Sunday, 24 July 2011

The many ends of the World

One from the archive again. This time, a correspondence with a certain Mr F.B. Murfin in the pages of the Jersey Evening Post, during July 1978.

To put the letters in context, in the 1970s, and indeed the 1980s, there was a very great threat of nuclear war, that the cold war would become hot. As a consequence, there was a lot of support for CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). And nuclear conflict was mentioned by Carl Sagan in Cosmos (1980), just two years after these letters were written, and again in 1983, when he wrote:

It is now almost 40 years since the invention of nuclear weapons. We have not yet experienced a global thermonuclear war -- although on more than one occasion we have come tremulously close. I do not think our luck can hold forever. Men and machines are fallible, as recent events remind us. Fools and madmen do exist, and sometimes rise to power. Concentrating always on the near future, we have ignored the long-term consequences of our actions. We have placed our civilization and our species in jeopardy. Fortunately, it is not yet too late. We can safeguard the planetary civilization and the human family if we so choose. There is no more important or more urgent issue.

Mr Murfin's own brand of Christianity clearly tapped into this existential unease, this almost ever present threat on the threshold of people's daily consciousness, and as I showed, he also used verses from the Bible to support the idea that a nuclear holocaust was part of God's design. The kind of attitude, of looking (or even taking part in promoting catastrophic events) is still rife in America, although now - since the destruction of the twin towers - reinterpreted to make Islamic terrorism the focus for an "end times" conflict. And the rise of right wing Christian fundamentalism is also beginning to manifest itself in violent acts, such as the killings in Norway.

When I wrote my letter, I was half-expecting a reply. My mention of evolution would have been like a red rag to a bull to Mr Murfin, as rather wickedly, I had suspected. I hoped, as indeed was the case, he would reply the way he would, mirroring the debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce (as reported by Huxley, but in fact it never happened that way), and as I surmised, he fell into my trap.

What I didn't see until re-reading these letters today, and reading about the further letters which Senator Freddie Cohen has received through the post was the implicit anti-Semitism which emerges in Mr Murfin's send letter - "five million Jews were destroyed by the Hitler regime under the curse of the breaking of His law" - which I hadn't seen at the time, and is really quite appalling.

I do remember at school, and this would have been the 1970s, there were often jokes at the expense of the Jews, comments about their business practices, and a general undercurrent of anti-Semitism. I was extremely fortunate in that Alf Regal, who was the President of the Jersey Jewish Congregation, and his wife Fay, were friends with my parents, so we often were invited as a family on their boat (a converted Navy vessel) on weekend trips to St Malo in the summer months, and sometimes their son Stephen (now the current President) was also there. I grew up imbibing a degree of Jewish culture and customs, hating anti-Semitism, and loving the wisdom tradition, which I find today in the writings of Jonathan Sacks in England and in Jewish Renewal (such as Rachel Barenblatt and Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser) in America.

The other matter which I mention, which is still true of apocalyptic movements - and these are still very strong in America - is the idea that we should not act, because the events of destruction have been pre-ordained. This has also effected debate on climate change, where some of the apocalyptic fantasists (the same kind who believe in the "rapture") see climate change as part of the "end of the world" scenario, and not something that we can actively prevent. Paul Simoneau - who it should be stated does not agree with that idea, he is just observing it - says that a lot of people are thinking like that:

"Certainly it's hard to look at the past months and not feel like it's the beginning of the end times," says Paul Simoneau, the Director of Justice and Peace Office in the Diocese of Knoxville of the Catholic Church. He says the storms that have hit the South, along with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the flooding along the Mississippi River, the wildfires currently raging through parts of the Southwest, the e coli breakout, and "the personal apocalypses of the very public figures of politicians in California and New York" cannot help but create an aura of uncertainty and dread as to what terrible thing is next.

And here now, from 1978, is a correspondence in the letters pages of the JEP about "the end of the world", which clearly didn't happen, as suggested, by 1985. In fact, 33 years have passed since Mr Murfin suggested the end of the world was due! And after this is the final letter, which was written by a close friend of mine, Matthew Shepard, with my wholehearted approval.

The Bible in proper context

WRITE concerning Mr. Murfin's letter (JEP, July 3) in order to inform your readers that his opinions are not indicative of all Christian persuasions about the Christian view of the current world situation.

Mr. Murfin supports his view of a coming world catastrophe by wrenching scriptural verses completely out of their biblical context and using them in a manner which would have astounded their writers. It is a well-known rule of proper interpretation that one looks at the text in context to see what it really says - as in the same way you read paragraphs in a book and not just isolated sentences.

You do not just pick and choose verses at random to support your own views as Mr. Murfin appears to do. Mr. Murfin thinks that the end of the world is coming. He clearly thinks he can even chart the progress of events up to it. But our Lord's teaching ends all hope of dating that return. As the late C. S. Lewis pointed out: "His (Jesus') teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions: (1) That he will certainly return; (2) that we cannot possibly find out when; (3) and that therefore we must always be ready for him."

Of course scripture mentions wars and rumours of wars and all sorts of catastrophes. But these have always been with man, from the time when he evolved from the apes. They prove nothing.

