Notes from the Cultural Wasteland
I've been thinking a lot lately about the end of the world. There are a couple of reasons for that: First, I'm writing a play for a student acting workshop that takes place after the end of the world. Second, it seems like every time I turn on the television or pick up a magazine, there's some media maven prognosticating that the end is near.
For example, I was working long hours last week, trying to meet some deadlines and finish my own little post-apocalyptic script. I decided to take a break, so I poured a glass of tea, sat down on the couch, picked up my remote and turned on the tube.
My television is almost permanently set on Fox, because about the only thing I ever watch any more is "The Simpsons." Life without cable is hard. At first, I thought I'd screwed up and turned on the religious channel. Fox was airing a show called "Signs from God." A self-proclaimed journalist was telling about his adventures in Bolivia, where he met a woman who occasionally bleeds from her hands, feet, and forehead, re-experiencing Christ's pain of crucifixion.
For some reason, "Jesus" (with whom the Bolivian woman was on a first-name basis) had decided not to appear on cue, but invited the film crews to come back a few days later, when hed be ready to make his appearance. Sure enough, the film crews returned on schedule and the stigmata appeared as promised.
"Interesting," I thought. "God has finally decided to use the television media to get his point across. Either that, or the woman is nuts. Or, of course, the 'journalist' might be fudging a little. After all, it would be a much less interesting show if the stigmata had not appeared. What would they title the show then--'No Signs from an Indifferent God"?
Now, how does a television news magazine follow an act like the miraculous appearance of the stigmata? This show's producers managed to come up with a pretty good second act--complete with tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, and other "acts of God." It seems that there have been more catastrophic acts of God in this decade than any other decade this century.
I went back to work, convinced that the world would end in a few months.
I was tired, though, and after a night's sleep, I reconsidered. There are some problems with the "end is near" scenario. First, we all know that television news magazines are not always totally accurate. Even if this show held to the highest possible standards of journalistic integrity, one might still question the credibility of the statistics.
There's an old saying: "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." We all know that the government can and does twist statistics for its own purposes, like to make a failing economy look healthier than it really is, to make a crime rate appear smaller, etc. Only a fool trusts statistics he didn't himself generate, and even then a wise person only trusts them a little bit.
What of the stigmata-suffering woman? The Catholic Church has documented only a few genuine examples of stigmata, and they didn't jump at the chance to document this one. One might wonder if "Jesus" decided to reveal himself to us, why would he choose to do so through a middle-aged Bolivian woman. Why not someone important--like Bill Clinton or Bob Dylan?
And why would "Jesus" choose to make the stigmata appear near Good Friday? That's not the historical date of the crucifixion, anyway. Holidays fall where they do on the calendar based on a marketing decision--early Christians were losing followers to Mathraics, who had wisely decided to schedule their virgin births and miraculous resurrections to coincide with popular pagan drunk-fests.
There's more, too. If the four horsemen were to come visiting on this New Year's Eve, who among us will be "good" enough to be saved? Certainly not our politicians; damned few of them have even a tiny altruistic streak. In my experience, most politicians seem to mainly try to get in the way of people who are trying to actually do something good. Certainly not our high-profile religious leaders; most of them are con-men and degenerates.
There are a few people on earth that might seem good candidates for heaven. Most--the Dalai Lama, for instance--won't make it, though, because they aren't Christian.
Part of what the endgame predictors keep wailing about is true, though--humankind has fallen away from God, and for good reason. When a society's belief system no longer supports its happiness and productivity, it falls away to be replaced by a better belief system. That's what happened to the Roman empire, and that's what's happening to us.
Unfortunately, many of us are turning to equally dysfunctional belief systems for relief--Satanism, Wicca, Prozac. That's a little like turning over a dollar bill and hoping there's a 10-spot on the back. It would be better, instead, to assimilate the useful things we've gained from religion, then move forward, much as a child assimilates his parents' teachings, then moves toward adulthood.
I relaxed and decided that the world will probably not end in a few months, after all. However, I'm still writing the play about it. Just because I don't think it will happen doesn't mean there's not a lot of comic potential in it.
I have a prediction of my own, however: in the coming months, every time it rains very hard, some jerk on television will try to make the case that it's a sign of the coming destruction of the world. Like most everything on commercial television, it's bullshit, but it sells.
We don't want God to destroy us, anyway. We're quite capable of destroying ourselves. One can only hope that we have what it takes to save ourselves, too.
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