“Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world. This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.”
One of my fondest boyhood memories is a game I liked to play, in which I reenacted (or rather, rehearsed) the Apocalypse. The Book of Revelation will always hold a soft spot in my heart. For some, that devilish piece of prophecy—with its visions of war, plague, grotesque beasts, genocide, blackening suns, seas that turn to blood—is an embarrassing relic of Iron Age barbarism. For me, it was a source of boundless inspiration. Yet there lay something fatalistic about the whole affair: I always knew who would win.
A singular virtue of eschatologically “sensitive” Christians is their willingness to appropriate all manner of prophecy, however pagan. I recall discovering, at the tender age of nine (viz., before it became cool), the calendrical shortcomings of the Mayans. This fit quite nicely with my apocalyptic daydreams—whence I calculated that, for the world to end in ’12, the Rapture would have to come in ’05: to make room (naturally) for the seven years of Tribulation.
It took no stretch of imagination. As the fin de siècle passed into the brave post-Y2K world, something bad was bound to happen; it was only fair. We had a decent helping of terrorism, war, governmental tyranny, societal collapse, natural disasters, etc.; but these seemed each in turn the merely tantalizing foreplay of the cataclysmic fucking we deserve. 2005 came and passed without event, and there I was: fifteen years and jaded, more interested in punk rock and porn than in the wild doomsday fantasies of an epileptic scribe from Patmos.
Since the first century in the year of our Lord, believers have been in the business of revising past predictions. After all, when one’s Lord and Savior proves to be chronically tardy, people may get suspicious. Some cleverer schools of thought, such as the Preterist and the Historicist, locate prophetic fulfillment in the past: as in the “persecution” of the early Christ-cult, or in the fall of the Roman Empire. But it is our right as Americans to indulge in more apocalyptically creative ambitions.
To understand the Apocalypse is to understand America. St John’s visions of a persecuted few, scorned by kings but selected by God, vindicated and saved by a heavenly fire to destroy evil and to establish a millennial kingdom on Earth: this is America, through and through.
Would I risk decency and dignity to suggest that these days are ripe for Apocalypse? Who among us has not felt, when faced with the million absurdities of modern life, that our best bet would be, “Just burn the damn thing down”? And here we have a president, loved by world leaders, charming to all (but the congenitally paranoid Religious Right), who has not one scruple about bloating his power when faced with crises, real or imagined. I look eagerly forward to the Antichrist’s coming, if for no reason better than to validate my conspiratorial fantasies, or at least to mitigate boredom.
Is it existentially “significant” that disappointment, not relief, comes whenever God delays The End? Harold Camping joined a long and storied line of Great American Disappointers, when in 2011 he prepped us prematurely for the Rapture. Of course, even that date was far too late, given my seven-year scheme, for the world to end on time. And it seemed that God had finally bungled the whole affair.
But I would like to entertain an alternative account. Perhaps Mr Camping was right; the Rapture came one day two Mays ago, but none was fit to be saved. Perhaps the post-Rapture, seven-year scheme of Tribulation was far too simplistic; and those signs and wonders happened already, in orders unforeseen. And perhaps the Historicists were right—Christ had come a while ago to establish his kingdom on Earth; and we have been living, since the Age of Enlightenment, in those dark days when Satan is let loose to re-tempt a post-millennial world and try once more to kill a God whose fire and brimstone wait in reserve. We have been living out the prophecy of a sadistic, subtle God, though we’ve slept collectively through the centuries, oblivious to it all.