September 22, 2004

Ritchie: The sky is always falling

David Ritchie has published an interesting piece in the New York Press about doomsday traditions and our own end-times culture.
As impressive as the scope of world-enders' thinking these days is its overwhelming detail. Everything from events in the Middle East to the technology of cloning has been worked into one end-times commentary or another.

As one might expect, 9/11 has acquired apocalyptic dimensions of its own, explained at Boston University's Center for Millennial Studies website. In that specific context, the level of detail may extend even to the frequency of individual words in the book of Revelation. A pious acquaintance, apparently aware of Manhattan's equation with mystery Babylon, tried to relate the fall of the WTC's two towers to the repetition of the two words "is fallen" in Revelation 14:8:

"And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."

Being no biblical scholar, and certainly no eschatologist, I can only make a guess (albeit uninformed) that the words are repeated for emphasis and not to represent a specific number of buildings destroyed.

The detail of these scenarios reflects more than just zeal and fascination. It also serves two important purposes. One, to overwhelm the reader or listener with information. Presented with countless particulars and tiny specifics, one simply cannot investigate, much less evaluate, all of them one by one. Potential critics are swamped. That effect accounts, at least in part, for the success of many end-times models. Doomsday artists are well aware of this principle: The more detail, the better, for the same reason that a hurricane is more powerful than a single raindrop.

Now for the second, less evident but equally important purpose of abundant detail: It provides a doomsday scenario such as a conspiracy hypothesis about the "last days" with countless points of attachment to other scenarios. Together, they support and reinforce one another in the same manner as the interconnected girders of a building.

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