Saturday, May 21, 2011

So why does this part of history keep repeating?

"Live not one's life as though one had a thousand years, but live each day as the last."

- Marcus Aurelius

Well kids, I may be jumpin' the gun here, but I'm putting my money on the idea that this sorry plane of existence we call home ain't getting repossessed by the Divine just yet.

A real big reason I am looking at it this way is because there's a number of passages in the Good Book that explain the state things more or less along the lines of Matthew 24:36, which in the good ol' American King Jamie's version reads:

"But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."

You know, the whole "like a thief in the night thing."

Yet throughout the last couple millennia, various people--some of them sincerely faithful, and others who were nothing more than manipulative weasel-squeezers out for personal gain--have come along saying stuff like "He's a-comin' next Tuesday, right before breakfast, so get your cuppa coffee early that day"

It actually goes back to the first days of christianity--or what its followers back then called "The Way"--during which time a whole buncha folks were inclined to stop whatever productive things they might have been doing and just sort of sat around waiting for the promised return of the Son of God. The early fathers and mothers of the church (the institution didn't turn into a super-patriarchy until later) kind of had their hands full with this situation. Much of the apostolic writing on the subject of "when He would return for us" pretty much boiled down to saying "Hey folks, it's nice that y'all are lookin' forward to the Big Guy showin' up again, but they ain't no guarantees as to the when & wherefore o' that, so in the meantime, dishes still gotta be washed an' someone had best go ahead an' change the diaper on that young'un over there."

But history has a way of doing it's thing over and over and over and over...

A caricature of Millerites, from Puck magazine

A good example of this in recent American history was the case of the "Millerites," the followers of a gent named William Miller, who was predicting "the end" back in the 1830's and 40's:

"Miller, a farmer from New York, claimed to have discovered when Jesus Christ would return to Earth as stated in the Bible. Miller reached this belief in the 1820s but did not begin to share it with other people until the 1830s. By the early 1840s, approximately one million people had attended camp meetings and heard Miller's message.....Miller predicted that Christ's second coming would occur in April 1843 and that all worthy people would ascend to heaven on October 23, 1844.

Thousands of people across the United States, including in Ohio, eagerly anticipated the event. Numerous people forsook their original religious beliefs and adopted Millerism, hoping that Jesus Christ would find no fault with them upon his return to Earth. Millerites consisted of all types of people. Many working-class people hoped that Christ's arrival would end their laborious lives.

Other Americans believed that many people were sinners and that only the true believers, the Millerites, would escape punishment. God wanted the deserving to assist their unworthy neighbors through various reform movements, such as the temperance and abolition movements. Other people believed that citizens of the United States were God's chosen people and that Jesus Christ's arrival would prove this point.

As October 23, 1844 approached, many Millerites sold all of their earthly possessions. Many sources claim that the Millerites, dressed in white robes, climbed the highest mountains and hills that they could find so that they would be closer to heaven. Unfortunately for these people, they did not ascend to heaven on the appointed day. Miller claimed to have made an error and quickly issued a new date for the second coming, approximately six months later. Once again, this day came and went. In most cases, Miller's followers abandoned him. In 1845, some of Miller's followers joined the Adventist Church, which Miller helped establish. Adventists believe in the second coming of Christ, but they do not specify a day when this event will occur."

- please note, the above was borrowed shamelessly from, which has a lot of really interesting shit

William Miller

So why does this kind of thing keep happening?

I'm not sure.

Unlike some folks, I make no claim to having any special insight into the decision-making process of the Divine. In fact--and I know this is gonna sound a tad old-fashioned--but if I understand the concept correctly, thinking that you got a special link to God and can be taking on a god-like role of interpreting things and putting words into the Deity's mouth is possibly the most literal and despicable manifestation of blasphemy. For example, from this perspective, the kuckledraggin' goober from Westboro Baptist church represents a blasphemer of epic proportions.

So while I would not presume to say, "Oh, God allows (or causes) this and that sort of thing to happen because of A, B, C and D," I will argue that there is some potential benefit we all can draw from situations like this current manifestation of failed apocalyptic prediction.

Mind you, I am not trying to be glib about this. I do feel sorry for those folks who out of faith and hope, have complicated their lives beyond belief. I feel particular sympathy for the spouses and children of those people who have made things difficult and disastrous for themselves and their families because they decided to take this prediction literally. But for the rest of us, what benefit might be derived from what is, at its heart, a sad situation?

How about if we look on it all as a good reminder that in fact, no, we don't know when or where the end will come for us, either individually or collectively. It could be any time. It could come long after we are all dust and unpaid could be mere moments away.

Consequently, we should, as Marcus Aurelius tells us in his Meditations, seek to live every day as if it were our last. BUT for Marcus Aurelius (good stoic that he was) this didn't mean avoiding our responsibilities, or squeezing every bit of pleasure and self-indulgence out of an existence that could go tits up at any moment. No sir, it means that we have to continue to do what we are here to do. Because of the uncertainty of existence, it behooves us to live each day well, to always conduct ourselves honorably and kindly and productively.

So that's my reaction to all this kerfuffle. I hope you will forgive me for indulging in some reflection upon stuff that lies beyond pixels and prims. Please remember that I was in close proximity to some of the events of 9/11, and that experience has tended to give me a rather keenly developed perspective on the spectacular unpredictability of this life...and the end of this life.

May we always appreciate the presence of the Divine and the precious opportunities of this existence...and while we are at it, may we all have the chance to live like Bajorans and die like Klingons.

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