TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF A SENSELESS WORLD

 

Scriptures:  Philippians 2.5-9; 3.7-11; John 1.1-18; Romans 1.10ff.; II Corinthians 10.4 (bringing every thought captive); Colossians 1.15-20; (through Him all things hold together); (God addresses the meaningless world through the Crib, the Cross, and the Crown).

 

                                 It is in our Lord’s incarnation that God breaks into our meaningless world.  The incarnation is midway between creation and consummation.  Our Post Modern dilemma in view of September 11, 2001, is the culture of which we are a part.  It denies all three of these fundamental, foundational claims--Creation, Incarnation and Consummation.  Our plight is expressed by Robert Funk, who is  nothing if not candid about the “problem” that Jesus poses for those whose belief in creation or eschatology has disappeared:

 

                                 To put the matter bluntly, we are having as much trouble with the middle, the Messiah, as we are with the terminal points.  What we need is a new fiction that takes as its starting point the central event of the Judaeo-Christian drama and reconciles that middle with a new story that reaches beyond old beginnings and endings. (Luke Johnson’s, The Real Jesus (Harper, 1996).

 

                                 C.S. Lewis brilliantly describes our dilemma:  “As a Christian I take it for granted that human history will some day end; and I am offering Omniscience no advice as to the best date for that consummation.”  (C.S. Lewis, “Is Progress Possible?” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1970, p. 312)

 

                                 Throughout history men and women have tried to predict how and when this will happen.  With a bang?  With a whimper?  In fire?  In ice?  Humans have been wondering about the end of the world since the beginning.

 

                                 Doomsday--the End of the World--has had a worldwide preoccupation through the centuries.  The Doomsday narrative ranges from Greek Mythology to Noah, Augustine, Nostradamus (“celestial science”) to William Miller to the gurus of The New Age.  One millennium beyond the New Testament period, we find a powerful example of the end of the first millennium.  The Time--New Year’s Eve, A.D. 999.  The Place--St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The Star--the brilliant scientist Gerbert of Auriblac, now decked in full papal regalia as Pope Sylvester, II.  the Action--Midnight Mass.  The Setting and Audience--A standing room only congregation packed the cathedral.  But the trembling, weeping faithful are not standing--they are all down on their knees or prostrate in prayers, their arms spread in the shape of a cross; the Holy Father elevates the host. . .this was the final hour, the beginning of the day of Weath, “the nightfall of the universe,” the fateful and dreaded eve of the turn of the millennium, when the earth would dissolve into ashes.

 

                                 Outside, anxious crowds flooded the streets.  Church bells rung out, as most thought it would not be a New Year but history’s finale.  And in Jerusalem, thousands of pilgrims mulled about hysterically, flocking to the spot where they expected Jesus to descend from the heavens.  They, too, were waiting for “the End!”  History is lined with the flurry of “end time fever.”  Various authors have called it a time of “dark omens,” “mass panic,” “dread and terror,” and a “doomsday explosion.”  As the odometer of Western history approached its third millennium, the entire earth seemed to be seized by “preapocalyptic shivers.”

                                 The framework of each millennium calls forth an epidemic of literature regarding end times.  The apocalyptic mill runs long to produce food for cultural anxiety and despair.  We witness cycles of hurricanes and earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars, terrorist bombings (September 11, 2001) of the World Trade Center, The Pentagon and attempts on the White House.  What are some turning points in the 20th century?  (1) Liberal Inevitability of Progress, (2) Perfectibility of Man, (3) the Inherent Goodness of Man, (4) Ultimate Reality of Nature, (5) in 1914 we entered World War I, the war to end all wars, (6) the Roaring 20’s, the period of the Great Gatsby, prohibition, Al Capone and the FBI (John Edgar Hoover, Eliot Ness, crime warriors.  Then in 1929 the greatest economic collapse in American history sent Americans into a great recession and a period of great depression, despair and anxiety (e.g. movie examples such as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Grapes of Wrath).  Then came Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radical move into Socialism and a resurgence of Communism.  There was an apocalyptic outcry in the form of Premillennial Dispensationalism and an outbreak of “End Times” charts and prophecy conferences (preoccupation with Daniel, Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation)

 

                                 We have at the turning of each millennium lived on the brink of Apocalypse, interpreting the Signs and Omens of radical social upheaval.  The battle of Armageddon has loomed large at every millennium (see especially Norman Cohen’s, the Pursuit of The Millennium (Oxford University Press, pub. 1970); Michael J. St. Clair, Millennium Movements in Historical Context (NY: Garland Press, 1992); Russell Chandler’s, Doomsday: The End of The World (A View Through Time) (Servant Pub., 1993); Richard A. Swenson (M.D.) Hurtling Toward Oblivion: A Logical Argument of The End of The Age (Now Press, 1999); H. van Riessen, The Society of The Future (Baker Books, and my essay, “Post Modern Science and Eschatology.”)

