On Recent Events And Apocalyptic Thinking

When ‘Brexit’ was happening, and now Mr. Trump is sure to become ‘President Trump’ I noticed a lot of posts on Facebook, and I put one up too thinking that ‘We live in Apocalyptic times.’

Then during Advent, I read this quote from John McKenzie* It ran
“ Apocalypse is the cry of the helpless, who are borne passively by events which they cannot influence, much less control. The cry of the helpless is often vindictive, expressing impotent rage at reality. Apocalyptic rage is a flight from reality, a plea to god to fulfil their wishes and prove them right and the other wrong. Apocalyptic believers could hardly think that the saying ‘Go, make disciples of of all nations,’ was addressed to them. Had Apocalyptic believers dominated the Church since the first century, there would have been no missions to unbelievers, no schools, no hospitals, no orphanages, no almsgiving. The helpless cannot afford to think of such enterprises, they can only await the act of God, and then complain because that act is so long delayed. The gospels and epistles rather tell the believers that they are the act of God.‘

This started me thinking that the actions of the people who voted for ‘Brexit’ and for Mr. Trump were of that kind of Apocalyptic vindictiveness. It is just so true that all those people who have suffered because of the closure of industry and manufacturing everywhere have been neglected by government. It certainly looks true that in these circumstances, as it is with the ‘get tough on crime’ lot, that the vindictiveness that McKenzie attributes to those who feel helpless is coming to the foreground.

It is also true that those who want to gain office on the back of this helplessness appeal to this vindictiveness as their route to power. The logic goes “You are feeling left out! You blame the migrants who are taking your jobs? Well so do I! W will ‘make America (Australia) great again’ by doing what you want!’ I think this is why many US Christians voted for Mr. Trump: because of the implicit Apocalyptic mindset of a lot of conservative Christianity. “Lets blow them all up and start again so that we can be ‘pure’ and not have to deal with the complexities of the world we have created.!”

But the problem is that there is no ‘quick fix’ to this kind of problem. When President Obama was elected, it happened on a wave of ‘Hope’ and ‘Yes we can’. But with the congress and senate, it turned out that with many things ‘no he couldn’t’. Early on in his presidency I heard the phrase ‘One campaigns in poetry, and governs in prose.’

This is true of Australia too. I think people are too hard on politicians, because they want an Apocalyptic solution to our problems and don’t see that politics is about negotiation. Our present Prime Minister might not be the one to address our fundamental issues, but that is a different matter.

There are other biblical images that can guide our thinking. At the end of the Noah story, for example, God, knowing that people are still going to be sinful, promises none the less, that he will never again adopt an apocalyptic ‘destroy them all and start again’ strategy. The rainbow ought to be a sign to us all to avoid such a strategy ourselves.

And then there is Jeremiah. In the face of the immanent destruction of Jerusalem, he goes and buys a plot of land just to the north. He is expressing his hope for god’s future by doing one small thing which is a concrete act of hope, rather than giving up and leaving it all to God.
Luther is reported to have said ‘It may be that the world will go to pieces tomorrow, but I would still plant a tree today.”

And in our own time Bonhoeffer wrote these words from prison. “…Some Christians think it impious for anyone to hope and prepare for a better earthly future. They think that the meaning of present events is chaos, disorder, and catastrophe; and in resignation or pious escapism they surrender all responsibility for reconstruction and for future generations. It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future.”

So say we abandon the apocalyptic imagery of helplessness and hang onto the more prosaic images of hope and concrete action, what do I say then to all those who are apocalyptically vindictive about what should happen?

Well here is my best shot. First of all, I do not think that we can stop globalisation. Technology just makes us into a global village. Just as from the middle of the 19th century a new form of ‘us’ developed from tribes into nations, so now I think that ‘nations’ are developing into a global system. This is why Europe is such a good idea: it has stopped the precious centuries of constant warfare on that continent. So globalisation can’t be stopped.

But there are losers. The working classes of the western developed economies are losing at the expense of the rising middle classes of Asia. What surprises me about most governments, but especially right wing ones of what ever ‘name’ is that they are incapable of criticising the world of business and fiancé that is responsible for the worst excesses of Capitalism, while punishing the poor, and those who are most affected by the changes brought about by globalisation.

So why not work toward this: first, global changes require global answers. So in response to the worst excesses of tax avoidance and obscenely large salaries, why do governments not say to the people “OK! We will make it a priority to develop international organisations and instruments to make it impossible for companies to avoid tax and to keep on increasing the inequality between rich and poor. To do nothing here will lead us to revolution and we don’t want hat!.” Policy number one.

But then they should stop punishing those who are affected! Using the increased revenue from a better tax system, this money should be applied directly to those suffering because of globalisation. It is beyond me that in times of rapid change, when having several careers is the norm, governments make it impossible to retrain via the costs of Education and other rules. I think it would be a good policy to say “We will have a scheme that allows everyone who can show hat they are affected by global changes to retrain, or relocate for free. I think that it is better to tolerate some corruption among the poor who will defraud welfare, than it is to tolerate corruption among the rich who don’t need the money. That is policy number two.

I think that these things would go some way toward reducing the vengefulness of those who are thinking and acing in apocalyptic ways.

* McKenzie, John L. “The New Testament Without Illusion”, 1982, Crossroad Publishing Company

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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