I watched an excellent doco about the Art of Germany, during the 1500’s. The most excellently learned doctors of the roman church of that time speculated that 1500 was the date of the end time, a time, 1000 years, and half a time. So, imagine the righteous reaction of the religious establishment when Luther emerged in 1517, nailing his theses to the cathedral door. Someone speculated that mathematics has only progressed as a western science because it was needed to calculate the end time.
I noted all this because yesterday on FB I read the comments to a site about same sex marriage. One ridiculous bigot reassured himself that the end time was at hand. Clearly this idiot has not read the good book terribly well; otherwise, he would have read several mentions in Paul’s epistles about the christ arriving like a thief in the night, and no one would know the day and the hour. Further, he would have noted that in Paul’s lifetime several towns simply stopped work, downed tools and sat waiting for the coming of the lord. Paul was made to realise that he had possibly overpreached the message. He had to return to these towns and change his tone, continuity became the new order of the day, work was important, if only to ensure that the young, the old, the sick might not starve.
We have not made effective comparisons of religious practice, possibly because of the ruthless euro-centricism of christianity. Hinduism and Buddhism are no less spiritual than Christianity; Buddhism manages, for instance, to encourage its population to respect material reality. A clever component of this is the buddhist tolerance of animism, whereby peasants revere the environment that sustains them.
By contrast, christianity has suffered from the fusion of religion and politics originating in the Roman empire. There of course the first christians were persecuted; when their religion became the state sanctioned belief system the status quo continued undisturbed; christians for instance patronised the circus for a further 150 years. But the mishmash of beliefs generated under the Roman persecution of the Israelites included quite insane systems of belief. Gnosticism, for instance, which often involved bizarre sexual practices, such as the messiah manually delivering his sperm and offering it as communion to his followers, basically saw material life as dominated by evil, and only death offered relief.
Christianity has continued to suffer from this passivity. Of course this was ever complicated by political and social oppression. The Irish would sing: Faith of our fathers, living faith, we will be true to thee till death, an IRA battle hymn? My mother’s Slovenian catholicism was similarly oppressed by Titoist communism. But, since then, the emergence of a series of factured, splinter groups has resulted in multiple predictions of the rapture and the end time. Was Debbie Harry’s tongue in cheek when she sang that disco ditty in the 1980’s? With every non arrival of the apocalypse, the general population sighs ho-hum. Now in Dec 2012 we await the end of the Aztec calendar.
I love the scene in the BBC series Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: someone convinces the barman in the local that the end of the world is at hand. Shouldn’t we lie down with a paperbag over our heads, he asks. No point. Well, says the barman, last drinks!!!