Nobody Puts Babies in the Corner

Have you ever met one of those people who hates children? You know the type. They insist that every child that walked the face of the Earth is born of Satan. That children are urchins, brats, and disgusting. I bring up child-haters because they are here and there are many. Some people don’t like that children are not born with social norms already in hand. Some don’t like that their reasoning differs from adults. Many don’t like that they act out in public, or talk a lot, or cry, or make noise. That’s funny to me, since once upon a time, we all went through those SAME EXACT STAGES. When did we become so intolerant of our vulnerable population?

And I get it. Sometimes my kids drive me nuts as well. It takes a great deal of education, learning, experimentation, and failure to raise children. It’s damn hard. As we talk about these struggles, I can’t help but think about the health of populations. What does our apathetic view of children mean for a secular apocalypse? I read once upon a time, a long time ago, that the health of a population was only as good as that care received by its most vulnerable members. If that is the case, I would say that we’re not doing a very good job considering how we treat children. Maria Montessori once wrote, 

      “In their dealings with children adults do not become egotistic but egocentric. They look upon everything pertaining to a child’s soul from their own point of view and, consequently, their misapprehensions are constantly on the increase.”

I believe that Montessori was on to something. Why are adults so hardput to understand children? Perhaps it’s as simple as perspective.

Having said that, I am still shocked on social media when I see hatred spread concerning our youngest generation. I’ve spent a great deal of time teaching and researching children. I do happen to love kids. Perhaps for me, being on the other side, I am being unfair to call out the child-haters of the world. Let’s for a moment though dig a little deeper into why the phenonmenon of child-hating bothers me to my core. Stick by me for a few and let’s think.

Our two most vulnerable populations are our children and our elderly. They are entering and ending their lives, respectively, which puts them in an at-risk state. As children are born, they are helpless and innocent. The world around them decides how well they will be treated regardless of their cries. As the elderly leave our world, they also have once again become helpless in many cases as aging takes its toll on the body and the mind. We will have lengthy discussions on the elderly, but for this article we’ll focus on our children. Regarding children, there are a few topics to cover. I would like to bring to light the issues of abuse and trafficking, eclipsing childrens’ rights by adult rights via the movie Children of Men, and take a critical glimpse at our future.

ABUSE and TRAFFICKING

I would like to bring you a ton of statistics on child-trafficking and child abuse, but as an underground movement they are honestly hard to track. The majority of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. To give you some ideas, however, nearly 700,000 children are the victims of abuse every year in the United States. Of those 700,000 nearly 2,000 lose their lives to their abusers.[1] Now that is just an estimate of those proven to be abused. 3.5 million cases are investigated each year. I can tell you from experience, some of those cases that are set aside, also have indications of abuse. Our system is overburdened. 15% of these children suffer from multiple types of abuse – physical, negligent, and sexual. 7% are sexually abused by someone they know. That means, approximately in any given year, 50,000 are sexually abused in the United States, while 105,000 face multiple forms of abuse. The Chicago Public School district alone has 355,000 students. Think about that, the entire school district of kids doubled.[2] If your heart didn’t just sink, then I think we best have a deeper discussion together. I would like to believe, that most of you are feeling disgusted and mortified – me too.

Trafficking is another distinct way that children are exploited. The Polaris Project alone assisted 22,000 people (adults and children) who were the victims of human trafficking last year.[3] The statistics for trafficking are even more difficult to come by. What we do know is that children under eighteen suffer the highest rate of sex trafficking. Traffickers see children as easy prey, particularly children who come from abusive or negligent homes.

