Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A brief history

A brief history , an Economist cover story. runs an online service for the millions of born-again Christians in America who believe that an event called the Rapture is coming soon. During the Rapture, Christ will return and whisk believers away to join the righteous dead in heaven. From there, they will have the best seats in the house as the unsaved perish in a series of spectacular fires, wars, plagues and earthquakes.

In Christian tradition, the world is created perfect. There is then a fall, followed by a long, rather enjoyable (for some) period of moral degeneration. This culminates in a decisive final battle between good (the returned Christ) and evil (the Antichrist). Good wins and establishes the New Jerusalem and with it the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus on Earth.

In his book, “The Great Year”, Mr Campion draws parallels between the “scientific” historical materialism of Marx and the religious apocalyptic experience. Thus primitive communism is the Garden of Eden, the emergence of private property and the class system is the fall, the final gasps of capitalism are the last days, the proletariat are the chosen people and the socialist revolution is the second coming and the New Jerusalem.

The alien then revealed that his species had created everything on Earth in a space laboratory, and that the aliens wanted to return to give humans their advanced technology, which would transform the world utterly. First, however, Rael needed financial contributions to build the aliens an embassy in Jerusalem, because otherwise they would not feel welcome (a bit lame, this explanation).

As Mr Cohn has put it, “The old religious idiom has been replaced by a secular one, and this tends to obscure what otherwise would be obvious. For it is the simple truth that, stripped of their original supernatural sanction, revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism are with us still.”

Mr Fukuyama's pulpit oratory suited the spirit of the 1990s, with its transformative “new economy” and free-world triumphs. In the disorientating disconfirmation of September 11th and the coincident stockmarket collapse, however, his religion has lost favour.

Perhaps, deep down, there is something inside everyone which yearns for the New Jerusalem, a place where, as a beautiful bit of Revelation puts it:

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.

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