The Rapture

n. Ecstasy, passion: the state of being carried away by a lofty emotion.

The rain is falling steadily this morning, and thick fog obscures the western shore of Lago Maggiore. This area of northern Italy is a kind of Switzerland with good food and a sense of humour, and one of the entrenched strongholds of the radical “Liga Lombarda”, a right-wing party which has allied itself on and off with Il Cavaliere, the ineffable prime minister of Italy.

The Italian Alps. Last view of the sun for the week

Italy lives in a rapture all of its own, fuelled by a focus on the good things in life. Like Portugal, it boasts wonderful wines, and very little of its good stuff finds its way out of the country. Lombardy has a population of 10 million, roughly the same as Portugal, but it has a GDP of about 420 billion dollars, whereas Portugal is at 243. People here feel that they contribute excessively to the well being of other Italian regions, particularly in the much poorer south, and that probably accounts for the devolutionist spirit in the province.

Although 10 million is a good number of people, it is only an estimated 25-50% of the number of Americans who believe in another kind of rapture, the one that will spirit away the righteous while evil-doers languish on earth. The whole concept is a little challenging for me, since I’m perfectly happy to languish on earth, and my preference is to be spirited away only at a point when things are no fun anymore. Serious illness will do that, probably personal tragedy also. So far I’ve been blessed on both counts, and count my blessings accordingly.

However there is clearly a large community that sees it the other way around, and looks forward to the rapture of another (heavenly) world. I have some difficulty separating that from other visions of paradise, such as presented by the muslims.

But we humans are eminently practical, ever since as small and irrelevant creatures we branched off from the chimps about 5 million years ago and learnt to rub two sticks together and dig holes for larger beasts to fall into. In the process, we worked wonders: domesticated plants and animals, developed sophisticated means of communication, structured societies, and the means to archive and preserve knowledge. Oh yes, and we invented religion. Enduring religions have: a set of moral codes, which help us to avoid killing each other over transgressions, an image of the higher beings who provide oversight (with a stern parental combination of wrath and forgiveness), and the promise of a better life, to help us bear the weight of this one.

But life is full of dilemma (or is that dilemna?), and for the 20 to 40 million in the US who apparently believe in the Rapture, one concern is the fate of pets. According to the code, pets have no soul, and therefore no heaven to go to. Although in the satirical novel “The Loved One”, Evelyn Waugh describes how a funeral home for pets in Los Angeles sends memorial anniversary cards which read “your little friend is thinking of you today and wagging his tail in heaven”, apparently that was a misrepresentation…

So with no heaven, the poor unrapturous critters are destined to a life of misery with the sinners who remain behind. Some of these have identified a market niche, based on a sin scale comparable to the goldilocks economy. Or to purgatory. Not too hot, not too cold. Websites such as Eternal Earth-Bound Pets (the next best thing to salvation in a Post-Rapture World) have identified a group of moderate sinners (not being in possession of a criminal record helps set one of the boundaries) who, for a fee, commit to taking care of the pets who have no place aboard the Ark of Rapture. Other sites, e.g., also discuss these concerns. If you want to dig deeper into these issues, have a look at the article which drew my attention to this great theme.

The book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, by Mackay, does justice to some of these madnesses, and to many others, such as the famous “black tulip” stock market bubble. The Rapture and Pet Dilemma is one example of this kind of delusion; others which have far more severe consequences stem from the propagation of ideas that have long been given up on elsewhere. This kind of historical lag shows up in different parts of the world, and often slips through the cracks of western news.

Examples exists in science and in politics, the latter being considerably more dangerous. Expressions of legacy Marxist-Leninist experiments, abandoned in all western countries and by all other major proponents, show up with disturbing regularity due to this lag. One example was the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, in Peru, and another which is still current, that of a few enclaves in northern India that from time to time direct their wrath at businessmen.

One that I never heard of until yesterday was a Khmer Rouge style takeover attempt in Sri Lanka. Not easy to document, even in these information-rich times; the late 1980s were the scene of violent insurrections, led by the Sinhalese JVP party, and mediated by a motley crew of disaffected people, including students, monks, and the unemployed. By the time it was over, there were an estimated 30,000-60,000 dead.

The same pattern emerges, both for history and the future: beware of those who know it, consider those who intepret it. May you find rapture before rapture finds you.


One Response to “The Rapture”

  1. lebougie Says:

    I loved this post. It was really interesting and different to your other posts so far. I share your view on languishing on Earth until existence no longer permits it!

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