Apocalypse Now and Then


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.

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