Every generation thinks it has a monopoly on apocalypticism. You’re not so special. Every single religion has predicted an apocalypse, and the secular world is no less sold on the millenarian dream. The end of capitalism, the end of history, global warming, ice ages, superbugs, nuclear winters, the singularity; in the last century alone we’ve had the Second World War, the Cold War, Y2K, corona…
But all these apocalypses have failed to unfold. So why do you cling to the idea? Why this cognitive dissonance? Perhaps there is a human need for eschatology. Perhaps it gives you a sense of importance. A God’s eye view, a sense of participation in human history. Nobody wants to feel they are a speck of dust within a trillion years of history and an infinite universe. It’s easier to control a population that clings to terror of some looming destruction. And it allows us an opportunity to study our species anew. What are we really like? The End Times are romantic, and they are comforting. There are no consequences if there is no tomorrow…
But what if there were consequences? Imagine what it was like when the apocalypse didn’t simply mean total annihilation. It meant something much worse. When the fear of Hell was much stronger than the fear of death. When your behaviour in this life had to be weighed against the risk of being cast into that horrifying place of eternal torment depicted by Dante and Bosch and Blake. Where the dark fire burns constantly and worms continuously devour you from the inside. Where demons peel off your skin and replace it with a coat of maggots; remove your eyelids and make you watch your worst memories over and over, to the sound of weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
What do you really fear? You fear illness, the illness and death of family members. But what’s in the back of your mind, always? Did I get some Likes? Who noticed my posts today and are they the people who count? The consciousness of our species has been consumed by an epidemic of triviality.
The real world has long been replaced by a fake one. Fake news, fake photos, fake opinions. Representation and reality have become interchangeable. It has always been thus. The only difference between an idea and reality is belief.
Triviality may be a plague, a virus. But a virus can act as a vector for another. So harness it. An idea, once rooted with culture as its host, spreads and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps we can conjure the idea of Hell back into being. Because if Hell might be real, better to hedge your bets.
And who am I, you wonder. Does it really matter who I am?
Remember Occam’s Razor. The simplest solution is probably the right one.