Surely some revelation is at hand
August 25, 2017 7:53 AM   Subscribe

As a child in Iran, Dina Nayeri belonged to a secret Christian church where the Rapture was welcomed as a rescue. Later, as a refugee in the US, she saw how apocalyptic prophecies masked a reactionary nihilism – which is why they are so tempting. From Guardian Long Reads, "Yearning for the End of the World" is current, urgent and surprising. Nayeri explores what she calls 'rapturous thinking' with an insider's perspective, though she is not the sort of insider who's been visible in the discourse so far.
posted by glasseyes (23 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I should have said as well, it's actually pretty bloody chilling in how it sets out the evangelical argument for letting Trump off the hook by blaming 'The AntiChrist'.
posted by glasseyes at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

> Then, one day, as everyone else goes about their wicked business, all true Christians will be snatched up to heaven.

"You know what would be super-awesome? If some sort of magical event occurred which rewarded my virtue and punished everyone I hate."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:20 AM on August 25, 2017 [22 favorites]

That does seem to be the kernel of all religions.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

That's an excellent piece. A couple of excerpts to whet the appetite:
This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection. For me, waiting for the Rapture and for political asylum felt much the same: the constant anticipation of a new start, of vanishing, of having already smelled the tiny yellow roses that draped our garden walls or tasted my grandmother’s celery stew for the final time. Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse.

* * *

Being un-raptured is simply the condition of being alive on this planet. It means being responsible for a piece of it, being a citizen.
Thanks for the post (and for mentioning the author's name)!

Also, it would be really great if we could rest content with the religion-bashing already present in the thread and go on to actually discuss TFA.
posted by languagehat at 8:54 AM on August 25, 2017 [25 favorites]

This reminded me of a character from the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'", who believes in aliens and tells Jose Chung that he wants to be abducted by aliens because he wouldn't have to worry about finding a job or making a living or not having any friends. (There's a hilarious passage in the director's commentary for the episode in which the director talks about the phone call he got from the casting director about the guy he'd found to play this character -- "I can't wait until you meet the actor I cast for that role. When he says he wants to be abducted by aliens, you believe him!".)

Escapism is a thing, and it takes many forms and has many degrees. I wouldn't be surprised if almost all of us had an recurrent escapist fantasy. I am an atheist and realize full well that there's no magical ending in the offing for humankind, but I do fantasize about coming into a lot of money, with which I could solve most of my problems and also help solve some other people's problems.
posted by orange swan at 9:01 AM on August 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

There do seem to be many people these days who wish to immanentize the eschaton.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:02 AM on August 25, 2017 [11 favorites]

I began to notice that all the anticipation was focused on what would happen to the Earth, to the unbelieving hoards left behind, and not on what awaited the righteous in heaven.

Yeah, it's an unhealthy implication of paradise and eternity (not to mention the Rapture). I kind of feel a lot of people didn't get much out of the story of Jonah beyond "there was a whale"
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:14 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

The temptation of rapturous thinking shows up in a lot of places. Think of preppers - waiting for the event that will wipe away the naive, unprepared masses and carry the prepared few into a world where their beliefs are vindicated. Or Marxism, with the emphasis on the inevitability of class struggle - if you don't like capitalism, just wait for its self-destruction.
posted by allegedly at 9:17 AM on August 25, 2017 [10 favorites]

TFA: But revolution without a stake in the future is apocalyptic, and revolution for the sake of the past is anathema to life

This is very excellent.

allegedly: Or Marxism, with the emphasis on the inevitability of class struggle - if you don't like capitalism, just wait for its self-destruction.

While it is true that Marxism has a Millenarian strain, it calls for very clear action not "just waiting."
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

There do seem to be many people these days who wish to immanentize the eschaton.

That's easy for you to say.
posted by Segundus at 9:27 AM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting.

