Sincronia Fall 2010

Apocalypse Theory and the Ends of the World. Malcolm Bull (Editor). 1998. México, Fondo de Cultura Económica. USD 15.79. Pp. 346. CCCXLVI.

Reviewed by Maximiliano E. Korstanje

University John F. Kennedy Argentina

Every end of millennium represents for human beings a new structuration of their beliefs, their production, forms of consumption and even their hierarchical lines of authority. Milenarism can be defined as a moral movement whose aims are intended to eradicate the sin of human hearth at the time offers a new pattern of behavior enrooted in brother-hood, love and cooperation. As privileged witnesses of the starting of a new millennium, current scholars play a pivotal role in the understanding these types of radical changes entails for humanity all, although this topic has not gained considerable attention from Social Sciences for now. A whole part of societies interpret on their own the scatology or the bottom days. Sometimes they are supported by previous bipolar beliefs that emphasizes on the in-group as a sign of good while the others are depicted as a representation of evilness. For that reason, the present review is twofold. For one hand it refers to the different anthropological waves that focused in milenarism while for the other it reads as social discourse which can be examined to reconstruct the life of writers who prophesized the end of world. This volume contains a set of distinguished scholars who devoted considerable attention to the studies and understanding of apocalypses and scatology. Because of time and space limitation we will limited to synthesize only with a couple of them. At a first glance, the goal of this review is to put some of their theses under the lens of scrutiny.

On the introductory chapter of this book, Norman Cohn surmises that Zoroaster (between 1000 and 1500 B.C) was the first prophet concerned by the apocalypses which symbolize the final fight between asha´s forces (the order) and druj (the chaos). This is the result of a dual antagonist and selfhood both aimed at destroying and building at the same time. Evidently, Zoroaster’s work has been marked by a time of turbulence and conflicts. Zoroaster was experiencing the invasion of new Indo-Aryan neighbors. Most likely, an Iranian invasion pushed him and their relatives to escape to other remote zones. Under the dichotomy of domination or liberation, Zoroaster projects in his texts the ambivalence involved his deeper emotions. After all, the theory of apocalypses is not too strange. The message of apocalypses are aimed at emphasizing on a devastation resulted from the human corruption. Suffering, redemption and rediscovery of tragedy are parts interconnected in Christianity. One of the relevant aspects predominate in the end of the world seems to be the injustice and despair.

The second paper in review authored by Bernard McGinn who considered European civilization built the grounding of posterior revolutions. Once fallen the Roman Empire, Medieval Christianity dissociated the conceptualization of civilization and Christianization. These societies were in part fragmented and redeemed their disputes in civil wars on behalf of religion. The belief of a last judgment encouraged among theologists the needs for forecasting when and how the World will finalize. The theory of apocalypses and end of world converge the hopes for a new life of thousand years of peace with the terror proper of a realm ripe to a total destruction. Mcginn addresses the legends given origin to the theses of Beda, Gregorio Magno and Saint Columbianus (three scholars who sustained the idea Sacred Roman Empire should be erected following the Catholic principles). The figure of Christ as a king of kings was of course functional to the existent political power of a nobility. Undoubtedly, the historical frame ranges from 400 to 1000 A. C is corresponded with a new sense of Christianity based on the meaning of Christ as a King.

The third work in assessment of Krishan Kumar at Canterbury University emphasizes on the apocalypses as a figure of utopia. In this valuable project, Kumar catches a glimpse of the different sentiments predominated in European societies during Xth century AC. With basis on valid comparison of fear and expectation of Middle Age with our postmodern gaze, Kumar argues that we are witness of the declination of hope. The secularization of disaster have been created in order for human to experience terror because the end of nearest. Unlike the Middle age, the lack of hopes in transcendence put humanity in a difficult position. Far-away of being what many people consider, the Xth century have not represented a facet of terror even though there were some natural tensions. In addition, Saint Agustin and Beda “El Veneralble” anticipated the end of World in 999 A.C. Ubiquitously, Catholic Church contemplated prophecies as a form of heresy but with certain toleration. The protestant reform will reinvent the apocalyptic traditions continuing with the exegetic and historical revisions linking directly the Antichrist’s figure with Pope. In this vein, professor Kumar accepts that the mayhem brought with the advent of Xth century was accompanied with a Renaissance of culture and economic growth. The bottom-day’s destruction by imposition of blood, pestilence and violence was certainly associated to a moral need of renovation. Only if the ascetic allows the sorrow in the profane world, the Lord would bring the eternal life in heaven.

Nonetheless, our current times are characterized by a notable lack of certainness and hope a better life in transcendence is feasible. The progress of atheism seemed to change the cosmology of lay-people in regards to natural disasters. Although the dread of a farmer in Xth century can be analogically compared with a postmodern citizen of a mega-city, the moot point is that our world is much more sorrowful and hazardous. Western is witness of civil wars in Middle East and part of Europe as well as higher rates of unemployment and other calamities spans from the upsurge of lethal virus or the threat of bio-nuclear terrorist attack. The postmodern milenarism set the pace to the panic, the pain and frustration. Economic rational calculation enrooted in the egoism of market declined the trust in otherness to the extent to lead consumers to melancholy. We are living a chronic mourning.

In Kumar’s account, it is interesting to note that whether if in past centuries the modernity priorized the hermeneutic close of utopia, which signifies other better future could be possible, early capitalism submerged lay-people into the annihilation of time creating an implicit lack of alternative pathways and emptiness of sense in our day-to-day life. Under this dramatic context, Kumar explains successfully we are in presence of a devaluated milenarism without a romantic vision of utopia. In this sense, the Christian milenarism prepares humans to live forever through the death, the lack of faith in God put our civilization in a troublesome situation because the death is contemplated with scare. Anyway, Kumar is convinced the utopia has not completely disappeared in Western but it has been mutated to other forms as the concern because of ecological issues. Whatever the case may be, Christianity paved the pathway to the advent of a new millennium which can be manipulated by aristocracies in their own favor. The political manipulation of fear can lead humanity to a real state of conflagration and emulated one fabricated and disseminated by Mass-Media.

So far, we synthesized and described the main contribution of the book edited by M. Bull entitled Apocalypses Theory and the ends of World. Generally, we have collected sufficient evidence to argue that milenarisms have been present in the onset of political structures from the age of Zoroaster onwards. For other hand, the following topics should be taken into consideration: societies are constructed in basis with two contrasting forces, the order and chaos. Staring from the premise the world has been created by the forces of order also the end should be in charge of chaos. The presence of death in biological life of human beings is experienced as problematic and fearful. However, since the societies are recycled individuals maintain the belief one dies in this world to live in other level. Theories of apocalypses are often projection of the turbulence and social contexts people is experiencing. By the way, milenarism is compounded with two elements, the bottom-days accompanied by a terrible fright which wreaks havoc in populace with a renovation of faith and hope for the future. The early capitalism has been erased the utopist element of milenarism ushering subjects towards a hopeless consternation. After all, Professor Bull is not wrong when he said that in Western’s history the religious belief surrounding the future has been consisted in a much broader scatological conviction the world will abruptly end with the return of a messiah who will vindicate the pourers or oppressed in his name fighting stubbornly against their enemies. Precisely, one of the aspects more fear generates in people is the lack of perspective and uncertainness about how and when the planet will finally succumb.

Sincronia Fall 2010