Apocalypse Now, or The End of Ambiguity


This weekend I glanced through the book Assassin’s Gate by George Packer about the Iraq war, and one word stood out as I skimmed pages–apocalyptic, a word that has come to mean not revelation itself, but an end of time itself. At the same time this weekend, while waiting to go to a Christmas party with B, and flipping channels, I caught on the History Channel a show about the Apocalypse, the Revelation of St. John the Divine–the revelation (a hallucination?) of the end of the world as Christians know it, and the supposedly hopeful revelation of Jesus’ Second Coming. Having been raised in a somewhat evangelical household as well as community, Revelation sometimes got woven not only into church sermons, but also into everyday conversations (a coach objecting to the word “Beast” blaring across a t-shirt; a TV show on long before that hideous Left Behind series of novels in which people vanish during the Rapture), and has long since been a serious questioning point in my own loss of faith.

In the History Channel program, a Christian scholar points out one of the most troubling aspects of the New Testament’s end time narrative: the absolute triumph of absolute good over absolute evil; the scholar saw such a triumph as not necessarily good, or even hopeful. As I listened, and thought, what was this violent hallucination all about–a final solution: Let’s rid the Universe of what God (a supposedly supreme being capable of perfect good and perfect love, though often full of wrath and vanity) deems Evil. If you’re with us (believers; good) you wallow in Heavenly bliss; if you’re against us (nonbelievers;evil) you’re eternally scorched in Hell’s fiery pits, never to be seen again. A final solution.

Adolf Hitler had a final solution: eradicate the Jews, eradicate all the impure, and let the great Aryan Master Race march in final triumph, in final world domination; and yet Hitler is the embodiment of evil in the 20th century. His was an apocalyptic vision, a vision organized by fascism. The Fuehrer was supreme. You were either with him or against him. Sound familiar? Is this the vision of our current president and his cronies, men such as Donald Rumsfeld mentioned in Assassin’s Gate as being one of many “apocalyptic” visionaries of the Iraq war.

In Romania, Condoleeza Rice has been trying to quiet European criticism of the U.S.’s practice in pursuing terrorists. Are you against us? And earlier, in Fort Drum, New York, addressing troops, Dick Cheney said a sudden withdrawal from Iraq would be dangerous. Who’s against us, telling us to withdraw? Are we as a nation slowly edging toward these people’s apocalyptic vision of some final triumph of good over evil? A theocratically-driven totalinarianism no worse than that of the regimes we’re facing down in the Middle East? Bush’s thoughts are informed by the same evangelicalism that moves Pat Robertson to call for the assassination of the Venezuelan president, an evangelicalism informed by the triumphal march of good over evil in Revelation, a position in which ambiguities do not exist: The shades of gray most people have to deal with no longer exist in such a worldview. In this worldview you are either with us or against us. Victory or Death.

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