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Rapture or Rupture? World thinks America has gone mad, and they are correct
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
April 26, 2004

Folks in most developed countries are utterly flabbergasted to learn that evolution is controversial in the United States. They think -- at first -- that the controversy lies in scientific debate over the exact mechanisms of evolution, or the course taken that led from one species to another. Although, they reason, with our knowledge of DNA and the functions of the genes becoming ever more exact, there are less gaps in our store of knowledge to debate over.

So, these folks ask, why is debate increasing in the United States?

That's where the flabbergasting comes in. In the US, the debate is over whether evolution occurred at ALL, and there are a good 30% of the population who not only completely reject the idea of evolution, but stridently demand that evolution be taught on an equal footing with amazing fairy tales about great world wide floods and an account of creation that not only contradicts all scientific knowledge, but even itself (the bible has two contradictory accounts of creation). There is a large chunk of the population that believes the earth stopped rotating for 36 hours during the battle of Jericho, or that representatives of every species on earth were crammed into a boat sixty feet long, and (for the sake of creation science) that dinosaurs and humans once cohabited the planet.

No, really. About 30% of Americans run around believing stuff like this. They're serious. Some of them want to change what's taught in schools to mesh with these notions.

The best selling books on the fiction lists over the past 7 years or so are the "Left Behind" series, which purport to be a "fictionalized but realistic" account of the Rapture, the End of Days, when all good Christians go to heaven and the rest of us have to stay put and deal with the IRS, TV commercials, Britney Spears and all the rest of Satan's imps. It's all based on the book of Revelation, the final book of the bible written by St. John the Seriously Stoned, who acts as a reminder that magic mushrooms grow on the Greek island of Patmos.

The problem is that Revelation, like most such mystical babble, says pretty much whatever you want to interpret it to say. And for 1500 years or so, nobody interpreted it in any way similar to the "Left Behind" series. But then, according to a book just out by Lutheran Minister Barbara R. Rossing (The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, Westview), a girl in Scotland in 1830 had a series of "visions" (barely pubescent girls and religious mania sometimes combine like that, usually with unfortunate results) and a preacher named Darby elaborated on them, inventing different epochs with different rules to mask over the general incoherence of the girl's vision. Rossing concludes, "The Rapture is a racket."

Biblical prophecy is utter drivel. As Parke Godwin once put it, "Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for the other shoe to drop" and in the meantime have been busy inventing endless rationales as to why it hasn't happened yet, despite all the "wars and rumors of wars" and countless other "signs" that are a normal part of the human condition, and of course, simultaneously explaining why it's going to go ahead and happen any day now.

The one point all the thousands of such prognostications had in common is that none of them were worth anything. In fact, the bible itself debunks all efforts of prognostication in advance, not only saying "no man may know the hour or the day," but even Christianity's central figure, Jesus, made it clear that he expected the Big Wrap-Up to occur in the lifetimes of his audience, so no later than 100 AD. I don't guess that happened.

Usually the doomsday prophecies are reasonably harmless. A small group of people hole up somewhere for the rapture, and when it doesn't happen, they just figure their leader made a mistake in the arithmetic, and most go right on believing. Sometimes the leader convinces his followers that the way to not get left behind is by signing everything they own over to the leader, and come the day of reckoning, the group finds that they got left behind in a different sort of way. Unusual events can trigger it in individuals: a few years ago, we had an unusual display of northern lights, and one woman went howling out into the street, convinced the End was Nigh. Fortunately, friends and relatives corralled her before she could hurt herself and she got over it.

Sometimes you get suicide cults, such as at Jonestown, or Waco, or the flying saucer people in San Diego. These tend to clump around "odometer moments" where the year or an anniversary of some other event tends to have two or three zeros at the end, and the millennia years tend to bring about many predictions of doom, doom! I say. The most famous one in the last millennium showed that such nuttery isn't the sole province of religion, as thousands sold their homes and headed for the hills to wait out the fall of civilization caused by Y2K.

Sometimes, entire nations succumb to such madness. The Zulu Nation committed mass suicide charging Enfield rifles with nothing more than spears on the word of a young girl that a vision had told her the Zulus would win. They didn't. The French fought the English based on visions from a young girl, Joan of Arc, and actually won, driving the English out of France. Then, showing remarkable wisdom, they burned Joan of Arc at the stake, since the only thing worse than a prophet of doom is a prophet of doom who is correct. Look up the story of Cassandra (another young girl -- perhaps we need to start putting masking tape over their mouths when they turn 10 or so). Religious nuts with a vision can wreak remarkable damage, as in the case of Innocent III, Rasputin, or Pol Pot (communism became a secular religion). Some, such as Cromwell, even had good intentions in the beginning, and became exasperated when people remained blind to God's will. Unfortunately, that particular type of exasperation comes readily to theocracies, and usually means lots of dead people strewn about the countryside. It did then, it does now. And of course, claiming religious vision is a province of nearly every dictator in history. Hitler furnishes us with any number of quotes about how he was performing God's will.

The Rapture gained traction in America in 1970 (per Rossing) when Hal Linsey wrote "The Late, Great Planet Earth". She wryly notes that Lindsey has had to revise his prophecies in subsequent editions as both the Soviets and the Red Chinese became less credible antichrists. Now it's Islam that is the antichrist. Maybe next week it will be the New York Yankees, who would have had my vote all along.

None of which would have meant much more than society having another crackpot special interest group for unscrupulous politicians to pander to and manipulate in the normal course of events. But this is America, where large percentages of the population believe in UFOs, that Elvis lives, and that Saddam was involved in 9/11. Having a large population of ignorant and gullible is a drawback to begin with, but we are in a culture inculcated to believe ignorance is just part of being a good neighbor, and gullibility is a sign that you have an open mind.

Having an administration that is willing to exploit the Rapture crowd as a source of cheap votes is just one of those things you expect in a Democracy. Reagan used them to his advantage, and then spent the next eight years promising them everything they wanted while making sure the country wasn't ruined by them actually collecting on the promise.

What we have now is something worse. Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney believe in the Rapture -- they even had some crackpot come in and lecture astounded Pentagon chiefs on Bible codes -- the notion that the placement of words in the Bible signified strategy for the military to follow in the 21st century. Condi Rice believes in the Rapture, and, along with Karl Rove, has worked strenuously to convince Putsch that only an Israel that controlled all of its supposed ancestral lands -- much of the middle east, including Baghdad -- was what would be needed to take Condi up to heaven.

And Putsch himself?

Yes, he believes in the Rapture nonsense. The rest of the crackpots in the administration couldn't be doing what they're doing if he didn't.

American foreign policy is in the hands of people who are seeking the end of the world in order to hurry their personal salvation.

Which leaves the question: in a potential second term, would Putsch encourage a nuclear war in order to kind of hurry his ascension along?

Posted: April 26, 2004


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