THE END OF TIME Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium

by Damian Thompson

University Press of New England 1996. ISBN 0-87451-849-0.

In his introduction, Thompson uses the definition of millenarianism found in the American Encyclopaedia of Religion; "a belief that the end of the world is at hand and that in its wake will appear a New World, inexhaustibly fertile, harmonious, sanctified, and just".

The book really explores this theme sometimes with pinpoint accuracy when it looks for example at the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult, ( responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground ) or in a broader brush way, following Norman Cohn in regarding both Marxism and Nazism as secular millenarianism.

As he puts it, "The history of the last 2000 years suggests that people who believe that their world is moving inexorably towards a total and miraculous transformation, in which old scores will be settled and the Elect rewarded, will react along broadly similar lines-" and he goes on to effectively prove his case, highlighting the fast growth in apocalyptic belief as we approach the year 2000.

Apocalypticism has nothing to do with left or right, status, or any particular religion and it seems that every type of person can be caught in the net. He also shows that the "apocalyptic" way does not only have the true believers on board but plenty of cynics as well, out to use the power of the idea for their own ends. As he says about the German Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), "he had no qualms about
invoking the apocalyptic stereotype of the Last Emperor in support of his dynastic ambitions. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries this mythical figure, already venerable in the year 1000, became a focus of national aspirations."

Or more recently David Koresh of the Branch Davidians pulls off the same trick on a smaller scale, " drawing on a mythology in which (true believers) - in the bible or the American Way - are pitted against a society which has been hijacked by the evil forces." Koresh would make long speeches while eating chocolate or ice-cream not permitted to his followers.

Koresh informed the FBI at Waco that he had been taken up to the heavens by angelic beings in a celestial flying saucer referring to the old apocalyptic favourite of the Book of Revelations. This may have been serious, and if so, he was not alone as the New Age ( also apocalyptic) is full of spaceships, crystals, Atlantis, Horus hawks, Sirius, and anything else "esoteric" that takes your fancy. They do however regard spaceships more from the mystery angle than the religious one.

In general the two other fast growing American apocalyptic groups, the religious fundamentalists and the freedom militias seem to see the New Age as the arch enemy.

This is a new book with an interesting perpective.

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