Reverse psychology, sort of — with an apocalyptic vengeance

[ by Charles Cameron — negative hope in light of an eventual (hoped for) positive outcome ]

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The particulars here have to do with the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, but what interests me is the combination of eschatological expectation and the wish for the world to “slide from bad to worse” morally speaking..

Baptist pastor Clint Arthur:

It isn’t easy for Christians to identify a silver lining to Friday’s ruling that is worth celebration; unless you’re a premillennialist.

Whereas postmillennialism believes that Christ will return to earth when the gospel has triumphed over unbelief and conquered the globe, premillennialists aren’t holding their breath. Premills teach that the world will slide from bad to worse until it is so irrecoverably bad that only Jesus can fix it. That will be his cue to return and establish a rule of peace, righteousness, and sanity in the courts.

So, it is on days like this that I read with relish passages that others may dismiss as pessimistic. I prefer to see regress in society as a welcome sign that the Bible is accurate, and that Jesus is coming soon.

From both “rhetorical pattern” and “eschatological studies” points of view, that’s quite something to ponder.

18 comments on this post.
  1. Cheryl Rofer:

    It’s a way of dealing with events one doesn’t like. The Communists did it, and I saw it from a Democrat who thought Bernie Sanders was too much of the establishment this week. Things have to get so bad that people will beg for change from our faction. That’s the secular version.

  2. Charles Cameron:

    Yes. I’ve seen / heard it before, too. It smells of desperation, no?

  3. Cheryl Rofer:

    That or extreme fanaticism.

  4. Charles Cameron:

    Overlapping categories?

  5. Cheryl Rofer:

    Entirely possible.

  6. Cheryl Rofer:

    And that made me think of something you might like, Charles. This is just musing, not criticism.
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    I learned, a long time ago in school, that “or” by itself allows for the possibility of overlapping categories. If you wanted to signify no overlap, you would use “either…or.” I tend to those two usages without thinking. But what I see today is that the two are kind of randomly distributed, and the structures for “either…or” frequently fail to be parallel. Or explanations are given that sometimes verge on the elaborate.
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    I’m not going to go into a prescriptive grammar rant, but I do like precision in words. So it seems to me that we’ve lost two ways of putting things together in verbal structures that are much like your DoubleQuotes. People still make the distinction, but it used to be much more graceful.

  7. T. Greer:

    Charles, would you happen to have a finger on when post millenerian fever died down in American life? In tue antebellum era it was dogma–and dogma that motivated very great deeds. All sorts of abolitionism, temperence movements, even internal improvements were justified in the name of preparing the land for the way of the Lord. (Too say nothing off the many communes and religious movements that tried to build Zion itself on American soil). American society, especially in the North, was enamored with the idea that the 2nd coming was near, and all they had to do was perfect their society a bit moze, and the Lord would appear!

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    I’m not sure when this confidence disappeared . 1950s America was still a very protestant nation, but no longer a post millenial one. When did the Chang occur?

  8. Charles Cameron:

    T Greer:
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    I’d say it was the Scofield Bible (1909, 1917) that propelled the switch by offering a dispensational premillennialist reading of scripture via its system of verse-linkages and commentary. Wikipedia suggests:

    The Scofield Bible was published only a few years before World War I, a war that destroyed the cultural optimism that had viewed the world as entering a new era of peace and prosperity; then the post-World War II era witnessed the creation in Israel of a homeland for the Jews. Thus, Scofield’s premillennialism seemed prophetic. “At the popular level, especially, many people came to regard the dispensationalist scheme as completely vindicated.”

  9. Charles Cameron:

    Cheryl:
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    Coiuld you give us some examples of the accurate and non-parallel uses? I too tend to use those structures unthinkingly and in the manner you described (or at least I think I do?), but as with DoubleQuotes I wonder whether the parallelisms sometimes suffer from parallax.
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    I have a diagram somewhere illustrating what I mean..

  10. Charles Cameron:

    Here we go:

    So one of the things I’ve thought a bunch about is the kind of analogy that says a : A :: b : B.
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    As in: Egyptian cop is to Egyptian protester as UC Davis cop is to UC Davis protester.
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    Which you may think is absolutely right — or cause for impeachment — or just plain old kufr!
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    And I’ve figured out that the reason people often have different “takes” on that kind of analogy — takes so different that they can get extremely steamed about it, and whistle like kettles and bubble over like pots — has to do with the perceptual phenomenon of parallax, whereby some distances get foreshortened in a way that others don’t.

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    So my thought experiment sets up a sunken garden — always a pleasure, with two video cameras observing it, as in this diagram:

    And from the two cameras, the respective views look like this:

    In this scheme of things, Aa (let’s say, Oxford) seems very close to Bb (Cambridge) seen from the viewpoint of camera 1 — but from camera 2’s standpoint, Aa (Oxford) and Bb (Cambridge) are at opposite ends of the garden, and simply couldn’t be father apart.

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    Now, my thinking here is either so obvious and simple as to be a platitude verging on tautology — or one of those subtle places where the closer examination of what looks tautological and obvious leads to the emergence of a new insight, a new “difference that makes a difference” in Bateson’s classic phrase.
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    And clearly, I hope that the latter will prove to be the case here.

  11. Charles Cameron:

    I hope that makes sense.. and that it can be applied to my comment above that “parallelisms sometimes suffer from parallax”.

  12. Cheryl Rofer:

    Hi Charles –
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    I don’t collect examples like that, and I don’t think I’ve seen any for a while, but I’ll keep my eyes open!
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    Also, good question from T. Greer, and I like your answer, although some of the communes and such were secular. Not sure if they were influenced by the religious or not.

  13. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    T. Greer, Cheryl –
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    An interesting insight to that sort of movement can be found in writings (and biographies) of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had a great many acquaintances who decided to form communes and/or social movements in order to “perfect” society. Most of those persons familiar to him seem to have been motivated by religious (or transcendentalist-religious) reasons – but not, as far as I know, with a view to perfecting the world in preparation for the Second Coming. I think those movements were more inspired, even if subconsciously, by technological and scientific advances which had begun to “show” that progressive positive change could be achieved by humans without waiting for a savior to show up.
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    Emerson took a dim view of the various communes, sometimes praising their spirit but on the whole being critical of their practicality. (These idealists would set about forming communes but have very little concept of the sort of work and division of labor – and, levels of labor – that would be required, and so they usually failed after a short time.)
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    One exception to his group of acquaintances re: millenialism would perhaps be Jones Very, who pretty much announced that he was the second coming and went about preaching to everyone in a firebrand manner. Emerson never failed to praise him for various aspects of his character, intellect, spirit, and so forth – even while lamenting his mental breakdown. (Very was institutionalized at one point.)
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    Emerson was lukewarm toward the temperance movement and some similar movements (but very warm toward the abolitionist movement), because while he could appreciate some aspects, he wasn’t fond of their more fanatical tendencies.

  14. Charles Cameron:

    Appreciated, all!

  15. T. Greer:

    I have an easier time figuring out why post-millennialism swept early 19th c America than why it died out. I’d point out two things:

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    1. A very hands-on spiritual culture, one that proclaimed that revelations and blessings were available to everyone. This was a big part of what made the Second Great Awakening successful. You would have to work hard to find a any township whose residents were not experiencing visions or great movements of the Holy Spirit on their souls. You kind of see this with Pentecostalism today, but whereas it is kind of one of Pentecostalism’s selling points today, it was something that was just assumed to be a part of all genuine religious experience then. There was this very real sense that any blessing Christians of old had claimed were available then and there–and if such blessings were available, why not the New Jerusalem?

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    The more lettered men of America were more measured in their expression of these ideas, but they were there. Since Emerson’s been brought up, he’s a good example:

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    “It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater [for] new revelation than now.” “The doctrine of inspiration is lost. … Miracles, prophecy, … the holy life, exist as ancient history [only]. … Men have come to speak of … revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. … It is the office of a true teacher is to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake… [you must be] a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity.”

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    That is from his address at Harvard’s Divinity college.

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    Religion was the great intellectual activity of the era, and it was a very democratic activity. Rich and poor, men and women : all alike participated in camp meetings, most argued, many sermonized, all sang and dedicated their lives — and often at great temporal cost to relatively poor farmers who had far less spare time and discretionary income than we do today. t shouldn’t be surprising that the social atmosphere, attitudes, and expectations of these meetings infected the broader culture at large.

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    2. Americans thought quite highly of themselves. The title of John O’Sullivan’s famed ‘manifest destiny’ editoral for the Democratic Review is telling: “The Great Nation of Futurity.” The Whigs were just as convinced:

    “The highest glory and the chief hope of safety for our [American] civilization, lie in the fact that it gives free scope to the great leading tendencies of human nature and human society that it embraces and, to some extent, harmonizes them all.”

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    Excerpted from “Civilization: American and European”, American Whig Review, vol. 4, issue 1, (July 1846), 27.

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    The Whig article goes on to claim that American society represented a new and totally unique civilization in the history of the world! Forget our modern notions of “Western Civ” — Americans had surpassed what Europe had to offer and had built an entirely new form of morals, politics, and economics so different (and so much better) than what came before that it deserved its own category. We were the “nation of futurity.” And in a nation as deeply religious as antebellum America, that meant we were the nation through which the millennium would arrive.

