History of religion

The apocalypse as hope?

(Published 2014)

The world is not going to end ...

At the beginning of the nineties of the last century I heard in a small, private circle around Carl Friedrich v. Weizsäcker (1912-2007) gave a lecture by Marion Countess Dönhoff (1909-2002), the great old lady of German political journalism.

Your presentations were characterized by the greatest optimism: the Iron Curtain had just fallen, the division of Europe into two warring ideological blocs seemed to be over. The Cold War that brought the world close to the abyss of nuclear war was history. Instead of confrontation, cooperation between Russia and the United States had begun. Both of them had lost their image of the enemy that had had a decisive influence on world politics for so long. The new powers that were rising to global political importance, such as China, India and Brazil, also sought cooperation with the West. All the signs suggested a more peaceful, happier future for mankind.

Unfortunately, the optimistic mood of optimism after the fall of the Iron Curtain barely lasted two decades before new threats emerged, which again provide arguments for the end-time prophets. Because whenever natural disasters, political or economic turmoil make life difficult, or even threaten war, end-time preachers inevitably appear who urge urgently needed spiritual conversion.

Inevitable Self-Destruction of Civilizations?
“Sometime around 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi and three of his colleagues met for lunch at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. After enjoying a cartoon by the New Yorker showing a flying saucer, they moved on to more conventional scientific subjects. Suddenly Fermi blurted out: 'But where are they?'
It took Fermi's colleagues a moment or two before they realized that he was still thinking of the visitors from strange stars. During the meal, a few thoughts had crossed his mind. Even if only a tiny fraction of the 250 billion stars in our galaxy had planets on which life could emerge, space would still have to be full of aliens. The earth is - based on the age of the galaxy - relatively young, less than five billion years old, so some of these beings could have a much older family tree and be much more developed than we are. Even if their spaceships were as slow as ours, it would have taken them 50 million years at the most to explore the entire Milky Way system. So where are you? Why didn't you contact us?
In 1967, astronomers Josef Schklowski and Carl Sagan presented a sobering solution to that Fermi paradox. If only 250,000 each. Star is orbited by a habitable planet, then, they calculated, there would be potentially a million extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way. The fact that we have no trace of them can only mean, according to the two astronomers, that advanced civilizations are always self-destructing. This must happen within 100 years of the invention of nuclear weapons, otherwise the aliens would have had enough time to fill the cosmos with signals that we could intercept. " (5, p. 587).
(In the esoteric scene there are a number of stories or visions haunted by extraterrestrial civilizations that destroyed themselves[i]. The centenary of the first atomic bomb being dropped comes in 2045!).

Since the end of the Second World War there have been a number of apocalyptic scenarios, not just religiously based. During the Cold War, the widespread fear of the future seemed real that a major war with nuclear weapons could mean the extermination of mankind, or at least the downfall of civilizations.

Then followed the - meanwhile subsided - optimistic New Age wave, which hoped for a turning point in the beginning "Aquarian Age" that would lead to a better, spiritual age.

Since the 1970s, more and more people have become aware of the dangers of overpopulation and environmental degradation. The model of inexhaustible economic expansion was no longer tenable, any more than the concept of modernity: "anything is possible". Since then, many have seen an ecological apocalypse as the greatest danger to the future of mankind.

The new threat to the west

At the beginning of the 21st century, on September 11, 2001, a spectacular terrorist attack made it clear that the time for global peace is not yet ripe.

Hardly anyone was prepared for such an attack by fanatical terrorists, even if there was no lack of warnings of the coming big confrontation between fundamentalist Islam and the West (4).

After the overthrow of Bolshevism, many believed that this fanatically advocated political ideology had been overcome; but it continues to exist, even gaining new supporters among the losers of globalization.

Many people - especially in less developed countries - feel disadvantaged or oppressed. These sometimes turn back to communism, which often serves as a substitute religion for its followers. Or they become religious fanatics. Nationalism and racism can combine with religious or political fanaticism to form an explosive mixture. (See. "Where's the hope for the world's poor?", under “Economy and Social Affairs”).

Despite all the well-intentioned, often poorly implemented development aid, the gap between rich and poor countries became too great. Social tensions are also growing within individual peoples, even in rich nations like the USA.

The population explosion, the increasing lack of resources, the impoverishment of the living space on earth, the over-indebtedness of nations are having an ever more pronounced effect.