I do not, however, bring up these statistics just to alarm or make you see your lunch one more time. No, I bring this to light because with these given statistics, knowing full well that our children face abusers every single day, most of us do absolutely nothing. Abuse takes place across socio-economic status, across colors, across cultures. It does not descriminate its victims. In a time where we are very concerned with how our adults are treated, we still, as a whole, DO NOT seem to be concerned with the welfare of our children. When we’re told of the death of a child, the murder of a child, our reaction is to feel sad and say, that poor baby, that poor family. It seems that our emotional stirring is the extent of our movement on this issue. When Joette Malone, a vibrant two year old, was murdered in Hammond, Indiana there were no protests to find her killer.[4] There were no lootings in her name. A toddler who will not get to her next birthday because our adults do not care for the children around them. One year old Sincere Gaston was shot on the way home from the laundromat with her Mom, while Mekhi James, three, was shot and killed sitting in his father’s car. As our adults rally for their freedom from abuse, from scandal, from brutality, our young ones get murdered. How about AJ Freund who was brutally abused and attacked by his parents? AJ was five and repeatedly hit and abused in a cold shower until he was dead. Perhaps we should discuss the most recent execution of Cannon Hinnant, also five, who was shot at point blank range while riding his bike? How many more children are we going to watch get murdered by violence, neglect, and abuse? How many more have to endure situations the likes of which we adults are now saying of ourselves, “NO! You can’t do that to me because I matter!”

Those children look to us to say they matter because they are too young to say it by themselves, they need their hand in ours.

We should be ashamed.

ECLIPSING RIGHTS – CHILDREN OF MEN

My best guess is that by now some might say to themselves that I just don’t understand the power of movements or I am being unfair in the amount of care we give to our children. 

For most families, I would say that you’re absolutely correct. I do not see the majority of our families in the United States as abusive or uncaring. What I do see is that while we do well to care for our own children or our kin, we do not have a united front on behalf of children who are not in some sort of relation to us.

I would also say that our interests as adults get easily hijacked by causes that are more bold, ambitious, rewarding, and pertinent to our lives as grown people. For instance, while I support the movement of women and men coming forward as being sexually abused, for that MUST end as well, imagine being raped at six. What about twelve? What if it’s a family friend or neighbor – you get my drift. Children who are victims of this type of abuse are in desperate need of advocates on their side. There is no trivialization of sexual abuse, ever, on my part. I do, however, believe we need to accept and realize what segments of the population require extra protection as well as our help in processing their victimization.

The 2006 movie Children of Men brings to light some interesting issues concerning our topic. It is an apocalyptic, dystopian, movie that glimpes into a world where the youngest living person (who soon dies) is eighteen. For eighteen long years women have been unable to become pregnant or to carry any children. The world faces a crisis of a dwindling population in light of no births. As depression and futility set in, the main character Theo looks for signs of hope on his journey. His hope comes in the form of a refugee named Kee. Theo is told that Kee is important, but in a particularly striking scene, standing amongst livestock in a manger-esque style, Kee reveals her pregnant belly to Theo. Ahhh, hope.

In a world of despair, the tiniest member is the source of hope. In our world religions, most  have a healthy understanding of children as hope of the future. Their life is held in the highest of regard not because others don’t matter, but because without our help they may not continue to live. Children are born requiring complete assistance from their care-givers in order to continue living. Without us, we face a world without them.

The struggle for Theo to save and protect Kee, and ultimately the child, is daunting. In a world more concerned with who belongs in which country, who is rich, who is starving, which adult is getting what they want, the life of a pregnant refugee woman hangs in the balance. SPOILER ALERT! Kee successfully gives birth to a baby girl whom she names after Theo’s dead son.

There are two main reasons that I bring up Children of Men in reference to our themes of secular apocalypse and the lives of children. First, I would say that it is striking to watch a movie where the devastation does not revolve around a monster, plague, or meterological situation. The apocalyptic theme here is the loss of children. That stands in stark contrast to other recent apocalyptic films where the apocalypse is brought on by supernatural or otherworldly forces. The loss of a child to death is, as I understand it from others, the most painful experience a parent can go through. In the film that loss is experienced by the world, not just singular people. As an apocalyptic movie, it is interesting that it is also a not-so-overtly theological movie. It is a movie about faith and hope and love and kindness. From the manger scene with Kee to Theo’s very name as a relation to god(s) the movie is full of theological themes. As you may have read in some of our other articles on secular apocalypse, the interesting thing about theological apocalypse is the element of hope. For one aspect of Children of Men, children are hope.

