During the first dozen years of the twenty-first century--from Y2K through 2012--apocalyptic anticipation in America has leapt from the margins of society and into the mainstream. Today, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that the events foretold in the book of Revelation will come true. But it's not just the Christian Right that is obsessed with the end of the world; secular readers hungry for catastrophe have propelled fiction and nonfiction books about peak oil, global warming, and the end of civilization into best-sellers, while Doomsday Preppers has become one of the most talked-about new reality TV shows on television. How did we come to live in a culture obsessed by the belief that the end is nearly here?
The Last Myth explains why apocalyptic beliefs are surging within the American mainstream today. Tracing the development of our expectation of the end of the world from the beginnings of history through the modern era, and examining the global challenges facing America today, authors Mathew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles combine history, current events, and psychological and cultural analysis to reveal the profound influence of apocalyptic thinking on America's past, present, and future.
As I wrote in this blog's mission statement, I don't believe in a literal reading of Revelation. The Roman Empire exiled John to Patmos where he wrote his account of the apocalypse. The fantastical imagery of the Book of Revelation allowed John to slip his message past the Roman censors so it could reach the early Church. Christians understood Revelation was an account of how the unjust worldly power of Empire would eventually collapse in the face of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was a message of hope to persecuted Christians. Modern audiences miss the underlying meaning of John's message when they interpret it literally.
As trust in societal institutions fail, it's not surprising people begin to adopt a more apocalyptic outlook. But a fundamentalist approach is inevitably one of despair and confusion. The Kingdom of Heaven is not hidden in the midst of whimsical prophecies. Looking for dragons and anti-Christs and marks of the beast distract from the injustices that are right in front of our faces every day. John of Patmos's vision was one of hope and encouragement for the marginalized. It is strange that the more "apocalyptic" society gets, the more it focuses on paranoia, small mindedness and cultural angst. In other words, the more "apocalyptic" we become as a society, the further we drift from John's central message in Revelation: God will triumph over injustice.
This book is another fantastic read on the subject.