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2012 Apocalypse, the Rapture and Other Millennial Delusions

I once had a noted New Age peace activist tell me that, because all spiritual practice has ripple effects outward, “my cat is a contemplative contributor to the universe.”

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For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, most American evangelicals were post-millennialist, and as such stayed out of politics. America was going to hell, and the best thing for Christians to do is hunker down and wait it out. For liberals, this was just fine; they had their Bible camps and special schools, and we had everything else. But as pre-millennialism began to take hold, America saw the likes of Rousas John Rushdoony, the intellectual father of Christian Reconstructionism, which holds that Christianity is the only legitimate basis for American law, and the subsequent rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s, with its agenda to remake American civil law according to religious norms.

Conservative evangelicalism oscillates between these two positions. Following President Clinton’s reelection, in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal, many figures in the Christian Right declared defeat and argued for post-millenial-seeming tactics: a withdrawal from the overall society, a turn inward, an increased emphasis on homeschooling rather than trying to reform public schools. One wonders if we’ll see similar moves in 2012.

On the left, there are likewise pre-millenial and post-millennial tendencies, although they usually aren’t viewed this way. In my experience, 2012 New Agers tend to more post-millennial than pre-millennial. Indeed, they’re hoping for a great planetary transformation later this month precisely because things seem beyond repair today. Post-millennial 2012ers are the ones warning of global economic collapse, and advising us all to learn subsistence agriculture and barter economics. Daniel Pinchbeck, perhaps the most famous of the bunch—and a colleague and sometime editor of mine in the Evolver network and its publications—has taken this view several times. (Admittedly, he was right the last time, when in 2007 he predicted that there would soon be a massive financial crisis.) 

Post-millennial lefties also drive liberals insane by saying that there’s no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. In my view, this is a very sheltered, cozy, white, privileged thing to say—but if your scale of significance is not support for communities of color, or fairness in the tax code, but rather alignment with cosmic forces of enlightenment, it makes some sense. 

Pre-millennial lefties tend to be really scary or really wacky, or both. In pop culture, they inhabit films like Fight Club or the latest Batman flick: utopian idealists who will use any means to bring about the transformation they seek. In practice, they tend to be mostly harmless. I once had a noted New Age peace activist tell me that, because all spiritual practice has ripple effects outward, “my cat is a contemplative contributor to the universe.”

I swear I’m not making that up.

The reasoning (if that’s what it is) is similar to New Thought / Law of Attraction / Teaching of Abraham / The Secret / Est / Landmark Forum gobbledygook: you create your own reality, and your thoughts impact the universe. This is how, we’re told, a great Rainbow Bridge is going to manifest on December 21: we’re going to manifest it. It’s also why the Maharishi once tried to get one million people meditating at the same time, and why the myth of the paradigm shift—that at some moment, there will be enough people doing the right thing to tip the balance for all of us—is so attractive. We desperately want to believe we can make the world a better place, that we have the power to change things.

And yet, the hard work is hard—and messy. Millennialism is a kind of moral purism that brooks no compromise; its utopian vision, whether in radical or reactionary form, reduces incremental change to “nibbling around the edges” (as one radical LGBT activist recently described all of the movement’s gains in the last twenty years) and considers pragmatists to be pushovers. 2012 millennialists would rather meditate and compost than try to persuade moderates of their political platform. And religious millennialists’ crusade for ideological purity has torpedoed the Republican Party, creating a “Republican Gomorrah,” as Max Blumenthal called it, that cannot appeal to both swing voters and its insane rightist base. In other words, unless millennialists are right that a massive change is coming, they tend to subvert the realization of their dreams.

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