Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Bible and the future

Over at Aeon Magazine, there's a piece of deepthink which startlingly misrepresents the Bible's conception(s) of time.

Finally, we can always blame the Bible. Whether you think of it as casting a long shadow across the history of Western culture or as fathering a great light within it, there is no denying the Bible’s powerful influence on the way that we think today. And you might have noticed that there’s not much about a billion-year future in it. The Bible does not tell us ‘The beginning is near!’ but rather ‘The end is near!’

I don't think that American fundamentalist end-times theology is a wide enough lens through which to view the Bible nor its influence on our attitudes through the millennia. Sure, the Bible makes no mention of billions of years--but its authors were very pre-occupied with eternity, which for humans amounts to the same thing. Psalm 103:17 says that "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children." The old king who narrates Ecclesiastes muses at length on the passage of time and the successions of generations stretching into the future. Remember that the Christian Bible was written by dozens of authors over the course of about 600 years. They weren't all just huddling around the altar all that time, waiting for the world-ending thunderbolt to strike.

Indeed, a case could be made that the thinkers of antiquity, both Judeo/Christian and Greco/Roman, had a firmer grasp of the immensity of time and their own minuscule place within it. Since the beginning of the Mechanical Age, events have rushed past in such a blur, that the present has perforce absorbed most of our attention. In addition, we spend the yet-to-be-created wealth confiscated from yet-to-be-born posterity for our own present gratification. "Just keep the checks coming til I'm dead, and then the world can go hang!" Attitudes like that are not found in people who plant acorns, the shade of which trees they will never sit under. Attitudes like that are denounced in the Bible, in fact.

An attempt to excogitate from scratch a new way of regarding the future will most likely sound strangely familiar, in some parts. It's already part of our heritage, if you know where & how to look.