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    I suspect that technological progress had a part in this, as CGW suggests. The first message to go by telegram was the words “What God Hath Wrought.” I also think it had something to do with politics. Americans were raised on an ideology of democracy, and in the early 19th century there weren’t many other democracies out there. Americans were exceptional, and oh my did they know it.

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    It occurs to me that there is a third reason that might contribute, now that I think about it. In the antebellum era America was peopled by a people who believed deeply in self government, in self reliance, and who took as their credo “go-ahead.” There was this expectation that if you wanted something–a better road, a new barn, (or more depressingly, less blacks or Catholics around)–the way to do it was to get your neighbors together and then go do what needed to be done yourself. Europeans marveled at this; Americans bragged about it. But if that is how you really believed the world worked–that you could have or do what you wanted, as long as you could convince enough of your fellow Americans to go do it with you—well, why wouldn’t you try to take that power and build paradise with it?

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    Americans feel much less confident than we once did–but also, I think, we feel, in an individual sense, far less powerful. I would be surprised if that had something to do with the rise of industrial conglomerates and nation spanning unions at the turn of the 20th century, right when the Scofield Bible was being published.

    The most successful of the various millennial groups was probably the Mormons

    although some of the communes and such were secular. Not sure if they were influenced by the religious or not.

  16. T. Greer:

    ^—“WOULDN’T be surprised.

    Also my last paragraph responding to Cheryl’s comment was cut off. I think they were very much influenced by the religious ideas, if only because they were so common. Daniel Walker Howe has an excellent chapter on both the secular and religious sides of it (including the Mormons, who proved the most successful of these groups on the long term), in his excellent books, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

  17. zen:

    “It occurs to me that there is a third reason that might contribute, now that I think about it. In the antebellum era America was peopled by a people who believed deeply in self government, in self reliance, and who took as their credo “go-ahead.” There was this expectation that if you wanted something–a better road, a new barn, (or more depressingly, less blacks or Catholics around)–the way to do it was to get your neighbors together and then go do what needed to be done yourself”
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    Much land, few people helped self-governance along while the relative isolation promoted a valuing of neighborly cooperation. Your community was your only safety net and in a cash-poor 19th century barter and trading favors in “book debt” and access to the commons allowed everyone to save their scarce hard money for critical expenses (doctors, taxes, land, seed) The frontier made labor valuable and land cheap or even periodically free and even squatter’s had rights. This came to an end in the 1870’s – 1890’s with changes in fencing laws, gold standard deflation, range wars (US version of “enclosure”), “store credit”, bonanza farming, mass immigration and the closing of the frontier

  18. Cheryl Rofer:

    So I go away for a while to write a response to Max Fisher’s WWIII piece, and you guys have been having a good discussion!
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    I’ve been intrigued by the 19th-century communes since I was at that adolescent stage where such things are intriguing. I early on decided they were impractical, however. Emerson is a go-to guy on such things. There was quite a variety, religious and secular, and I agree that only a minority seem to have thought they were bringing in the millenium.
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    I also have a very nice juxtaposition of commune, “go-ahead”, and the Civil War that I’ve been close to since late adolescence.
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    My alma mater, Ripon College, is in the town that birthed the Republican Party. There is a town in Michigan that disputes that, but I think that the weight of evidence has swung toward Ripon. We don’t hear much about it because today’s Republican Party has left its roots far behind.
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    Ripon also had a commune called Ceresco. Its building is still in use as apartments, having been updated many times. The name, of course, comes from the Greek goddess of fertility, grain, and such things. Ripon is in good farming land, not the flat Midwestern prairie, but the prairie-oak savannah, the hilly glacial moraine with lakes and rivers between hills.
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    The same people who started the Republican Party started the college. Some of the history professors have dug into our local contributions to the country. I’ve followed their work, although not closely.
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    The Republican Party, of course, was started because the Democrats were committed to slavery, and the Whigs weren’t willing to take a stand against extending it into the new territories to the west. The Republicans were basically abolitionists, although there was a spectrum of intensity and reasons. As far as I can tell, the Ripon Republicans were primarily businesspeople and farmers who combined economic and moral objections to slavery.
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    Ceresco seems to have kept apart from the political ferment, which would be consistent with much commune philosophy. It seems not to have been explicitly religious, although probably partook of the general spirituality of the time. There don’t seem to be many records, and much of its history may be lost. It seems not to have been a part of the college’s founding. It is physically on the other side of a large hill from the business district. Each has its own stream. On the business side, it was dammed to form a millpond, which is still there. The college was built on the hill – that “city on a hill” thing.
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    Ripon was probably a stop on the underground railway. It and the surrounding area supplied a company or two to fight for the Union in the Civil War. The college’s physical address is Seward Street. We have a statue of the young Abe Lincoln on campus. No secret as to where the political sympathies lay.