Sunday, August 21, 2011

#59: Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans are Looking Forward to the End of the World by Nicholas Guyatt

New York, PS Press. 2007. 294 pages

Nicholas Guyatt begins this "jaunty report" as the cover calls it, waiting for Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins who are signing copies of their bestselling books. These books are the Left Behind series, in which the Rapture leaves a group of people behind on earth to fight the Antichrist, in a person named Nicolai Carpathia. Nutjobs, you say? Not so; Guyatt's investigations into eschatology are unnerving, sometimes hysterical and compelling at all times.

Throughout the book, Guyatt addresses the schisms in mainstream Protestantism in the United States. Much of the furor over the End Times is created by nonacceptance of the Dispensationalist theory of Revelation, which portrays the Book of Revelation as a prophetic text. Most mainline scholars view it as a description of the revolt and final destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. In any event, if you have never read it, do so. It is jaw dropping. For those who think the Christian Right is a monolithic entity bent on the destruction of Secular Liberalism, this book is an eye opener to what a small portion of that group is really thinking. This is the unnerving part. Having grown up with an uncle steeped in this tradition, and more than willing to ram it down anyone's throat, this was not new. It's been around since the 19th century.

Guyatt himself is Jewish, which he is at pains to hide from the more vocal of these folks. The state of Israel is at center stage in this text; it is one of the requirements of the End Times that the Jewish people return to the Holy Land to claim what was given to them in the Covenant. What of the Palestinians? Ahhhhh, fuck 'em! Guyatt's writing of the coverage of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in these circles is again unnerving. Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli; in some cases, the people Guyatt interviews are far more sympathetic with the assassin than Rabin.

For all that, Guyatt writes that "for my part, I believe non-Evangelicals have been harboring severe misconceptions about right wing Christians" (291), going on to say that from their point of view (filtered through an understanding of the approaching Armageddon), their point of view is quite rational. I agree completely; the question becomes what to do to reconcile opposing viewpoints. Guyatt also puts his finger on the Original Sin of most Progressives, "Liberal dismissal". (292)

Nothing fires people up like some asshole saying "You're/he/she/they are an idiot/idiots/nutjobs/freakshow" because their "religious views are crazy/out-of-date/wrong". I engage in this all the time (see any quote about Michelle Bachmann or Rick "I wasn't in Journey" Perry), but this is a reflexive action. Most Progressives don't know shit about the Bible or religion, yet they flap their gums about both. Of course, most Progressives think that Buddhism is at best a series of helpful relaxation exercises. They are dismissive because Progressives engage in "reason" and "analysis". In a discussion where both groups are

1. Convinced they are correct, and
2. Convinced that the other side is going to destroy the Known Universe, it leads to
3. A bunch of shouting that solves nothing but who can shout the loudest and elect the most empty suits and heads that agree in that knee-jerk fashion we all love to hate. Except Fascists, who will break your knees if they don't jerk, and who are always wrong. They are perhaps the one group I will say that about...maybe also Toe Freaks.

It always pays to know what the other side is thinking and where they are getting their information and what is influencing their worldview. That is how to create meaningful debate and discussion instead of senseless shouting past one another. This book is a good starting point.

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