baltimoresun.com

« Telling stories | Main | "Coffee" or "a coffee"? »

Not enraptured

Around the end of the first century of the common era a writer on the island of Patmos, probably reacting to the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian, wrote a strange, violent book of visions.

This apocalyptic book (apocalypse means “unveiling”) is Revelation, and the authorship is ascribed to St. John the Divine. It seems, to say the least, unlikely that John the son of Zebedee wrote it, and in fact, though the Western Church accepted that ascription of authorship early on, many figures in the Eastern Church rejected it and opposed its inclusion in the New Testament canon.

But it squeaked by and Christianity is stuck with it. Worse, as much as it was obscure at the time of its composition, it now carries centuries of accretion of interpretation, a good deal of it crackpot.* For it describes the Parousia, the return of Christ in glory to sit in judgment over the living and the dead and to terminate this earthly order, and thus becomes the blueprint for anyone attempting to calculate the date of the Second Coming.

Recent descriptions of the End Times lean heavily on a strain of interpretation called pre-millennial dispensationalism, which dates from the nineteenth century and includes the Rapture, in which the godly faithful are to be carried up into the sky to escape the coming tribulation that will precede Christ’s return.

I mention this because Harold Camping, whose calculations proved to be a little off last May 21—remember all those billboards?—has recalibrated and concluded that October 21—yes, this Friday—is the date on which the balloon goes up.

I will remain at my post. As a damned latitudinarian Anglican, not to mention a hireling of the Mocking Eastern Liberal Media Establishment, there’s not a chance in a thousand of my being enraptured. And if you are a regular reader of this blog, chances are excellent that you too will be Left Behind.

Mainline Christianity does not go in for such calculations, in part because it holds that it is presumptuous and impertinent to pretend to know the mind of God, and also because it does not go in for the literalist reading of Scripture that is essential to the operation.

Fundamentalism, in its Christian, Jewish, and Islamic flavors, as Karen Armstrong described in detail in The Battle for God, is a reaction to secular and scientific trends of the modern world. Those who hunger for certainty and authority double down. The people who quit their jobs and gave up their property on the strength of Harold Camping’s prediction last spring are an extreme example, but there are many more whose need for belief forces them into contortions.**

Religious faith, I am sorry to say, is not uniformly distributed, and serenity is not given to all believers. All humans face existential issues—our knowledge that we will die, our craving for freedom and our fears of exercising it, our confrontation with the dominant cultural values of our time—and believers very commonly have to struggle, as Paul and Augustine and Luther and innumerable others have. The world is what it is (the only time I ever plan to use that cant phrase), and our understanding is temporal and limited. We would do well to face what is in it without resorting to cranks and nostrums and easy answers.

 

*Those of you eager to purge schools and libraries of books that are potentially dangerous influences on young minds might want to give a close look to the Bible.

**I direct you to an article by Peter Enns at patheos.com about the Reverend Doctor R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and his argument for the “apparent age” of the world. To compress the history of the planet into the 6,000 years that his literalist reading of Scripture demands, the reverend doctor argues that fossils and other geological phenomena were put at Creation to make the world look older. So, you see, if God had built a house, it would be new upstairs but would have broken furniture and half-empty cans of paint and a dripping faucet in the basement. (Yes, this is the same Reverend Doctor R. Albert Mohler Jr. who argued last year that Christians shouldn’t practice yoga because of its origins in Hinduism.)

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:57 AM | | Comments (12)
        

Comments

I'll be here with you, thank God. Maybe once they're all raptured up, we can finally show compassion to the poor, provide healthcare for the sick, and our kids will have fewer perverts to deal with. Heaven on earth!

I am making dinner reservations for Friday. I will be Left Behind Right Behind you!

Couldn't resist this one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis tells a good deal more about the idea, which is a century and a half old at least. Unfortunately, poor Gosse never got any acceptance from the creationists: they vilified him.

It would have been a shame had the Revelation of John been omitted, though. We would probably have lost the word Armageddon. Without it, we would have no Carmageddon when LA shuts down a major freeway, or Snowmageddon when unexpected blizzards arrive.

We would probably have also lost the phrase "alpha and omega", which means my favorite Christmas carol of all time, In Dulci Jubilo, would not be able to end on the magnificent "Alpha est et O".

And where would be without the metaphor of the bottomless pit from 9:1? Writing and speaking about political appropriations would be much poorer.

(Hat Tip: David Crystal's wonderful book "Begat" for the influence of the 1611 Authorized Edition on the English language)

Tom Perrotta recently published a novel ("The Leftovers") with the intriguing premise that a Rapture-like event occurs, altho no one really understands what happened or -- a central point in the novel -- why some people were taken (young, old, of many and of no religious affiliations) and others were not.

re: Reverend Mohler's discomfort with yoga: this seems to me like a business opportunity for someone who can devise an exercise regimen that's very yoga-like that can be marketed to True Believers who eschew heathen practices. Lord knows that the yoga industry has made a killing, dang.

Excellently well-put. I doubt fundamentalism or fanaticism of any kind can be erradicated--it is, after all, part of the humanity behind our souls--but if we can try for a bit of moderation, a bit of collective soul-searching before embracing these theories so drastically.... The world will surely be a better place.

So, according to Mohler, God is the deceiver? I think this puts him on very shaky theological grounds.

mike, there are already "Christian yoga" classes out there in the heartland. I have not partaken, but I understand you praise Jesus while you assume the positions.

Perchance this explains all those scruffy people wandering vaguely all over many of America's cities: they have given up their jobs and possessions (except for the drug paraphenalia!) and are awaiting The Rapture. Good luck to them,I say.

Praise Jesus and assume the position! Now THAT'S a battle cry.

MelissaJane, not to be confused with closing your eyes and thinking of England.

Although that would be a MUCH more relaxing sort of yoga, at least for us anglophiles.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
Baltimore Sun Facebook page
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected