The majority of modern people reject millennialist scenarios without further thought. The Antichrist, tribulation, apocalypse, second coming and the kingdom of God or other such scenarios seem irrelevant in modern times, except to extremists and doomsters. So we might as well forget all that. Either this, or there's often the attitude that 'I support change as long as it doesn't involve sacrifices'.
Millennialists have wagged their fingers at society for centuries. More recently, 1960s forecasts from ecologists and scientists predicting resources running out, population exploding, earthquakes, climate change and things running amok were quite often explained away and proven wrong – though this is changing.
But it still makes only a marginal difference, and society is not fundamentally changing to meet these challenges. Profits, not prophets, have delivered the goods: as long as we’re all getting richer or hope we can do so, everything is okay. These modern, secular doomsters' warnings are heeded only when business deems their prognoses to be potentially profitable.
However, there’s something perennially potent about the millenarian vision. The fact is, we do know that human life is endangered, regardless of repeated assertions to the contrary. We do know, from commonsense and moral discernment, that we cannot get away for long with destructiveness, misbehaviour and living beyond our means – our actions’ consequences inevitably come back at us. We know also that more, larger and deeper issues are at stake today than we commonly acknowledge.
If one reads the Book of Revelations literally, even a Hollywood film director would find it fantastic. However, if one looks at its underlying message rather than the confounding detail, it looks a bit different.
The Antichrist, according to Biblical tradition, is satanically inspired to captivate everyone’s admiration and submission, using deception or force to gain allegiance and control all souls. He’s the ultimate world dictator, oppressing and persecuting humanity into compliant obedience. Embodying Satan, he would deflect our attention from following our highest aspirations and better nature. He was supposed to have been here by now.
Nowadays we’ve probably gone beyond accepting raw dictatorship. However, we’re nevertheless dominated by a psychology which lets us consent to things we disagree with, and by mass media and economic pressures which oblige us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise choose to do. In such a context some would say the Antichrist today comes in disguise, as a system running a controlled, complicit society of drones who are too busy, too educated, to think.
The Tribulation. We assume that affluent, successful people are happy, free and fulfilled and that modern life is a solution to all suffering. Yet our world is carcinogenic, crowded, polluted, riddled with crime and insecurity, getting warmer and in many respects going mad! Some would say that the 20th Century itself has been our tribulation.
Spiritually, it’s generally true that the greatest breakthroughs come after the biggest crises. The idea of the Second Coming is similar. Hard times, tribulations, purify us, reducing life’s questions to simple proportions. Christian tradition visualises Christ returning, in person, to destroy evil and bring apocalypse, a revelation of ultimate truth.
The big questions of our time concern the hearts and minds of humanity. We commit and permit myriad actions which threaten our future, and a changed collective psychology must, in the end, permeate any positive changes which develop in the 21st Century.
Some would say that the Second Coming is not a return of the Christ as a person (whether or not he actually turns up) – it is a collective awakening of the Christ within us, of our Buddha-nature, of the human spirit within. This kind of perspective is much more pertinent and plausible in our day.
The ‘Kingdom of God’ alludes as much to a state of consciousness as to a set of circumstances. If our societies, worldwide, were oriented to inner growth and outer cooperation, the world would visibly change: cities, relationships, societies, landscapes, everything would be significantly different. From where we now stand, this would be heavenly.
People have struggled to build utopias for centuries. Some would say that a world where people get on well and appreciate each other would indeed be a miraculous world where many new things would be possible. It might not bring an end to all work, difficulty or hardship, though it might put these into a different light. After all, we came here to learn.
So the millenarian vision is perhaps not so way-out. Whether or not we agree with it, it nevertheless carries a salutary moral: the future is in our hands. Additionally: whether one subscribes to modern rational viewpoints or to the millenialist perspective, both are beliefs, and both are unproven.
We thus stand before an abyss. What will happen next? One thing is for sure: it's not going to be like it was before.
The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium
© Copyright Palden Jenkins 1998, 2012.
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The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium was partially written in 1997-98 and never published.