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Eschatology

Prophecy about the end times and those who swear their generation is living in them are nothing new. We hear about it now, all the parallels and certainties, and it is easy to forget that those who came before us heard the same. Because we can contemplate an end, some of us become fascinated with it, and some, a smaller group given to zealousy, become manic eschatologists. They assure us it won't be long now, and they can demonstrate with fascinating- and perhaps even terrifying- detail all the things that we, in their eyes, are missing. But here's my question- are the prophecies themselves the dangerous thing? When those in a position to effect change believe these things, what stops them from altering, either consciously or unconsciously, the state of the world to fit their beliefs? We all have ample evidence from the world around us of what comes from believing the religious ends justify any means.

Often the dawning of the final days is triggered and acted out supernaturally, but the foretold interference of deity has never stood in the way of those who would believe that their particular overseer(s) somehow requires the assistance of mortals. Once the will, and hence the consequences, is surrendered to outside direction, what restrains the actor? He or she can write off any action as one of noble service. That is a dangerous liberation from morals.

With so much of the population seemingly in a kind of mental stagnation, and with prophecy being so easily bent as necessary, could a political movement seek to bring about their Armageddon of choice? I am not saying it is so; I'm only asking if it's conceivable. It is very difficult for humans to believe in something strongly and not try to shape reality into our highest visions. That is part of what makes us great. Unfortunately, that ability can become twisted by those whose ideal is destruction. Granted, they most often believe that destruction will bring about peace for them and those like them, but that conclusion can only be formed on the most dubious of certainties.

Let's take the Bible end times for example. There are those who believe we are in them now, of course. The list of indicators includes, but is most definitely not limited to those supposed signals which we all logically know have been a part of any moment in human history, such as war, disease, and even the stagnation I mentioned. Now let's take a powerful, influential man who buys into this. Might he not come to believe himself a chosen catalyst in the process? Once he convinced himself that bringing ruin was his duty, would he still see limits on his behavior? The limits of the prophecy, perhaps, but what about the lives of those who block the way to his goal? Are they significant to him any longer? History provides us with more than enough of examples of what a person who believes he or she has a given right to the lives of others is capable of. But in this example we are discussing the Bible end times, and its followers are many.

I'm not being extremist here, and I am not suggesting that there is, in fact, some religious conspiracy to being about the last days in progress. How would I know? I can only imagine possibilities. That, and wish I could remember the Biblical passage about the zealot being as wrong as the nonbeliever.

Fiction writers, with the ever-spinning situations in their brains, have always been able to frighten us with these scenarios. Religious apocalypse movies and books chill us perhaps more than any other plotline, especially when the disaster is initiated by human means. Probably because, knowing how intensely we are all capable of believing, we just don't find it that hard to imagine.

I have myself spinning in several directions at once with this topic. I want to believe there are limits to what unhealthy inspiration can motivate, but I would be lying if I said I could give the assurance with real confidence. I don't want to promote fear. In fact, I want so much less fear in the lives of people. I only want to say that when something appears to be a sign, however convincing, we have to look at it not in the light of things that have happened, but of things that could happen. The world is made of possibilities, as has been noted, and people are amazingly unbound when determination sets in. Our capacity for passion, for burning with belief, is one of our noblest aspects when properly applied, but the fine switch between brilliance and madness is nothing like a new observation. I've never known anyone with real genius who didn't also have at least a little touch of the brain-on-a-different-path, which is, again, a good thing as long as it isn't used for harm.

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