1. The ideological chaos of the 20th century

1. THE IDEOLOGICAL CHAOS OF THE 20th CENTURY

It is hard to believe that after 19 centuries of prophecies, debates, messianisms, revelations, apparitions, interpretations, speculations and historical and biblical analyses, the 20th century could bring something new regarding the issue of the end of the world. Yet, the development of knowledge not only led to the invention and the discovery of a multitude of new apocalyptic scenarios, more or less viable, but it also changed the rules of the game.

First of all, the 20th century brought homogenization. It is true that the United States of America remained the champion of fatalistic beliefs. But the means of communication allowed the apocalyptic fears to transcend the national, cultural, geographical and even religious barriers. Any place on the globe can become the perimeter of an apocalyptic manifestation, without the necessary presence of an Abrahamic religion. Technology changed the religious dynamics, allowing the groups to be infinitely more malleable than in the past. Global communication helps ideas find adepts in the most remote places of the world. Hence, the concept of extremist group separated from the decayed society no longer requires a physical closeness between its members, but only an intellectual intimacy.

Second, the separation between religious fatalistic scenarios and scientific ones has continued to deepen. Indeed, many religious systems continue to insist on the imminence of God’s wrathful judgment. But the industrial world is rather scared of itself, of the power it acquired and the damage it can cause through irresponsible actions. In this context, a very important question rose: is humanity sufficiently mature for the power it achieved or will it destroy itself? The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov gave a negative response: “The approaching end of the world strikes me like some obvious but quite subtle scent-just as a traveler nearing the sea feels the sea breeze before he sees the sea.”1208 Solovyov said that violence is inherent to the human being. Accordingly, mankind will never be able to suppress it and self-destruction is only a matter of time. In his numerous writings, the famous H. G. Wells questioned the future of human existence as well, but his point of view was moderate. Wells feared that the greatness of science might be too much for the weakness of man, and the world will not be able to restrain itself from using science, no matter how destructive, as a weapon. Under these conditions, the world will either live a utopia or it will destroy itself.

In the age of microchips and satellites the image of the end of the world is dual: it can occur through divine intervention, or due to the mechanics of the Universe, without any connection between the two scenarios. But, regardless if it is secular or religious, the apocalypticism of the 20th century follows the same millenary principle: it molds according to our greatest fears, frustrations or insecurities. Diseases, viruses, bacteria, mega-volcanoes, asteroids, comets, wars, economic crises or even alien invasions prove the fact that the concept of the end of the world was enriched with many new elements. Some scenarios disappeared from the collective consciousness, but others more modern came to take their place. Prophecies are constantly interpreted and reinterpreted according to the context from a given moment, gaining new meanings depending on the development of knowledge. And the current context offers countless possibilities. This is why now the Bible and the Nostradamic quatrains no longer depict floods or volcanic eruptions, but atomic bombs, thermonuclear weapons, ozone depletion, lethal viruses or alien lasers.

Apocalypticism also continues to be used as a weapon or as a means of mass manipulation. As Malachy’s prophecies were designed to influence the election of the Supreme Pontiff, during the Second World War …


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