Well, and Tom Petty, though I guess he does also know a thing or two about refugees.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:33 AM on August 25, 2017 [10 favorites]

GenjiandProust: While it is true that Marxism has a Millenarian strain, it calls for very clear action not "just waiting."

Sure, I would just argue that rapturous thinking becomes more prominent as the prescribed actions fail to have the desired effect (for whatever reasons). It's not necessarily core to the belief system at the outset, but it's how the followers cope with the tension between "I tried to do the right thing" and "it didn't work". Evangelicals failed to stop gay marriage? Surely a sign that the Rapture is at hand.
posted by allegedly at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2017

Interesting essay. There does seem to be a relationship between a belief in "rapturous thinking" and a feeling of powerlessness -- whether that be real, in the case of Iranian Christians, or imagined, in the case of white American Christians. Though even then, it would be reductive to describe their feeling of powerlessness as imaginary, since it is true that the white American Christian worldview is contested as never before. And if you look back in history, you see that premillennialism (which is the eschatological framework for belief in the Rapture) grows in popularity in response to events that challenge Christian hegemony, like the Wars of Religion, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, etc.

So it's crucial when confronting rapturous thinking to be mindful of the conditions of the people who engage in it. They might be in dire straits, or they simply can't imagine a world in which they need to coexist with people of other races and religions. Better theology certainly helps in countering it as well -- Christians everywhere would do well to jettison the latent gnosticism in the widely held belief that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that the only goal of religion is to go to heaven when you die. That's not what the Bible teaches, anyway: Jesus asks for God's kingdom to come "on earth as it is in heaven," meaning you can't be yearning for the world to go up in flames.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2017 [9 favorites]

There do seem to be many people these days who wish to immanentize the eschaton.

I recently happened to hear a meteorologist/climate scientist say that people in their field tend to have confidence in a forecast when predictions made by two models with disparate approaches to atmospheric dynamics coincide.

Right now we have climate scientists, demographers, and ecologists, as well as evangelicals and popular culture, all telling us the Apocalypse is at hand.
posted by jamjam at 12:07 PM on August 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've been using favorites to say thankyou on Mefi but have just realised lots of people have them turned off: so thank you, languagehat (and others on different threads who have been kind)
posted by glasseyes at 1:09 PM on August 25, 2017

If you keep using your cell phone you won't be raptured. You will be among the left behind.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:46 PM on August 25, 2017

This September, when the rapture happens, I've promised to take in my mom's cats. She was a little sheepish asking, but serious, and I told her of course I'd look after them. I should probably double check the date with her, though I imagine I won't need a key to get into her condo. But if it plays out like she thinks, I imagine things are going to be pretty chaotic just getting there and back with a pair of cats in tow.

My mother wasn't raised particularly religious, but soon after marrying my father, circumstances drove her to it. She'd say it was god's will, which I guess is the same as circumstances. My father took a decade to die, in the slowest, most painful way you could imagine. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the VW poptop camper van in an underground parking garage, cold and smelling exhaust. It was the closest we could get to Kathryn Kuhlman, who was healing people in the main hall. Sometimes she'd speak to the overflow crowd, describing how god was healing someone's body right there and then, and we waited and prayed so hard, so fervently as only children of six and four could.

So many laid hands on my father. Deacons, pastors, visiting missionaries, evangelists. Sometimes my father would work his M.S.-ridden body, raising his shaking hand slowly and saying "thank god, I'm healed", slurred and aphasic. But in the end, none of it changed a thing. God didn't heal my father, no matter how much I prayed. Now, looking back from decades on, it's hard to imagine what my mom had been going through. I left god behind a long time ago, but he's been a constant in her life. The promise of an end to the pain, the return of the man she loved, until it was clear he'd never be back, and let flu take him finally away from the quarts of methadone and the irreversibly cut tendons and the inability to even express the anger he felt. That we all felt.

