a place where, as a beautiful bit of Revelation puts it:God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.