“Why can’t we just have one big fight, solve this once and for all?”
“If only the Last Battle would come and end this fallen world.”
“The Mahdi will come, and war will engulf the earth, and then Isa bin Mariam will return and reward the faithful and all will know G-d.”
The idea of a last battle is common in those cultures influenced by Judaism and Christianity, and others. The Norse may be the best known, either from the Eddas or Wagner, but there are a few others, where a final great battle of good and evil signals the end of the broken, flawed world, and out of that comes paradise, or the heavenly city, or a new and far better place. Some people find it inspiring, others find the idea seductive in ways that might not be healthy. But what happens when a culture seems to get lured into longing for Har Megiddo?
I’m not thinking of trying to bring the End Times in general, although the Millenarian impulse has some fascinating (if you were not involved) appearances through time and place, from Europe and the Ottoman Empire and Imperial China to the Ghost Dance among Native Americans, and the Xhosa cattle killing in the 1850s (See Richard Landes Heaven on Earth for the best one-book source on such movements). I’m thinking specifically about the Last Battle, and people trying to trigger it, or to a lesser extent those hoping to initiate the Last Judgment.
I’ve known a few individuals who longed for the Last Judgment. Sometimes it was because anything had to be better than what they were enduring, either physically or spiritually. Sometimes because they were so certain they were right, and they wanted everyone else to be forced to acknowledge it. Sometimes because, well, he was waiting for the call to lead the Armies of the Light, because he was really St. Michael. (Yes, he’d been institutionalized, and was a very nice person as long as that topic didn’t come up.) I have some doubts about some of their motives, but individuals are individuals.
But when an entire society seems to be trying to prime for the Last Battle, then getting nervous seems like a good idea. I’ve read a number of translated speeches and pronouncements from Shi’ite clerics talking about the coming Last Battle, and what will be necessary to start it in process. I have heard a few people in the US talking about how the nation is primed for an all-or-nothing, Us vs. Them, civil and then world war between the forces of Freedom and those of [statism/communism/corruption], and they are planning to be there when the first shots are fired. Not individuals, not national leaders (at least on this side of the Atlantic, thus far), but groups that are willing if not yet able to do “something” to initiate what they think needs to be started.
Granted, such impulses have existed for a long time, and usually have minimal effect for those not inside the movement. But what does it say about society that the impulse appears so strong, among so many groups, at the moment? A great deal of stress, too much change too fast, economic problems, governments that appear so corrupt and cold that they can’t see doom knocking on the door, rumors of at least one of the Four Horsemen sweeping the world (Zika? Antibiotic-resistant TB, MRSA anyone?), all seem to be combining into, in some circles, a near-burning desire for one massive battle, a final release of all tension and strain, settling everything once and forever. It suggests great tension, like an over-tightened spring, nerves on edge, vibrating, waiting for something, anything to allow a release of energy and a relaxation of the pressures. Unless the outburst of energy can be channeled, or drawn off slowly, bad things tend to happen, including on occasion (to use that over-used phrase) “an orgy of violence.”
Contemplating the desirability of the Last Battle falls into the trap of longing for the wrong future, from where I stand. Yes, Christians and others are encouraged to look ahead to a day when “We ain’t gonna study war no more,” when “Every man ‘neath his vine and fig-tree/ Shall live in peace and unafraid.” But I keep thinking of a college friend who longed for the Second Coming so she wouldn’t have to make a decision about staying at her current college or transferring elsewhere, and eventually find work (the economy was burping at the time of the discussion and jobs for fresh grads were scarce, or so we thought). Longing for Har Megiddo doesn’t build a future, doesn’t put the shoulder to the long, hard push of rolling the cart back uphill.
There’s much to be said for longing for the Last Judgment but working hard here just in case it’s been postponed from whenever we think it is to come. Anyone else remember the August 8, 1988 thing when the planets were also supposed to come into a special alignment and then [insert great event here]? Since I did eventually survive High School, graduated college twice, and found work, apparently not much transpired. And then Desert Storm was supposed to be the Battle of Armageddon. It was for a very few, not for the majority of the planet. Time continued on.
I suspect it’s in large part the seemingly unavoidable election stuff in and from the US, and the never-ending reports of evil from ISIS-held territory and Syria that is drawing forth more and more talk about starting the final Battle, getting everything over with, launching the great push so we don’t have to deal with every-day life and petty bureaucracy (and not so petty). But what do you do when the Battle doesn’t want to come?