Politics and Mr. Crankypants

Transciber’s note: This afternoon, Dan conducted an interview with Mr. Crankypants, his evil alter ego, and political commentator for this blog. A complete transcript of the recording of the interview follows.

Dan: Mr. Crankypants, you’ve been wandering around the apartment all day muttering strange predictions about the presidential race. I’m wondering if you could sum up your political predictions for our readers.

Mr. C.: We’re screwed.

Dan: That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Continue reading “Politics and Mr. Crankypants”

Millennial hymn for our times

Back in the early nineteenth century, Richard McNemar wrote a hymn commonly called “Babylon is Fallen,” which was included in the 1813 Shaker hymnal Millennial Praises. It is a hymn with typical Biblical apocalyptic imagery, probably based on Revelation 18.21 ff. Today the hymn is most commonly associated with an 1878 tune by W. E. Chute, and the Roud Folksong index number is S227926.

But the words most commonly sung today, e.g. in folk music circles and by Sacred Harp singers, are not the original words; four of the original six verses get ignored, and a third verse (probably added when Chute wrote his tune) is tacked on. I like the original words better, and when I read the first three verses, it feels as though the hymnodist were describing the current financial meltdown in the U.S.:

1. Hail the day so long expected!
Hail the year of full release!
Zion’s walls are now erected,
And her watchmen publish peace:
From the distant coasts of Shinar,
The shrill trumpet loudly roars,
   Refrain
Babylon is fallen, is fallen, is fallen,
Babylon is fallen to rise no more.

2. Hark, and hear her people crying,
“See the city disappear!
Trade and traffic all are dying!
Lo, we sink and perish here!”
Sailors who have bought her traffic,
Crying from her distant shore,
   Refrain

3. All her merchants cry with wonder,
“What is this that’s come to pass?”
Murm’ring like the distant thunder
Crying out, “Alas! Alas!”
Swell the sound, ye kings and nobles!
Priests and people, rich and poor!
   Refrain

Continue reading “Millennial hymn for our times”

Not raptured

It’s easy to make jokes about the end of the earth that didn’t come yesterday at 5:59 p.m., as predicted by Harold Camping. There were so many things wrong about Camping’s prediction — the convoluted interpretation of the King James Bible, Camping’s past track record with false warnings of doomsday, the inability to see how culturally conditioned such predictions are, the notion that only one person would have access to such a prediction, etc. — that it’s really tempting to mock him. I did it myself, multiple times, this morning at church.

But it’s not really funnyr. Lots of people believed Camping, and some gave away everything they had thinking they wouldn’t need earthly possessions after yesterday. And everyone I know is capable of fooling themselves, and it’s a rare person who doesn’t delude themselves about something in their life; it’s better not to mock others about something for which we ourselves can be mocked. Finally, Camping’s well-publicized failure has brought out the anti-religion fundamentalists who are now gleefully declaring that because Camping was wrong all religion must be bunk.

I found one of the nicest responses to Camping’s message buried deep in story on the National Public Radio Web site:

…people from more than one religion — and even a few atheists — admitted to being a bit introspective about the world on this particular weekend.

That was true for Maddie Calhoon, a Unitarian Universalist from St. Paul, Minn., who was at a gathering Saturday night that guests renamed a “rapture party.”

“We said, ‘We’re just glad we’re all together.’ And it was a joke,” said Calhoon, 24. “But of course it made me think about things, and about how I don’t reflect often about what I’d do if my time was coming to an end.”

Nice response to this craziness: go hang out with some friends and reflect on what’s most important in life.

Raptured

I got on a BART train today at about two in the afternoon. An ad next to the door of the train proclaimed:

Judgment Day
May 12, 2011
THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!

At six o’clock, the predicted time when Judgment Day was going to come (725,000 days after Jesus was executed, or something like that), I was sitting eating dinner with some friends. “We’re still here,” someone said.

I just went to check the Web site of Family Radio — that’s the Web site controlled by Harold Camping, the guy who’s been predicting the end of the world. Their Web site is still up and running, and it still says:

Judgment Day
May 21, 2011
THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!
00 days left

And their radio station is still broadcasting (they stream it live on the Web site if you want to check it out) — and the announcer just said that he’ll back back again tomorrow.

I guess that means the Rapture is off. So what happened? Was it supposed to be 7,250,000 days, not 725,000 days? Does God count in hexadecimal? Or maybe God prefers prime numbers (this is a prime number year after all) so it’s going to be the next largest prime, 725,009?

I’m sure they’ll come up with some reason or another why the Rapture didn’t come today. And I would love to hear your speculations on where they did their math wrong.

The oaks of Elkhorn Slough

A few days ago, I visited Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. I stopped at the visitor center to purchase a day use pass. The ranger who sold me the pass asked me to stop on my way into the reserve to bush off my shoes and dip them into a disinfectant bath. Seeing my surprised look, she said, “It’s to help control Sudden Oak Death Syndrome. You should do that whenever you go walking where there might be oaks. I know, it seems pointless, but I’m the kind of person who would still wash her hands during a cholera epidemic.”

When I was walking around the reserve, I didn’t even think about Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, although I did admire the many live oaks, with their long convoluted branches arching over the surrounding ground. Human beings are really good at ignoring and forgetting the huge problems which loom before us. I suspect this is the origin of apocalyptic literature, which is designed to force us into facing up to really big problems that are completely beyond our control: the book of Revelation was designed, with its striking and hallucinatory images, to get its original readers to face up to the overwhelming power and evil of the dominant Roman Empire. Apocalyptic literature is also designed to help us feel as though we can make meaningful moral judgments about overwhelming problems, and it is designed to give us hope that somehow things will turn out well, albeit in ways that we really can’t comprehend right now.

We still have political debate, writing, and other art forms cast in the apocalyptic genre today. Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” may be one example; and certainly some of the debate within the environmental movement tends towards the apocalyptic direction. Some of the debate about immigration into the United States and European countries vaguely resembles the apocalyptic genre, down to dire warnings and sometimes surreal logic. There is nothing wrong with apocalyptic literature — it can provide some needed comfort and hope — as long as we recognize that it is really a type of fiction or myth. You still have to wash your hands during the cholera epidemic, you probably should disinfect your shoes before walking among oaks, and when you get done reading an apocalypse you still have to deal with reality.