May 21, 2011

Quote for the day, if we're still alive

Apparently today was supposed to be the end of the world.  Here's something to celebrate.

"I am not contemptuous of the ancient world. It was not a stupid world. My point is that its consciousness was completely different from ours. It is a gigantic error to think that you can transplant their concepts into a life in our world, into a consciousness that has experienced Darwin and Freud and the Industrial Revolution, comparative religion and psychological analysis, research into the nature of dreams and cults and visions and hypnosis, stars and myths and ancient documents, anthropology and quantum physics; a world that knows about closed self-justifying logic, and the conjuring tricks of Indian gurus, and the manipulative methods of cult recruitment and the de-programming of its victims; a world that tries to develop sophisticated techniques for understanding and treating schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders, instead of putting spit on their eyes and exorcising demons.

It just can not be good enough any more to uncritically accept and believe what was written and taught by people in another type of world. And yet the convictions persist, for example about the supposed "prophecies" in the Bible. In the early 1980's I heard a Christadelphian saying that Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War were all in the Book of Revelation, that it was another sign of the coming of the last times, when Jesus would come again. In the 1960's they were saying it about Vietnam, and in the 1990's they were probably saying it about Bosnia or Kosovo.

You can only entertain such speculations if you have been insufficiently educated by your own culture, or otherwise you would be aware that history is littered with apocalyptic hysteria, with scores of generations one after the other all believing that theirs was the one, this time He would come back and the Kingdom of God would arrive in their lifetime. The Jehovah's Witnesses said it in World War I, and our great-grandfathers and ancestors were hearing about these "prophecies" applying to the Boer War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Seven Years War, etc.

19th century North America was full of it. The Adventists predicted the Second Coming for 1843. The Christadelphians started there, and at the time you would never have been able to convince one of them that the world would last long enough even to reach the 1980's.

I think it is a tragedy that people are weak enough to continue needing to believe such things, or to believe that they can not have worthwhile lives, expressing values and solving problems, unless they also have a foundation of amazing superstitions "explaining" what it all "means". Imagine discovering the diary of a Naval Officer written in the 1750's, when the English and the French were at each other's throats, and thinking that its words and concepts were deliberately phrased so that you could relate it to political activity in the European Community today; or claiming that because it referred to battle and conflict, it foretold something about World War II, or that a reference to a ship could be interpreted as a reference to the space capsule that took Neil Armstrong to the Moon. Or imagine the Church insisting that the 153 fish mentioned at John 21.11 was a prophecy of the 153 movies actually made by the American actor John Wayne nineteen hundred years later, clearly indicating the prophetic foresight of the Gospel writer, who must somehow have known that, in one of those very movies, Wayne would play the Centurion on Calvary who attested to the divinity of Christ. This is as valid as other fulfillments of Biblical prophecy. Perhaps I should start my own cult.

I once had a conversation with a fundamentalist about the Second Coming and the general resurrection. I objected that this had been expected before, and that no matter how long you wait you can never disprove this doctrine. I think he was expecting it to happen by 2000. He knew it had been expected before the year 1000. I asked, might it happen by 3000, and he agreed that it may indeed not have happened before then. I asked, how long would God expect people to wait? Might it not have happened by the year 7000? He thought this unlikely. It's a shame I can't put any money on it as we won't be around to see." --Graham Lawrence, "The Fallible Gospels," from a website which is no longer up or I would link.


  1. I was just happy to see Americans reaching out to each other, binding together in bipartisan, multicultural unity to make fun of some unfortunate morons for a few days. It felt like we were all watching together in excited anticipation as the village idiot sat on his porch, gear in hand, waiting for his father to pick him up for that fishing trip promised for his birthday 10 years ago. As the sun finally sets, and he stands to go back inside, we get to pat him on the head and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry Tommy. Maybe next year."

    It's a fun little thing we get to do every 15 years now. I hope Camping can stay around long enough for the next prophecy.

  2. He's getting pretty old, but I reckon someone will come along to take his place. It's a rare one that's got $100 million to spend on advertising though.