Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 3: Biblical endings and me

The days in the year are winding down, so I better rattle my dags and get this series done. Fortunately (for me) several questions are related, so that helps things. However, today’s aren’t in any way related: One is somewhat controversial, and the other absolutely isn’t.

The first question is from my longtime friend Sherry, who I’ve known for far too many years to politely mention. She asked:

Based on your religious upbringing… do you believe we are in the "end times." That it will get worse. That Jesus will return and we will all live a perfect life? What do you believe?

This is actually something I don’t think I’ve ever talked about on this blog—no particular reason, I just haven’t. However, whenever the subject’s come up (and, to be fair, it rarely has), I’ve been pretty consistent: I don’t believe in the “end times” and never have.

The first time I can remember being certain that “end times” was nonsense was when I was a teenager, 20 at most. My mother and I were talking about life and the issues of the day, as we often did, and she said how there were “wars and rumours of wars” and how that was an indicator of the approaching “end times”. I matter of factly said to her, “but when has there ever NOT been “wars and rumours of wars” in all of human history?” It was at that moment that I knew for sure that I thought the whole notion of “end times” was nonsense.

When I was in university, I took a class in comparative religions, and had a lot of really interesting discussions with my dad (who, new readers may not know, had been a Lutheran minister for most of my life to that point). As part of that course, and wider reading I did then and in the years and decades that followed, I never saw anything to convince me that the whole “end times” thing was real or legitimate. Instead, I came to believe it was merely churches’ way of trying to control people by scaring the hell (so to speak) out of them. That conviction has only strengthened over the years.

I have huge philosophical and theological problems with the very idea, and not just because most of the Book of Revelation reads like a memoir of a psychedelic acid trip. I also find its underlying philosophy to be anti-Christian: Christianity was based on Jesus’ words, not the apocalyptic ravings of some anonymous (possible) druggie. Lutheranism—my own background—and much of Christianity was based on “justification by faith alone”, which is actually summed up very well in Wikipedia:
In Christian theology, justification is God's righteous act of removing the condemnation, guilt, and penalty of sin, by grace, while, at the same time, declaring the unrighteous to be righteous, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.

In my view, Revelation and its “end times” is wholly and completely inconsistent with core Christian teaching (not the least because the Gospels don’t talk about the “end times” acid trip). Fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christians stress “end times” because it meshes well with their stress on authority of the church and its right to control every aspect of people’s lives. That level of authoritarian control is antithetical to Mainline Protestants (like Lutherans) and even modern Catholics in Europe and North America.

Because of all that, then, I believe that humans are capable of destroying the earth OR creating a paradise for all, and no supernatural intervention or acid trip journals are required for either to happen. It’s absolutely possible that things will get very much worse, or, things could get better—there’s no way to know which it will be. There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful, and other reasons to be worried, but I absolutely don’t think that Iron Age mysticism is a reliable way to determine what will happen.

As for the reason many people want to believe in “end times”, that, “Jesus will return and we will all live a perfect life,” that’s a matter of philosophy or religious faith. I personally don’t have any religion, so, in a sense, it’s not my fight. If the question was, “could Jesus return?” Sure—I’ve never seen any proof that it would be impossible. If that happened, could that also mean that “we will all live a perfect life?” Sure—anything’s theoretically possible. I’m just not convinced either will happen.

My own belief, since you asked, is that none of that “end times” stuff will happen. The Gospels, flawed though they are, provide a far better roadmap to what’s likely to happen if Christianity is true than the Iron Age acid trip journal ever could.

Thanks to Sherry for the question! It reminds me that I really should talk about religious philosophy more often.

Next, I have a completely unrelated question from Roger Green, one I’m including to kind of lighten things up a bit. He asked:

Are there any famous people with the surname Schenck? How about famous (or hemisemidemifamous) people named Arthur Schenck? My Google notifications are forever telling me about golfers, musicians, pastors, police chiefs named Roger Green..

I realise that you mean anyone other than me, and it kind of depends on how “famous” you mean. There were—past tense—a couple of famous people, and a couple other Schenck surnames I’ve run across over the years, but that’s about it.

The first non-related Schenck I ever heard of was Joseph M. Schenck, who was a Russian-born US film executive, beginning in the early days. He partnered with Darryl F. Zanuck to create Twentieth Century Pictures, which in 1935 merged with Fox Film Corporation to form 20th Century Fox, which he was chairman of until 1957. The reason I heard of him is because I remember by dad telling me about how his classmates teased him by posting newspaper clippings of Joseph’s conviction for income tax evasion (for which he later received a president pardon). Reading the Wikipedia article linked to above, I can’t help wondering if he was actually gay.

The second Schenck I ever heard of was Charles T. Schenck, but that was only because I was studying political science and came across Schenck v. United States, a landmark 1919 Supreme Court case that upheld Charles’ conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 for handing out flyers urging people to resist the military draft. That was the ruling in which Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic,” and used the phrase “clear and present danger” as a reason to suppress free speech.

The next one was Rocky Schenck, who directed the Visiting Kids video for “Trilobites”. I included that video in a 2017 blog post.

Finally, in checking to make sure I hadn’t missed any, I ran across a German-born French painter, August Friedrich Schenck, who I’d never heard of and know nothing about, other than what I read. On the other hand, that same quick check showed me there are apparently a lot of lawyers with the Schenck surname.

As for famous "Arthur Schencks", I must report that none of us appear to be particularly "famous"—I mean, other than me, obviously. I'm a bloody legend, as we all know.

Thanks for the question, Roger!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 2: Grief, coping, and living


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, of course, YOU'RE a legend...

Roger Owen Green said...

It was the end times crap, along with the notion that all of the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, among others, were going to go to hell that drove me from Xianity in my early 20s. Sometimes you just have to create a bit of your own theology.

Arthur Schenck said...

I think I was lucky to grow up in a fairly liberal Mainline Protestant church, and to have parents that encouraged independent thinking. I don’t think that the path of my journey was quite what my parents expected/wanted, but they’d have accepted it, more or less.