Now that the rapture has been delayed six months while God tallies the results of his apparently invisible judgment day, we can turn our thoughts to other things. Like why Canadian media outlets big and small, for profit and for our benefit, turned the nonsensical ramblings of American octogenarian radio preacher Harold Camping into a major news story. This is a guy who already claimed that the world would end – in 1994! So how does a man so far out on the lunatic fringe that he’s actually pulled this same schtick before get so much attention from staid information outlets ranging from The Globe and Mail to the nightly news?
Seeking answers, I dive into the murky depths of apocalypse divination. I find out, on my very first Google search, that Camping is all wrong. The world isn’t going to end in 2011. It’s going to end in 2012. You can watch an entire documentary on the hows and why of it online at CBC’s Doc Zone.
Interesting that nobody mentioned that little factoid. I guess, “Lunatic Preacher Says Tomorrow but Other Loonies Say Next Year” doesn’t make for quite as gripping a headline.
But just as summer will give way to fall, Camping’s October will give way to the next nut’s January. Wire stories will proliferate, that one guy who wasted a hundred grand of his own money on doomsday billboards will be profiled and we’ll revel (revel, get it?) in every word.
The fact is, we Canadians, a primarily secular, increasingly diverse, almost entirely urban citizenry made up of largely literate people, love this stuff. We love The Rapture! We love to read about it, we love to join Facebook groups about it (I’m “maybe attending” post-rapture looting). We might crack wise, we might just use it as an excuse to get awfully drunk and say things that’ll make us feel like the world ended that morning after all, but we do pay attention to it. (Speaking of morning, apparently Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbasias had a lovely post rapture breakfast – so lovely she posted a picture of it on the ‘Net here).
So what’s the deal? After finding Zerby’s breakfast, weighty predictions about 2012, and several websites hellbent on defending Jesus from Camping, I decided the Internet was not providing me with the kind of straight forward answer to incredibly complex questions I had come to expect from the world wide web. So I ventured into the increasingly rare terrain of actual dialogue with real people.
First up, Paul Bramadat, Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. He made two cogent points: That all the news about the Rapture was, in some weird dark way “comic relief in a news cycle normally dedicated to wars, tornadoes, political changes and nuclear disasters.” He connected this to our general fascination with cranks: “We’re all fascinated by people who approach the Bible, or any text, so literally.” Now I’m not one of those who with elaborate theories about the difference between Canadians and Americans, but there’s a subtext here which goes like this: In Canada, we approach these stories with, uh, shall we say a certain degree of irony. This ironic distance is bolstered by the fact that these tales of biblical prognostication derived mathematically from the bible by a former engineer turned radio host whose organization has spent 100-plus million dollars buying bus stop ads in Ghana are uniquely American in their aspect. In Canada, we participate in afternoon zombie walks and hipster Day of the Dead parades. We bring our toddlers and argue about whether or not the Queer Zombies Against Israeli Apartheid should be allocated funding and allowed to lurch alongside. In America, where evolution is still an open question, they outfit a fleet of RVs luridly painted with text urging people to Repent Because the END is NIGH.
In the run-up to the last great potential apocalypse – remember good old Y2K? – Professor Marlene Goldman, who teaches English at the University of Toronto, investigated Canadian attitudes to the end days through the lens of canonic CanLit-ers like Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley and Thomas King. “I was seeing that Canadians were very resistant to the classic version of the apocalypse which is the destruction of the earthly world and the creation of a heavenly world,” she explains to me over the phone. (And yes, I do deserve props for tracking down the only Canadian academic to have speculated at length on the relationship between CanLit and the Rapture.)
Quite simply, her research, which coalesced into the tome Rewriting Apocalypse in Canadian Fiction, suggested that from the very early foundations of this country, Canadians were doubtful they had much to fear from the apocalypse. When explorer Jacques Cartier came to Canada he famously wrote that he had found the land that God gave Cain. What’s to fear about the end days? Things are terrible already! Bring it on! Professor Goldman cites Timothy Findley’s novel Not Wanted on the Voyage, a book about the first biblical apocalypse (you know, the one that led to countless annoying ecumenical children’s toys featuring Noah, his wife and a bunch of cute animal).
Not included in the toy are the carcasses of all the beasts and peeps left behind to drown. These elements are better left rendered by Findley whose Upper Canada sensibilities make it clear that, at the end of the day, Canadians just don’t trust anything that’s going to deliver heaven, on earth or up above. The novel ends with Noah’s much aggrieved wife sitting on the deck of the boat praying, in typical Canuck fashion, for rain to blot out the return of annoyingly sunny skies. (The weather’s too good right now. I’ve got nothing to complain about.)
Finally, for exhibit C, I give you a brief email discussion conducted with Toronto writer Jim Munroe who has penned not one but two graphic novels [http://nomediakings.org/store/] set in the time between the arrival of the Rapture and the end of the world. Munroe told me that he was interested in the Rapture as a setting for his books because he “wanted to show a post-apoc world where things really weren't that different, for better or worse.” Wow. God finally swoops all the good Christians up to heaven and leaves the rest to fend for themselves in a purgatory that can only end in certain death and, well, things carry on as usual. We complain about the HST and ponder the choice between organic or local. No wonder Canada loves the end of days. I press Munroe for further information about the relationship between Canada and the Apocalypse. Well, he reasons, the apocalypse appeals to both the right and the left “so it spans the political spectrum as a genre.”
For the right, it’s judgment day at last. The good are redeemed and the bad are left behind. For the left, it’s a metaphor steeped learning moment: too much power in one man’s hands and look what happens to the little people! Classic Canadiana: even in the end days, we find common ground.
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