Friday, September 6, 2013

Apocalypse Soon?

One thing we learn from the history of the Crusades (and I think one of the core arguments of Jay Rubenstein's work) - when military figures view contemporary events through an apocalyptic lens, we've got a recipe for extra special kinds of disaster. The influence of apocalyptic thinkers on the Bush White House always concerned me, as did the elements of such thinking that emerged during the Iraq war.

So it's with trepidation that I've been reading pieces about apocalyptic readings of the Syria conflict, focused on Isaiah 17:1 “Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins.”

Here are two pieces. 
Jason Bivins, religion professor at N.C. State, writes: 
But the common experience is in the existence of a really real that official discourse is obscuring, and that the intrepid blogger or diligent exegete can tell us what’s really going on. And so the endless apocalyptic rears up once again, on self-recorded Youtube uploads, on niche cable programming, in a hyperlinked world of insistence: Damascus is, we are reminded, geographically central to the projected Second Coming of Christ.
This mode of reading sacred texts onto geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East is, of course, extremely commonplace (a long tradition dating back to the Crusades, spiking with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, and becoming enormously popular with Hal Lindsey). The text most commonly cited here is Isaiah 17:1:

“Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins.”

Apocalyptic scenes (additionally from Jeremiah and Zechariah) extend to Damascus, and the Qur’an, too, locates Christ’s eventual return just east of Damascus. As other observers have noted, the city itself fares differently in each vision: its physical condition, the sequence of its destruction, the particular plot in which it figures. But the co-resonance of violence and religious teleology is unavoidable from a certain perspective, one conditioned to gather together the fragmentary world in a meaning where violence is no counter-sign to redemption but evidence of its certainty.
He argues for ways in which the expectation of apocalypse shapes our experience. Note that last line - Violence is evidence of the certainty of redemption.

From Mother Jones, Tim Murphy writes about specific actors on the American Right who are actively disseminating this interpretation.

"As I prepared for this weeks program, I was again struck by the speed with which events are moving into the scenario the prophets predicted for the end times," he [Hal Lindsey] told his audience. "I believe we're there. People on the street are talking about what all of these things mean. Folks that wouldn't go darken the door of a church or pick up a Bible are now very curious. This may be our greatest opportunity—maybe even our last opportunity—to share the gospel of Jesus Christ before we're silenced by political correctness."
This is nothing new (well, the obsession with political correctness is) - the temptation to read current events through a teleological lens has been around throughout the most of the history of the Judeo-Chrstian-Islamic traditions. It's only a deep problem when these ideas take hold of a population (or its military leaders), pushing them to act in ways that help advance the script of apocalypse, or at least excuse horrific actions by pointing to the higher purpose.

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