People are not just storytellers, Fasching says, but “story dwellers,” shaped by and living out the tales they tell.This is followed immediately by:
The tale of apocalypse is one of blessed catastrophe, in which the children of light gain bliss and the children of darkness burn. The story was acted out most fully by Hitler, a self-proclaimed messiah…One of the things that fascinates me is the way it became so popular over the course of the Bush Administration to refer to pretty much everyone as a fascist. It always left me with the urge to say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.” The problem, I now see, is that people only look at the symptoms of fascism and say, “Ah, so you’re a fascist.” Were it up to me -- and I think we can all agree that it should be -- I’d drop the word from the lexicon. The word has become like a sweater with a stretched neck hole, pulled outward until it is shapeless and without much value. We can’t name the disease by looking at the symptoms, at least not using the lenses we use. The political debate in America is about the conservative v. the liberal, and about extremely specific and not altogether useful definitions thereof. Hitler was neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama, yet the enemies of the latter two try to convince us that they’re each a latter-day Hitler using the arcane mathematics of misunderstood history and loudmouthed rhetoric. It’s a useless, dangerous attitude that completely ignores the basis of fascism. Moreover, in turning any and all debate about what happened to bring Hitler or Mussolini to power in to a reflection of the provincialized struggles of today’s politics, we risk ignoring the true dangers of the dangerous thought process that gives rise to state-based extremism. See, the basis of mid-20th Century fascism was neither conservativism nor liberalism. For that matter, Marxist philosophy mirrored fascism in ways that are useful and instructive. The basic structures underpinning fascism and communism weren’t political or economic. They were millennial. I don’t have outright proof, but I’m pretty sure it’s no accident that Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich would have taken the exact same amount of time as Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom. There’s a certain magic that’s been handed over to the number 1000 in Western civilization that stretches back at least as far as John of Patmos’s trippy anti-Imperial screed. I’d suspect, too, that this is the reason a certain subset of the population greeted the crossing of the threshold to 1000 and 2000 CE with a mixture of eschatological hope and terror. They’d confused a millennium with The Millennium. [As an aside, I suspect that Mussolini’s promise to return the Mediterranean to “a Roman lake” is also a version of Millennialism, with Hitler’s future vision and Mussolini’s historical nostalgia each taking one aspect of the search. Italy was Eden, Germany was Heaven. Mythology has a habit of lamenting a time when men were better and the world was perfect and promising a time in the future when this state of perfection will once again be achieved. The search for the Millennial society can work in either direction and undoubtedly is impacted as much by the history of the society making the promises as anything else.] Marxism, meanwhile, was a form of Millennialism, too. In resetting the historical frame in to a class struggle and promising an overthrow of the economic powers that be Marx re-directed eschatological energies but didn’t actually change the message. The Other stopped being the tribe next door or the forces of evil and instead became the rich. The point of Millennialism is to claim that this or that power is what is holding down the coming of paradise and if the obstacle can simply be removed then paradise will arrive. This, too, is a mile marker on the road to the ultimate answer to the question of how good German people could stand by while the Jews were being loaded in to cattle cars bound for Auschwitz and Dachau. It’s the exact same reason why otherwise decent Christians can blithely ignore the implied message of the final damnation of billions in Revelation while fervently praying and hoping for the coming of the event that will banish so many in to the outer darkness. The pyre lit by the burning of the faithless is the source of the consuming fire that will burn the impurities from the faithful. Germany burned the Jews to purify the Aryan people. That purity was necessary for them to take their rightful place as the leaders of a peaceful world created in their own image. There really is no historian of eschatological Christianity that I am aware of. There are plenty who talk about the various movements, but it’s often regarded as being the sort of thing that requires a primer and little more. In the interests of adding to the babble, now seems like a good time to point out the dominant form of eschatological thinking has only recently switched to premillennialism, mostly with Hal Lindsay and The Late, Great Planet Earth back about thirty years ago. Premillennialism is the familiar idea of the Rapture and the seven years of Tribulation after which time Jesus will reappear and set up his Millennial Kingdom. This is the “theology” of Left Behind. At the time of the World Wars the predominant eschatology was amillennialism or postmillennialism. The amillennialist thinks that we’ve basically been living in the End Times since Jesus, so things might change tomorrow or when the sun goes supernova and there’s just no telling. An amillennialist probably won’t do much to bring about the Second