Eschatology: what we need today

August 20, 2006 at 12:29 am (Leftist idiocy, Religion, Religions, The West)

I’m getting a little weary of the Middle East and Islam, so I’m going to bore you with some reflections on eschatology.

Eschatology refers to the beliefs, theories, dogmas, and theology revolving around the events of the Last Days. The “Last Days” refer to the period of time just before the End of the World (eschaton). One interesting similarity is that almost every religion proclaims the following three beliefs:
1. The situation in the world will only get worse going to the Last Days, when the world will be almost fantastically horrible and gripped by evil and suffering;
2. There will be a supernatural figure who will emerge to usher in the End of the World, defeat evil, and establish goodness, peace, and tranquility; and
3. We are near the Last Days, if we are not in them.

These beliefs are almost universal. The universality of the savior-figure is a good demonstration:
Jews wait for the Messiah/Mashiach
Christians wait for the Second Coming/Parousia of Jesus Christ
Muslims wait for the return of Jesus/Isa bin Mariam and/or Imam Mahdi
Zoroastrians wait for the appearance of Saoshyant
Hindus (especially Vaishnavites) wait for Vishnu’s last avatar, Kalki
Buddhists (especially Mahayanists) wait for the appearance of Maitreya Buddha

Shinto-ists have no such belief that I am aware of; I do not know what Sikh eschatology teaches; I am not intimate with what aboriginal religions (and those descended from them) teach. But including the religions mentioned above one can easily speak about an overwhelmingly large percentage of the world’s people.

What is also striking (particularly when one examines point 3) is that this has been the case for a number of centuries. “We are almost in the Last Days” or “We are in the Last Days” has been repeated for centuries, and people continue to believe it.

These tendencies have evolved due to life’s precarious situation. The world seems to be getting worse, and people always hope for a better tomorrow. Both are melded into a doctrine of eschatology that explains current disappointments and gives hope for the future. The only time this fails is when someone tries to set a date for the End of the World. Various movements have sprung up with such beliefs and expectations, only to be proven false. As long as the coming of the savior and the End of the World is in the nebulous future, the system works remarkably well.

Of course some may say that this makes people complacent with their current situation. These beliefs often explain why the world is getting worse, and they place good times in the hand of the savior. Things won’t get better until the savior arrives. Or, even then things will be bad for some time. But the point is that the end of suffering and the savior are intrinsically linked. In a way, this hope for the future and complacency with the present–for what’s the good of improving today if only the savior can do it?–serves us humans well as well. Those who try to improve things realize that doing so is never easy. Two obstacles stand in the way: human indifference and undependability, and human stubbornness. Improvement always means change, and some humans simply won’t accept or allow change, no matter how good it may be. In a similar vein, improvement requires the coordinated effort of many people. One cannot depend on humans to sustain such coordinated effort for long: they’ll go back to old ways or simply not go as far as one needs them to. In a way, such improvement is utterly futile. One might say what one encounters in opposition to efforts for improvement is human nature.

In any case, millions of people look to the future for their deliverance. They tolerate their present suffering because that is what going towards or through the Last Days entail. All of the world’s wickedness is concentrated and strong before the savior comes, which is why the savior is necessary to begin with: evil is so strong human effort(s) cannot dispell it.

In my opinion, such a view has become almost a necessity for surviving the world in a practical manner. These beliefs allow one to recognize how rotten the world is while giving hope that things, at some point, will get better. It also prepares one for worsening conditions. This is the perfect antidote to those who seek for, work for, and preach peace and deliverance in our day, by our own efforts. Such dreams will lead to nothing but more suffering and disappointment. Such people seem to deny basic timeless aspects of humanity. If we could not achieve peace in the past, how can we achieve it in the future? Humanity does not change, even though it may appear to be so. Those in the West, especially, seem to utterly ignore the uglier aspects of humanity that run rampant in other parts of the world. We are all part of the same being: the unrealistic nobility of the West and the savage pragmatism of the Rest both belong to the same people.

Whether or not it is true that the Last Days of immense suffering, evil, and tribulation will come, from which we will be saved by some quasi-supernatural savior-figure, in my opinion is irrelevant. What matters is that it equips us to face reality, even if through lies, far better than the lies of the hopelessly optimistic. At least we will be prepared for worse situations while the others have nothing but disappointment to look forward to.

Here’s to the Eschaton!

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5 Comments

  1. bonnieq said,

    Indeed, the idea that we are living in the end days is a universal teaching. . . of lies. While I agree that we are living in the end days, my belief is wholly Biblical and not that of man’s teachings. You might be interested in an article I posted recently: _Armageddon! God’s Truth_ at my blog, http://www.bonnnieq.wordpress.com

    As a former publisher’s editor, this is very well written and very informative. You have talent as a writer.

    BonnieQ
    Unicorn Haven

  2. Christopher Taylor said,

    I think there’s more than simply a psychological need for the anticipation of a coming savior who will perfect the world. One of the things that led to the conversion of C.S. Lewis was study of mythology and world religions. He saw what he described as ripples in the water, echoes of some truth again and again in each religion. Flood stories, the fall of man, the redeemer story, the end of times stories, etc. Each one of these he came to realize is like ripples or echoes from the real event, copies of something so momentus, important, and critical to history that it has tremors through all thinking and time even to people who are unrelated or distant.

    These stories and these beliefs come from the truth, from a reality to come; from the coming second advent of Jesus Christ.

  3. Muslihoon said,

    Absolutely. I will have to agree with you 100%.

    Academics, of course, can’t entire accept such an explanation. So I let them explain things the way they see them, while knowing what’s really going on. 😉

    Another spectacular similarity among religions is the belief that there used to be one truth that was corrupted as time went by. A significant premise of many religions is to “restore” that one truth the way it was, without the accruing corruptions.

    But, as a Christian, such a view is only partly correct: there is only one truth and one religion that can rightfully claim such a restoration.

  4. Enas Yorl said,

    Don’t immenanetize the Eschaton!
    /WFB

  5. Muslihoon said,

    Thanks, Enas!

    The Wikipedia article on this is quite enlightening. I would have to agree with WFB. And The Catholic Church. Et cetera.

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