Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left behind

In December 1999, I went to a grocery store in Boulder, the town where I lived at the time, and bought a box that had four 1-gallon jugs of water. They were on sale, on a special pallet in a prominent aisle. The store, of course, was trying to capitalize on the "Y2K" scare. My preparations for the coming calamity didn't extend much beyond this purchase, but I spent whatever amount of money I spent to get it. The following summer, there was still a box with four 1-gallon jugs of water in the room of my apartment--it served as a nice little table--and I had to empty the water when I moved out.

There was a certain amount of ridiculousness to all this. On most levels, I didn't believe the Y2K scare was much more than a scare, or I thought that, at most, maybe ATM's wouldn't work for a day or two, or perhaps the wrong date would appear on my bank statements, or my television, reverting to an earlier, double-digit aught-aught, would show only reprisals of Mr. Dooley or old "Mutt and Jeff" cartoons (okay, I made the last one up).

My purchase of water was also ridiculous for another reason: if things were going to be so bad that I needed 4 gallons of fresh water on stock, I would probably need a lot more than just 4 gallons of water. One can, I have heard, go without food for weeks and still survive. But without water, it is hard to survive (again, so I've heard) for much longer than a day or two. Four gallons likely would not have lasted me a week, and I'd probably feel obliged to share that with my roommates. One final point: I had water bottles and mason jars and the like--probably more than a mere four gallons worth, especially if I had sanitized old milk jugs that we saved for recycling--and could have stocked up on good ole tap water without paying whatever price the grocery store charged for what was probably also tap water.

The changeover to Y2K had no noticeable, direct affect on me personally or on anyone I know. I imagine some things stopped working as they should, but I either didn't notice them or if I did, they were so insignificant that I have since forgotten them.

Now, I hear that the much anticipated (by some) "rapture" of Christians has failed to materialize. The "rapture," as I understand it, is the notion that as part of the beginning of the end of this dispensation, Christ will take up the last remaining generation of Christians before the world undergoes a series of "tribulations" that will result in the second Kingdom of God. I suppose there are variations on the theme and although I think I have gotten the gist right, my description may fail in certain particulars. Anyway, apparently, some reverend somewhere has anticipated that the "rapture" would come yesterday, and it either failed to come or the number of Christians taken up was so small, and the Christians apparently so humble and so unworldly, that the remaining coterie of mammon worshipers has not noticed their absence.

This prediction has elicited at least some commentary (but then again, what prediction never elicits any controversy whatsoever?), most of it humorous or mocking. At Ordinary Gentlemen, Jason Kuzinicki has a quite funny post--followed by an amusing comment thread-- about the rapture predictions. And Alex Knapp, author of a "sub-blog" at Ordinary Gentlemen, has his own, more pensive, commentary on it. Other such commentaries abound. One facebook friend, for example, suggested that this was an essentially American phenomenon (if she meant that this particular prediction and instance of hand-wringing were mostly American, then I agree; if she meant that only Americans are susceptible to such millennialist anxieties, then I disagree). Most of the commentary I have seen (I have read nothing by those who purported to believe yesterday was THE DAY) embrace one or more of the following themes or ways of looking at the issue:
  • The people who believed that the rapture would happen yesterday are stupid.
  • The people who believed that the rapture would happen yesterday are/were so caught up in the narrative of their religion and are so willing to discount disconfirming evidence that their faith--or at least the faith of most of them--will remain, if shaken, largely unchanged.
  • These people are rightly objects of our mockery.
  • These people are rightly objects of our pity.
  • These people are different from us, who are rational and not so subject to such wacky epistemological claims as those made by the true believers.
  • The belief that the rapture would happen yesterday represents to some degree an absence of faith.
  • The belief that the rapture would happen yesterday represents a misreading of the scriptural authority on which the notion of the rapture is based.
Perhaps humor is the right way to comment on these things. I have done and believed some wacky things in my life and sometimes the price of believing and doing wacky things is to be made fun of. And if one has even a modicum of a sense of humor, one can, hopefully, laugh at oneself after the sturm und drang is over.

Still, I hesitate to think that I or my more rationalist friends, are really all that free of such millennial or otherwise incredible (to others) thinking. Of course, maybe I'm an outlier--not everyone bought 4 1-gallon jugs of water, just as not everyone believes that if only we have a workers' revolution we will usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and widgets for all--but at the same time, maybe I'm not.

I don't know what lies in people's hearts,. what others secretly fear. And for what it's worth, especially if the notion of a "rapture" is untrue, we are all probably going to die someday and will worry about our final end, especially because probably none of us has complete certainty about what will happen afterward, or if some claim to have certainty, that certainty will not necessarily ease every and all anxiety:
I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore.
It also seems to me that most branches of Christianity that accept at least some of the claims of the miraculous--even if it's only the incarnation--at least leave open the possibility, in the abstract, that something like the "rapture" might happen. Having been raised Catholic, I have never, or at least do not remember ever having heard, a priest expound on this possibility, but I have trouble believing that the notion of a rapture is so contradictory to Church doctrine that it is not at least debatable. I was, in a large chunk of my life, involved with what I will call evangelical faiths on at least some levels, and there I heard about the "rapture" in much more explicit and credulous terms. My point here is only that the most recent rapturists perhaps have committed an error (of faith? of timing? of hermeneutics? of hubris?), but they have done so drawing on beliefs that are not necessarily much different from those of some of their detractors.

It is easy to mock. It might even be necessary to mock. Still, I can't forget that I once bought 4 gallons of water.

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