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The End Really Is Near...(but don't worry)

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The End Really Is Near...(but don't worry)

The popular radio evangelist Harold Camping may have miscalculated two years ago when he predicted the worldwide cataclysm known in the Bible as the Apocalypse, but it is undeniable that the number of individual financial catastrophes as experienced by Americans has soared as a result of the nation's current economic tribulation.

For years we've seen television commercials discreetly advising "debt consolidation" for the fiscally troubled with the assistance of "professional counselors." But now we have straight-to-the-bottom-line pitches by lawyers offering help in filing for the "B" word itself, bankruptcy.

Such blunt counsel to fessing up to personal insolvency may, in fact, be tactically sound advice. But what's surprising, given the moral connotations of financial failure in a society as competitive as our own, is the unabashed cheer with which the lawyers endorse the idea of publicly declaring oneself a financial loser.

Or maybe it's not so odd. After all, America has exhibited, almost from its founding, regular bouts of positive apocalypticism-- fits of silver-lined crises. In the mid-18th century, the American colonies, roiling under British exploitation, underwent what was subsequently dubbed by historians the "Great Awakening." 

Here was our first collective American spiritual eruption, complete with apocalyptic overtones, encouraging confession of shortcomings, re-dedication to the moral straight and narrow, and preparation for an imminent and radically new phase of God's providence. What followed was the Revolutionary War.

And in the early 19th century, America experienced what came to be called its "Second Great Awakening," another widespread evangelical call for moral self-cleansing in anticipation of an impending metaphysical comeuppance and spiritual new order. That awakening preceded the Civil War.

And if anyone doubts that the exhilarating fumes of some kind of end of days aren't in the air for millions of Americans today, well, just ask Paul Ryan, or Sarah Palin, or Rick Santorum. Or ask any of the thousand pastors in the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, who last week pledged, in open defiance of federal statutes barring not-for-profit churches from stumping for candidates in political campaigns, to tell their congregations who to vote for. 

Ask them if this upcoming presidential election is just garden variety political squabbling over the merits of competing strategies to help the American economy, or is it rather a climactic, final showdown for the soul of America between society-wide forces of good and evil, of light and dark.

And so, yet again, it would seem, by national custom, our deliverance entails another round of American soul-searching, fessing up, and renewed effort.

So when exuberant young lawyers in television commercials proclaim, as they do, "bankruptcy- it's not the end. It's a new beginning!" somewhere American's iconic literary survivalist, Henry David Thoreau, who built his own 10' X 15' house for $28.12 (in 1845 dollars) and only drank water, is laughing. 

He's laughing because he knows that in this country "the end," whether it be a materialistic or metaphysical one, is never really the end. It's just a reboot, a good ol' American apocalyptic new deal.


 

Steven Doloff is a professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute in New York City. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, and The Chronicle of Higher (more...)
 
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Which will come first, "the end of days" or your m... by Steven Doloff on Monday, Oct 1, 2012 at 8:33:14 PM
Thoreau is laughing and grooving on Doloff.... by Hannah Seeger on Monday, Oct 1, 2012 at 9:23:22 PM
Another great article by Dr. Doloff. I saw an ad r... by issak hallak on Monday, Oct 1, 2012 at 11:30:23 PM
This is the end Beautiful friend This is the end... by Richard Gerber on Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012 at 5:18:28 AM
The love you take Is equal to the love you make. ... by Richard Gerber on Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012 at 5:30:05 AM
Very perceptive article. Pop culture, in this case... by Barton Kunstler on Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012 at 9:03:40 AM