Apocalypse Now and Then

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In her Apocalypse Now and Then, Keller argues that the Christian prophecy of Apocalypse has become a self-fulfilling prophecy which influenced the thinking pattern of western civilization, particularly in such aspects as the thought on text, time, place, community, and gender. She is insightful, and apparently, she succeeds in avoiding obscurity even though the terminology is a modicum of esoteric.

Literally Apocalypse means an end, a cataclysm or large-scale disaster through which the divine purpose of the creation is achieved and the forces of good eventually and permanently triumph over the forces of evil. In the preface of the book, Keller points out that the original meaning of Apocalypse (Apokalypsis in Greek) was not to terminate, but “to unveil, to disclose, to reveal” (p xiii). Somehow this disclose meaning evolves into “the end”. And in “the Revelation of John”, the end is the termination of the current world and the coming of a new earth with which are the resurrection and the judgment. This narrative structure and its implications to the massive public are tenacious throughout space and time. Keller proposes two different apocalypses, namely, retro-apocalypse and crypto-apocalypse. The former is from the conservative Christian literalists to refer the narrative events to current generation; the latter “drifts in the subliminal margins, not really inaccessible but unaccountable to it” (p. 8). She cites James Scott and expresses how the apocalyptic representation occupies the public unconsciousness and affects the social revolution in the west, especially the history of late modernity. She is penetrating and accurate at apperceiving the proclivity of this apocalypse pattern.

The formation of this “apocalypse habit” (p. 11) creates the issue of self-fulfilling prophecy. In a practical level, or with regard to the cultural performance of apocalypse, some historical processes and other significant movements such as colonizing Christianity, urbanization, feminism movement, nuclear threat, and the current ecological deterioration, are associated with the apocalypse, in her terms, “the lens of apocalypse”. For instance, she mentions “the religious habit of imagining the world out of existence would not seem to be irrelevant to the material habits of world-waste running our civilization” (p. 2). Furthermore, the “apocalypse habit” creates the reality that “we (the west) are in apocalypse” which means “we enact habitually when we find ourselves at an edge” (p. 12). In other word, on her opinion, apocalypse is both the reality and the interpretation of the reality.

Keller ultimately recommends a “counter-apocalypse” which “would avoid the closure of the world signified by a straightforward apocalypse, and would avoid the closure of the text signified by an anti-apocalypse” (p. 19). She holds high expectation for this counter-apocalypse as she recognizes that it “situate ourselves in a fluid relation to the text” (p. 20). Keller points out that the purpose of the counter-apocalypse, of such a feminist theology, is “the healing of the kosmos” and “the endless ‘end’ of counter-apocalypse” (p. 31). It is right here that this intriguing work becomes self-referential. If the end is an issue, the effort for terminating the narrative of the end is itself an end.

Living in Anthropocene

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This is a reading material for my class PHIL 6740. I read the whole book and write the following as a response:

My culture does not teach me a terminative or apocalyptic thinking. What I learned is a nonlinear, sinusoidal and oscillatory thinking pattern with two, or three, or multiple but reducible elements interacting into an infinite evolving universe without an ending. Big Bang is another story because it is not told in a human time scale, but a cosmos time scale. I still remember the first moment that I was in a tremendous shock when the different thinking pattern informs me that there is an end anyway. The alarm is not from the description of the Revelation. It is from a Hollywood movie, The Road, which was released limitedly in 2009 in the United States. I do not remember in which year I watched the film. The film depicts how a father protects his son and brings him to see the ocean after a global cataclysm on the earth. The film was identified as a post-apocalyptic film. It represents the audience a shattered world not as a consequence of climate change or the breakthrough of the artificial intelligence, but the rooted evil of human nature.

Roy Scranton is really thinking ahead to the end, both of the entire humanity and of the individuals. He is brilliant at associating all his unparalleled experiences and extensive knowledge together into a philosophical introspection of human civilization in a discourse of carbon-fueled economy, global climate change, resource and energy challenge, terrorism, wars and politics. His introspection makes me think what we call “civilization”. Is civilization a selective consequence of human reason, or it is just a random survive by throttling other alternatives of itself? Agricultural civilization smothered away gather-hunting and nomadic living mode; industrial civilization replaced agricultural system. Right now, does our style, if it is something between the industrial and the one emerging, be eliminated by the emerging one? The problem is not the termination. What bothered us is that we ourselves are the terminators. Not as a concreate corporeal individual, but as a giant Leviathan. As he writes, “The enemy isn’t out there somewhere — the enemy is ourselves. Not as individuals, but as a collective. A system. A hive.” (p. 85). It is a tragedy that collectiveness has crippled every individual, weakened him/her, and caused him/her losing the integrity he/she has in the beginning. It is a tragedy because we did not do it right. We screwed up. Now a theoretical question behind this mess is, do we screw up because of the flaws inherent in our moral reason, or because of the defects of our physical and corporeal nature?

What difference does it make between if we believe the ending is open or if we believe the ending is on the way? The difference between the hope and the desperate? What is the hope? After the dismantling of the human individual, we are now fragmented into pieces that cannot bear a slight blow. Death becomes the last thing to make us whole again. The only hope. The uncertain certainty. Learning to die is a daily practice. It lies just in the fleeting moment between the inhale and exhale. A fleeting moment has contained all the vicissitude of the living things and their entire context.