Finally, I question Mr. Murfin's approach on moral grounds. He tells us to "Jump for joy" at all the nameless atrocities and barbaric destruction of modern atomic warfare. Is it not offensive to suggest that we should be rejoicing at the suffering of others? To suggest that all this is the plan intended by God would make God a cosmic sadist! Is it too much to ask Mr. Murfin to show a little less respect for inhumane grandiose schemes of the future and a little more respect for what Schweitzer called "reverence for life '?

Prophecy, belief and the Bible

From Mr. F. B. Murfin

The letter (JEP July 8) headed "The Bible in Proper Context" says that I am "wrenching Scriptural verses completely out of their Biblical context". He quotes C. S. Lewis to show that we cannot know the time of the return of Jesus. When Jesus ascended into Heaven; he told the people there: "It is not far you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." However, John later received the Revelation from Jesus. Daniel was told that the words were sealed until the time of the end. It is through the Revelation that the words are unsealed, for Jesus "The lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed to pen the seals" (Rev. 5,5).

The reason why the time of the coming of Jesus is not looked for today was given in 1844 in a lecture by William Pymm when with 11 other clergymen he preached on the signs of the second coming of Jesus. He said: "At Jesus' first advent the visible church rejected Him in a body. 'He came to His own, and His own received him not'. And when He comes next unto His own, will He find the Church prepared for his appearing? 'When the Son of man commeth shall He find faith on the earth."

In the time of Jeremiah, people said to a stock or a stone, "Thou art my father" -- Mr. B says it to an ape! Those who follow Jesus call God their Father, but as the Apostle Paul says, "men have changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like four-footed beasts, and changed the truth of God into a lie" (Rom.1:23).

Like Ezekiel, "we sigh and cry for the abominations which are committed around us, but we recognize that God has the right to judge sinners". God says through Isaiah, "I make peace and create evil: I, the Lord, do all these things". As His Son said when some men died by the atrocities of Pilate and others by the fall of a tower, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish", This is "Christian persuasion" to turn men from sin. Paul says "Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men".

As Mr. B says, there have often been earthquakes, famines and pestilences - these are the judgments of God.

In the eighteenth century, Bishop Newton worked out the dates from Daniel, showing that Israel would repossess the Temple area in 1967. This was accomplished by the Six-Day war, and most thinking people will acknowledge that complete and world-wide deterioration in morals began that year, and is still continuing.

This week the book "'The Third World War" was reviewed on BBC2. This is an assessment by military men that, in the words of the commentator, "'the Apocalyptic events of Armageddon" will take place with the use of the atomic bomb in 1985. Revelation 16, 15 shows that Jesus will return unexpectedly to the unbelieving an unprepared at the time of Armageddon. Zechariah, (14,12) in the context of the return of Jesus to the Mount of Olives, says of those who fight against the Lord. "Their eyes shall consume away in their sockets". This was read three weeks ago for the first time by a man working on an atomic device, He remarked immediately: "This is what happens with radiation from atomic bombs"

God uses His judgments in the way prophesied. Those who rejected Jesus in His ministry had their cities destroyed by the Romans; five million Jews were destroyed by the Hitler regime under the curse of the breaking of His law (Lev. 26); and our permissive generation will also be destroyed.

We do not rejoice in seeing suffering, but as Jesus told us to, "we lift our heads, knowing that when all these things come to pass, our redemption draweth nigh".

End of the world?

IT is clear from Mr. Murfin's latest letter (JEP, July 13) that he still persists in reading his own ideas into scriptural verses. He quotes the prophet Zechariah - "Their eyes shall consume away in their sockets" - as a reference to the effect of atomic radiation. This sounds very convincing but I have an old book which uses the same verse to speak of the effect of poison gas on the eyes in World War I - and uses this to show the end of the world was due around then. It must have also sounded convincing in its heyday, but I fear that it has made the end of the world a little overdue!

When you look at the entire verse, it reads: "The Lord will bring a terrible disease on all the nations that make war on Jerusalem. Their flesh will rot away while they are still alive; their eyes and their tongues will rot away" - which makes it abundantly clear that the plague is brought about by God, not man! This is conveniently forgotten by Mr. Murfin.

It should be made clear, however, that our civilization is in danger of destruction, but this means working actively to prevent catastrophe, not idly sitting around waiting for God to pop up out of the box and help us out of our predicament, as Mr. Murfin implies. That will only paralyze the will to survive.

Lastly, contrary to Mr. Murfin's allegations, I do not worship an ape! I merely hold to the respectable scientific theory that man developed from an ape-like creature - as has been vindicated by the discoveries of Richard Leakey. I find it more credible than a naive belief in a literal Adam, as so many fringe sects nowadays appear to do.

As a word to end all words on the end of the world before the topic begins to bore the JEP's readership, may I quote to Mr. Murfin the maxim of Alexander Pope: "blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed."


From Mr. Matthew Shepard.

I NOTICED in recent correspondence in the letters columns of your paper (JEP, July 19), a letter which finished by warning the "world's end" debaters that such an argument as they were having should be discontinued "before the topic begins to bore the JEP's readership".

Sir, with respect, it has already done so.
c/o Asioli Hotel,
Roseville Street,
St. Helier.
July 20, 1978.

Letters, JEP 1978

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reminds me to post a review sometime of Isaac Asimov's A Choice of Catastrophes, the disasters that threaten the world.