It’s the end of the world as we know it.
So, Saturday or Sunday, depending on how you reckon the time zones, was supposed to be the Rapture . . . at least according to Harold Camping.
I’ve read or heard about the Rapture since I was first able to read. What has been equally clear to me since that time is that the belief that it will happen—if it happens—in the way that Camping suggests is not widespread or given much credence in the mainstream Churches. The one thing that they do agree on is that God will come again to judge the living and the dead. Now that may be some big day of judgement or, as many believe, it applies to each of us as we die. Sooner or later, each of us faces our maker and has to give an account. Which brings us to the heart of the matter – what will that account be?
One Christian challenge that is given wide credence is that we should live each day as if it were our last. And lets face it, every time we step out of our door and into the traffic that is a distinct possibility. But this is not simply a Christian thing; our culture has a strong tradition, particularly in women’s magazines, of telling stories about individuals who face serious illness or death and reassess their priorities. They decide that the really important things in life are family and friends and health and taking time to smell the roses. It’s one of those stories by which we perpetuate our cultural values, the ones we kid ourselves that we still hold in spite of the reality of our pace of life, the ones we think are really important.
Another form of the story is making decisions based on imagined deathbed regrets. I’ve done this myself. When I’m on my deathbed, I doubt that I’m going to regret not having done more housework. The usual story is that the person in question decides that they are unlikely to wish that they had spent more time at work. I rather like Bono’s take on it—yes, I’m a U2 tragic, but you already knew that—when he says ‘I’m not afraid to die, I’m not afraid to live, but when I’m flat on my back I hope to feel like I did’.
The key point in each of these, Christian and secular alike, is that you should make the most of the time allotted to you, and do what you think is really important. The stories also suggest that we too easily lose sight of what is most valuable to us.
As John says, there’s a fair bit of nostalgia at play here, but I think there’s more to it as well. Jean-François Lyotard wrote about increasing scepticism of grand or meta-narratives. While we were looking with scepticism at the grand narratives of religion, and belief in progress and science, and so on, we missed a new one coming up behind us: the economy is the meta-narrative of our time. Everything that our governments, business, and news media say and do seem to be geared to its effect on the economy or individual wealth. It is used to explain and justify just about everything, a comprehensive way of ordering the social world. There seems to be no social agenda anymore that is not also designed to serve the economy. It was largely the case with John Howard, and it certainly seems so far to be the case with Julia Gillard; your only valid identity is as a worker in the formal economy.
In view of this, the stories that we tell ourselves about reassessing our priorities are important to our culture at both national and individual levels. They remind us to regard each other as more than adjacent cogs in an economic machine. They also remind us to take note of what we really believe is valuable in our lives—which, for most of us, probably isn’t either the economy or personal wealth above all else, if we are honest with ourselves—and to make time for those things, stand by them. At a national level they should remind us that there are cultural and social concerns beyond the economy, and that these should be on the agenda too. Our cultural stories are important, and we ought to take notice of them, irrespective of whether we’re expecting some kind of Rapture or other imminent end to our lives here.