Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

An interesting commentary . . .

on the significance of religion in people's lives. As you may have heard, we've had record rainfall in southern New England and the pathetically tiny state of Rhode Island -- which isn't even an island -- suffered the most. The economic damage is devastating:

Demetri Skalkos, co-owner of McNamara's liquor store, said about 3 feet of water stood in the basement. He said he was worried about losing business over the traditionally busy Easter period. "This is the Holy Week," he said. "If we don't do business now, when are we going to do business?"

At last the true meaning of Easter is made clear to me. None so blind . . .

This is apropos of my project of last evening. Since the Book of Revelation is central to the world view of a large percentage of Americans, I figured I'd read it again just to see what all the excitement is about. I make the following observations:

I didn't know those kinds of mushrooms grew on the Greek islands.

The book was written in the early First Century CE, in other words around the year 130. The author repeatedly purports to describe events which are "at hand," imminent, about to happen. Curious that he meant by that "in a little less than 2,000 years from now."

The author spills some ink near the beginning on individual messages to seven churches around the eastern Mediterranean. Among other idiosyncracies, he really, really doesn't like the Nicolaitans. Nowadays, nobody is quite sure who the heck they were.

The various visions seem to correspond to separate mushroom trips. They don't constitute a coherent chronology. They are linked by some recurrent images and numerology, but in order to develop a narrative you have to go in and arbitrarily rearrange the events in an order that makes sense to you. This is why the End Times believers have varying versions of what is going to happen when. The currently popular idea of "the rapture" -- which is not explicitly described, actually, but more or less reverse engineered from the idea that some people will wind up in the heavenly city -- followed by the tribulation and the thousand year reign and finally the end of the universe as we know it, is not a story actually told in the book.

An inconvenient truth: if there's one thing in the book which is absolutely, incontrovertibly crystal clear -- and there is only one thing, other than not liking the Nicolaitans -- it is the number of the elect. There are precisely 144,000 of them. Even more precisely, they consist of 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Of this, there can be no doubt, it's right there. That would seem to be bad news for the overwhelming majority of Christians, no?

None of this was ever supposed to make any sense, but still, the question is compelling. Why in the delta quadrant of the galaxy do millions of Americans believe in this apocalypse crap? What is the psychology or sociology that drives this idiotic nonsense in the same era when we are actually unraveling the deep secrets of the universe and really can glimpse the future, at least dimly? Just exactly what the hell is this wackiness all about?

1 comment:

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