Even in the industrialized countries, uncertainty is growing. Well-paid jobs are becoming rare, hardly any employee can still feel safe, because even good training and first-class performance no longer guarantee a job.

And only in the developing countries: Here states are falling apart, and the number of those who are hungry, those with no future prospects, is increasing dramatically. And with it the hatred of the West, against the former colonial powers, who are held responsible for all evils (see book review "The hatred of the west").

The western countries don't really know how to behave. The crimes of the colonial past weigh on their conscience and make it difficult for them to come to a realistic assessment of the present. In addition, there is the realization that the neoliberal approach of western countries to “save the world” has failed.

This “missionary liberalism”, which originated in the USA in particular, was convinced that after the introduction of democracy, human rights, religious freedom and the free market economy, paradisiacal conditions would inevitably arise all over the world.

The preachers of western liberalism ignored traditions, convictions, religious traditions, the economic basis and the level of education of the peoples to be converted to democracy, as did the Christian missionaries once. The neo-liberals - like the missionaries - overlooked the fact that a change for the better must be supported by the majority. People must first understand and then agree with the new before they can implement it in their lives. (See. "The Christian mission - a failed utopia?", under “History of Religion”).

The asymmetrical war

For years there has been talk of an “asymmetrical war” between the poor and the rich, in which some see the preliminary stage of a world struggle between Islam and Western culture. According to the understanding of Islamic fundamentalist extremists, such a global fight against Western immorality is a prerequisite for the coming apocalypse. (See. "The Apocalypses in the 21st Century", under "History of Religion"). Religious fanatics who might want to trigger the apocalypse can even be trusted to use nuclear weapons if they can get hold of them.

Terrorism and suicide bombings are embarrassing the militarily armed countries. Because with submarines, aircraft carriers and ICBMs it is difficult to fight a guerrilla army, and the "war on terror" cannot be won. Especially not when the rebels are supported by the people. How should foreign troops, to whom the language, customs and traditions of the country are alien, pick the death-ready freedom fighters, religious warriors or terrorists from hundreds of more or less harmless civilians who - not always voluntarily - give them protection and help?

Do we live in the end times?

Such entanglements in seemingly insoluble conflicts give end-time prophets of the most diverse ideologies or denominations a new impetus. For thousands of years the great conflict between good and evil, between light and darkness, has been expected. In the past, apocalyptists believed they recognized the heralded signs of the beginning of the end times in every century. So also in our time.

Only after the final victory of the light, the annihilation of all malevolent ones, can the long prophesied golden times begin. It goes without saying that the respective end-time preachers are absolutely certain that they personally belong to the “good guys” who will be saved. There are such end-time prophets in many different groups of different countries and religions, who often demonize one another.

The religious Apocalypses[ii]

Zarathustra was probably the first to speak (Zoroaster, cf. "A Persian Bringer of Truth", under "History of religion") in the first millennium BC of the impending final battle between good and evil, which is partly also being fought on earth.

Apparently he only regarded the victory of light as possible, not as certain. Egyptian mystics even predicted an incessant alternation of light and darkness, and the Greek poet Hesiod even reckoned with a victory of the dark in the 8th century BC (2, p. 23).

The prophecy of the great end-time dispute is not only an integral part of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). It can also be found in a comparable form among Buddhists, Hindus, Hopi Indians, New Age followers, occultists and paganists[iii], Parsing[iv], etc.

The Bible begins with the creation story and ends with the prediction of the Last Judgment, the "great Apocalypse". This expectation of a final judgment, a cleansing of the earth, is one of the most widespread religious ideas. (See. "The Apocalypses in the 21st Century", under “History of Religion”).

Unfortunately, for many centuries, this basic religious idea has been misused to discipline people with the fear of damnation.

But the fear of hell especially - but not only - engendered by monotheistic religions is not a good guide. Even the assumption that the Creator could be favorably voted for one's own spiritual or material goals through bribery (selling indulgences, donations to the church or the mosque, suicide bombings and the like) was and is blasphemy.

As right as it is to point man to his responsibility towards his Creator, it is just as wrong when people, preachers, priests presume a judgment that wants to anticipate the counsels of the Eternal.

The apocalypse of the ecologists

Today we must take the "apocalypse of the ecologists" seriously; the warnings of an “ecocide”, an ecological suicide. Unfortunately, it can no longer be ruled out that vital natural cycles could collapse and then trigger an apocalyptic scenario, the consequences of which hardly anyone can imagine.