Coming. The postmillennialist is actually more dangerous than a premillennialist, however. They believe that it’s their responsibility to create the Millennium, after which time Jesus will return and make things permanent. This bizarre utopianist movement is what brought Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in to the public and political arena. It’s also a tradition that stretches back to Cromwell’s England, John Calvin’s Geneva and pretty much any place a Christian has taken power and removed freedom in the name of religious unity. While the premillennialist is likely to throw up his or her hands and basically say, “God’s wrath be upon you,” (and, for the record, my friend who left Christianity at the same time I did and I both have stories about people who basically did that, making a token effort at re-conversion then saying, “Well, you’ll be sorry when Jesus comes back.” Classy) the postmillennialist is likely to see him- or herself as an agent of god’s wrath. This is the millennialism of the Concentration Camp and the Siberian gulag. Whether they’re called “sinners,” “Jews,” or “dissidents,” the impure are being removed to refine the Chosen. This, too, is why millennial movements will eat their own tails if allowed to survive long enough. The distinctions between “pure” and “impure” become smaller and smaller as the promised salvation tarries longer and longer. I also strongly suspect that the Italian version of fascism is slightly more benign than the German, since Mussolini was promising a return to historical prominence, not a new, perfected world. Not that it makes much of a difference to the victims, whether external or internal. Although this does allow me to delve in to an interesting idea: the Antichrist. One of the things that baffles outsiders about the hoped-for Second Coming is that Jesus basically comes off as an asshole in the turgid eschatological wet dreams of folks like Lindsay and LaHaye. They warn us to be leery of people who bring peace because the first sign of the Antichrist is that he will make wars cease. For the most part the end of war seems pretty good, so it’s a bit strange that this is a sign to worry and a thing to resist. What the millennialist is saying isn’t that peace is bad, it’s that any peace but theirs is bad. That thought should be fairly self-explanatory, especially in light of the concept of fascism as millennialism. But the character of the Antichrist* must be understood in light of the Jewish world from Alexander the Great through John of Patmos. There are three great empire builders who need to be understood in order to understand the world at the time of Jesus: Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Romans. Cyrus was an innovative guy. He realized that taking the land of an enemy did no good if the people on the land hated him. So he instituted a system wherein the conquered were allowed to keep their own religion and identity (within reason) and conquered lands were governed by satraps who had a great deal of local power and respect but still had to answer to the throne. Alexander borrowed from and built on the Persian system, going so far as to merge mythologies to say, “Hey, we have a common bond,” bring local troops in to his army, and leave his troops behind as colonies instead of garrisons. The system started by Cyrus and expanded by Alexander reached its height with the Romans. At the height of the Empire -- which stretched from England to Africa and Iberia to the Middle East -- the lands inside the borders of the Empire largely enjoyed the period known as Pax Romana: Roman Peace. The Jewish people, or at least the ones still in Palestine, didn’t take too well to the Persians. Or Alexander. Or the Seleucids. Or the Ptolemies. Or the Romans. Basically, the Jews didn’t like being ruled from afar. It was probably a cultural aversion that went back to Jacob’s sojourn in Egypt. At the time of Joseph, so the scriptures say, the Pharaoh honored Jacob’s family, promised them peace, as it were. Then came Pharaohs who didn’t remember what Joseph had done for the Egyptians and they brought slavers’ whips along. This is the call to arms behind the Maccabean Revolt. This is the promise of the Messiah who comes to cast off Roman shackles. This is Zionism. Without self-rule in the Promised Land the Jewish people cannot trust anyone who promises them peace. Christianity, as a religion started by Jews, carries this forward in its own cultural memory. This is why people who want to teach evolution in schools and allow homosexuals to marry cannot be trusted. Sure, they say that they won’t take away religion and morality, but they can’t be trusted to follow through. So if there is to be peace, it has to be the peace of the Kingdom. It’s really too bad, too. Not only do they dwell in a horrible story that teaches them not to trust others and to pray for the peace of the pyre, they force us to dwell in that story, too. And then they tell us it’s our fault. -------------------------- *For the record, there is no Biblical Antichrist and I have no intention of making it seem like there is one. The Antichrist has been stitched together like Frankenstein’s Monster from several different places in the Bible. However, since they believe that there will be a literal Antichrist, it’s necessary to engage the concept as if it does exist. They’re story dwellers, after all, and it doesn’t matter if the story they’re telling makes no sense to anyone else. EDIT: Forgot to italicize a couple book titles and used "tales" when I meant "tails." Oops. Also, I love the phrase, "turgid eschatological wet dreams." Just thought I'd point that out.