[ By Charles Cameron — apocalyptic movements, best readings, budget shortfalls, lack of support for scholarship in crucial natsec areas — and with a h/t to Dan from Madison at ChicagoBoyz for the video that triggered this post ]
What with rapture parties breaking out all over, billboards in Dubai proclaiming The End and thousands of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam among the believers, this whole sorry business of Harold Camping‘s latest end times prediction is catching plenty of attention. I thought it might be helpful to recommend some of the more interesting and knowledgeable commentary on Camping’s failed prophecy.
First, three friends and colleagues of mine from the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, about which I will have a further paragraph later:
Richard Landes of BU has a text interview here, and a TV interview here. His forthcoming book, Heaven on Earth, is a monumental [554 pp.] treatment of millenarian movements ranging “from ancient Egypt to modern-day UFO cults and global Jihad” with a focus on “ten widely different case studies, none of which come from Judaism or Christianity” — and “shows that many events typically regarded as secular–including the French Revolution, Marxism, Bolshevism, Nazism-not only contain key millennialist elements, but follow the apocalyptic curve of enthusiastic launch, disappointment and (often catastrophic) re-entry into ‘normal time'”.
Stephen O’Leary of USC wrote up the Harold Camping prediction a couple of days ago on the WSJ “Speakeasy” blog. He’s the rhetorician and communications scholar who co-wrote the first article on religion on the internet, and his specialty as it applies to apocalyptic thinking is doubly relevant: the timing of the end — and the timing of the announcement of the end. His book, Arguing the Apocalypse, is the classic treatment.
Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph is a wicked and witty blogger on all things Catholic and much else beside — the normally staid Church Times (UK) once called him a “blood-crazed ferret” and he wears the quote with pride on his blog, where you can also find his comments on Camping. Damian’s book, Waiting for Antichrist, is a masterful treatment of one “expecting” church in London, and has a lot to tell us about the distance between the orthodoxies of its clergy and the various levels of enthusiasm and eclectic beliefs of their congregants.
Three experts, three highly recommended books.
Two quick notes for those whose motto is “follow the money” (I prefer “cherchez la femme” myself, but chacun a son gout):
The LA Times has a piece that examines the “worldwide $100-million campaign of caravans and billboards, financed by the sale and swap of TV and radio stations” behind Camping’s more recent prediction (the 1994 version was less widely known).
Well worth reading.
And for those who suspect the man of living “high on the hog” — this quote from the same piece might cause you to rethink the possibility that the man’s sincere (one can be misguided with one’s integrity intact, I’d suggest):
Though his organization has large financial holdings, he drives a 1993 Camry and lives in a modest house.
Now back to the Center for Millennial Studies.
While it existed, it was quite simply the world center of apocalyptic, messianic and millenarian studies. CMS conferences brought together a wide range of scholars of different eras and areas, who could together begin to fathom the commonalities and differences — anthropological, theological, psychological, political, local, global, historical, and contemporary — of movements such as the Essenes, the Falun Gong, the Quakers, Nazism, the Muenster Anabaptists, al-Qaida, the Taiping Rebellion, Branch Davidians, the Y2K scare, classic Marxism, Aum Shinrikyo and Heaven’s Gate.
And then the year 2000 came and went, and those who hadn’t followed the work of the CMS and its associates thought it’s all over, no more millennial expectation, we’ve entered the new millennium with barely a hiccup.
Well, guess what. It was at the CMS that David Cook presented early insights from his definitive work on contemporary millennial movements in Islam — and now we have millennial stirrings both on the Shia side (President Ahmadinejad et al) and among the Sunni (AQ theorist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri devotes the last hundred pages of his treatise on jihad to “signs of the end times”)…
Apocalyptic expectation continues. But Richard Landes’ and Stephen O’Leary’s fine project, the CMS, is no longer with us to bring scholars together to discuss what remains one of the key topics of our times. When Richard’s book comes out, buy it and read it — and see if you don’t see what I mean.
And while it may not see Judgment Day or the beginning of the end of the world as predicted, what this week has seen is the end of funding of Fulbright scholarships for doctoral dissertation research abroad. But then as Abu Muqawama points out:
hey, it’s probably safe to cut funding for these languages. It’s hard to see Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere in the Arabic-speaking world causing issues in terms of U.S. national security interests anytime soon.
So the CMS isn’t the only significant scholarly venue we’ve lost to terminal lack of vision.