in most developed countries are utterly flabbergasted
to learn that evolution is controversial in the
United States. They think -- at first -- that the
controversy lies in scientific debate over the
exact mechanisms of evolution, or the course taken
that led from one species to another. Although,
they reason, with our knowledge of DNA and the
functions of the genes becoming ever more exact,
there are less gaps in our store of knowledge
to debate over.
these folks ask, why is debate increasing in the
where the flabbergasting comes in. In the US,
the debate is over whether evolution occurred
at ALL, and there are a good 30% of the population
who not only completely reject the idea of evolution,
but stridently demand that evolution be taught
on an equal footing with amazing fairy tales about
great world wide floods and an account of creation
that not only contradicts all scientific knowledge,
but even itself (the bible has two contradictory
accounts of creation). There is a large chunk
of the population that believes the earth stopped
rotating for 36 hours during the battle of Jericho,
or that representatives of every species on earth
were crammed into a boat sixty feet long, and
(for the sake of creation science) that dinosaurs
and humans once cohabited the planet.
really. About 30% of Americans run around believing
stuff like this. They're serious. Some of them
want to change what's taught in schools to mesh
with these notions.
best selling books on the fiction lists over the
past 7 years or so are the "Left Behind" series,
which purport to be a "fictionalized but realistic"
account of the Rapture, the End of Days, when
all good Christians go to heaven and the rest
of us have to stay put and deal with the IRS,
TV commercials, Britney Spears and all the rest
of Satan's imps. It's all based on the book of
Revelation, the final book of the bible written
by St. John the Seriously Stoned, who acts as
a reminder that magic mushrooms grow on the Greek
island of Patmos.
problem is that Revelation, like most such mystical
babble, says pretty much whatever you want to
interpret it to say. And for 1500 years or so,
nobody interpreted it in any way similar to the
"Left Behind" series. But then, according to a
book just out by Lutheran Minister Barbara R.
Rossing (The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope
in the Book of Revelation, Westview), a girl in
Scotland in 1830 had a series of "visions" (barely
pubescent girls and religious mania sometimes
combine like that, usually with unfortunate results)
and a preacher named Darby elaborated on them,
inventing different epochs with different rules
to mask over the general incoherence of the girl's
vision. Rossing concludes, "The Rapture is a racket."
prophecy is utter drivel. As Parke Godwin once
put it, "Christians have been waiting 2,000 years
for the other shoe to drop" and in the meantime
have been busy inventing endless rationales as
to why it hasn't happened yet, despite all the
"wars and rumors of wars" and countless other
"signs" that are a normal part of the human condition,
and of course, simultaneously explaining why it's
going to go ahead and happen any day now.
one point all the thousands of such prognostications
had in common is that none of them were worth
anything. In fact, the bible itself debunks all
efforts of prognostication in advance, not only
saying "no man may know the hour or the day,"
but even Christianity's central figure, Jesus,
made it clear that he expected the Big Wrap-Up
to occur in the lifetimes of his audience, so
no later than 100 AD. I don't guess that happened.
the doomsday prophecies are reasonably harmless.
A small group of people hole up somewhere for
the rapture, and when it doesn't happen, they
just figure their leader made a mistake in the
arithmetic, and most go right on believing. Sometimes
the leader convinces his followers that the way
to not get left behind is by signing everything
they own over to the leader, and come the day
of reckoning, the group finds that they got left
behind in a different sort of way. Unusual events
can trigger it in individuals: a few years ago,
we had an unusual display of northern lights,
and one woman went howling out into the street,
convinced the End was Nigh. Fortunately, friends
and relatives corralled her before she could hurt
herself and she got over it.
you get suicide cults, such as at Jonestown, or
Waco, or the flying saucer people in San Diego.
These tend to clump around "odometer moments"
where the year or an anniversary of some other
event tends to have two or three zeros at the
end, and the millennia years tend to bring about
many predictions of doom, doom! I say. The most
famous one in the last millennium showed that
such nuttery isn't the sole province of religion,
as thousands sold their homes and headed for the
hills to wait out the fall of civilization caused
entire nations succumb to such madness. The Zulu
Nation committed mass suicide charging Enfield
rifles with nothing more than spears on the word
of a young girl that a vision had told her the
Zulus would win. They didn't. The French fought
the English based on visions from a young girl,
Joan of Arc, and actually won, driving the English
out of France. Then, showing remarkable wisdom,
they burned Joan of Arc at the stake, since the
only thing worse than a prophet of doom is a prophet
of doom who is correct. Look up the story of Cassandra
(another young girl -- perhaps we need to start
putting masking tape over their mouths when they
turn 10 or so). Religious nuts with a vision can
wreak remarkable damage, as in the case of Innocent
III, Rasputin, or Pol Pot (communism became a
secular religion). Some, such as Cromwell, even
had good intentions in the beginning, and became
exasperated when people remained blind to God's
will. Unfortunately, that particular type of exasperation
comes readily to theocracies, and usually means
lots of dead people strewn about the countryside.
It did then, it does now. And of course, claiming
religious vision is a province of nearly every
dictator in history. Hitler furnishes us with
any number of quotes about how he was performing
Rapture gained traction in America in 1970 (per
Rossing) when Hal Linsey wrote "The Late, Great
Planet Earth". She wryly notes that Lindsey has
had to revise his prophecies in subsequent editions
as both the Soviets and the Red Chinese became
less credible antichrists. Now it's Islam that
is the antichrist. Maybe next week it will be
the New York Yankees, who would have had my vote
of which would have meant much more than society
having another crackpot special interest group
for unscrupulous politicians to pander to and
manipulate in the normal course of events. But
this is America, where large percentages of the
population believe in UFOs, that Elvis lives,
and that Saddam was involved in 9/11. Having a
large population of ignorant and gullible is a
drawback to begin with, but we are in a culture
inculcated to believe ignorance is just part of
being a good neighbor, and gullibility is a sign
that you have an open mind.
an administration that is willing to exploit the
Rapture crowd as a source of cheap votes is just
one of those things you expect in a Democracy.
Reagan used them to his advantage, and then spent
the next eight years promising them everything
they wanted while making sure the country wasn't
ruined by them actually collecting on the promise.
we have now is something worse. Paul Wolfowitz
and Dick Cheney believe in the Rapture -- they
even had some crackpot come in and lecture astounded
Pentagon chiefs on Bible codes -- the notion that
the placement of words in the Bible signified
strategy for the military to follow in the 21st
century. Condi Rice believes in the Rapture, and,
along with Karl Rove, has worked strenuously to
convince Putsch that only an Israel that controlled
all of its supposed ancestral lands -- much of
the middle east, including Baghdad -- was what
would be needed to take Condi up to heaven.
he believes in the Rapture nonsense. The rest
of the crackpots in the administration couldn't
be doing what they're doing if he didn't.
foreign policy is in the hands of people who are
seeking the end of the world in order to hurry
their personal salvation.
leaves the question: in a potential second term,
would Putsch encourage a nuclear war in order
to kind of hurry his ascension along?
Posted: April 26, 2004