So the “rapture” came and went pretty much the same way that the 4000 other “raptures” throughout history did, which is to say that it came and went as dry and without substance as a popcorn fart. Doomsday, it would appear, has been a sure thing for thousands of years and yet not one time did it actually occur as advertised. Why do people continue to prophesy this type of dramatic world-changing moment and more importantly, why do people continue to believe them? In the fundamentalist/literalist christian tradition it almost seems like there is a perverse desire for these “end times” to occur. Books and movies are produced by the truckload detailing just how awful the world will be for us ‘sinners’ who are “left behind“. The salacious pleasure fundamentalists derive at the thought of all the torture and rue-ing that the un-saved will suffer once they are magic-ed up to heaven makes me think of nothing so much as perverts hanging around a porno shop. I suppose that being ‘right’ never felt so. . uh. . . good.
Funnily enough, all this belief, fear of (or desire for) the apocalypse is the result of a very mistaken belief in permanence. If those who believe in apocalypse looked at the world sans their conceptual blinders they might just become aware of the fact that we don’t need a giant, James Cameron-esque ending to the world. The fact is that all things that are made of other things are impermanent and will in time be destroyed. The buddha talked about this thousands of years before we knew about atoms, and quarks, and muons and even these tiniest of subatomic particles appear to be made of even smaller, as yet unobserved bits, and yet both through science and direct observation we can see that all compounded phenomena are impermanent. Mountains become rocks, rocks become dust, dust becomes atoms and atoms become you, me, or the flowers only to break apart again and again. How can there be an “eternal life” after the rapture? How can there be a God who always was and always will be? There has never been evidence of such a thing and I believe that there can’t be, it all ends, all is made of other impermanent stuff and all changes, ends. The end times are not one specific point they are always and all around us forever. It is actually always the end times.
Which is good news for us in a lot of ways. Not the least of which is that because of this never-ending cycle of change we find ourselves alive in a dynamic, energetic universe instead of a static, brittle one! Impermanence means that not only are our lives and good times destined to go away, but so are the bad times, the sad feelings, the anger that are an inevitable part of life are temporary as well! The other good news is that for many of us this realization leads to an amazing sense of urgency and responsibility to our fellow mankind.
For example: If you had a good friend who was diagnosed with terminal illness, an illness which left him or her with a specific amount of time left to live I believe that most of us would love that person in their remaining moments without the usual reservations that our society and family have instilled in us. When there is nothing to lose and the end is certain we would tell this person our true feelings for them, we would cherish the moments we had left and we would do what we could to make their final time as wonderful as possible. Well guess what, we are all terminal! Every single being on this planet has its days numbered and they (and us) are all as deserving of that treatment! We act like we have forever to set right our little tiffs and to be honest with our friends and family but do we? Forever is a fantasy and none of us will get out of this world alive, we need to take that time left, the real end times, and live like that silly doomsday prediction wasn’t just real, but was happening right now!
The desire for a fundamentalist to go to heaven is really the desire to escape from the world of impermanence, to be free of the inevitable cycle of birth, life, decay, and death. It’s a looking away from the reality we are all saddled with and sadly the harder one tries to escape that reality the more difficult life becomes. To really look at that fact, to see it without despair or joy, to take the fact of impermanence and apply it to our daily lives leads ironically not to fear and depression, but rather compassion and appreciation for the amazing chance we have been given to experience it!
Very often at zen monasteries there will be hanging a wooden plaque saying something like
“WAKE UP! Life goes by quickly! Dont waste time!”
You and I don’t have time to wait for the apocalypse, its already here!