In my younger days, I assumed that humanity has and continues to change for the better. Whether from the optimism of my forward looking youthfulness in a world full of possibility, or from absorbing the current cultural voices that inspired hopefulness, the story line in the America that I grew up in was one of optimism for a future made easier, safer, and longer and better by science and technology. Much of which remains true.
Things change. I firstremember being aware that all is not well with the world, and hearing that the end is in sight, during the 70’s when environmental issues or events such as the approaching planetary alignment hit the news. Doom was coming. Later in life I came to understand that just like creation stories, apocalyptic fantasies abound throughout human history and in all cultures. Even if we do not know how or when, we do know that everything, our individual lives, and the life of the cosmos has its end.
I have over the years come to understand end times primarily as archetypal, with the power to draw us into imagining the future and so better to be aware of our attraction to Endings and how much influence their ideas may have over both our thoughts and choices. Keeping this in mind we can look at all end time scenarios for the fantasies contained within them. What do they say of us – our hopes, fears and sense of meaning and purpose (or lack there of) in both our individual lives and the span of the bigger cosmos we find ourselves in?
Presently, there is a Christian, primarily post reformation, view of the end based on a literal interpretation of Revelations, a political play by play of the end of the world as we know it often referred to as the Apocalypse. All you need to do is google “the coming apocalypse” to see how much currency this idea has in our culture. Entering politics in many ways, but especially concerning itself with current events in the US and the middle east, this view centers around a belief that since Israel has come back into existence, the count down to the end game has begun. A battle between good and evil has been in play ever since Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden, and there will be a grand finale in which all the supernatural forces will make themselves known to us and a battle to end all battles will play out before us. In the end, though this world will be destroyed, Believers will be saved and God will make a new heaven and a new earth for them.
Although the idea of Cosmic Justice is sometimes appealing in a world in which Justice does not always prevail I have never been convinced that Justice in God’s eyes is equivalent to Justice as we, with our limited vision, see and understand it. In this world where we are all vulnerable to pain and suffering, living with a frequently unavoidable ability to cause hurt to others, how likely is it that God created us just to simply destroy us at some point along the way? Why bother to create us less than perfect in the first place? Perhaps some of us really need to believe that evil will be punished in order to live with the reality of evil, but the more peace and compassion I come to feel, the less likely the thought of punishment of others seems attractive to me. Evil deeds, it seems, come from a lack of a sense of an ability to love and to choose goodness. We do evil things when we’re wounded, living in fear, and have not yet known and experienced a true and compassionate love in our lives.
We can’t lay claim to know what torment a murderer may live with, no matter how hard we try, but we might consider the possibility that their choices and actions reflect their own suffering and torment. Maybe Justice is the torment we experience when we have knowingly taken advantage and hurt someone weaker than us. But when we are wronged it can be so hard to see anything except through the lens of our weakness, pain and suffering that we’ve been reduced to at the hand of another. If only they could feel our pain, we imagine, then justice would be done. But I am not so sure what Justice really looks like or feels like. If Justice does mean that someone should suffer for hurting me, it certainly is not my job to decide what that suffering looks like. But how could I, not wanting to suffer, ever want suffering for another and not see that want as evil?
But I do think that Christian ideas are still very much with us, even for non-believers and that it’s worthwhile for them to consider just how they might be influenced by them. It may be just as dangerous to reject Christianity without understanding what it is that’s being rejected. You might reject Christianity wishing to be rid of authority and fantasy. Here God becomes the fantastical big daddy rejected perhaps out of our hope of growing up, living in reality and being responsible. And yet, childishness has permeated American culture to the point that we sometimes take pride in our childishness.
I say we have not moved beyond a need for authority, but rather have embraced new gods, such as Science, Commerce and Entertainment. Or, we have become the gods, and we are the destroyers, hence the strong belief in a coming environmental apocalypse caused by Us, as well as our love of war with our bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. And because in this modern sometimes atheistic view, God is a fantasy, we must be real, and so, save ourselves. This I think explains why political power and a belief in Central Government has for some, taken on a sense of import and urgency. Just as the literal Biblical Apocalypse has been politicized by Believers into war games in the Middle East, non-believers want Us to Save Ourselves from Us using primarily political means.
But the Christian idea of Salvation may help us to understand what Endings have always been asking of us. The root of the word salvation is related to healing, or making whole. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, what is it that heals us, and makes us whole and how could another’s pain aid our healing? If we have any capacity for compassion, would we not wince at another’s suffering, especially when we know well our own suffering? I do believe that healing and a sense of wholeness, or the ability to be at peace with oneself is the end game for all of us. There is no more rewarding sense than to be at peace with oneself and others along with feeling a genuine love and compassion for all of our sufferings weaknesses. Life is truly hard and we are, each of us, at the deepest level of our being truly alone left to figure it out the best we can. That is, I believe, both a blessing and a curse.
Thank you to The Who for the theme-
You hold the gun and I hold the wound,
And we stand looking in each other’s eyes,
Both think we know what’s right,
Both know we know what’s wrong,
We tell ourselves so many many many lies,
We’re not pawns in any game, we’re not tools of bigger men,
There’s only One who can really move us all,
It all looks fine to the naked eye,
But it don’t really happen that way at all.