The world has always been ending.
For as long as humanity has had creation myths, we’ve also had destruction myths. Old wine in a new skin, enter the destruction myth du jour. The End Times as we know them; the Apocalypse.
“An Apocalypse (Greek; “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”) is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority … i.e. the veil to be lifted. The term also can refer to … Armageddon, and the idea of an end of the world. These perceptions may better be related to the phrase apokalupsis eschaton, literally “revelation at [or of] the end of the æon, or age”. …”
It has always been the end of the world.
Every common-era generation has faced the spectral apparition that is Armageddon. From fear of “barbarian hordes” descending, to the decimation of the plagues, to the promise/fear/death-drive of nuclear war, we’ve pretty much always been on the brink of annihilation.
As long as we’ve been living, we’ve been afraid of death.
The Metaphorical Importance of Eschatology – None of us get out alive
By no means confined to Christian ideology, eschatological elements are imbedded in religious and spiritual systems as diverse as New Age inter-religious amalgams, to traditional Hinduism.
In a cultural sense, the integration of eschatology is reflected in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.
“Eschatology … is a part of theology and philosophy concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world. … in many traditional religions it is taught as an actual future event prophesied in sacred texts or folklore…”
Life is a terminal disease, birth a death sentence. No one gets out alive.
And, no one knows what really happens after we die. The ideas range far and wide; from dispersing into nothingness, to battling demons and attachments in the Tibetan death bardo, to heaven or hell, to the simplicity of flesh rotting into the earth.
Heaven and hell reasoning leads one to live a life where death is feared and reviled, and/or gloriously awaited. Regardless of whether one thinks they will end up in heaven or hell, this life – the now of living – is relegated to secondary status. Probation with a deferred sentence.
Tibetan Buddhism holds reincarnation as a tenet. In Tibetan Buddhism, how you live affects your rebirth, but how you die has at least as much influence. Tibetan Buddhism focuses much of its spiritual teachings on how to die well.
Which is quite beautiful, really, if one believes in reincarnation, and can come to see death as a natural part of life, and therefore something to prepare for consciously while living.
But all the spiritual teaching in the world has not proven to remove all cultural or personal fear from the idea of death.
Apocalypse means unveiling, and what larger unveiling is there in this life than death? The most basic fear of the big “A” Apocalypse is the personal, primal fear of the demise of our own heart beating, blood pumping, synapse firing bodies.
Culture to culture, humanity is afraid of death. We are afraid of losing the “I” of existence, afraid of what might be waiting on the other side, afraid of disappearing into the vastness of that great night.
Eschatology as Ego Death
Just as apocalypse means the unveiling, eschatology can, in a spiritual sense, be seen as the end of seeking. In this mystical spiritual journey, the apocalypse is what is sought. The apocalypse is the Unveiling of the Beloved (aka God):
lift the veil
by Kabir, Sufi Mystic
lift the veil
you will find
what you are looking for
Apocalypse in this case is something to seek for, something to embrace. This seeking, finding, and falling into is the opposite of any fear of dying, but it does not glorify death either, as apocalypse – the unveiling – can happen moment to moment.
Ego death and self-annihilation can have negative outcomes as well. Without the spiritual element to focus on, self-annihilation can easily become entwined with the death-drive, referred to as Thanatos in post-Freudian thought.
In this case, the drive for self-annihilation manifests in nihilistic ideals potentially leading to conscious, semi-conscious, or unconscious suicidal or life-threatening behaviors.
This is the negative outcome of the cultural obsession with eschatological and apocalyptic focus. And this focus is one of the foundational elements of religion and religious conditioning.
Though religious in origin, this foundation has become cultural as well, and our obsession with death is enshrined in the very fabric of human consciousness.
This is the eternal now, and the eternal now is the eternal apocalypse.
