Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The World is Now

Well, it's happened.  The End of the World has come and gone.  Dare I say it? We are all still here.

Notwithstanding the possibility that we are all--to a man and including the engineer-cum-prophet who used his fifteen minutes of fame on the Internet to stir up all this fervor in the past couple of weeks--not without sin and therefore all doomed to remain here on Earth, I will take the position that the End of the World is neither nigh nor not possible.  It's somewhere in between.

What would a reasonable person who actually believes in The Rapture have to say about this latest failed prediction?  Of course, it is easy to blame this particular elderly preacher as a false prophet, but such a censure really begs a larger question:  Is there such a thing as a true prophet?  Even larger is the question of what prophecy actually is and why anyone would want to engage in it.

Why, when and where would anyone actually believe the words of a 'prophet'?  Especially these days, when skepticism (can you say birth certificate?) about worldly issues seems to be at an all-time high, who in their right mind would, could fail to doubt the word of a single man concerning the fate of all men?  The faithful?  Really?  Is this a question of faith versus reason?   Or, as the cynics would ask, is the opposite of faith mere folly?

Prophets and the predictions they make faith--even in the profane--seem like folly at best.  For example, we are all frequent critics of the 'Weatherman'.  We happily heap scorn on his predictions of rain, sun and even ice.  To put it bluntly, our faith in Meteorology is anything but steadfast, and for good reason.  A 60% chance of rain just means that 3 out of 5 weathermen agree.  Setting aside our universal absence of faith in the predictions of such mundane matters as rain or shine, the question remains:  Does faith require the suspension of reason?  Is there a reasonable way to believe in any prophecy, let alone an apocalyptical one? This is an old debate, but as recent events demonstrate, apparently it is still relevant.

Some people look at their tea leaves (or coffee grounds) in the morning and read into them the end-of-times.  Some people read into them just another day at the spaceship/office we call Earth.  The real question is whether we see the world as worse-than-it's-ever-been and consequently on the verge of an apocalyptical collapse or whether we see it as the same old world, simply spinning round, the same-as-it-ever-was and on the verge of nothing more dramatic than another day and another night.

On the one hand, the evidence for the end-is-near folks seems to be pretty considerable, what with all the earthquakes and volcanoes and the general malaise generated by the recent economic maelstrom.  It does seem rather calamitous.  On the other hand, it might be argued that this sort of stuff seems to always and naturally occur.  And of course it does.

Prophetic enterprises are built on and embellished by dramatic scenes of death and disaster, especially on a massive scale.  Human drama is entertaining, and massive human drama is even more engaging to the eye and ear.  Consequentially, it is only natural that many people would find the possibility that the end of the world could come on a specific day in our lifetimes to be at least entertaining, if not entirely credible.

Given that entertainment always seems to trump credibility, especially in this case, is it possible for someone to have actually seen this situation for what it was--a publicity stunt at worst and a public embarrassment at best--and yet still believe in the underlying concept of The Rapture?  Or, does believing in the latter preclude the possibility that one could see a charlatan proclaiming the same for what he is?

I think this is likely to be the case, because for the faithful, seeing the emperor naked would require an ironic acknowledgment from them.  A false prophet is allegedly one of the very signs that signal the beginning of the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it.  Don't hold your breath:  acknowledgements of fundamental ironies are not forthcoming from the faithful.

Personally, I don't see any room for reason in the circus tent known as religion, and I'm not just taking pot-shots at Christianity, tempting though this situation has made that possibility.  The whole religious arena--especially now that it is (like porn) the Internet--allows for the performance of the clowns to be taken for that of the Ringmaster Himself.  The result is to be expected: folly.  Now, many good hearted and reasonable people come to the big tent to sweat away their impurities--those inevitable sins--while pretending that so doing is in itself the proof of a good and faithful life.

I believe that there is a third way here. I don't feel compelled to make a false choice between 'doom-and-gloom' and 'whatever'. I see a middle way, one which is actually more commonly adopted than the preternatural fear at the fringes of an admittedly evangelical fundamentalist Christianity or the existential loathing at the edges of supposedly dispassionate reason.  This middle way is not new or undiscovered.  The path is well-worn, and it requires neither Christian anxiety or atheistic apathy to follow it.

It is this from this vantage point--between the two extremes--that we may see and appreciate the world differently than the radicals at the edges.  From here, we can see the world as new each day, full of calamities and virtues both large and small.  From here, we may indeed realize that things--most things--are both good and bad, in some of the places and some of the time.  But not all things, not all places and certainly, not all of the time.

Most of us don't want to disbelieve, we just know better than to make predictions based on little or no evidence.  From painful experience, we know that prophesies both good and bad seldom come true and almost never pay off.  Predictions of doom as well as boom are rightly met with a worldly and weary skepticism.  We are not so weary, however, to think that all predictions are inherently false, just experienced enough to know that things are always changing.  Things won't be--can't be--the same as they always were. Yesterday isn't the same as today.

In fact, for some of us, today is actually better than yesterday.  The number of people for whom this is the case is certain to be small when compared, say, with the number of people alive (or who have lived) but I will argue that that number is both significant and growing.  I, for one, am still optimistic.

If anything is 'as it ever was', it is this.  The line that describes us--people, humans, souls--is an upward bending arc, always changing and potentially, without end.

So no, the world is not about to end.  And no, it's not the same as it ever was.  The world is now.  It is new.  And it's a great time to be here.

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