While I would love nothing more than to end on that note of children being hope, I cannot. While I believe strongly in the message of the movie, as a whole, I also believe that within it lies a cautionary tale. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene after the birth of baby Dylan that is striking. In the scene, there is bombing and shooting and military skirmish happening all around Theo and Kee. Shrapnel is flying, debris is getting blasted everywhere as Theo tries to get Kee out of a building and to safety. No matter who was in the scene fighting, as Kee walked by with baby Dylan, they immediately stopped and put down their guns. The blasting halted as mother and child safely exited the building. Some men and women were crying. They were all struck by awe of a living child, a sign of hope. As Kee passes them and you witness the change, you are filled with hope for the future. A new baby is so very exciting in a world where no births have happened for eighteen years. After Kee is gone, the fighting, skirmish, and hatred begins again immediately. Hope was a passing glance.

This is a cautionary tale because if the world can stay hopeful with the coming of new life, with the renewal of a love of children, and the protection of children, then the world truly has something to be hopeful for. However, if our hope in the future, in children, in creation, in pure goodness, is nothing more than a passing glance because we are too busy thinking about our adult problems and causes, then hope passes us by and we will no longer be able to crawl out of our rabbit holes. Maria Montessori’s prophetic words of egocentric adulthood have been fulfilled and the apocalypse carries on.

The choice is up to you.

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

Where do we go from here? 

Should you stop protesting in what you believe in because I’m telling you to pay attention to children? No, don’t be silly.

Should you stop worrying about sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation of adults? NO! They need our help as well.

My concern is not that you stop working on other causes in the name of them not being important. My concern is that you remember some of our most important members of society because they cannot fend for themselves. These children need our help and our attention. 

What I will say is that while we are out rallying for a better world, don’t continue to allow it to be a world where children are being killed daily and we are silently complacent about it because we’re busy doing other things.

Be Theo. Look up and see new life. Dare to give it your all to protect it. And hope.


[1] https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/national-statistics-on-child-abuse/

[2] https://www.cps.edu/about/stats-facts/

[3] https://polarisproject.org/myths-facts-and-statistics/

[4] https://abc7chicago.com/$10k-reward-offered-in-toddlers-shooting-death-in-hammond/6368767/

Antichrist Superstar

The identity of the Antichrist is legion. Through the centuries religious communities have associated this apocalyptic figure with figures as diverse as Roman emperors, popes, and collective identities of heretical groups as a whole. All this to say, Christians have offered a wide variety of interpretations for evil personified over the last 2000 years. Our contemporary society has shown no lack of effort in this regard, though the trajectory seems to have changed a bit. In fact, because of the ease with which media and ideas are disseminated via the internet, apocalyptic material has the potential to be more prevalent now than ever before. This speed of transmission has led the eminent scholar of apocalypticism and mysticism, Bernard McGinn, to opine that we are living in “the most apocalyptic time of the last 2000 years.” Despite this continued interest in the end times, in this exploration of apocalyptic themes I will be focusing on the figure of the Antichrist and his evolution between the Middle Ages and our contemporary world. I will briefly examine two popular depictions of this figure in contemporary film with an eye to how it is different than his handling by medieval authors. Lastly, I will propose some current Antichrist-type language being currently deployed.

While belief in the literal Antichrist does continue to this day in certain religious communities, by and large the figure of the Antichrist has receded in the religious imagination since the Enlightenment. That said, the antichrist, as a symbol of utter evil with some form of human cooperation, continues to capture the imagination of creators of popular culture through film, television, and novels (just to name a few forms of media). Two very recognizable depictions can be found in the films from the late twentieth century (which were significantly rebooted in the early twenty-first century) are Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976). The reboots of Rosemary’s Baby came in 2014 as a television mini-series and a new feature film of The Omen premiered in the summer of 2006. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the “original” films rather than the reboots — though a side-by-side comparison of the source material with its reinterpretation for a generation 30+ years later would be likely very illuminating.

