APOCALYPSE: Pt. 1/3
Definition of apocalypse
1a : one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom (1)
The phone rings…
When picked up, the phone sounds a series of digital pings and pongs…
The handset gets placed on a modem…
The computer interprets those sounds and then speaks…
In a digital voice similar to the sound of Stephen Hawking’s computer voice, the words “Shall we play a game?” ring out…
The game to be played?
Global Thermonuclear War
Except, what the computer ‘thinks’ is a game or a simulation isn’t…it is real. The computer that made a phone call to the young Matthew Broderick was a computer that ran nuclear war simulations for the United States Air Force. It then would use what it learned from those simulations to execute the most effective counter attack strategy. In this case, the Soviet Union decided to strike first and start World War III. The simple simulation game of Global Thermonuclear War that Mathew Broderick started to play in the 1983 movie War Games, the computer with the digital voice interpreted as the real thing; not a game or a simulation, but a real attack against the United States of America. Because of that, the computer wanted to launch real missiles in response. The rest of the movie is about how the characters try to avoid a nuclear holocaust, World War 3, the apocalypse.
This type of movie defined my childhood. Movies with names like The Terminator, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and The Day After impressed upon young movie watchers such as myself the real possibility of an apocalyptic ending to life as we knew it. The apocalypse for me, many of my generation, as well as the generation before me was the event of total nuclear destruction of our world. The fear then was the image of living in a dystopian world in the aftermath. Not the war, but the nuclear winter to follow. (2)
This was (and sort of still is) my memory of the definition of the word apocalypse.
Apocalypse as “end of the world” is the exact interpretation that Hollywood has perpetuated and still does. The genre is a growing one. Not that wikipedia should be a major source of accurate information, but if you look on wikipedia under the search “List of Apocalyptic Films”, you will find a clear trend. (3) Wikipedia divides its list of films in this category by decade. In the first division, the ‘pre-1950’ category, there are only four films listed. In the decades moving forward look like this:
1950-1959: 14 apocalyptic movies
1960-1969: 24 apocalyptic movies
1970-1979: 37 apocalyptic movies
1980-1989: 37 apocalyptic movies
1990-1999: 35 apocalyptic movies
2000-2010: 63 apocalyptic movies
2010-2018: 74 apocalyptic movies
Ok…so who is to say what an apocalyptic movie is? Who defines it? How is it decided that a movie is apocalyptic in the first place? Wikipedia? Well…all good questions and I’m sure these lists of movies are not definitive or final. What is interesting to me is what this list might mean about us, about society, about culture.
It seems to me that movies both reflect culture as well as drive it. If that is true in even the smallest sense, then as a reflection, this trend shows that we are more and more interested and/or concerned with the destruction of the world, with what happens after that destruction, and with what survival looks like once the destruction happens. As a driver of culture, then this trend is increasingly defining, reinforcing, and perpetuating a particular view of the concept of apocalypse. In both cases, it is a dark view of the future and a view that most of us would prefer to avoid.
This is the driving force of the plot of the movie War Games (as well as many other movies) that I started out describing. This ‘end of times’ apocalypse is to be avoided at all costs. That is the plot of the movie.
But should it be?
Should it be avoided?
Should apocalypse be avoided?
Of course I am not in any way insinuating that the ‘end of the world’ should actually happen, not at all! What I am asking is this…should ‘the end of a thing’ (not the whole of creation, end of times, destruction of the planet) be avoided at all costs?
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In April this past year I had the benefit of attending WAKE: A Boutique Festival Curated by Peter Rollins (4) (side note: this was incredible experience and funding permitting, I hope to attend it again next year). The theme this year was APOCALYPSE.
My initial reaction to the theme was exactly what you would expect after reading everything above. Despite my theological training, my reaction to the word apocalypse has been shaped and formed by the Hollywood of my youth. I was curious about the the view of the end of times and what comes after, specifically from this particular group of thinkers. To my pleasant surprise, something else was revealed…
* * * * *
At the very beginning, I offered to you the Merriam-Webster definition of the word apocalypse as “expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm”. The third definition is “a great disaster” (5) each lifting up a dark, hopeless, scare view of the future. However, there is another, more biblical and theological meaning to the word. The greek word is defined a bit differently.(6) The word in greek is shown in the image embedded in this paragraph (because this site doesn't allow for a greek font) and is defined as “an unveiling, uncovering, revealing, revelation”.(7)
Apocalypse then isn’t about the end of things but rather the beginning and maybe more accurately said, about the new thing that is revealed because something old has come to an end. It is about revelation.
