We all want to hear the trumpets sound;
We all want the dead to leave the ground;
On the last day
(With flesh uncorrupted);
God’s on His way
The Earth’s interrupted
And all that was lost is now found.
We all want the Calendar to stop;
We all want to fight at Ragnarok;
To go down in war
All things before
Now have validation
And so halts that damn ticking clock.
We all want for history to cease;
We all want a chance for lasting peace;
Future looks grand
But we’re microscopic
So let’s let it end
And let’s change the topic
And God grant us blessed release.
[I’ve always been fascinated by eschatology–that’s “the branch of theology concerned with events leading up to the end of the world,” for those of you not in the know. More particularly, I’m fascinated by why other people are fascinated by eschatology. Preoccupation with the end of the world is hardly anything new; even a cursory glance at the history of the middle ages, for example, will show that the masses interpreted practically every political event as a sign of the End Times with the predictable regularity of a bad farce; but to me it seems that such concerns have now come to the for in a way that has been unprecedented in recent history; American politics, for example, have come to be dominated (or at least heavily influenced) by a frighteningly large group of people who are utterly convinced that the Biblical end of the world will occur within their lifetime, and don’t even get me started on those Mayan-Calendar types.
So what provokes these feelings? Is it lingering sentiment among those who spent the 1990s gearing-up for the millennium only to have nothing happen? Is it the sociological anxiety of having technologies which actually could end the world as we know it (namely through nuclear war or runaway global warming) bleeding through into the religious sphere, or popular misery at the recent downturn in the economy? Maybe these things have contributed to the recent rise in apocalyptic sentiment, but I suspect that it’s origins lie in something more fundamental, namely this: If history is finite (that is to see, it reaches an end at some point), then everything that we do matters in the grand scheme of things; if, however, history lasts forever, then everything that we do eventually fades to insignificance. Thus, hoping for the end of the world is perversely rooted in hopes for individual immortality.
Take, for example, all of the recent apocalyptic foo-faw surrounding the prospect of a war between the USA and Iran. People who believe that this would be the battle of the end times would be well advised to look back and see that people said exactly the same thing about the Holy Roman Empire’s crusade against the Ayyubid dynasty in the twelfth century; they may also take note of the fact that neither the HRE nor the Ayyubids still exist, and everyone who was around to see them has long since died. With this in mind, the war seems less like something that will fundamentally alter the course of history, and more like just another war to be added onto the scrap heap of wars dating back to remotest prehistory, fought by an uncountable number of nameless, forgotten soldiers for the sake of what will ultimately prove to be an uncountable number of nameless, forgotten countries. By claiming, however, that this war would have some sort of Biblical significance, and would ultimately be the end to everything, it is enobled, and the decisions made today are lent the illusion of significance in the grand scheme of things.
This too is why the single most depressing fate that anyone can imagine is the Heat Death of the Universe. What, in this context, could reasonably be more terrifying than the idea of a world which never has a proper death, or even rebirth, but which just…keeps…existing…until the galaxies themslelves are ripped apart by the expansion of the universe and all the stars in the night sky are dead?