Getting On : All My Politics
End of the world is business as usual for some
from Falcon - Sunday, December 30, 2007
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People forecasting the imminent end of the world used to walk through city streets wearing sandwich boards; today's doomsayers are more likely to be wearing lab coats and talking about climate change. Apocalyptic themes, which used to be the preserve of religious groups, now inform our secular culture. Mind you, predictions about the endtime are still flourishing back at the religious ranch, as was shown in The End of the World Cult, last week's chilling documentary on Channel 4.
Film-maker Ben Anthony was afforded entry to the Strong City commune in New Mexico where Michael Travesser, a 66-year-old former sailor previously known as Wayne Bent, modestly calls himself the Son of God. He has spent the past 20 years preparing his 56 devoted disciples for doomsday.
Anthony discovered sinister undertones. Teenage girls talked to him about desiring sex with their leader, and he discovered that the cult leader's sexual activity extended to his own daughter-in-law.
When Travesser announced that the world would end at midnight on October 31, 2007, his followers were exhilarated. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the wee problem with this prophecy. The messianic charlatan got it spectacularly wrong.
This prediction game has been going on for aeons. About two centuries after Christ, some zealots in Jerusalem were convinced the apocalyptic day was dawning. They climbed to the top of Masada - a place where Jewish martyrs had once committed suicide rather than submit to the enemy - and awaited the end. Well, it came. They all died of sunstroke. Apocalyptic tip No 1: if you're going to watch the fireworks on the top of a mountain in the Middle East in summer, put on some factor 50, at least.
Bishop Gregory of Tours, who was around in the sixth century, thought the end of the world would come between 799 and 806. With the approach of the first millennium, many people headed for the caves. They then had to come back home sheepishly and get on with the rest of their lives.
At the time of the Reformation, the Mayor of Munich was so concerned about rumours of the Second Coming that he had all his crates of booze buried in the ground. In 1532, a minister and amateur mathematician called Michael Stiefel predicted that the world would end on October 9, 1533, at 8am. Early that day, the local peasants assembled at his church to witness the summons to glory. After the deadline passed, they seized the preacher and dragged him off to the local magistrate, where he was sued for damages.
And one early-nineteenth-century religious fruitcake, Lady Hester Stanhope, always kept two Arab horses in her stable - one for herself and another for the messiah. Oh, stop it, Hester! (It would have made a great eschatological Gone with the Wind movie, starring Margaret Thatcher as the adoring aristocrat and Ronald Reagan, the galloping Gipper, as an aw-shucks messiah with spurs.) Most prophets have been careful to predict an endgame date well into the future, but others have been foolish enough to name a date within their own lifetime. This presents obvious credibility problems. The Jehovah's Witnesses have had several cracks at it, and can boast a 100% failure record. Each time they get it wrong, they shamelessly produce another date. Apocalyptic tip No 2: if you're going to set a time for the endgame, make it at least 200 years hence.
Those making prophecies tend to do so by multiplying obscure numbers from the Book of Revelation and adding them to the Cowdenbeath scores from 1939, or something like that. Interestingly enough, when Jesus was asked about the day and the hour, he said he didn't know. He simply asked that people live lives of accountable readiness.
Christian leaders shouldn't be too snooty, though. The truth is that Christianity itself is an apocalyptic cult which emerged out of Judaism. The early Christians believed that the end of the world would come in their lifetime. It was only when the skies stubbornly refused to open that the church hunkered down for the long haul. (A cult can be defined as any third-division religion which hasn't made it into the premier league worldwide. History is written by the winners.) What really matters is the way we relate to one another on this old earth. With our profligate using up of the fragile resources of the planet and our stockpiling of nuclear weapons - while righteously lecturing other nations about the evil of such practices - we humans are perfectly capable of triggering an apocalyptic meltdown without any divine assistance.
And what did Michael Travesser do when midnight on October 31 came and went? Before going back to such unPresbyterian relations with his relatives, the unabashed apocalyptic chancer provided another date - December 15, 2007. Oops, missed again.
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|from spot on! |
Monday, December 31, 2007 - 06:00
The following article is from the LA Daily news at
Lessons to be learned when cults make news
By Tina Dupuy, Columnist
I was born into the group the Children of God - or as they are called now, the Family International - a Christian cult that started in the late '60s made up of dropout hippies in Huntington Beach. They went international after the leader was sought for kidnapping and tax evasion. I'm in denial that anyone has heard of them. I pretend like they're obscure. Many will remember the 2005 suicide of their heir apparent, Ricky Rodriguez, right after he killed his childhood nanny, Angela Smith. That was sensational enough to make headlines and inspire a "Law and Order" episode. Recently author Don Lattin released a book about the cult's history titled "Jesus Freaks."
My parents left the sect when I was 5, while my uncle and cousins remained members for the next 20 years. I obsessively follow any press that the group gets. While watching CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" report detailing Rodriguez's death and the group's well-known child sex practices, Cooper said, "Well, that has nothing to do with Jesus!"
This is how the public has always reacted to the COG. It's upsetting and so it's dismissed outright as not actually Christian. It's a quick effort to make sense of it.
That is how we deal with things we don't like in religion. We reject all unpleasant elements as being frauds. Calling for the death of a teacher because she agreed to name a teddy bear Muhammad? That isn't actually Islam. The widespread molestation of boys by priests? That isn't actually Catholicism. The institutionalized and systematic abuse of lower and lowest classes? That isn't actually Hinduism. We even go so far as to tout pre-Columbian religions as being peaceful and passive. If we sidestep all the human sacrificing and war-making, they were.
So if the COG has "nothing to do with Jesus," then what does? The Crusades? The Inquisition? The Conquistadors? The witch hunts? The slave trade? Manifest destiny? The Holocaust? Miscegenation laws? Fred Phelps? Crimes against women of questionable virtue? The entire presidency of George W. Bush?
All have to do with Jesus because they were all justified by Christianity. Just like the COG's prostitution and child abuse was justified.
When you say you are a Christian, you become everything that is or was Christianity. Good, bad or indifferent - it's all Christianity. A drop of water doesn't get to claim autonomy while swimming in the ocean, even if that drop of water happens to be Mormon and running for president.
The alternative is a skewed and inaccurate, albeit a more comfortable, belief in one's faith. It's the new iTestament, where you can customize your beliefs so you can stand out among your friends.
And why is that so bad? What could go wrong if we forget history under the guise of glossing over what's objectionable?
The first answer is that we can repeat it. We can have another pre-emptive invasion in the Middle East just like in the First Crusade. Shudder. If we wear rose-colored glasses and refuse to see the problems, then we will never solve them.
When the faithful aren't aware of the true, unflatteringly lit, warts-and-all history of their religion, its past follies and its vulnerability to mistakes, it leads to the insistence that America is and should be a Christian nation. Our Constitution is a product of the era of The Enlightenment, where the foundation was reason. But we are told that our Constitution "rests on a foundation of faith."
This type of revisionist history causes the line of church and state to be blurred, which is precisely what our Constitution tries to guard against. And there is plenty of evidence that when that happens, it isn't beneficial to the church or to the state.
So when stories of cults and abuse in the name of religion make national news, let's look at the similarities instead of dismissing them because they don't apply to us. See what they can teach us. And be open to the answers.
Tina Dupuy is a stand-up comic and a writer living in Los Angeles. She blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire and sardonicsideshow.com.
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Sunday, December 30, 2007 - 19:11
Anyone who cannot predict the five numbers on a lotto ticket should never predict the date for the end of the world.
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