Before examining the 20th-century film versions of the Antichrist, it is important, I think, to briefly discuss how the Antichrist and the Book of Revelation from which he emerges have been handled by Christians prior to the (Post-)Modern world. Early Christian commentators on the rather obtuse last book of the Christian canon, such as Victorinus (early second century), interpreted the events of the end times recorded in the book as literal prophecies of what was to come. However, as Christianity become more aligned with the Roman state, biblical exegetes such as Jerome discarded this type of hermeneutical lens for one that found the value of Revelation to be more allegorical. The focus by Jerome and later commentary authors down through the Middle Ages was recapitulation. Jerome stresses a timeless and ecclesial reading of the book, and in doing so removes a sense of immanent cosmic cataclysm and replaces it with the recurring problems facing the institutional Church.

For Jerome and authors like him, the Antichrist was at the same time the persecuting emperor(s) of pagan Rome, but also any enemy of the Church who spread error or strife amongst the people of God. As E. Ann Matter explains, through this lens of recapitulation “the Apocalypse presents a series of typological events recurring in sacred history from the time of the patriarchs, through the unknown future of the Church on earth, to the parousia.” As such, while the Antichrist could be associated with any number of singular figures, many times Christians ascribed a collective interpretation of Antichrist to groups in enmity with the Church, such as the heretical Arians and other various heresies, and, later with rival religious communities like Muslims with whom Christians came into direct warfare for centuries. Alongside this exegetical tradition of the apocalypse however, there were still traditions of texts wherein Christian authors awaited the coming of the Antichrist and enumerated ways in which to be able to identify him. The most famous medieval text of this kind can be found Adso of Montier-en-Der’s tenth-century De ortu et tempore Antichristi. It is also shown to be a concern in the “Antichrist tables” found in the eighth-century Beatus Apocalypse, which could be used to examine the names of the Antichrist and interpret their number (whether it resulted in a tally of 666).

Common to all of these interpretations of the medieval understanding of the Antichrist, whether of bloodthirsty emperor of the past, a heretical body of the present, or a depraved pontiff of the future, the figure is always one of a human being given completely over to evil. As Adso writes to Queen Gerberga in the tenth century, “[The Antichrist] is a man, he will still be the source of all sins and the Son of Perdition, that is, the son of the devil, no through nature bu through imitation because he will fulfill the devil’s will in everything.” This interpretation of the figure of the Antichrist is fully coherent with the bigger picture of understanding of the Book of Revelation for medieval authors. The Antichrist is a fully-human cooperator with the devil. He fulfills a role in apocalyptic scenarios, but it is a temporary one. The Antichrist’s time to plague the Church is short, he will ultimately be overthrown, and Christ (and the Church) will be triumphant. It is on this point that there is stark departure from medieval depictions of the Antichrist and those that we encounter in contemporary fiction.

Returning to the twentieth century, the Antichrist who emerges from the films Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen is one quite different than Adso’s Son of Perdition. Both films offer a literal interpretation of the figure of the Antichrist. In Rosemary’s Baby it is ultimately revealed that the titular baby will, in fact, grow up to be the Antichrist, while in The Omen, the protagonist comes to realize that his adopted son, Damian, is the Antichrist, and must be destroyed. In both films, the Antichrist is not a human in full cooperation with evil, but is in some way a perversion of the hypostatic union of humanity and divinity that is unique to Christ in Christian theology. The figure of the Antichrist in these films evolves from an evil human being to a somehow supernatural force of evil. Furthermore, divorced from a more comprehensive understanding of the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist figure in these films will not assuredly be defeated and the salvation of the world by Christ is not something the characters in the narrative receive, leaving viewers with a sense of dread. This is a complete inversion of the original aim of apocalyptic literature, which was to reassure believers that troubled times would eventually come to an end. For viewers of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, the diabolical children in the films are a promise of possibly unfettered violence yet to come.

