Apocalyptic fears are nothing new. Human beings have been expressing our anxieties about the end of the world and creating elaborate belief systems around those fears, nearly as long as we have been expressing our wonderment about how we wound up here in the first place and creating equally elaborate mythologies about our origins. From the Zoroastrians of ancient Persia, to the ancient Hebrews, to the modern evangelical, we human beings love to talk all about that which we know so very little about: Where we came from and where we’re going.
In our anxieties about our uncertain future and the possibility of extinction, we humans have always cited natural disasters, plagues, and war as a grounding for our deep concern about some impending judgement or disaster that we bring upon ourselves. We have feared the creations of our own hands. For centuries we had already lived in fear of the tools of war that we fashion with our own hands. The Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures looked forward to a day when the violence would cease: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Since at least the dawn of the 20th Century, we have also lived in fear of our own technological advancements. This can be heard loud and clear in today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track: “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans. The 1969 single wears its existential anxiety on its sleeve. Long before the iPhone, Android or even the Commodore 64, Zager and Evans sang about fears of an insular, automated future that was devastating in scope. The verses of the song advance in intervals of 1010 year. From their the vantage point of 1969, 5555 looked pretty grim, “Your arms are hanging limp at your sides, your legs got nothing to do some machine’s doing that for you.”
Here in 2020, a little closer to 2025 than Zager and Evans, a lot of people are recycling these same concerns. In the last couple of months, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a plethora of conspiracy theories about New World Order, Illuminati and Transhumanism have coalesced into one loud voice, screaming “The end of the world is nigh.” I’ve been here before. I was raised as an evangelical Christian. My mom believed the world was going to end by the year 2000. Sometimes I wonder if she believed that until she died in 2004. She read a lot of books about “Spiritual warfare” and the end of the world. And I think I took a keener interest in that stuff than my brother and sister. I inherited from my our mom a penchant towards all things Charismatic and Apocalyptic when it comes to religion. So I know how to read nearly anything in the Bible onto the world of today and find a match. I lived through Y2K and 9/11 as a conservative evangelical. The world was already supposed to end a few different times for me.
So I am not surprised by the rise of QAnon conspiracy theories or the fact that they’re spilling out into the mainstream. A multitude of contradicting voices with theories impossible to reconcile to each other have rallied around QAnon similar to the way Democrats and Republicans have coalesced around their perspective nominees. Apocalyptic ideas and fears morph over time, even as they keep some footing in the fears and apocalyptic writings and concerns of the past. People all over the world are living in fear of a virus we know little about and for which we have no cure. The best technique we have to avoid contact with it is to stay confined to our homes. In this environment, it makes sense that the loudest conspiracies out there are about vaccinations (something many of us couldn’t get even if we want to) and wireless technology (all that many of us have to stay connected to the world outside of our homes).
Here’s the thing, we don’t know when or even if the world we live in – planet Earth, third rock from the sun – is going to end. But the world as we know it, ends and begins anew each and every day. Every single day is an opportunity to see the world in a new light, to question old assumptions, inspect long held beliefs, examine ourselves for bias, assumptions, or prejudices we hold about the world we find ourselves in. Maybe we’ll be wiped out by our own stupidity in the face of a virus. Maybe the clock is up on climate change and we only have a few decades left. Maybe we have a few hundred or thousand years until another Chicxulub wipes us all out. But we don’t know! Just like we never know if today might be our last. But tend to only talk about that in times like these, or in hushed circles at churches or funerals or late night at a bar stool. We don’t take these fears out often and examine them in the light of day.
But maybe we should. Our fears flourish in the darkness. Our fears are like an aggressive weed, that takes over a farmer’s crop and increases his or her toil. I used to be so afraid, afraid of death, afraid of the end of the world, of god, angels, devils, anything I couldn’t see. In fact, I was so afraid of what I couldn’t see and what I didn’t know that I failed to see the people in front of me that I was supposed to not only know, but love. And to tell the truth, that’s still a daily struggle for me. But it is a struggle that is worth the effort. Because the goal is to love and be loved in return.
We cannot love when we are consumed and controlled by fear. It is reasonable in a time like this to fear a number of terrible possibilities. In my case, my wife is an essential worker and is potentially exposed to things much more than I am. My dad is in his 70’s and my stepmom is on oxygen. They have laughed when I pleaded with them, fear and trembling in my voice, not to go to Walmart to do their own grocery shopping. I think they are coming around and letting others do things for them. But I still fear losing a parental figure and not being able to gather with family or have a funeral. These are real and palpable fears.
But I no longer fear “whatever is behind the curtain.” I don’t need an onslaught of conspiracy theories to convince me that some of the wealthiest people in the world will do anything to protect their wealth and that various governments, financial systems and religious institutions often side with the wealthy and are too often culpable for great evil in the world. That’s all public knowledge. I can pick up a history book or a news paper. The difference between this harsh realty and a preoccupation with “spiritual forces” and “secret societies” that create such harsh realities is substantial. Confronting reality is hard work. It means taking a look in the mirror, a look within, a look at the things we are most afraid of: ourselves. The choice before us all each day sounds simple; but it can be excruciatingly difficult. We can live each day to the best of our ability with what little light we have, in pursuit of that light. Or we can spend our days shrouded in darkness, battling the demons that would stave off our light, never realizing that those demons came from within.