At the event called WAKE I mentioned earlier, I was introduced to Barry Taylor.(8) Barry has an eclectic past. He was a roadie for AC/DC and converted to Christianity during the 1979 Highway to Hell tour. He then enrolled in seminary, earned a Ph.D. in theology and pop culture and became an Episcopalian priest (9)…and that is just the beginning.
Anyway, at the event, Barry spoke about personal apocalypse. In this talk he brought to light this idea of revelation in the midst of loss, something new being birthed after chaos and death of the old. His movie metaphor was Waterworld, the incredibly over budget and just as awful movie by Kevin Costner where some sort of apocalyptic destruction of the earth happened in the form of the ice caps melting and all land being covered by water. The movie is a dark but wet view of survival after this event where people are scrounging for resources to survive, hoarding all they can and getting by on anything left that happens to float. This is apocalyptic because humans are built to live, survive, thrive on land. That is how we evolved. As much as we need water, we still need dry land as well.
Unless of course, that picture of destruction and dystopian existence (think Merriam-Webster’s definition) isn’t the whole story, right? Unless, there is another, more theological understanding of apocalypse at play here.
The movie is not about God, church, Jesus or any other understanding of the divine, but knowingly or not, it does interpret the meaning of apocalypse in a similar way, something new is revealed, something new came out of the destruction that is the setting of the movie. That something new is found in the character played by Kevin Coster. In a world of water, humans cannot survive…unless of course they change, unless something new happens, unless they evolve. Kevin Costner’s character IS the new thing. It turns out in a world of water, Kevin’s character evolved to grow gills, the very thing needed to survive in the new world.
apocalypse…something new revealed in the midst of the destruction of the old.
Need another pop culture reference? Ok…
Planet of the Apes (1968)
This movie is certainly before my time, but I’ve seen it….many many times. The bullet points:
- Astronauts land on a new planet
- Astronauts encounter intelligent ape-like beings as an alien species
- The ape-aliens see the human astronauts from earth as ‘less’ then themselves (in part because one of the astronauts cannot speak due to an injury)
- The human astronauts escape captivity, travel to an area that is ‘forbidden’ to hide the rest of their lives
- While traveling, they encounter the Statue of Liberty, revealing that they are not on an alien planet at all, but rather a future earth after nuclear weapon fueled apocalypse
What is revealed here? What is the new thing? The evolution of a species into intelligence. In Waterworld the apocalyptic revelation is the evolution of humanity away from that which once was and into that which will be. Even in the movie War Games there is a revelation at the end of near destructive apocalypse of Global Thermal Nuclear War. The revelation is the skill and talent of a new generation embodied in the character played by Matthew Broderick. He is the epitome of ‘Gen X’ in the eyes of the authorities of the day, seemingly lazy, unprincipled, unfocused and doesn’t take anything seriously because all he wants to do is play games. But it is the Matthew Broderick that is the hero, saving the day not because he stepped into the ‘old way’ of doing things and viewing of the world, but rather precisely because he didn’t settle into the ways of the previous generation. In this case, apocalypse was avoided precisely because he was the the new generation and that was the revelation.
All of this is to say that apocalypse isn’t at all about the destruction and chaos of the world as we know it. Rather, it is about that which is new, that which is revealed, that which is uncovered and unveiled out of and after the world as we know it ends.
What might that kind of apocalypse mean in term of the world? Your life? The Church? Your job? What new thing might be revealed?
P.S…you really need to follow Barry Taylor. This BLOG isn’t an advertisement for him in anyway. I am simply encouraging you to follow him on Patreon. In my humble opinion, his perspective is worth it! https://www.patreon.com/barrytaylor/posts (10)
1- Apocalypse. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocalypse
2 - William R. Cotton, Roger A. Pielke Sr, 2007, Human Impacts on Weather and Climate Cambridge University Press, pg. 203
4 - Here is the event on Peter’s website: https://peterrollins.com/calendar/2018/4/15/wake
5 - Apocalypse. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocalypse
6 - Greek is the language in which the New Testament is written.
8 - Here is Barry’s website: https://www.ukbloke.com
10 - I just began supporting him on PATREON and I enjoying his work very much. I will be using more and more of his ideas (and giving him credit for it as well) in the future.