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Waiting for the Sky Taxi

March 26, 2005
By TygrBright

Oh, those wacky Rapture-maniacs.

How we love to mock them, with their bizarre "countdown clocks" and their tacky literature and their oh-so-mockable bumper stickers. And there is much within the bizarre range of pre-millenialist theology that would be comical, if it weren't for the astonishing numbers of humorlessly devout believers in this nihilistic mutation of Christian eschatology. According to a 1999 Newsweek poll, forty-five percent of American adults believe that the events described in the Book of Revelations will occur on Earth within their lifetime.

Given the escalated level of these beliefs on the loon-o-meter, why should they be food for concern, no matter how widespread they are? After all, an overwhelming portion of the world's population believed in strange creation myths involving turtles and dragons, etc., not to mention a flat earth, and we've managed to muddle through alright. Where's the harm in people believing a bearded white guy will appear on a cloud and fwoooooosh! them up into the sky to live on in bliss while all the people they don't like get left behind to endure unspeakable torment?

Well, there's the basic hostility, selfishness, and lack of contact with reality revealed in such a belief. But heck, that's their problem, right?

If it were only that. The whole Dispensationalist mythos is so creepy in its obsessive rumination on the intimate details of torture and suffering that will be inflicted upon the sinners who fail to sufficiently hate fags and abortionists and godless liberals that it makes my stomach queasy to contemplate it. I'm not going to recap the details here. But although there is no logic, there is a kind of rhetorical consistency in its reiterative descriptions of pain and destruction. In other words, the Rapture-maniacs are definitely all on the same page of their sadistic hymnal, singing at the tops of their lungs. And one of the elements of their belief is that it is part of their obligation as "Christians" to do everything they can to help bring about the events of the "end times."

But don't ever point out to them the inconsistency between their belief that:

A. The Earth has to reach a fever-pitch of total abandonment to sin in order to bring about the Second Coming;

B. They have an obligation to do whatever they can to bring about that Second Coming; and yet…

C. Somehow they have to stave off the abominable sins of homosexual tolerance and women's control of their reproductive choices, even if, (apparently,) this will reduce the sum total of sinfulness needed to precipitate the Millennium.

Again, sinister as these beliefs are, and widespread though they may be, why should we be concerned?

Bill Moyers has covered this in far more detail and with much greater cogency than I could ever manage. (See his article here.) Basically, it comes down to two things:

A. The Rapture-maniacs' numbers and fervency have made them a frighteningly potent political force in America; and

B. Because they think Jesus is on his way to pick them up any day, now, they not only feel no obligation to make the world a better place for their children and grandchildren, they think that making it worse will hasten the Divine Air Taxi on its journey to suck them up to Eternal Blissland.

Okay, if that doesn't scare you, you probably fell asleep during Alien, too. I'm not ashamed to admit that it gives me the willies. And it makes me ask what I think is a critical, and much under-examined, question:

Just how did such a bizarre, contra-survival belief take such a firm hold on so many people, in a relatively well-educated culture where science, technology, and materialism are pervasive?

What's up with that?

These are not citizens of a non-industrialized tribal culture that still believes the sun is pushed under the flat earth by a giant tortoise all night to rise on the other side in the morning.

Why would someone embrace such a nihilistic, suicidal belief system, so devoid of logic, so dependent on Lovecraftian fantasy?

Why would they rush, like lemmings, to promote a vast war in the Middle East and irreversible ecological destruction of the Earth's resources?

Why would they pin their hopes to the fantasy of Jesus and his giant Rapture-vacuum?

Why, indeed.

I looked into the roots of Rapture-mania, the early incarnations of the Dispensationalist phenomenon and its various offshoots and competing sects.

The initial flourishing of this darkly despairing contortion of Biblical eschatology happened at a time when the benefits of the Industrial Revolution were distributed with growing inequity to an elite class. A large segment of society in rapidly-urbanizing Britain and Europe was left staring hopelessly at a better life that seemed forever beyond their grasp. The many toiled among new and alien machines that brought only misery to them, and wealth, power, and luxury to others.

