Due to some ill advised twitter link following, I found myself reading a couple of posts (1 and 2) on Faith and Theology. Ben Myers was detailing his shift away from his earlier endorsement of apocalypticism:
It’s hard to say exactly why I first got interested in apocalyptic ideas. In part, I suppose, it was ordinary youthful iconoclasm. All young people, young men in particular, feel a certain resentment towards the status quo and a certain seething desire to imprint their own will on to the order of things. Call it a rage against mortality. Anyway, when you allow that kind of resentment to guide your thinking, you easily end up with what Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust to master reality and to make it conform to your own ideals.
It seems to me that quite a lot of what passes for philosophy and theology in our time is really an expression of such enraged libido. Marxist ideology, which I cherished for the first decade of my adult life, seems an especially insidious version of the lust to dominate. It is an ideology of resentment against the way things are, mixed with gnostic-magical beliefs that human nature is capable of transfiguration. In its consistent forms this ideology shows itself to be more than willing to destroy human society first so that the transfigured human being can arise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Of course he’s right in pointing out the common pattern of youthful Marxist exuberance giving way to acceptance of the world as it is. I’m not really sure why that amounts to a criticism of Marxism, though. Nor am I sure how ‘Marxist ideology’, whatever that means, amounts to an ‘insidious version of the lust to dominate’. Surely if anything it is a ‘lust’ not to be dominated.
It makes sense that an undergraduate would outgrow a fascination with the apocalyptic. I don’t know much about Ben Myers, but I gather that he is a lecturer in systematic theology. Apocalypticism does not appeal, primarily, to those in positions of relative security. Indeed, as Alberto Toscano shows in his Fanaticism, apocalypticism is both pre- and ultra-political. Groups animated by apocalyptic ideas (or who develop new forms of apocalypticism) tend to be amongst the most marginalised communities (Yonina Talmon wrote a couple of articles back in the 1960s compiling much of the sociological research on apocalyptic movements). From a variety of perspectives, Toscano along with Karl Mannheim, Ernst Bloch and Jacob Taubes show how apocalypticism appeals to those whose demands cannot be articulated within current discourse. As Taubes emphasises, the apocalyptic marks the decision that the world as it is is insufficient. This does not equal a willingness ‘to destroy human society’, especially not in the sense of Marxism/utopian political projects = totalitarianism. Rather it is a beginning – a refusal of the world as it is. Put another way, the apocalyptic does not operate with the confidence of assured liberation, but with a persistent resistance. This resistance does not assume liberation, but opens up the possibility of forms of liberation we have yet to imagine.
In short, Myers comes offers the serenity prayer in theological trappings. Sure bad things are happening and we should be charitable and care for the poor, but we’re consigned to the way things are as we await the eschaton.