"Curse god, and die" they said to Job. But some of us can't, we've been too wrecked by god's plan that we can only keep coming back to him, his blessings are all we know, and there's a point somewhere to all of this, and if you can just open your heart and listen, god will tell you himself what you should do. God told my mother what to do, and she did it. So she traveled to Guyana and North Pole, Alaska, Minnesota and I can't remember where all else. She worked in the offices of the ministries, word processing and databases. God needs admin too.

The kinds of ministries that do faith healing are also high on the beast-antichrist-end times-rapture index, so that's familiar ground for me. Chick tracts, collected non-ironically, Hal Lindsey and the rest, all painted clear pictures of what to expect. I am many years away from those days and I still watch the news with an eye toward deciding who's most likely to be the antichrist, which nations are Gog and Magog, which technology makes a plausible mark of the beast. I don't believe, not the teensiest little bit, and yet here I am, playing fantasy football with the nuclear states and climate destruction and wars and genocides.

A few months ago I was going through one of the top three worst periods in my life, the kind where heroic amounts of alcohol and the occasional squad car get involved, and you're reassuring the officers you're no danger to yourself or anyone else, and people are always getting in your face and checking up on you and can't they just leave you the fuck alone. My mom was there for part of this, and she offered comfort the only way she knows: the world is going to end this September.

She pulled up some YouTube videos that show how some alignment in the stars matches predictions in the Bible blah blah. If you're familiar with how slices of text from the various prophetic books of the Bible are wedged into service for one thesis or another, well it's a lot of that stuff, narrated by a synthesized voice that goes on for at least the first twenty minutes establishing the traditional "we are only reading what's actually there" and "this conclusion can only come from god" bona fides before finally getting to the point about the end of days.

Anyway, I told my mom just what I thought of her stupid video, and mocked the idea that god would choose to reveal himself through some random YouTuber. I was cruel in the way only an intoxicated son with decades of pent up disdain for his own mother's chosen life can be. I've since apologized but really, apologies can't fix things like that. Only a mother's forgiveness can, and you can't do anything to get that, it's just there, like gravity.

So when she asked me to take in her cats—and she didn't want to come right out and say it, she knows how it sounds—what could I do but take her request seriously, and agree to help? I only hope she's not putting her home and possessions on Craigslist. I don't think she'd go that far. But who knows? The rapture might come.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:35 PM on August 25, 2017 [20 favorites]

Nayeri's essay is beautiful and brilliant. Thanks, glasseyes.
posted by bryon at 2:16 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I read somewhere that the Book of Revelations was actually written in code. According to this theory, it wasn't about the end of the world -- it was a metaphor for the end of Rome. Anybody know if there's any truth to that?
posted by panama joe at 10:08 AM on August 26, 2017

panama joe, this is a good start here, from Slacktivist.
posted by emjaybee at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

oh and more detail on the book under discussion in this entry. Basically searching "slacktivst" + "revelation" will get you a lot of entries. Fred Clark started his site as a discusion on how the Left Behind books are both badly written and unChristian. So in a way I'd recommend his entire archives as a deep dive on this issue.
posted by emjaybee at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whoa -- thank you, emjaybee! I feel like I'm always overhearing ideas and theories and not being really sure where they come from or what their level of veracity is. Thank you for connecting me with some quality reading material on the subject!
posted by panama joe at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2017

My mom called, and I guess the rapture is tomorrow It was late and I was still at work fixing something I'd fucked up. She wanted to meet to give me the information I'd need in case she "disappeared." I asked her to write it down or text me or something, or we could talk tomorrow.

Two completely sane, functioning adults just having a discussion about what to do if one of them simply vanishes. Not in a living-will-someday-if-there's-a-car-accident-type way. One of us expects to simply disappear tomorrow, switched off like a light.

I still don't believe. But it's late, and I'm tired, and there really have been quite a lot of hurricanes and earthquakes and poison monkeys lately. And that thing with North Korea and Trump issuing threats literally never before uttered by nuclear powers...
posted by bigbigdog at 11:01 PM on September 22, 2017

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