The settings of both films are similar in their theological terrain. Both occur in the Modern world where belief in God, the devil, and the efficacy of the Church are questionable. Yet in both of these decidedly anti-metaphysical worlds comes a beastly, supernatural child who has some connection to a devil everyone seems to have forgotten about. In both Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen rather innocent couples fall into the clutches of a satanic conspiracy to bring the Antichrist into the world. Rosemary and her husband guy are groomed by an eccentric elderly couple to become the parents of a child brought about through Rosemary’s ritual rape by Satan. In The Omen, American diplomat, Robert, and his wife, Katherine, lose their infant son in a hospital fire, only to have him replaced by a human child that was somehow born of a jackal. In both narratives, Rosemary and Robert eventually are made aware of their children’s true identity. In the case of Rosemary, she acquiesces to her role as mother of the Antichrist, and Robert attempts to kill his adopted son to avert cataclysmic disaster — he is unsuccessful and dies in the attempt. Both narratives come to a close with the survival of the Antichrist children and the promise that they will grow to successfully fulfill their apocalyptic roles. In narratives that offer viewers an either non-existent (or at the very least disinterested God) and an impotent Church juxtaposed with a very real devil and sophisticated network of satanic devotees, the reign of the Antichrist seems as though it will go along unimpeded until the end of the world. Both films set out a world that has been disappointed by institutional Christianity and its promise of salvation, and, perhaps because of that, has an even more robust understanding of the reality of evil. From a theological point of view, these films offer no hope, and make a rather forceful statement that we are living in a kind of Modern hellish existence where God is dead and religion offers no succor.

As mentioned above, it would be interesting to examine the context and reinterpretation of both of these films that occurred 30+ years after their original releases. I would hazard a guess that the sense of God and institutional Christianity would not be improved. Further, particularly after the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, and, now, in the midst of a 2020 pandemic and widespread civil unrest, it seems that hope from traditional Christian outlets is not a comfort to many. In this very secular twenty-first century and particularly this unprecedented year of 2020, it seems that Antichrist-like language is still being deployed. In this case, we seem to have swung back to a non-supernatural, fully human and corporate identification with evil personified: the police. Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020, the righteous anger of the Black Lives Matter movement has not only swept across the United States, but the face of the whole world. As a result of this, centuries long simmering anger about racial oppression, inequity, and violence have spilled out onto the streets. The police, who have often been perpetrators of this race-based violence, have exacerbated that image by strong-arm responses to peaceful protesters in cities across the US. The cry of ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) has become ubiquitous and binary language verging on the very apocalyptic has become common. The corporate identification of cops as a group of personified evil has become mainstream, but rather than a supernatural author of evil with whom they cooperate, it is the very real legacy of institutionalized racism, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and red lining that this group have been charged with furthering through insidious cooperation. Unlike in the Book of Revelation, the impetus for salvation has not been ascribed to the Risen Christ, but to something he definitely advocated in his earthly life: Justice for the poor and care for those marginalized by a corrupt and ossified society built on privilege for the few.

Apocalypse, Maybe Later.

There is a definitive difference between a Religious Apocalypse and a Secular Apocalypse. A Religious Apocalypse sets its foundation in the idea that change is not only imminent, but necessary to the fulfillment of God’s Will. It brings into reality the end of times, the end of life as human beings know it on Earth so that we may rejoin our Creator. In contrast, a Secular Apocalypse doesn’t bear this teleological fruit. The very word Apocalypse is borrowed and altered to simply describe an ending of all we, as humans, know. Let’s examine the potential for hope in Secular Apocalypses, which are otherwise, quite hopeless. But first, let’s look at what, exactly, a Religious Apocalypse might be.

