Hot for the apocalypse

Kurt Andersen has written a great piece over at NY Magazine. Titled “The End of the World As They Know It”, it dives into culture and attitudes obsessed with apocalypse.

Five years after Islamic apocalyptists turned the World Trade Center to fire and dust, we chatter more than ever about the clash of civilizations, fight a war prompted by our panic over (nonexistent) nuclear and biological weapons, hear it coolly asserted this past summer that World War III has begun, and wonder if an avian-flu pandemic poses more of a personal risk than climate change. In other words, apocalypse is on our minds. Apocalypse is … hot.

Millions of people—Christian millenarians, jihadists, psychedelicized Burning Men—are straight-out wishful about The End. Of course, we have the loons with us always; their sulfurous scent if not the scale of the present fanaticism is familiar from the last third of the last century—the Weathermen and Jim Jones and the Branch Davidians. But there seem to be more of them now by orders of magnitude (60-odd million “Left Behind” novels have been sold), and they’re out of the closet, networked, reaffirming their fantasies, proselytizing. Some thousands of Muslims are working seriously to provoke the blessed Armageddon. And the Christian Rapturists’ support of a militant Israel isn’t driven mainly by principled devotion to an outpost of Western democracy but by their fervent wish to see crazy biblical fantasies realized ASAP—that is, the persecution of the Jews by the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon.

When apocalypse preoccupations leach into less-fantastical thought and conversation, it becomes still more disconcerting. Even among people sincerely fearful of climate change or a nuclearized Iran enacting a “second Holocaust” by attacking Israel, one sometimes detects a frisson of smug or hysterical pleasure.

He doesn’t have much trouble finding examples these days. I must admit, to a certain extent, I have also slipped into the mindset that the future will get worse, before it gets better. Why? I don’t think any one thing can be singled out. It is probably equal parts climate change and dangerous energy dependence, a sprinkle of looming brinkmanship, and a dash of perpetual war. Top with consumer and government spending and savings habits, and bake for 10-20 years.

But after thinking about it some more, I have to add in another ingredient to my pessimistic future pie. It is the increase in apocalypticism – the very subject of the article. Growing up on the evangelical side of the christian spectrum, the view point was not uncommon. The rapture was going to happen any day now. In that environment, it didn’t seem like such a strange thought. Now of course I fear what that does to one’s mindset and motivations. I mean, why fix this world, when doing so will delay your god’s coming?

Enough of my ramblings, the article is definitely worth a read.

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