“An inch away, total darkness.”
"If you believe in judgment day, then I have to seriously question your judgment."
“Prepare for tomorrow by doing your best today.”
Life’s Little Instruction Calendar, Volume V
Religious radio and TV are great sources of amusement for me. I love to watch the strutting, sweating televangelists spouting their childish BS to audiences beatifically smiling and swallowing it whole. As a student of public speaking, I appreciate their hypnotic cadences, effective use of repetition, and interactive, audience-involving speaking style (”Can I get an ‘amen’ on that?”). It’s not only good to know the adversary…it’s also fun. And a little unsettling to see how earnestly these people talk about (and to) their imaginary beings.
I’m also reminded of the extent to which religion traffics in the future: apocalypses, Second Coming, Judgment Days, Armageddon, rapture, end-times, Paradise, Valhalla, Messiahs, etc. It’s always about something that’s going to happen, must happen, and thus must be prepared for by every means, from asceticism to suicide.
That’s why, as a friend recently pointed out, you can “and then what?” believers into a brick wall.
Once the ultimate desideratum is achieved…then what? As many skeptics have pointed out, the Christian heaven is vague and boring. An infinity of…what?
As for the Jews, once the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem and ALL 15 MILLION Jews return to Israel (it’ll be REALLY crowded)…then what? No driving is allowed on the Sabbath, so they all have to be able to WALK to Temple on Friday night and Saturday. A logistical nightmare.
Or the Messiah comes — and then what? He brings peace? How exactly does that happen? He distributes mass quantities of Valium or aromatherapy or cannabis, so that people turn on and chill out?
Peace is achieved by people not killing people. No Messiah required. It’s childish and humiliating to think we can’t do it ourselves. Also, a cop-out, justifying any religious absurdity or atrocity to promote the Coming.
Powerful story line
Religious BS merchants have to keep their flocks in line with a compelling story line, of which the worshippers are a part. It’s a powerful manipulative tool. Politicians use it too. Getting huge masses to abandon reason and become what one writer calls “mythic” and follow the story obediently…well, that’s a politician’s wet dream.
Better life on earth
All too often paradises are idealized versions of earthly life: no pain or suffering, which are devoutly to be desired — and worked for. The great 19th century skeptic/atheist Robert Ingersoll observed that hands that work are infinitely more valuable than hands that pray. If there’s to be a heaven, we must create it ourselves.
But OK, to each his own. If people need the delusional coping mechanism of religion, let them have it (but not in public) — and let them stop complaining about other people’s coping methods, from drugs to stock markets (or both).
Knowing nothing about the future
The future is far more elusive and beyond the reach of prophecy. Edgar Cayce, Nostradamus, The Mayans — none of them had a clue, and neither do we.
A lot of people want these prophecies to be true, so they twist and spin them until they are. You need a certain softness in the head, a willingness to believe, in order to spin the prophets’ vague predictions into a foretelling of contemporary events.
As Kierkegaard and other wise people have observed, life must be lived forward — but understood backward. Yet, as many others have noted, the seeds of future events can be seen, if only one knows where to look. The 9/11 Report makes it quite clear that the disaster could have been prevented, but too many government officials were criminally negligent.
An inch away, total darkness. History turns on the merest of circumstances.
A few guesses
Yet some predictions are, as sportswriters say, makable:
(1) Governments will continue to oppress people, grab wealth and power, and foment wars, because that is their nature. Corporations will do the first two of the above, because that is their nature.
(2) Burgeoning populations will fight over dwindling resources, prompting more conflict.
(3) Ethnic and tribal groups will continue to hate and persecute each other, as politicians and religious zealots perpetrate their myths, stories, and projected futures, to keep the masses in line. While large portions of the world quietly abandon religion, much larger portions still cling to it.
(4) Climate change will continue, with unpredictable results. Near term, nothing will replace the internal combustion engine. Auto races will continue merrily along. NASCAR racers get 4-5 miles/gallon.
(5) There will be another 9/11; the fanatics are bent on it.
(6) Whatever can be cloned, someone will clone it.
(7) The Cubs will not win a World Series.
That’s about all I’m willing to venture. The predictions are based on continuing (and apparently unstoppable) trends and on human nature, which does not change (much).
Preoccupation with prophecy and apocalypse seems to be rooted in a fear of living, a wish that all the confusion and suffering will end soon, swiftly, and gloriously (for believers). But despite many predictions and much preparation, The End doesn’t come, and the date requires constant postponement.
Humanists realize that no Messiah, no Rapture is going to come and take away their problems and suffering.
Perhaps in time, as the Messiah does not come and the world does not end, more and more people will abandon all the end-times and Armageddon stories, grow up, and realize that the outcomes in (1)-(7) are the responsibility of humans and humans alone (with some luck). I'm not optimistic. But for good or ill, we make our own futures.