Sunday, January 5, 2014

False Armageddons

Philip Jenkins, in "From Angels to Armageddon," introduces his newest book (due in May), The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. I just pre-ordered it (hardcover this time — many illustrations). Part of the religious disillusion that we think characteristic of the 20th century may well have been due to the shattered hopes associated with "the war to end all wars." Jenkins:
...I have been working on a book about the religious aspects of the First World War, to be published in this centennial year of 2014. ....

My core thesis is that, without appreciating its religious and spiritual aspects, we cannot understand the First World War. More important, the world’s modern religious history makes no sense except in the context of that terrible conflict. The war created our reality. ....

The outcome of the war cannot be understood without the constant diet of apocalyptic dreams and visions that reached a height in 1917. Among other things, this would be essential to Jewish history, in justifying the Balfour Declaration and the return to Zion. 1917-18 involved such seemingly cosmic events as the Christian reconquest of Jerusalem, the Russian Revolution, and a quite literal battle of Armageddon – the British victory at Megiddo. Apocalyptic fears and expectations reached fever pitch. ....

.... The only thing worse than losing an ultimate cosmic war is winning it, yet finding the world is still a dangerous and nasty place. (emphasis added) These disappointed hopes and moral compromises shaped the politics, culture and religion of the rest of the century. .... [more]