Is Anything Not a Sign of the Apocalypse?

Kelly Baker

These days, my brain alternates between at least two or three scholarly things/themes: the 1920s Klan and the apocalypse (and often vampires and religious intolerance, but that is for another day). The first, of course, is quite obvious. I am counting down the days until my manuscript is tied in a bow and shipped to my publisher. The second, however, started as a minor interest in apocalyptic scenarios in American culture more generally and in pop culture more particularly (see here and here for our other bloggers take on this topic), and it is possible that the apocalypse is becoming quite an obsession of mine. I am teaching a class on the Apocalypse in American culture in the fall, and I even have a Google news alert set broadly for apocalypse (what interesting things appear with that word in the title). According to bloggers, new pundits, and other various talking heads, almost anything is a sign of the apocalypse: Miley Cyrus, a myriad of commercial products, Americans in general, the environment, Obama, various political maneuvering, 2012, nuclear armament and disasters (natural or otherwise).

It is not surprising, then, that the BP oil spill would become one of the impending signs of Armageddon. Lisa Miller, over at Newsweek, reports that in some Christian fundamentalist circles the oil plume points to biblical prophecy come alive. She's a little light on the history of millennialism in America, but she pulls in the Millerites as a key example of the problem with predicting the end of the world. What is more interesting is that a part of the Christian blogosphere finds the oil plume in the Gulf
to be manifestation of Revelation. Miller writes:

Revelation 8:8–11[:]“The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed … A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” According to Revelation, in other words, something terrible happens to the world’s water, a punishment to those of insufficient faith. The foul water, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, mirrors one of the plagues God called upon Egypt on behalf of his people Israel.

Though maybe it’s Revelation 16:3: “The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died.”

Some interpreters are very sure: The oil spill matches biblical prophesy and is another predictor of the end. One commenter at Godlike Productions argues that the redness of the oil seen in pictures can be interpreted as blood. “The water is tinted red from the oil … it ACTUALLY looks like blood. coincidence??? NOT!!!!” On Facebook, at least two discussion groups are devoted to mining the parallels between events in the gulf and those predicted in the bible; and in a heart-rending interview with CBS, a Louisiana minister named Theodore Turner, whose congregation is one third fishermen, said he knew it to be so. “The Bible prophesized hardships,” he said. “If we believe the word of God is true—and we do—we also know that in addition to prophesying hardships he promised to take care of us.”

Interestingly, Miller notes that there might be a problem with this interpretation because usually these catastrophes are punishment for very bad behavior, so what did the people of the Gulf do to deserve this? Nothing. Miller continues, "Yet through a biblical lens, it’s hard to see the oil spill as anything but God’s punishment for greed and a disrespect of Creation—and both of those sins fall mostly on the shoulders of the Republicans, who have been aggressively lobbying for more offshore drilling, without, obviously, ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place. " Why I am not in the game of interpreting God's will, it is pretty clear that Miller's assessment might strike some as dead on.

I wonder what religion scholars in the Gulf region (here's looking at you, Mike Pasquier) think about Miller's assessment and the desire to place the oil spill in such a dramatic theological narrative. Watching coverage of the oil spill and BP's failures to stop the plume makes me feel ill and distraught because of the ecological and human consequences, but I am not sure I "see" the apocalypse. Yet, this scenario does feel more convincing as a one of many biblical disasters leading to the final days than teen pop star. Maybe there is too much geographic distance between me and the Gulf. More likely, it is because I have been reading so many articles, posts, etc. about the impending apocalypse. I can't help but wonder if anything can be a sign of the apocalypse, then maybe nothing is.


Anonymous said…
great piece; love the title!
Bradshaw Watson said…
[b]The BP oil spill is one of at least 11 Biblical prophesies that have now occured:[/b] 1. Nation of Israel returned, 2. The Christ returned*, 3. Ronald(6 letters) Wilson(6) Reagan(6): "1st Beast", 4. George(6) Walker(6) Bush Jr(6): "2nd Beast", 5. United(6) States(6) Dollar(6): "mark of Beast necessary to buy or sell with", 6. "Book/scroll" w/ "7 seals": 'beyond Einstein theories' produced, 7. Literal "destruction of Babylon" (Iraq War), 8. Symbolic 'destruction of Babylon' world economic crisis, 9. Earthquake in Haiti when "7 seals" were posted on Internet, 10. 'End of Age' is correct, not 'end of time' or 'end of world'. The [i]Age of Pieces [/i]ended and the [i]Age of Aquarius[/i] has started. 11. Oil spill. 12. Rev 21:1, "And I saw a new heavens and a new earth". 450+ exoplanets have been discovered and the 1st Earth-like exoplanet should be verified soon.
- *Brad Watson, Miami, FL - author of **[i]'There Are No Coincidences'[/i]: the "book/scroll" of [i]Rev 5:1-10:10[/i] (Google me & '7 seals revealed')
Kelly Baker said…
Ed, I sort of want to title my next manuscript in a similar manner. The popularity of apocalyptic scenarios in American religious and popular culture is proving to be a great distraction. I am currently knee deep in Justin Cronin's new book, _The Passage_, which is about a vampire apocalypse and the life of humans after contact with these "virals". I hope to blog about it soon because it keeps popping up on summer reading lists.