What is the Apocalypse?
We’re already in it.
One of the strange things about the modern world is our combination of rationalism and chaos.
In the same century we had the Holocaust and the human rights movement. We had the Communist gulags and the civil rights movements.
Today we have more democracy than ever before, but also terrorism.
Perhaps the best symbol for our time is the nuclear bomb – a perfect combination of archaic terror and modern reason and science.
How has this come about – so much enlightenment and so much violence at the same time?
Once again, I want to borrow from the thought of Rene Girard.
Girard solves this paradox by getting to the heart of what history has all been about. For Girard, history and culture is all about the scapegoat mechanism.
Because human beings learn by imitation and process desire by imitation, eventually society turns into chaotic rivalry that can only be solved by putting the blame on one victim, who then becomes a sacrifice – a victim of violence made sacred because it brings peace. That sacrifice is then made into a ritual so its effects work through time. This is why all ancient societies had sacrifices, in all times and places. This is the foundation of the world and all human culture and politics.
The problem we have today is that Jesus has revealed this truth, or rather this lie.
By proclaiming that God’s kingdom was one of love and peace – not murder and sacrifice – he revealed the folly and the truth about the rulers of his age, who then proved him true by killing him, in a bid to hang onto the dark source of their power by continuing the system of sacrificing a scapegoat. Because the Son of God was killed in such a way, a truly innocent victim, the whole scapegoating mechanism was revealed for what it was – a crime and a murder.
By the resurrection three days later, God’s kingdom was revealed to be wholly other to the powers of the earth.
According to Girard, Christianity has therefore demystified or unmasked human culture. That’s why we no longer believe in myths or sacrifice – Christianity haunts our culture with the notion that God is on the side of the victim.
This means we no longer have the scapegoat mechanism to keep the peace. It also means we have had the freedom to develop science and technology because we are no longer constrained by myths. It is therefore quite ironic that so many believe the gospels to be just another myth – when in fact it has overturned all myths – by being the true myth, so to speak.
So Christianity destroys the sacrificial foundations of human society, in order to begin God’s kingdom of peace, in which we no longer kill others to solve our problems, but instead human imitation or mimesis is guided by love.
But history shows we have not been good Christians. We have been lukewarm. And so we still have the violence that comes of constantly competing with each other, but we don’t have the old system of sacrificing a victim so as to restore peace and community.
This moment in history is what is called the Apocalypse – a Greek word meaning ‘unveiling’ or ‘revelation’. It is the time between the old blood religions and the consummation of God’s kingdom.
This means that all the violence we associate with the Apocalypse comes not from God, but from us. We are doing this to ourselves, because we don’t want to let go of being first and building our own cities and empires.
Girard thus believed that the biggest danger we face while living during the Apocalypse is boredom – because things just go on and on. War and conflict can come to no resolution. Think of Palestine. Think even of the slow down in great, world-changing art.
So how to live in such a time?
The important thing would be to have patience – to not let love grow cold. To keep hope alive.
The other thing is to remember Sunday – which was never the day of rest until the resurrection – which happened on the day after the Jewish sabbath which is on Saturday. In other words Sunday was the first day of the week for the Jews, not the last.
In a way then, Sunday is really then the eighth day of creation on which something new began – hence Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene as a gardener outside the tomb. That is also why the Bible records that the disciples would gather on the first day of the week to break bread.
In Communion, the Eucharist, we come to the Innocent Victim, and therefore the perfect, once for all sacrifice – a new kind of sacrifice that transforms violence into love, into resurrection. In the midst of the Apocalypse, we celebrate that something new is on the way.
As the world begins to fulfill all those terrifying images at the end of the Bible – when nature itself seems to turn against us – we need to keep remembering this hope – the flicker of light behind history’s darkness.