The End of the World?
There’s an excellent piece in today’s New York Times on apocalyptic thought and theology in several religions, including Christianity. As the author, Elisabeth Dias, rightly points out the original meaning of the Greek word apokalypsis is “unveiling.” All that has been hidden shall stand revealed.
“It’s not just about the end of the world,” said Jacqueline Hidalgo, chair of religion at Williams College. “It helps us see something that is hidden before.”
“As a pandemic thrusts the United States and much of the world into a new economic and social order, those who study and practice religion see deeper truths being unveiled.”
Some of this does come with the usual right-wing timetables tied to events in Israel and assurance of a rapture for true believers. But not all. Nor is apocalyptic thought limited to Christianity. Dias includes Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist perspectives and commentators in her article.
Apocalyptic need not mean the total, final end. More often it means the end of the world as we have known it. Even now there is clear BC and AC, i.e. Before Corona Virus and After. And the theme of revelation, revealing, of making plain what has been somehow covered or cloaked makes tremendous sense. Crisis does that. It may reveal fault lines, but also strengths. What people are really made of.
“‘The crisis is revealing health care inequalities, class divisions and the fact that the most important workers in American society are among the least paid,’ said Jorge Juan Rodríguez V, a doctoral candidate in the history of religion at Union Theological Seminary.
“What is being revealed are the fault lines in the system that always existed,” he said. “We are just noticing it now because the system is stressed.”
One of those fault lines is the difference between show and substance, between dazzle and delivery.
In Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized, he reviews the effects of pervasive group-think and viral social media on U.S. politics and society concluding, “You have to get noticed, retweeted, booked. And in general loud gets noticed. Extreme gets noticed. Confrontational gets noticed. Moderate, conciliatory, judicious — not so much.”
So while all the shouting has been going on from the likes of Trump, Limbaugh, Hannity et. al. no one was stockpiling needed equipment or ensuring that government had systems in place for a time such as this. Such ordinary — now life-saving, society-calming — work just wasn’t going to get noticed or get you noticed. Many of the crucial tasks of governance are boring, or at least mundane, until they are essential.
“’The country’s idols are being exposed,’ said Ekemini Uwan, a public theologian and co-host of the podcast “Truth’s Table.” ‘People are advocating that we throw our grandparents to the slaughter, sacrifice them on the altar of capitalism,’ she added, referring to Republican leaders who have suggested that older Americans might be willing to sacrifice themselves to save jobs.
“‘For too long America has been on “spiritual life support,” trusting its own invincibility,’ she said.
“’Is it the end of the world? Maybe it is, maybe it is isn’t,’ she said. ‘But we need to be ready. We need to learn to number our days because we really do not know when our last breath will be.’”
That line, “For too long American has been on spiritual life support, trusting its own invincibility,” nails it. Her final sentence is a reference to Psalm 90, vs. 12, a favorite of mine. “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” May it be so among us.