Waiting for the End

(Unang nalimbag ang akdang ito sa isyu 21 ng Philippine Collegian noong 10 Enero 2012 bilang bahagi ng “Mga Bersyon ng Paggunaw” ng Kultura.)

Tatapat sa Biyernes ang ika-21 ng Disyembre ngayong taon. Naniniwala ka man o hindi na ito ang petsa ng katapusan ng mundo, marahil buong pananabik mo pa ring sasalubungin ang bukang-liwayway sa araw na ito. Hindi na bago sa kasaysayan ng tao ang mga ganitong prediksyon. At sa patuloy na pagbabagong-bihis ng sibilisasyon at lipunan, nag-iiba rin ang mga hinuha ukol sa pagkalipol ng sangkatauhan.

Artwork by Ysa Calinawan

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” – Matthew 24:36

We’re always thinking about the end.

Our little lives are yet to begin, but we already find ourselves pondering about death and about the various ways that we as a humanity could go. Without the knowledge of how it all ends, our little lives are rendered devoid of purpose, bereft of meaning.

We’re so preoccupied with the end that we even have developed it into a discipline: eschatology, that study of the final events of history and the ultimate destiny of humanity. It concerns the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Religion plays with this precarious urge to know how it ends, by treating heaven as a commodity to sell and hell as an immediate threat.

For thousands of years, even before the Mayan calendar has been a part of our consciousness, religious sacred texts and folklore have prophesied about the end of days, filling the minds of the faithful with images of worldwide famine, ground-shattering tremors and rivers of fire surfacing on the earth, all serving as mere precursors to the coming of a great Messiah.

Contemporary apocalyptic imagination rests heavily on the idea of destruction and pandemonium. Beyond the overt imagery of devastation and chaos fed by the mass media, religious leaders themselves further the confusion of their flock, with factions still existing even among the faithful. Via their fervent speeches on the pulpit, citing current world and regional wars, natural disasters and famine as signs of the end, they instill unwarranted fear in the hearts of believers.

As our history shows, nothing pushes people more into blind obedience than fear. In truth, Christianity has been introduced into our country by way of fear. Spanish conquistadors and friars easily instilled unquestioning subservience to our newly Christianized ancestors by constantly bringing up images of a fiery hell and inciting eternal damnation on their minds.

After 400 years, the same tactics remain. Modern charismatic televangelists mesh natural and man-made incidents with biblical posturings to paint a truth of the prophecies slowly materializing. Their constant call to seek for salvation, repentance and forgiveness often entails, if not a steady stream of donation to the local parish, constant policing of the flock.

Religious violence still has its roots in apocalyptic imagination and theology. Prevailing images of warring nations and a crumbling earth all but makes us fear the apocalypse. But, if Scripture is still to be believed, Revelation 21 tells us that we’ll see “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth would pass away. At its core, the apocalypse is really about new creation, transformation, and change – an old world paving the way for a new kingdom.

If the apocalypse could be seen in this light, not only would it quell our fears, but it would also demystify our religious institutions and deflate our very human arrogance.

Perhaps we’ll never cease on thinking about the end. Even after 2012, there would be another set of dates marking the supposed end of the world. We still look to it with uncertainty. For it is possible that there is no salvation and no damnation in the end. Just a void, and nothingness.

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