“…There is no “present” if we think of the never-ending flux of time. The riddle of the present is the deepest of all the riddles of time. Again, there is no answer except from that which comprises all time and lies beyond it — the eternal. Whenever we say “now” or “today,” we stop the flux of time…”
–The Eternal Now, Paul Tillich
This is the eternal now. Both static and dynamic, now just is. And it is always. Essentially the same in contour, and entirely flexible in context. Now is now is now is now.
Time is an illusion, past and future both the dynamic and ephemeral dance of neural activity; shadows dancing on a wall.
The future is not set in stone, nor is the past. Conscious memory, which to begin with is totally subjective in nature, changes over time. And the future is at best an educated projection, and at least nothing more than a possibly randomized projection of desire.
So this is now. It has always been now, and it will always be now. And according to our cultural myths of creation and destruction, now is eternally the end times. These days we live in are always the end of days.
We are, and always have been, in the Kali Yuga. By whatever name of this age, the world is ending. And we are facing that end from the moment of our birth to moment when, finally, the veil is lifted and we are free at last.
Unless we realize before death that we are always in the apocalypse, than fear of the unveiling, fear of the unknown, fear of loss of self is the ruling element of life and breath. So the question becomes, what are you unveiling?
Ask any cult leader or government official; fear is a powerful tool for maintaining control.
The localization movement, the Back-to-the-Land/New Settler movement, and the sustainability movement all have (at least) one thing in common; they’re all, at least partially, rooted in fear.
And there’s a striking mirroring between the mentalities of Christian Right extremists and Radical Left extremists.
Same day, slightly different dogma. The shit is coming down, and it’s because God decreed it so, or because the Mayan calendar is ending in 2012, or because Y2K…oops, well that one wasn’t it after all, was it?
Flood, famine, plagues. They’re all on their way according to both wild-eyed posttribulationist Christians awaiting the rapture, and wide-eyed New Settlers, with their stores of seeds and grains, and non-violent ideologies – often backed up with caches of guns and ammo, just in case.
The biggest similarity between the two, though, is the idea that after the battles and plagues, the New Eden will be established on earth. How this plays out is slightly different between the two.
In the Christian New Eden, Jesus returns to earth, there is peace between the lion and the lamb, and all battles are ended.
In the New Settler version, civilization crumbles, there is a “return to” barter as currency, the gardens flourish, and an egalitarian culture of agrarian idealism is born.
As a former activist I can tell you a main flaw of a movement based in fear; when the perceived threat is resolved, the movement disintegrates. Of course, with peak oil, weather control experiments, global warming, the Council of Nine, and ecological destruction being the perceived threat, perhaps we don’t have to fear the immanent demise of these particular movements. Most of these foes, be they real (global warming) or possibly imagined (the Council of Nine), aren’t going anywhere quick.
However, it would behoove most of us to question the definition and design of the world we are living in moment to moment. Is your work towards sustainability creating fear, or joy?
The Unveiling is happening continually in the eternal now. Perhaps heaven – and hell – are already here on earth. Perhaps each of us is living in the heaven or hell of our own making at this very moment.
Regardless of roots or results, this battle between right and might, or right and wrong, or good and evil, or us and them, leads to only one place; entrenchment in the endless war that is the end of days.
The Unveiling; live the life you want to create
This moment is the apocalypse. And this one. And this one. And this. The revelation continues, eternally.
What will you do with this fresh new moment, so precious and fleeting? This moment that will arise and vanish more quickly than the blink of an eye? All past is built from this present, and all future is built on it.
This moment is what you have. It’s all you have. It’s all you’ll ever have.
You are living in your own “end of days” – each day does lead one step closer to your personal eschatological fears or fantasies.
In each moment you are unveiling your own truth; your relative, self-defined, selective truth. Live in the world that you reveal consciously – because after all, the world you live in is the one that exists as you have revealed it.
Welcome to your apocalypse; your personal truth, unveiled and naked before you.
As Sartre wrote in his book Existentialism, “…even if God did exist, that would change nothing.” In other words, the question we must ask in facing the concept of Apocalypse, with an upper case or a lower case “a”, must not be, “Is the world ending?” but, “should it matter?”