I don't know about you, but it seems to me that ever since the beginning of time, there have been folks out there predicting the end of time. Forecasting -- or predicting -- the Apocalypse of course, begins with the Biblical Book of Revelations. And for about as long as humankind has scratched, carved, etched, calligraphed or written, there have been the eschatologists. [No, no, not scatologists -- those obsessed with excretory functions, but eschatologists -- those preoccupied with Endtimes]. History is rife with examples:
- In the Apocrypha, it was prophesied that the world would end in the year 1,000. Fanatics all over Europe believed that the Last Judgment was to be expected at Jerusalem on the last day of the year 999. Despite official discouragement by the Church, throngs of pilgrims proceeded eastward. On the fateful day, thousands of people ascended what they thought was the Biblical Mt. Zion, awaiting the final firestorm of destruction. Nothing happened.
- As early as June 1523, a group of British fortune-tellers and astrologers concurred that the end of the world would begin with the destruction of London by deluge on February 1, 1524. This caused a flood of humanity to flee London for the high ground of Kent and Essex. It is estimated that by the middle of January of that year, at least 20,000 people had left their homes. When February 1 came and went without incident, angry Londoners descended upon the hapless astrologers like locusts in a wheat field. Hurriedly, the fortune-tellers reexamined their figures and discovered a tiny error in their calculations. London -- and hence the world -- they now proclaimed, would be destroyed by flood not in 1524, but one hundred years hence -- in 1624.
- On April 3, 1843, thousands of the followers of William Miller, a farmer and former atheist, gathered on the hilltops in New England, solemnly expecting the end of the world. Miller had picked this day, he claimed, after carefully studying the Biblical Books of Daniel and Revelation. Miller even convinced the New York Herald to publish his prediction that the world would be destroyed by fire on April 3. Believing the dead would pass through heaven first, fanatics murdered relatives and committed suicide. April 3 came and went without incident. Miller then simply moved the date to July 7. In preparation for this new date, Miller now told his followers that they must be wearing white ascension gowns -- which he happily sold them by the gross. Miller kept changes dates -- from July 7, to March 21 and finally to October 22. By the time the latter date had passed without incident, the Millerites were becoming a tad peevish with their prophet. The once powerful 100,000-strong movement disbanded and split into several sections, of which the Seventh-Day Adventists became the most numerous. And Miller? He ended his days delivering over 3,200 speeches predicting the end of the worl, while amassing quite a fortune from the sale of his white ascension robes.
- In the fall of 1967, millions of TV viewers watching the David Frost Show saw and heard Anders Jensen, the Danish leader of the Disciples of Orthon, predict that Christmas Day would mark the Apocalypse. His sect chose a field near Copenhagen to build an underground bunker with a 20-ton lead roof that would see them through the danger period. When the Orthonians emerged from their bunker on December 26 -- only to find that the world still existed -- they were gravely disappointed. However, all was not lost: they did manage to sell their beloved bunker at a large profit.
Now, its one thing for self-styled seers, visionaries and prophets-of-doom to ply their trade amongst the frightened masses. Let's face it: there are times when this planet seems to be fraught with nothing but danger, deprivation, misery, and misanthropy. When Biblical prophecy -- either of the Old or New Testament variety -- is stirred into the cauldron of human fear and uncertainty, what emerges is a powerful, intoxicating brew. When measured against the very real pains of reality then, is it any wonder that throughout history, millions and millions of people have indulged in this other-worldly concoction?
As we said, that is one thing. It is totally another when the seers, the visionaries and the prophets-of-doom occupy the White House, the Congressional Chamber, and the Courts of Law. For when this happens -- and it has -- one winds up with the unholy rat's nest that has been afflicting this country for the past five years or more. When a nation's leaders -- be they of the executive, legislative, judicial or military stripe -- believe that all signs, omens and portents are pointing to an ever-nearing Endtime, who then has to give a fig about the poor, the defenseless, the have-nots of this world? What's to keep them from adopting an "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we all die" attitude? Virtually nothing. And that's what should scare the hell out of us. When eschatology becomes political fiat, its time to head not for the hills, but for the public square.
So how in the world, I can hear you asking, do I know that the President, the former House Majority Leader, the current Senate Majority Leader and more than half the members of the Cabinet espouse these beliefs? Has anyone actually heard them say: "Screw Social Security; the world's coming to an end next week anyway!" Well, no. But if you pay attention to who their religious mentors are -- the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells, and James Dobsons of the world, and then listen to what these guys are preaching about Endtimes, you can safely -- and frightenly -- conclude that they -- the Bushes, DeLay's, Frists and Santorums -- must also believe in Apocalypse Now.
I myself, of course, am not a Christian. What I am is a practicing, observant Jew -- a person with one foot in the past, the other in the future. I have no more idea of what's in God's mind than George Bush, Tom DeLay, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. The only difference is that I am willing to admit it. As a Jew, I am far more concerned with what we call tikkun olam -- Hebrew for "repairing the world" -- than in lolling around, taking all I can get, while awaiting the end of the world. I believe that God put us here to act as stewards -- and not masters -- of creation. As such, it is our sacred obligation to make this world as much like heaven as possible -- and to leave the rest to God. To do otherwise -- to enrich the already rich, to invade a country that did not first invade us, to denude forests, befoul air and pollute streams -- these are not the acts of a caring, God-fearing, benevolent society.
I say let the prophets of doom, the advocates of Apocalypse do all the prophesying they wish. Just don't do it from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or the Halls of Congress. Return to your churches where you can shout Apocalypse Now!! to your hearts content. Just don't do it in the name of our nation or of its citizens.