There is an old Tool song called Ænema. The lyrics express a great hatred for Los Angeles and fantasize about a cataclysm that destroys the city along with most of California. “Some say the end is near,” says Keenan. “Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon. I certainly hope we will. I sure could use a vacation from this bullshit…”
The band is not alone in that hope. People have been crying for the end for as long as there has been history. Some look upon it in terror, but many see redemption and feel that when the end comes everything will be put right. I am sure that is how Harold Camping felt.
Camping, the leader of a small but influential radio ministry, set the date of the end time for this past Saturday. His followers hit the streets spreading the word and many of them financed the campaign with their life savings. They were committed, which is the only way that one can be when there is certainty.
I use to be a Christian. I remember dark bible study meetings in which elders described in hushed tones the dispensations, great eras of time, supposedly divined from scripture. We live in the last era, they said. The end of the world is at hand and the beginning of the end is the Rapture. No man knew the day or the hour but all believed it would happen in their lifetimes. On the night of a particularly swift and thunderous storm, I would look into the distance wondering if this was the end, if it was happening. If my step father was not where I thought he was going to be, for a moment I would think that the deity had taken him. I would read the Bible’s concluding book searching for signs, for notions of what things might be like before the end. I didn’t feel the immanence all the time, but when it was present it was intense. It is the end of the world, after all. It’s kind of serious.
The man who believes the end is nigh makes quite a few moves. He relies on the mastery of his divination. Whatever the method, he is secure that the runes he follows are the truth. His commitment to the end is really just his commitment to his interpretive scheme for everything that comes before it. And because it is in many cases the most difficult belief to hold, doing so is insurance on the strength of his faith. The end also motivates action. The sword hangs over the head, the proximity of death reveals the ground mood of anxiety and pushes him toward authenticity. With the end in sight, he can act with resoluteness. We are on the verge of a climate catastrophe, people. We have to act now! His movements are energized by his knowledge of the expiration date. And then there is the hatred.
To will the end, one has to look upon the world with scorn. You have to survey the brokenness of everything and join Maynard in believing that the only way to fix it is to flush it all away. It doesn’t matter if you set out in caravans to warn as many as you can; the will to save others from the apocalypse is congruent with the need to gloat over your rightness, your confirmation that the world really exists as you have written it—or, as it has been written for you. How satisfying must it be to say “I told you so” to the entire cosmos?
As the latest crop of doomsday riders have learned, the great cataclysm is that we go on. That the world keeps turning and we are forever condemned to look back upon our tragic histories. Instead of facing the grand day of judgement, we have to live with our sins until, since we never answer for them, they stop being sins altogether and we must resort to punishing ourselves. The true destruction wrought by doomsday is its absence. The quake won’t sink L.A. and dysfunctional insecure actresses will live forever.
In a public square one night, I passed a man holding a giant picket sign that said “Jesus isn’t returning.” Maybe not. But we can always hope that batshit interpretations of mesoamerican calendars will pick up the slack. See you in 2012.