Throughout our day we hear sound bytes from various media sources. They give us information, sometimes accurate, sometimes not. We become engaged in the stories that swirl around our minds. We listen to the directives given to us as we try to weave them into some sort of meaningful life.

“Folks are supposed to remain within their homes unless they work within what is considered an essential activity or an essential industry…” Sam Liccardo, Mayor of San Jose.

“The borders to Canada and Mexico will be closed to non-essential travelers,” Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State.

Daily we hear stories of the dying, the elderly in nursing homes without assistance or family to visit, the young suffering from the likes of Kawasaki disease. We are reminded of a collapsing economy, dams being breached both emotionally and physically. It seems that within the course of a few months, the world was forced to a kneeling halt, at the mercy of an invisible foe.

Is this the Apocalypse?

The answer to that truly depends on who you are and what you believe.

Religious Apocalypse

The word Apocalypse has its roots in the Greek word, apokaluptein/apokalupsis; to uncover or reveal. The very word Apocalypse is Revelation. Over the years, due to the nature in which revelations happened in the ancient world, the use of the word mutated. In the beginning, Apocalypse was associated with events that occurred to populations that believed in one God or many gods. The people of the ancient world were believers in the faith to which they surrendered their lives. If crops failed, they needed to praise and worship the gods in a more pleasing way. If catastrophe happened, it was part of a plan that would be revealed in time. In any case, through the lamentations of their suffering, they believed that the unveiling before them would brighten their path for better times, for a future with change, or in light of the final Apocalypse, bring them in communion with their Creator God.

It is safe to say in our contemporary society that not everyone prays to the gods to heal their crops. Many, not all, Churches are reporting their membership is down. There is now a large portion of our population, at least in Westernized countries, who already experienced their own personal revelation; there is no God; or at least no religious or spiritual God. One could argue that some have replaced a God of religion with a god of economy, a god of materialism, a god of desires. Can money, material goods, or pleasure take the place of the function of God? Will these new gods soothe the need for comfort and revelation that our ancient ancestors sought?

Not really. 

The function of the God and gods of yesteryear were not to give the people what they wanted or desired, but to bring human beings deeper into the divine plan. Without this sense of rejoining something beyond us, something bigger, deeper, infinite, we truly face the end of existence. If we look deeply as to what the Apocalypse is supposed to give us by means of its, sometimes painful, revelations, it is hope.

Hope is a word that is fierce in its tenderness. It is the essence of the human spirit. Hope has been the source of our moxy to continue on as human beings when the world falls apart around us. If we don’t belive in something, anything, greater than ourselves and our own creations, where does that hope come from? 

Some might say that they are the source of their own hope. Ok, true, we have the ability to muster up amazing goals and ambitions, but for what? When we talk about hope, associated with the Apocalypse, we are driving at the idea that we have hope in a plan through the suffering that will help us find eternal and infinite peace. That is the essence of the Religious Apocalypse, bringing about the end times on Earth to find inifinite peace on another plane of existence.

What did these Religious Apocalypses look like anyway? Well let’s look at a couple. Now some of these examples are not the Earth-ending types of Apocalypse. They do still exemplify a similar format to the all-ending type of Apocalypse. Perhaps the most important on this list is the Genesis flood. In the book of Genesis, Noah is told to build an ark for his family and pairs of animals. Frequently in the Bible we see God giving orders to God’s plan in hopes that some human will actually listen and follow them. God always however makes a promise with these marching orders. God’s promise to Noah is that though the Earth would face destruction, he and his family would survive the flood with this troop of animals. 40 days and 40 nights it rains and rains. Noah feels restless and wonders if this will ever end, but remembering God’s promise. The flooding does indeed end and life begins anew for Noah, his family, and the animals who will repopulate this beautiful new Earth.

Orders. A Promise. Destruction. Hope. Divine Flourishing.

