Monday, September 15, 2008

The Trouble with Rapture

With Hurrican Ike, Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, and the sale of Merril Lynch to Bank of America, it was pretty rough last weekend in the news. So, you may be interested to learn that according to The Rapture Index, which is a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end-time activity," we're sitting at a very uncomfortable level of 162. (Anything above 160 is practically apocalyptic.) The rapture, of course, is a central component of Christian eschatology, and it refers to a future event in which it is believed that Jesus Christ will descend from heaven and judge the quick and the dead in advance of his establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. According to Paul's first epistle to the Thesssalonians, believers will literally be swept up into the clouds to join Jesus... and the rest of us will be left, damned, wondering where they went.

Like many people who grew up in the church, I suspect, the rapture was a mysterious, frightening, and practically ubiquitous imaginative possibility in my youth. I remember watching a movie about the rapture in church camp one summer, in which the film's protagonist (a young girl about my age at the time) wakes up to find everyone in her family missing from her home. (As predicted in Scripture, the rapture had come "like a thief in the night.") It was creepy and utterly terrifying to me, and I'm sure it inspired my taking serious inventory of my pre-teen soul. I suppose there are a range of intensities with which one can believe in the rapture, but for "true believers" (who must be seriously distrbed by our current "162" ranking on the Index) this always-anticipated but never-precisely-anticipatable event adds a level of urgency and magnitude to all of our otherwise mundane actions and experiences.

There's been a lot of harping on Sarah Palin recently for her belief in creationism. Last December on this blog, I offered a criticism of then-Presidential-candidate Mitt Romney's creationism in a post titled "The Trouble with Fossils." I was particularly disturbed by Romney's (ultimately untenable) claim that "to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is, in my view, something which really isn't part of the process which we should be using to select presidents." Of course, the "specific book of the Bible" to which Romney was referring is Genesis, and the "specific belief" that he felt should not be an element in our selection process is creationism. I argued that Romney had missed the Good Judgment Boat on two counts with that remark: first, by believing in a literalist rendering of the Biblical creation account and, second, by believing that such beliefs are irrelevant criteria in the process of selecting a President.

As I hope was obvious in that earlier post, my criticism of Romney was directed less at his particular beliefs about the origin of the world, but rather primarily at his beliefs about (1) what constitutes "good judgment" and (2) the role that our evaluations of candidates' powers of judgment should play in the election process. To believe that the world and all that is in it was created in a span of six days and nights, all scientific evidence to the contrary, is a manifest demonstration of bad judgment. But I can imagine ways in which this sort of judgment-- IF we consider it as a judgment of meaning and not a judgment of fact-- may serve other, quasi-justifiable ends in one's life. So, even though I would seriously question the judgment of any candidate who regularly disregards the legitimacy of scientific truth, my skepticism might be somewhat assuaged by the realization that s/he at least judges the world in which we live to be a meaningful and purposive place.

Belief in the rapture, on the other hand, bothers me both as a judgment of fact and as a judgment of meaning. I do not want the Leader of the Free World, with his or her finger on whatever "button" might destroy said world, to believe (1) that this world is a fallen and temporary place, (2) that the "end" of this world is an event to be welcomed and possibly facilitated, and (3) that his or her eternal happiness is being postponed by the perpetuation of this world. In short, I don't want a "Rapture-Ready" President. In fact, I want a President who is absolutely terrified by the prospect of the rapture, and who instead focuses his or her energies on bringing about justice in this world. I want a President who sees the troubles of our times as problems to be solved, not signs of the apocalypse.

And, pace Romney, I think this process of judging candidates' powers of judgment is exactly the process we should be using to select a President.

1 comment:

Brunson said...

Obliquely Palin-Related:

Tina Fey is Sexist
http://ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/09/tina_feysexist.php