Tuesday, June 2, 2009

12-2-2007: 1st Advent (A)

Isaiah 2:1-5/Psalm 122/Romans 13:11-14/Matthew 24:37-44
Today’s gospel reads like a promo for Tim LaHaye’s best-selling Left Behind series about the so-called Rapture. You know the scene: two men out in the field - one taken and the other left; two women grinding at the mill - one taken and the other left. Evangelical millennialism, with its prophecies of immanent doom and gloom, is an especially American phenomenon, bursting on the scene a couple times a century. The popularity of the Left Behind series attests to that. The end-of-the-world mantra embroidered with the especially evangelical Rapture-theme fits in well with some secular currents as well, like alien abduction and global ecological disaster. What boggles the mind though is the fact these millennial groups always predict a fast-approaching end - which never happens; yet people still join up. The Jehovah Witnesses, for instance, got it wrong more than once about the approaching end, but they’re still witnessing (one wonders about what). The Left Behind series has been predicting an immanent end for fifteen years now but those two guys are still working the field and the girls, both of them, still grinding away at the mill.

This week Israelis and Palestinians meet in Annapolis, Maryland to talk peace. No one gives the process much hope; and some actively oppose having any talks. These believe there should be no Palestinian state, taking the biblical promise of The Land as a God-given deed to that particular piece of Mediterranean real estate. Some evangelical Christians (those big into the Rapture) are against the creation of a Palestinian state as well. They’re actually praying the Israeli government will knock down the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple. It’s not that they’re keen on the sacrifice bit; they're just looking forward to Armageddon, believing it will fulfill some prophecy or other and usher in the Second Coming.

All this literal adhesion to the biblical text would seem just silliness if it didn’t produce such hatred and intransigence. If America were to agree with the fundamentalism of those who believe God wants Israeli settlements on the West Bank because it was part of a biblical promise (God as the primordial Century 21 agent) then, to be consistent, we should give the Indians back what we, or our ancestors, took. Does anyone really believe that Israel’s security will be enhanced, even in the slightest, by refusing to let the Palestinians have a home? Refusal and intransigence vis-à-vis a Palestinian homeland is a guarantee of endless violence. There doesn’t seem to be much hope in the face of such intransigence – an intransigence fueled by a supposed biblical mandate and an instilled fear.

Fear is a great ingredient in fiction as well. It’s most successful when it remains invisible and undefined, letting our imagination supply all the scary details. Take, for instance, another rapture-themed fiction as film: the 1956 science-fiction thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where aliens abduct humans, duplicate them, and send them back to infiltrate the human community. Many have commented that the invisible aliens stood for the communist-threat that plagued the American imagination during that post-war period. So fearful were we, in fact, that we dutifully followed the rules during those air-raid drills. You remember: siren sounds, put down your pen and crawl under your classroom desk. Fear convinced us that such inanity would save us from the effects of an atomic attack! Fear will make us do most anything.

Preventing Palestinian and Israeli from talking with each other, face to face, assures an invisibility that feeds that same kind of fear – a fear that is entertaining when experienced as science fiction, but deadly when engendered by religious fictions; whether those fictions be about rapturous abductions or ancient real estate deals.

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