 The ecological apocalypse
According to recent forecasts[v], which are unfortunately quite well founded, global warming may exceed a critical threshold in the second half of the 21st century. Then ecosystems would have to collapse on a large scale. Nature and the environment would change to an unimaginable extent for us, the one we feared "Apocalypse of the Ecologists" could partially become a reality.
“The apocalypse of the ecologists would have to be horrific. A single slow murder and agonizing death, the destruction of plants, animals, people through the creeping contamination of the living space. A cruel death to which the brutal destruction of all living things in one mighty atomic blow would be almost preferable.
Compared to these terrifying visions of the natural scientists, the prophets are almost optimists. They too see catastrophes of the worst kind. But they are catastrophes that do not strike at random, do not destroy in senseless rage, they are interventions that correct undesirable developments, promote life-affirming and spiritual developments and cause an evolutionary leap. "     (3, p. 392)

Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, a non-profit organization, said:
"We are the first generation that has to determine through its ethical decisions whether it will also be the last at the same time."

We are thus faced with a new experience that is already imparted to children - often at a much too young age - and can depress them. The unthinkable and impossible for thousands of years has become reality:

The survival of mankind is no longer just a question of the counsels of God, the (inevitably coming?) Last Judgment, the eruption of a large volcano, or an impact[vi], but it depends above all on ourselves!

Need teaches to pray

Religious rites, prayers and meditation play an important role in all cultures. The greater the need, the more fervent the prayers become. Because whoever feels at the end of his wisdom, is faced with unsolvable problems, hopes for higher powers, the intervention of fate, the help of God. One puts one's future resignedly in the “hand of God”, in the awareness of one's own powerlessness.

In such situations it is also natural to turn to eschatological prophecies or prophetic interpretations of the Holy Books.

Early Christianity was eschatological[vii] Cult. The early Christians believed that the destruction of the world and the return of Christ were imminent. Then from the ruins of the old world a new, perfect world, the "millennial kingdom" will emerge.

Such expectations for the future have played their part throughout the history of the West. Countless religious communities, more or less sectarian groups that differ from the churches, new religions, economic or political movements, philosophical ideas, promised to create ideal conditions through new utopian orders.

This hope for a “better world” can still be found in the sermons of many denominations, in political programs, in economic teachings, even in atheistic worldviews.

Almost all of these utopias - whether politically, ecologically, economically, philosophically or religiously justified - have one thing in common: a considerable amount of loss of reality, due to which they have all failed so far. Or maybe just the last, inspiring conviction was missing, the “belief that can move mountains”?

The expectation of a savior

The end-time prophecies often foretold the appearance of a messenger of light. "Messianism" can be found in many mythical traditions. These speak of an outstanding spiritual personality who was already on earth and will return in the end times.

It can be Krishna (Hinduism), the Saoshyant (old Persian religion), the Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah (Judaism), the Christ, the Spirit of Truth (Joh. 16,13), the Imam Mahdi (Islam), or act the Hidden Twelfth Imam (Shiite Islam), whose return is hoped for as the helper of the orthodox of a people or of all humanity. This is obviously a "knowledge-of" that is common to all cultures on earth.

These expectations can take on political dimensions that pose a threat to others. So said Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran:
“The main mission of our revolution is to prepare the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, Mahdi. We should define our economic, cultural and political strategies in such a way that they fit the return of Imam Mahdi ” (7).

In the secular area, legends give hope for an outstanding earthly ruler. For example in Central Asia the hero king Gesar, or in Europe the (symbolic) return of legendary transfigured rulers: King Arthur, Emperor Karl or Emperor Barbarossa.

Hope for the end times?

Before the Age of Enlightenment, with its struggle against the churches, most people felt more or less secure under the protection of their Creator, who watched over their fate and determined it. Since everything depended on the will of God, you could save yourself a useless quarrel with your fate, no matter how hard or unfair it seemed.

The prophecy of the condor and the eagle
“Almost all cultures I know assume that we entered an important turning point at the end of the 20th century. In monasteries in the Himalayas, in ritual places in Indonesia, in the reservations of the North American indigenous people, from the depths of the Amazon to the mountains of the Andes and to the ancient Maya cities in Central America - I heard everywhere that we were in a special historical time and that we were born because we had a mission to serve.
The names and the content of the prophecies differ a little. They speak of a new age, the third millennium, the Aquarian age and the beginning of the fifth sun or of the end of the old calendar and the beginning of a new one. However, despite the different terminology, they have much in common and 'The Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle' is typical of them. According to her, the human community split at the beginning of the story and took two different paths: that of the condor (which embodies the heart, intuition and the mystical) and that of the eagle (which represents the intellect, the rational and the material). In the last years of the 15th century, according to tradition, both roads converged and the eagle threatened to overwhelm the condor. But five hundred years later, at the end of the 20th century, a new era was to begin in which the condor and the eagle had the opportunity to unite, to fly together in the sky and to follow the same path. If the condor and eagle take this chance, they will produce outstanding, unique offspring. " (6, p. 343 f.).

