August 5, 2011

Personal Illusions, Old Time Religion, and Terror

Harold Camping - End Time Prophet

Fear is a potent driving force. Some people feel so threatened by the world's complexity. The claims of the ending of the world always follow such fear. The American Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping is one such visionary. He was sure the world would come to an end on May 21 this year. When that didn't happen, he postponed the end of the world till October 21. Then, he himself was suprised by God on June 9th with a stroke. Apparently he is still in hospital. He seemed to have confused the end of the world with his own end.

The man who killed 77 people in the Oslo area on July 22 this year had a similar personal illusion, but instead of merely scaring people, he decided to kill. His own personal struggle with an explosive mix of various scraps of ideology, islamophobia, and high-powered narcissism ended up as an aweful public manifestation. To him, it appears, Europe was about to be crushed in a violent struggle between Muslim and Christian worldviews. Like a Messiah figure in his own eyes, he needed to sacrifice himself to save Europe. He wanted to return to some simpler, purer place. He wanted the Muslims out of Europe; he wanted women to go back to the kitchen and take care of their children and husbands; he wanted men to be more manly and honorable - all in all he wanted to go back to some Old Order and some Old Time Religion. He wanted to go back.

This violent urge to go back to some glorified, "pure" past and old doctrine is nothing new. Changing times are always frightening, and the world today is perhaps changing faster than at any other time in history. That was why I offered the Hindu story of the Churning of the Cosmic Ocean as a profound parable for our times (see that blog post here). After the terrible events of July 22 I again dipped into my Joseph Campbell library of snippets and found a very appropriate response to all kind of fundamentalism. I hope you take time to listen to his thoughtful words, in conversation with Bill Moyers from 1987:

I have found three interesting viewpoints on the incidence in Norway on July 22 by three prominent Norwegian thinkers and writers. The first is by Aslak Sira Myhre - the leader of the House of Literature in Oslo. He writes Time for Norway to face its Islamophobia in the Washington Post.  Author Jo Nesbø writes in the New York Times The Past is a Foreign Country. Finally, a piece in The New Yorker by journalist Knut Olav Åmås: Seven Days in Oslo: Flowers, Flags, Silence.

No comments:

Post a Comment