Friday, January 16, 2009

Farewell to Bush and his Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism is a world view holding that good and evil are embattled in a cosmic struggle. This struggle is decided in an ultimate battle, one that ushers in a new end-time reality. For a real life example of apocalyptic thought, one just has to look at last night's farewell address by Pres. Bush. Saith Bush:
As we address these challenges -- and others we cannot foresee tonight -- America must maintain our moral clarity. I've often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense -- and to advance the cause of peace. (emphasis mine)
While this is just one paragraph in eight years of work, there are markers in this paragraph pointing to apocalyptic ideology.

There is a logic to apocalypticism. The cosmic struggle between good and evil is played out in history and realizable in human terms. The struggle is realized in the here and now and happens within the social plane - the struggle is present now, and sides are chosen. Believers personally and internally identify with the cosmic struggle - the believer chooses sides, of course, the side of the good. The struggle is at a point of crisis, and acts of violence have cosmic meaning. Importantly, apocalyptic worldviews increase the likelihood that group will become violent. Having an apocalyptic worldview does not mean that that group will necessarily become violent, just that the presence of this factor correlates with violence.

Us: liberators; "the side of the right." Them: Axis of Evil; terrorists and Islamo-facists. 9/11. Rid Iraq of WMDs. Regime change. Spreading freedom and democracy. Fight them over there, so they don't attack us over here. Smoke them out of their holes. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Harsh interrogation techniques. Torture.

Reread the paragraph in Bush's speech one more time for other examples. Us: good; freers from oppression; eternally right. Them: evil; murderers of the innocent; wrong everytime, everywhere. There can be no compromise between us and them. We must speak justice and truth. We must not hesitate to act in defense of the good. We must advance the cause of peace.



A Faithful Reader said...

Matthew 7:5 in Christian Scriptures says it all. "first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck (of sawdust) from the other person's eye." We need to take the torture and inhumanity out of our policy, return to the moral high ground and then we will have a clearer view how to evaluate our position in the world.

Good article and inspiring thoughts as usual Drew

Lloyd said...

Think also of the Manichean heresy -- the notion that evil is a force of its own and not merely the absence of good, the belief that there is a God of Darkness who will always be striving with the God of Light, and who will not be eliminated.

Drew said...

Lloyd, yes and no. To your point, Manichaeism posits a cosmic struggle between two metaphysical realities - light/dark, immaterial/material, soul/body.

Christian Apocalypticism, however, actually predates Manichaeism (prophet Mani, 3rd century CE). So, Christian orthodoxy, while still in its formative stages, already had a strong apocalyptic thread not influenced by Manichaeism. Also, Manichaeism fizzled very quickly and had no lasting effects on Christianity. Finally, and most importantly, Bush doesn't believe in a God of Light nor a God of Darkness. So Manichaeism does not inform his understanding of the world.

We overuse and lose the underlying theological connotations when we constantly use the word Manichean to denote any dualistic worldview. Take for example this FireDogLake post on the same subject coincidentally. Ironically, as the post rebukes Bush for his intellectual laziness, the use of the term Manichean is intellectually lazy.