 

                                 In the context of the constant outbreak of Apocalyptic preoccupation was a constant flow of Utopian counterfeits.  The Utopians are driven by homesickness for the lost paradise and long for a new earth.  These Utopian dreams can never be fulfilled because they never consider sin and the fall.  Utopians can never see the light of Golgotha whose rays penetrate through time, conflict and death and illuminate the new earth where death and sorrow, weeping and pain shall be no more (Revelation 21.4).

 

                                 Utopianism is expressed by Plato (423-346 B.C.) in his book The Republic, which is a philosophical work of strict logical design.  Plato’s object is to construct a theory of justice.  His practical conception is that justice implies that the just man is happy and happiness is profitable and useful. From this vantage point, Plato develops his view of the State.  The criteria of happiness, profit, and justice are now exclusively established by the community, by the state.  Plato’s view maintains that this communal life can be obtained through human power, which is the control organization of society.   Life is not to be redeemed by the Messiah, but by man; thus education of the elite class is crucial.

 

                                 Thomas More’s (1478-1535) novel Utopia (1516) and Erasmus are two of the most important representatives of English humanism. Sir Thomas refused to acknowledge Henry VIII’s forced break with Rome and was executed (beheaded) for treason.

 

                                 In More’s Utopia, “no man is an island.”  The first part of his work is a criticism of the society of his day.  The second part is the portrait of a perfect communal life on an imagined island visited for five years by a seaman, the narrator of the story.  The island is composed of perfect cities, each built around markets, streets, and houses that are all alike.  Dress is simple and uniform, meals are prepared in common dining halls.  The only differences are in the sexes and marriage.  Every necessity can be obtained at the market without money.  More’s Utopia is the demise of private ownership and expands the process of collectivism and equalization (e.g. More’s Utopia is different from Plato’s in that family life remains intact).  (Too often the Utopians assert that the abolition of private property conforms to the situation in the first Christian Church (Acts 4-5).  More’s division of labor and his classes correspond somewhat to Plato.  There is no warrior class because there is no need for one!

 

                                 One hundred years after Utopia, The New Atlantis was written by Francis Bacon (1561-1626).  Bacon became Lord Chancellor under King James.  Charged with bribery, he was deprived of this office.  Bacon’s use of new scientific induction placed him in good standing with those creators of “Novem nature science.”  Bacon’s new approach was based solely in science and technique, based on facts devoid of speculations as the means to deliver humanity from its troubles and miseries.  The perfection of their purity makes life on the Pacific Island idyllic.  Christ had visited the islanders and their simple lives continued to express His presence.

 

                                 With the increasing success of science, the inclination grew stronger to realize the Utopia in practical life on the eve of the French Revolution, the antithesis between the scientific ideal concerning the anticipation of the future and the Christian faith.  Faith in omnipotent science did not find undivided support within the camp of humanism.  Rousseau (1712-1778) emphatically denied that it is wholesome for humanity and pointed the way back to the freedom of nature after the French Revolution.  The Utopian Saint Simon declared that dogmatic Christianity must give way to a social Christianity (e.g. Fourier (1772-1837).  The Englishman, Robert Owen (1771-1858), established a socialist community in England (see the Campbell/Owen Debate).  Robert Owen established a communistic fellowship in America following in the footsteps of More and Rousseau.  The fellowship continued until the year 1895.  These scientific socialists replaced the fantasy of Utopianism with scientific evidence.  Proudhon (1809-1865), who stated that “ownership is theft,” ended in anarchistic individualism.  Karl Marx (1818-1883) sought to ground the new Utopian society on scientific evidence (historical materialism). 

 

                                 Sorel continued Marx’s enmity against Christianity and against all other religions as “an opiate for the people.”  From the Middle Ages on the authority of The Church decreased and the authority of science has increased.  The humanistic creed passed through Marx and Darwin and God’s Creation, Incarnation, Consummation  continually grows suspect.