Rapture beliefs spread like wildfire in the wake of the failed social revolutions of the 1840s, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The new technologies of the Industrial Revolution had made the poor aware that there was someplace else to go, but they had no hope of going. It was reserved for others-better educated, born into a more fortunate class, gifted by circumstances of birth with access to the new horizon of luxury and wealth.

Their demands to share those benefits had just been brutally crushed in the backlash of the failed revolutions. Economic and political power seemed irrevocably consolidated into the hands of a small elite-an elite who despised them for their ignorance, their credulity, their lack of sophistication.

Into this aching gulf stepped John Nelson Darby, C.I. Scofield, Edward Irving, Henry Drummond, and the proto-millenialists, with a pleasingly vengeful reading of Revelation and Thessalonians. The believers-humble and theologically 'pure'-are slated for eternal bliss. The sinners, the worldlings, the abandoned hedonists enjoying the fruits of Industrial Revolution wealth-for them, it is boils and rains of fire and unending tortures of the most graphic description.

The believers were beset by profound alienation from a world exploding with new adventures of science and rich possibilities of wealth, and constrained by fear of change, poverty, and social pressure. Rapture-mania is a pathology-but many, if not most, pathologies arise as defenses against worse despair, depression, and hopelessness. After the failure of the social revolution, the rollback of any attempts at progress, the slow loss of the early liberalizing gains in post-Napoleonic Europe, what was left? Liberalism was defeated; it offered no hope. It was a cruel chimera, a broken reed, to be turned upon and despised for its failures.

Fast-forward to the Information Revolution of the 20th century, and the liberal advances that seemed to promise the distribution of its benefits to all. And then the failures, the rolling-back of liberal gains, the growing disparities of wealth between the elite few and the decidedly un-elite many, the fury of denial of that UN-elite status, overlaid on a growing uneasiness and despair. The opaque and ever-growing complexity of information technology that seemed to take its benefits further and further from the grasp of the "ordinary person" and into the realm of a highly-educated few who could design chips and write mysterious code.

Now, again, we see large numbers of otherwise educated individuals, profoundly alienated, turning their backs upon the liberalism that seemed to betray its promise to them, embracing the bitter fantasies that sustained their great-grandparents through a similar social cycle.

If, as Bill Moyers believes, it is a matter of urgency to keep the nihilistic fury of the Rapture-maniacs from irrevocably damaging the Earth's habitability through war and ecological destruction, we must turn our attention to the issues of what makes Rapture-mania, and how it can be unmade. I suggest that the cure is successful social reorganization that will restore hope to the hopeless, and open opportunity to those who feel locked out of the possibilities of modern technology and culture.

The last wave of Rapture-mania finally abated in the wake of the Progressive revolutions that followed World War I. They reformed labor laws, curbed the excesses of the corporate classes, and spread a social safety net under the feet of the vulnerable. If we want to save a habitable world for our grandchildren, we need to pull the rug out from under Rapture-mania with a new wave of hope and opportunity. We must demonstrate that there is hope in this world, not just in cloud-cuckoo-land. That making this world a better place can be even more satisfying than contemplating the richly-deserved tortures of the sinning class.

The Rapture-maniacs have a strong hold on political power and are doing their best to make things more hopeless, rather than less so. They can hear the throbbing engines of the Great Sky Taxi loud in their ears, and they're not about to listen to the feeble voices of the ineffectual liberals who couldn't even hold onto the gains we made in the mid-20th century.

Yet somewhere inside, a great many of them, perhaps most of them (at least those who are not making a cushy living off exploiting the vengeful bearded white guy Jesus myth,) know how creepy and unpleasant this psychotic fantasy really is. If something better comes along, even a faint hope of something better, it might be the catalyst that will begin the return to sanity.

Now, more than ever, the fight to restore hope takes on urgency. It may be the only thing that saves our grandchildren from choking in the reeking effluvia and starving in the devastated wasteland awaiting the "Rapture."

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