When we look into these Biblical stories, particularly in the case of the Apocalypse, we are looking at allegory; a piece of writing that is meant to be interpreted into a tale of meaning, moral, or at times, warning. Similarly to the Genesis flood, the plagues that were bestowed upon Egypt were also looked at as Apocalyptic. God gave orders to the people of Egypt, God’s faithful follow those orders, such as marking their lintels with the blood of a spring lamb, God then promises the faithful they will be spared, God brings destruction down upon the unfaithful, the faithful remain hopeful in their changed life, the faithful live on in new ways of divine flourishing.

Perhaps, however, the Biblical book most associated with the notion of Apocalypse is … well … the book of Revelation! Revelation is indeed one of the most interesting pieces of the Bible. Out of all of the plauges, famine, world destructions, and desolation, it is the one Apocalytpic story that is most frequently taken literally by readers. While it speaks rather explicitly about the end of times using vivid symbols and imagery, it is still in actuality an allegory. The author, whom scholars call John because of the writing style compared to other Biblical writings, was writing of the Christians in captivity in an allegorical manner. The thinking today is that their persecutors would think it more harmless crack-pot Christian stuff and not realize that John was submersively writing about Christian liberation through Christ. The point, no different than our other Biblical allegories, is a story about the darkest of times, a faithful people, and the hope that is born from their faith that God has a better plan on the other side. They want to know that their suffering was not for nought. Their desire was to live God’s plan and find their inifinite peace.

Secular Apocalypse

What’s the deal? Why are we so hot about Religious Apocalypse in an age of science where we *clearly* have no proof of God? Well, because the age of science hasn’t found an adequate way to maintain hope in people for belief in a better tomorrow, or even a different tomorrow.

If we follow our line of thinking, the Apocalypse came to human beings out of a need to understand a few things:

1) There is truly something beyond us that connects us all universally, it is inifinite, it encompasses all of humanity, and it is some sort of creator spirit. 

2) When shit goes down on Earth, this God-spirit has our back. There is an exit plan.

3) The prospect of an exit plan brings human beings real hope that they haven’t lived for nothing and they will continue on to something.

Simple, right? Then where do we go so wrong?

Perhaps the best examples of Secular Apocalypse that we see are in popular culture television shows and movies. Let’s face it, they are the allegory of their time. For better or worse we learn morals, lessons, and yes, even warnings (looking at you  The Exorcist) from these live allegories. They’re all so different though, how do we know what’s apocalyptic? When we think it’s apocalyptic, why don’t all these allegories work the same way? Though that answer is complicated, let’s try to break it down. 

The first pop culture Apocalypse story that should be considered is a show that was written in the late 90s and made in 2002 and 2003. HBO found a hit in the cult classic, Carnivàle. Gritty, sexy, religious, flamboyant, it was everything that HBO could ask for from anything pre Game of Thrones. The story’s basis is set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. A time of faminine, pestilence, war, suffering. It was rife for the four horsemen to just pop out on that screen. Though it does highlight much symbolic imagery from the book of Revelation from the Whore of Babylon to Beasts, it stops short of following in the footsteps theologically. Carnivàle, instead, becomes a gnostic story about the war between the light and the darkness. It is a fight between a god and a devil for the souls of humanity. Everything from the Alamogordo bomb to the dirt blowing and fields withering indicates the level of destruction throughout the show. It represents Apocalypse perfectly in its destruction. It falls short, however, in following through in meaning. It leaves the audience waiting for hope – literally because it was canceled. 

Aside from its cancelation, Carnivàle lacked a cohesive storyline that would end this Apocalypse in a hopeful way. The ending suggested that the darkness could as easily win over the light. There was no creator God supplying a promise of change to the people that would bring a sense of fulfillment. Like listening to any COVID-19 update, you are left with few answers, more questions, and a deflated plan of where we will go from here.

“Similarly to John’s Revelation, when our social infrastructures fail us, when fear and imminent danger enter our lives, we move to express these manifest fears; for Americans, media is a powerful resource. If our social and political structures will not save us, we must create the Messiah who will, or live without hope or redemption.”

Carnivàle falls short of creating that Messiah.