The theme of the Enlightenment was the liberation of mankind: liberation from political servitude by autocratic monarchs and liberation from spiritual submission to power-hungry priests. People should grow up and shape their fate independently. The enlightened person lost the feeling of security under the protection of a God who leads everything to the best.

However, when disasters break in, individuals or entire groups find themselves in threatening, even seemingly hopeless situations, from which they see no way out, then the longing for divine help breaks through, even in enlightened people. Many then hope for an "intervention from above", for the "deus ex machina"[viii] Greek tragedy, a fateful change for the better, or the approaching end times. As the saying goes:
"There are no atheists on a ship in distress!"

In our present so-called trust in God often only shows itself as resignation from problems. For example, in the non-reaction to the threatening scarcity of resources, in the over-indebtedness of states, in political or economic instabilities, in the destruction of nature and climate change, or in civil wars and the population explosion with its flood of migrants.

Helpless rulers look the other way and belittle the bigger and bigger problems. And these real threats, which cannot be discussed away, are now assuming an apocalyptic dimension that can no longer be suppressed and, above all, soon no longer controlled.

When human prudence fails, is there still hope for God's help? Can we assume, demand, or prayerfully compel that He will correct our mistakes and failures?

Most of us fail to realize that the hope of higher powers, of divine intervention, can sometimes only mean personal resignation; the depressing admission of helplessness or failure.

Mostly unconsciously, to one's own detriment, one withdraws from recognizing one's own causation and takes refuge in apparent trust in God. In depressive resignation it is then overlooked that one's own contribution to solving the crisis is possible and also the prerequisite for the longed-for help of God to be effective.

Pray and work!

The old motto of Benedict of Nursia (around 480-547)[ix] still has its value. Because first of all, it is up to each individual to personally strive to improve his or her immediate environment; in thoughts, words and deeds. Those who fail to act themselves, rely on others for it, wait for those responsible for their understanding, or hope for miracles, will almost certainly be disappointed.

Nobody really knows whether and when the "end times", the "last judgment", the "cleansing of the earth" will come and whether this should happen through an unprecedented divine intervention.

But we know for sure that the future is something that we are helping to shape today. The future develops from the conditions of the present and is influenced by current and future decisions.

Whoever acts in the present in a constructive way with regard to the future, in the personal area that he can influence, does not have to fear the future or the world judgment. For him as a person things will continue in a positive way - on this earth or in the hereafter, in the “other world”.

Read about it too "What apocalypse is coming?" under Ecology.

[i] For example “Mallona” by Leopold Engel, Turm, Bietigheim, 1961.
[ii] Apocalypse = revelation; Apocalypses = prophetic writings about the end of the world.
[iii] Paganists are followers of natural religions. They used to be called "pagans".
[iv] Parsees (from Persians) are today's followers of the religion of Zarathustra. Most of them live in India and Pakistan.
[v] See Jorgen Randers, "2052", oekom, Munich, 2012.
[vi] Impact of a celestial body.
[vii] Eschatology = the doctrine of the ultimate things and of the end of the world.
[viii] Deus ex machina = God from the machine. In the Greek tragedy, a god floated onto the stage from above to untangle inseparable entanglements.
[ix] The fact that the existence of this canonized monk has recently been questioned by historians does not change the correctness of the motto ascribed to him.

(1) Cohn Norman, The Expectation of the End Times, Insel., Frankfurt, 1997.
(2) Gray John, Politics of the Apocalypse, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2009.
(3) Hagl Siegfried, The Apocalypse as Hope, Droemer-Knaur, Munich, 1984.
(4) Huntington Samuel, The Clash of Cultures, Europe, Munich, 1997.
(5) Morris Ian, Who rules the world ?, Campus, Frankfurt, 2011.
(6) Perkins John, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Goldmann, Munich 2007.
(7) http: //www.lightforthelastdays, Page_id = 389 & menue_id = 646.