In a crazy time people need reassurance, people need support, and America often falls into crazy times. Americans often use God as their crutch when they can't think straight.
"You're reading the Bible. That's a great book," I say as I sit down to work in a café.
I smile and go about my business, nose plunged in my papers.
"Yes, we should all read it, especially now," a man says with a serious look. "You know the day is coming, the day of the Rapture when God will begin the End of Times and make His judgments."
Experience tells me I risk getting buckled into a long discussion on the Beast with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 17:2), the ho of Babylon, and the whole bucket of Christian eschatology.
As a big word, eschatology is not one you'd use at the supermarket while buying beer and pretzels. In theology, eschatology is the study of the destiny of mankind according to the purposes of God.
This year is supposed to be when a large number of baby-boomers turn sixty years old. The flower-child generation was once all about some radical Jew's ideas of peace and love. Now, many of them along with some of their own children fret and moan about the whole process of Revelation as the Apostle John painted with hallucinated images and which Roman editors included in the New Testament.
John wrote it in the later part of the first century while laid up in the pokey on a Greek island called Patmos. The tyrannical, brutal Romans locked him up for talking too much about a rebellious Jew's esoteric teachings of charity, peace, and tolerance. Scholars say this explains why he refers to Rome as the godless Babylon, empire of evil and abusive military power. Revelation is a phantasmagorical vision of how God will re-set the world straight by grabbing people right out of their chairs.
Meanwhile, all a guy has to do these days is sit down for a cup of java and, presto, people around are studying the Bible for clues about their salvation come the judgment day, the Rapture, when God snatches good folks up into heaven, while the rest of us commonplace sinners are shackled to the earth by gravity to sort out apocalyptic problems like global warming, wars, and pestilence. In times of uncertainty, when our otherwise secluded nation is attacked, clutching onto the Bible and looking for God can bring a surge of warmth and security over one's soul.
I know this because the ancient texts of the Bible comfort me. Hell, while back in college, I sold my only means of transportation, a Honda 350 motorcycle, just to study the New Testament in Greek at U.C. Berkeley. How fanatic can a guy get?
The 9/11 attack provoked a new wave of religious fundamentalism and doomsday mania, although this preoccupation has plagued the human mind long before John wrote surrealistic prose. A recent cultural wave of fundamentalist reaction began especially when Muslim terrorists attacked certain icons of our nation's most sacred beliefs -- the towers of capitalism, our sense of security, or, according to some Biblical interpretation, Aaron's golden cow (Ex. 32).
With deep roots in irrational puritan soil, American history is colored with many periods of maniac politics and social mores. Works of art like the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (novel published in 1850) or, recently, the movie Good Night and Good Luck (2005), strip bare the frequent and bizarre extremism of American culture. The 2007 movie, September Dawn, dramatized how America's own home-grown religion, Mormonism, massacred infidels on a whim.
At times, we mere mortals are beside ourselves, at a loss for answers. We seek comfort and security in easy answers even if they are poppycock myths from a Bible and people wrote thousands of years ago, and folks still claim God dictated the words into Moses' ear.
When someone pokes our nest, we fly beyond our own imaginations and react in extreme ways. Getting swept up in the moment of tribulations, we can run to rash actions. Extreme reactions may be partly what the Apostle Paul meant by the term (rapturo) The Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), the only instance of this word in the Bible. Yet the idea of the second coming of Christ and the end times has possessed the imagination of many Christians, especially the fundamentalists who believe that environmentalism is nonsense. After all in Genesis God says that man is to dominate the earth. Why worry about destroying the ecosystem if God is going to swoop us up to heaven in the near future?
With all the extreme politics today, we certainly could use more balance. Open debate, including constructive criticism, always helps a free democracy to survive.