It is not the worst, though, out of all pop culture examples of Apocalypse. At least Carnivàle makes an attempt to enter into a deeper philosophical and religious dialogue about beings outside of human beings who are at work in the universe. During the early 2000s and even beyond, there was a slew of outbreak, disaster themed movies that filled the box offices. Everything from global warming biting our collective asses, to volcanoes, to zombies – lots of freaking zombies – there was a new onslaught of apocalyptic dread movies. There really isn’t much to say about these movies other than they are a gratuitous play on the fears of human beings. The watchers of these apocalyptic dread movies and tv shows are filled with anxiety over the future while they watch the world crumble with no hope at all. The Earth is a ball of land and water, mother nature hates us, and we are left wondering why COVID-19 has actually not turned us all into zombies. Enough said, they’re not truly an Apocalypse at all, just a play on our deepest fears.

There is another grouping of movies that shows more promist than the Carnivàle-type shows, and certainly more than the apocalyptic dread movies. Let’s talk about The Avengers. More specifically, let’s talk about Endgame.

Fascinating in its premise, alluring by its cinematics and characters, Endgame is the three hour devotion of time that was most like a true allegorical Apocalypse. Outside of the side stories that weave the epic together, Endgame’s premise is simple; The Avengers are tasked with protecting the world from Thanos, life will be saved if they can, Thanos destroys everything, through sacrifice they find hope and band together, the new world flourishes. Absent of the explicit elements and talk of God, it has potential to at least be considered and taken seriously. 

At the beginning of Endgame we watch a sorrowful Hawkeye watch his entire family turn to dust at the snap of a finger. We already know that half of the human population was literally turned into dust. Thanos, himself, like a god, retreat to a beautiful garden to marvel at his handiwork and retire. How very biblical of him even stating, “I am inevitable.” 

More important than the imposter god, however, is the interaction between our heroes. In one faithful moment on Vormir, as Hawkeye and Black Widow understand how to get the soul stone, it becomes clear a great sacrifice needs to be made; one of them must die. After the ensuing battle, Black Widow outsmarts Hawkeye and falls from his grip, dying. The soul stone will only appear to someone who has lost equally what they seek – a soul. 

The soul stone, however, and this great sacrifice like a flood for 40 days, is only one of the reasons that this should be considered as our new Apocalypse allegory. Six infinity stones in total sum allow someone to control, everything, in a god-like manner. Whomever controls these stones is able to do whatever good or evil they choose for the world. The infinity stones, space, reality, power, soul, mind, and time, represent principles of the universe that are beyond human being’s full understanding and control. They are likened to a universal creator spirit. While Thanos wants to shred the universe into pieces to recreate his beatific vision, the Avengers work to put the infinity stones out of human (and alien) hands in order to allow the universe to thrive on its own.

Endgame may still be a story of light vs. darkness and perhaps its not so different from Carnivàle in that way. Endgame, however, provides in spades exactly what humanity needs when we talk about the end of the world, the end of all we know, hope.

Carrying On

As we stand on yet another precipice of inevitable change, it is normal to wonder from time to time, “What will become of us?” This anxiety is familiar to humanity. We have experienced these fears since our creation. As certain as we are that these fears have been part of our DNA since our beginning, we can be equally sure that we have made it through these times by carrying on with hope in our hearts, minds, and souls.

A pandemic is spreading quickly across our world. We don’t have a cure, we don’t have a vaccine. All we have is our hope for the future. Our world, will be changed indefinitely by what has happend to us. If we allow ourselves to be drenched in apocalyptic dread, we will never see our new futures for what they can become. If we take a spiritual or religious lens and look at this new challenge, we can see hope on the other side of these tragedies. Like Noah, like the Avengers, it’s not in us to simply give up. We challenge, we fight, we continue. In the words of Tony Stark, “Everybody wants a happy ending. Right? But it doesn’t always roll that way. Maybe this time. I’m hoping if you play this back, it’s in celebration…”