 

                                 The truth of sin and grace is the Achilles heel of all Utopias from Plato, More, Bellamy (1850-1896, Looking Backward, 1887), Marx, and Darwin and all forms of Post Modern Humanism.  The Twentieth Century Utopian efforts fare no better.  From Nietzsche’s influence to Orwell’s imaginary society (Animal Farm) to Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, 1932.   The story begins with a conducted tour through the conditioning center (e.g. B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning, Outcome Based Education) whose gable is emblazoned with the motto of the New World State: Community, Identity, Stability, children are here manufactured by artificial insemination and controlled by the growth of the cells, control of environment and elimination of disease.  But death comes to the Utopia and a small number of people suffice for planned reproduction.  Humanity can be divided into five accurately controlled varieties: Alpha, Beta, Gammas, Deltas and Episilons.  Every battle containing an ovum is so labelled after treatment that all information of social importance is recorded.  A child’s education is totally controlled from birth to death.  Huxley’s future vision is unrealistic.  Orwell’s understanding of future communities surpass Huxley.  Orwell’s 1984 also fails to answer the question--What Is The Meaning of My Existence???  Even mass man cannot avoid this fatal query!  (The “Happy Society,” and the “Welfare State” are all Utopian counterfeits) The control of procreation, education and environment cannot be accomplished by selfish humanistic utopia.  As always, freedom is sacrificed for happiness.  (Our world of September 11, 2001, Terrorism and Left Wing response to the government’s retaliation as a violation of human rights, government checks on all Arab students in the United States, 19 Arabs on student visas were involved in the 9.11 attack.  This tyranny of power is expressed by the rebellious Jihad gravediggers of Western Civilization!  The Brave New World of the 21st Century!!)

 

                                 Is our world spinning out of control and approaching a threshold of lethargy?  Are we on irreversible trends heading toward a cataclysmic outcome?          If this is even remotely the state of affairs, our Post Modern 21st Century is unbelievable.  What are Christians to make of the Doomsday prophecy?  As long ago as 1972, British scientist John Maddox warned against the scientific gloom of authors such as Paul Erlich, Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner (John Maddox, The Doomsday Syndrome (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1972, p. 3)

 

                                 Why the world all around us doesn’t seem to be in such a rapid decline to destruction.  The sky hasn’t fallen yet.  It doesn’t even appear to be sagging.  Why all this concern about the last days in the history of the world?  (See esp. Bruce Page, “Analyzing The Future” in Living in The Future by Isaac Asimov, ed., (NY: Bearefoot Books, 1985, p. 18.) In such a crisis situation, we might have several hesitations:  (1) Redundancy, (2) Counter Productive, (3) Scepticism, (4) Date Setting, (5) Emotionalism, (6) Overreacting, (7) Optimism/Pessimism, (8) Sensationalism, (9) Hysteria brings notoriety, a tabloid kind of success.

 

                                 Knowledge of a faulty O-ring and failure to alert NASA about the impending Challenger explosion would be irresponsible, living between fear of controversy and a denial syndrome.  What if you had knowledge of the potential disaster of the Millennium Bug (Y2K) but didn’t want to alarm institutions, corporation and governments?  What if we knew that the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but did nothing about it?  What if the FBI had knowledge of the destruction on September 11 and did nothing?

 

                                 In any critical medical evaluation, the truth of symptoms is imperative; misdiagnosis could be lethal to the patient.  Symptoms must be accounted for.  Precise, informed diagnosis is crucial for correct prognosis.  Sooner or latter neurotics and hypochondriacs die.  Any detailed analysis of a Doomsday scenario will be understandably controversial, for concern for our Post Modern situation must not seek hysteria or marketing sensationalism, in view of the freedom of the press. 

 

                                 A prophet from another age, Samuel Johnson, declared that if someone is aware of his or her immanent hanging that very day, the mind is marvellously focused.  Is our global Titanic nearing a cosmic Iceberg?  Surely we would want to know!  “It is the business of the future to be dangerous” (Alfred North Whitehead).  Alfred Kazin, the late journalist, wrote, “What has not remained anywhere is the “Utopian” drive and confidence in the future that sparked the early 20th century.” (“Cry the Beloved Country”, Forbes 75th Anniversary Issue, 14 September 1992, p. 140)

 

WHOSE FUTURE IS IT ANYWAY?

 

                                 Our Post Modern awareness of nuclearization was presented in an epidemic of science fictions, which promised a glorious technological future.  All of Hollywood’s science fictional movies were utopian.  The table has turned from utopia to apocalyptic.  This is the first age in over a century that has paid attention to the future.  “Since 1945 it began to be feasible to end life on this planet”  (Michael Gross, quoted by Richard Kale, The Last Days Are Here Again: A History of End Times (Baker, 1998, p. 191).  As we turned into a new millennium spectacular predictions have appeared in four enormous productions from astrologers and occultists.  The world’s dramatically increased population, threat of pollution and environmental changes related to escalating global economics and political volatility, especially in the Middle East, and the September 11th invasion of Islamic Jihad and the escalating conflict in Afghanistan!

