Okay, End of the World

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by Danielle Shroyer

Between popular books, movies and television series, the end of the world is noticeable everywhere you turn. Is this cultural propensity toward doom some sort of generational defect where the usual will to survive is replaced by a voyeuristic desire to see the end of civilization? What is wrong with us that we are so attracted to stories about zombies, gladiator games and ecological ruin? Why are we so morbid as to be fascinated with our own human destruction?

Perhaps it isn’t our destruction with which we’re fascinated, but the degree to which we understand our own human agency. What do we do when the whole world is on the line? Do we have it within us to save any vestige of human society? What rules or values become important after an unthinkable crisis happens? We’re captivated not by Armageddon but by the question of cause and effect in our actions.

Much as the most current creative writers would love to claim credit, apocalyptic literature is nothing new. Zombies may be new, but the question of human agency brought to hyperbole through a forecasted future is something biblical prophets did thousands of years ago. What do you think Jeremiah was doing when he was moaning in the middle of the street and wearing sackcloth and ashes? You think he just had a flair for the dramatic? And he wasn’t declaring a certain predetermined fate, either. Prophecy is not history written in advance. It isn’t deterministic, fatalistic puppetry. It casts forth a vision that is intended to wake us up to our present realities and to transform the way we live.

Apocalyptic Prophets

Prophets are those who tell us, “If you do this, it is going to end up like this.” Their words demand a response. They call for a decisive alteration of our actions. They make it very clear where our current situation will take us if we don’t make a change. So let’s be clear: Jeremiah cried in the street to get people to pay attention to their own human agency, not to declare some kind of certain doomed end. If we read prophetic words and apocalyptic biblical literature as fatalistic, we remove the very purpose of their existence in the first place.

We do well to remember that, when Jonah pouted after his prophetic call to action actually worked and the Ninevites received no punishment, God had a less than positive reaction. God doesn’t call prophets to deliver a one-two punch of fear and anxiety. (“The world is ending! And there’s nothing you can do to stop it!”) God calls prophets to tell us to repent and return to the way of life. Prophetic dialogue is always redemptive in nature.

In the same way, apocalyptic literature begs a response that is intended to be redemptive. It paints the portrait of an undesirable world and sheds light backward onto our current reality like a moral high-beam searchlight. Dystopian stories in particular provide a stark contrast similar to that of the biblical prophets. A dystopia, which literally means in ancient Greek “bad place,” describes a society most often ruled by a totalitarian regime that controls its citizens through fearsome means. The most current example is The Hunger Games, which finds a society divided and isolated into poverty-stricken districts which all must do the bidding of the extravagantly wealthy Capitol. In order to maintain conformity through fear, every year a human tribute must be offered up from each district to participate in a voyeuristic fight to the death. Despite its less-than-stellar writing, The Hunger Games trilogy is a riveting contemporary tale of Rome’s bread and circuses: Keep the people fed and entertained, and you can get away with murder.1

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