Two Visions of the Apocalypse

Today when I got out of work the weather had taken a turn to sunny and warm. I have a brand new sun dress, and anyway, the world is due to end today. So I’m wearing it.

Strangely enough, I think I heard the end of the world prophet, Harold Camping, on Family Radio about a month ago while driving through the Bershires on my way to a conference organized by a witch named Starhawk. I was scanning stations, and tuned into an elderly man preaching on the Rapture. I listened for a while before finding NPR.

Today Family Radio is silent, perhaps the staff was Raptured…

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – With no sign his forecast of Judgment Day arriving on Saturday has come true, the 89-year-old California evangelical broadcaster and former civil engineer behind the pronouncement seemed to have gone silent.

Family Radio, the Christian stations network headed by Harold Camping which had spread his message of an approaching doomsday, was on Saturday playing recorded church music and devotional messages unrelated to the apocalypse

Oh well.

When I got to the conference, Starhawk was running classes on permaculture, a philosophy of building local, sustainable systems. She wrote a novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, that deals with a society in the ruins of ecological collapse. Here is an excerpt from an address she gave after doing volunteer work in New Orleans…

There’s a Native American proverb that goes, “If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to end up where we’re headed.” Where we’re headed, without a major, fast, global shift in our technology, our means of food production, our economics and our values, is a world of multiple Katrinas, intensified storms, rising seas, drowned coastal cities, drought, famine and the wars that come in their wake.

We still have a small window of time to avoid that fate, and we have the knowledge we need to do it. I believe we bear a special responsibility, those of us who love the Goddess, who honor the sacredness of life, who draw our sense of renewal and our vitality from contact with the elements and the natural world. We belong in the forefront of the movement to heal our damaged earth, to learn the skills and tools for doing so, and to agitate for the public policies to put those skills to work. There’s no more vital work we can do at this moment in history.

This week, author Junot Diaz was interviewed on NPR. He spoke compassionately about the popularity of end of the world beliefs– about a general uneasiness about the changes we see and the fear of what lies ahead…

Apocalyptic catastrophes don’t just raze cities and drown coastlines; these events, in David Brooks’s words, “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” And, equally important, they allow us insight into the conditions that led to the catastrophe, whether we are talking about Haiti or Japan. (I do believe the tsunami-earthquake that ravaged Sendai this past March will eventually reveal much about our irresponsible reliance on nuclear power and the sinister collusion between local and international actors that led to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.)

If, as Roethke writes, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” apocalypse is a darkness that gives us light.

But this is not an easy thing to do, this peering into darkness, this ruin-reading. It requires nuance, practice, and no small amount of heart. I cannot, however, endorse it enough. Given the state of our world—in which the very forces that place us in harm’s way often take advantage of the confusion brought by apocalyptic events to extend their power and in the process increase our vulnerability—becoming a ruin-reader might not be so bad a thing. It could in fact save your life.

As easy as it is to mock a failed Rapture, I have some words of comfort for all those Left Behind. We’re in interesting times, and nothing is certain. But we will face them together, and the more we hold to our best principles of putting right before selfishness, the better we will survive the coming storms.


3 thoughts on “Two Visions of the Apocalypse

  1. “The Second Coming” by Yeats and “Dover Beach”by Arnold are instructive for these times.
    I know I’m repeating myself-sorry ’bout that.
    Starhawk?Sounds like an Ursula LeGuin or Joanna Russ character.

    1. Yeah, she’s actually very earthy and reality- based. She looks her age and isn’t rich — two points in her favor with me.

      1. Looking one’s age is basically not something I think about unless the person gets grotesque about it(think Joan Rivers),but what have you got against someone being rich if they earned it honestly?
        I really don’t get that way of thinking.I’m not rich and believe it or not,I don’t want to be.
        It’s too much trouble.
        I get along and my finances are ridiculously simple.
        I have no debt and that I have found is the biggest bulwark against finding oneself poor.
        Anyway,I don’t envy or resent people for earning money.
        Born to the manor trust fund types piss me off,but who cares what I think anyway?

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