 

                                 Let us take a brief trek back two centuries to Thomas Malthus’ salvo of scientific doomsday prophecy with his publication of Essay On The Principle of Population.  Malthus discovered a mathematical mismatch between population growth, which was geometric, and the growth of food supply, which was linear.  His 1798 prediction of global starvation was never fulfilled.  From the Enlightenment forward, humankind could deal with all problems without any reference to God.  The 17th century was preoccupied with True Truth, the 18th century was interested in Nature; the 19th century was interested in History; the 20th century was enamoured by Language; and the 21st century is back to Doomsday Scenario.  (1) World Hunger and over-population, (2) Ecocatastrophe, (3) Infectious Diseases, and (4) Weapons of mass destruction.  There is an enormous body of literature that represents Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Camus, Satre, Sagan, Mead and a host of other lesser prophets of Doomsday despair.  In Toffler’s Third Wave (1984) and his journal, the Futurist, he prophecies that upheavals, turbulence, widespread violence, or terrorism will not destroy humanity.  Perhaps not, but not for the reasons proposed by most secularistic gurus which occupy academically tenured chairs.  They are most often rebels without a cause.

 

                                 William Strauss and Neil Howe in his book, The Fourth Turning, believes strongly that The Fourth Turning could mark the end of men.  It could be a total Armageddon, destroying everything, leaving nothing.  But the never failing left wing optimism of Strauss and Howe assent that such a destructive conclusion is not likely (the Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (NY Broadway Books, 1997, p. 6; compare this literature with C.S. Lewis’, The World’s Last Night (NY: Harcourt Brace, Javonovich, 1960, pps 100-101).

 

                                 Beyond the secular scientific “end of the age” theories almost all Occult, Cult and Astrology groups have a view of The Future and The End of The Age, e.g. Howard Furness, Ruth Montgomery, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ed Cayce and resurgence of Nostradamus.  Even though Jesus warned against setting specific dates for His return.  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Song, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”  (Mark 13.32-33)

 

 

FROM UTOPIA TO APOCALYPTIC: END TIMES IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

 

                                 Ecocatastrophe has become a favorite theme in science fiction, with disasters of human causes now predominating over the natural variety by a margin of about two to one.  H.G. Wells presents an early version of science fiction in The Shape of Things To Come (1934).  This classic work depicts the thirty-year war that reduced the world to barbarism.  More recent examples include Nevil Schute, On The Beach, Peter George’s Two Hours to Doom, filmed as Stanley Kubrick’s black cinema Dr. Strange Love, Star Wars, Star Trek series, The Towering Inferno, Airport, The Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Blade Runner, Terminator, Judgment Day and Frank Perreti’s best seller, The Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, Prophet (cf. premillennial/dispensational). 

 

                                 The secular futuristic work of Herman Kahn, The Year 2000 (1967) was an alarm sounding doomsday like warnings of dangers and disasters.  Ecodoomsayer Paul Ehrlich, pointed to 2000 as a crucial year for earth and its inhabitants.  The extension of this phenomena continues in gurus of astronomy and New Age Movement are also making predictions (see esp. T. Daniels, in a religious news service that contains “Millennial Watch.”

 

                                 All Messianic prophets of doom can be dismissed as Christ said that He would come in the night, so Be Ready!  Jesus said that the enemy is Satan.  The field is the world, and the harvest is the end of the age.  God’s new creation is nothing less than God’s plan for the universe and history brought to its final consummation.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  (Matthew 13. 24-30, 36-43)  Culturally, after September 11, 2001, we have gone from Future Shock to Future Schlock!  Why are so many fatally attracted to doomsday scenarios?

 

                                 History, like God’s act of creation of the world, expresses a trajectory, a progression, a path of development: the day of creation is balanced by a day of “termination,” a single idea stretches “from eternity to eternity.”  There is purpose and meaning in the cosmos.  Creation, Incarnation, and Consummation of the cosmos has God’s finger prints on them.  “The End of the World makes manifest the end of the world.”  (Otto Friedrich, the End of The World: A History (NY: Coward and McCann, 1982), p. 12.)

 

James D. Strauss

Professor Emeritus

Lincoln, IL 62656