Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan

Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan

Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan

Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan

Synopsis

Apocalypse Observed is about religious violence. By analyzing five of the most notorious cults of recent years, the authors present a fascinating and revealing account of religious sects and conflict. Cults covered include: * the apocalypse at Jonestown * the Branch Davidians at Waco * the violent path of Aum Shinrikyo * the mystical apocalypse of the Solar Temple * the mass suicide of Heaven's Gate. Through comparative case studies and in-depth analysis, the authors show how religious violence can erupt not simply from the beliefs of the cult followers or the personalities of their leaders, but also from the way in which society responds to the cults in its midst.

Excerpt

The dawn of the modem era's third millennium has inspired a flood of news stories, about everything from celebrations at the end of 1999 (or 2000, depending on who's counting) to accounts of computers going haywire because they are programmed to give the year in only two digits. Our reckonings of time may impose only a social grid on the flow of cosmic time. Nevertheless, we widely recognize the passage from one millennium to another as momentous, and wonder what it portends. Are we witnessing the end of one era and the beginning of another? From what, and to what?

These are among the classic questions about the meaning of existence, and it is thus not surprising that religions have long concerned themselves with cosmic and historical time (Eliade 1954). Yet millennial time is itself subject to history. Sometime during the second millennium before the beginning of the modem era, in the region between Persia and the Mediterranean, religious ideas surfaced about a world historical struggle between good and evil (Cohn 1993). These ideas later crystallized in the Bible's New Testament book, the Revelation of St John the Divine, chapter 20:

I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived with Christ a thousand years.

The cultural significance of the millennium in the West derives in large part from this passage.

Many readers of Revelation look for Christ to return to Earth to preside over a thousand-year era of peace, joy, and bliss: an earth become heaven. Some wonder whether passing from the end of the twentieth century to a new millennium might trigger the fulfillment of Revelation's prophecies. Newspapers and magazines report a number of unusual religious developments: increased sightings of the Virgin Mary, a surge of fascination with angels, and the emergence of small religious sects like the Taiwanese group that looked for Christ to come for the second time on 31 March 1998 at 3513 Ridgedale Drive, Garland, Texas 75041 (NYT4 March 98, p. A10).

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