Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln
Among the questionable alternatives to religion embraced by contemporary society—among the various ersatz religions, that is—one must include the kind of fundamentalist teaching promulgated by certain sects and churches in Britain, in South Africa and in the United States. Like all ersatz religions, these teachings eschew responsibility for everything a genuine religion entails and offer something else—something potentially dangerous—as a palliative.
Granted, Christianity, like most other religions, has in the past had its fanatics, espousing over-simplified dicta and prohibitions, more intent on coercing conformity from their neighbours than on crystallizing their own sense of meaning. Indeed, it could well be argued that the social cultural and political history of religion, at least in the West, is to some degree the history of such imposition. Judaism, at various points in the past, and Islam, in the past and today as well are equally guilty. But it is disturbing to see the same phenomenon developing in the West on as broad a scale as that which obtains today. It has taken us a great many centuries, and cost a great deal of bloodshed, to learn a measure of tolerance. That we can feel shame at such aberrations as the Inquisition, or the witch-trials of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Counter-Reformation, attests to some genuine advance in learning, some genuine education on the level where education truly matters—in values and attitudes. It bodes ill when such gains are threatened by a return to fundamentalist simplicities—by a return, in other words. to the use of religion as mere tribal myth.
In the past, fundamentalist simplicity has often served as a refuge for oppressed minorities, or even for an occupied country. Sometimes it has assumed a violent and aggressive form—that of Polish Catholicism, for example, when, during the nineteenth century, Poland lay prostrate beneath the alien yoke of Lutheran Germany and Orthodox Russia. Sometimes, and probably more often, it has provided a consolation for the helpless, counselling resignation while at the same time proffering hope. In this capacity, fundamentalist teaching performed a genuinely therapeutic role for nineteenth century Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe, or for black communities in the American South.
What is occurring today, however, is the embrace of fundamentalist simplicities not by an oppressed and persecuted minority, but by some of the wealthiest, most comfortable, most powerful and, theoretically, best educated people in the world. This in effect nullifies much of what Western culture has so painstakingly learned—not only in purely academic spheres such as biblical study and evolutionary theory, but also in the more relevant and ultimately more important spheres of humanity and tolerance. Not since the excesses of seventeenth century Puritanism—Cromwell's Protectorate in Britain, the witch-trials in New England as well as in western Europe—has religious fanaticism and bigotry been allied in the West with wealth and power on so large a scale.
Except, of course, for the Third Reich.
Modern fundamentalism in America derives ultimately from seventeenth-century Puritanism, with its concept of an 'elect' who enjoyed a special 'covenant' with god. This 'elect', of course, included the men now honored as the 'Founding Fathers' of the United States. But the more immediate roots of modern fundamentalism lie in the fractured and free-associative history expounded by certain nineteenth-century theological propaganda. In 184O, for example, a London phrenologist disarmingly named John Wilson published a book entitled Our Israelitish Origin. According to Wilson, God had faithfully fulfilled His pledge to sustain the seed of Abraham. Driven into exile by the Assyrians, the Iaraelites, Wilson asserted, had become the Scythians, who in turn were the ancestors of the Saxons. Through this kind of demented logic, Wilson eventually concluded that the English were in fact the lineal descendants of the Tribe of Ephraim. An important piece of evidence in his feat of historical detection was the derivation ot the word 'Saxon'—based apparently on the assumption that the ancient Hebrews and Scythians spoke English—from 'Issac's sons'. It would all be charmingly dotty, if not for the fact that Wilson's claims are still being promulgated by fundamentalist textbooks today.
In 1842, Wilson published a second book, The Millennium—in which not surprisingly perhaps, his reasoning led him to the conclusion that the Second Coming was at hand. Jesus's 'return engagement' was imminent he argues and this event would be followed by the establishment of a species of what we would now term a thousand-year Reich. First, of course, there would be the Antichrist, and the world would lapse into a period of chaos. But the Antichrist, menacing though he (or it) be, was doomed a priori to defeat. European civilization was so great, Wilson had earlier argued, that it could only be the product of a new 'chosen people', whom God, in adherence to His covenant, would never abandon. During the ensuing hundred and forty years, this assertion of supremacy was to be eagerly embraced by Afrikaans settlers in South Africa, who, even today, regard it it as a major cornerstone of apartheid.
Wilson was followed by other writers of much the same ilk. In 1861, for example, a certain Reverend Glover endeavored to associate the British lion with the lion of the Tribe of Judah. Serenely undeterred by self-contradiction, he then echoed Wilson in equating England with the Tribe of Ephraim, but equated the Welsh and the Scots with that of Manassah. In 1870, Edward Hine of Manchester published The English Notion Identified with the Lost House of Israel of Twenty-seven Identifications. Four years later, a revised edition of the book was issued, Hine having added another twenty 'identifications' to make a total of forty-seven. For Hine, Britain was no longer associated with one or two of ancient Israel's lost ten tribes, but with all of them. Unaware apparently that the 'Tuatha de Danann' of Irish tradition meant simply the people of the goddess Danu, Hine construed the name as some sort of Gaelic transliteration for the Tribe of Dan'—a solecism still asserted by fundamentalists today. Further confirmation for this contention seemed to be provided by the frequency with which 'Dun'—a variant of 'Dan', according to Hine —occurred among Irish place-names. In reality, 'Dun' meant nothing more than a fortified dwelling-place—of which, needless to say, there were many in Ireland.
Like Wilson, Hine anticipated an imminent Second Coming: 'Armageddon looms in the distance. This is the time when almost the entire world will be gathered to battle against us, and for which we have to be prepared.'
It must be remembered, of course. that the ideas of men such as Wilson, Glover and Hine were very much products of the Victorian era. Granted, even in the context of their time, most people would have found them ridiculous. But they would have seemed slightly less so than they do today; and they did, after all, harmonise with the prevailing mood of complacency and self-congratulation. The British Empire was then approaching the zenith of its grandeur, the halcyon period of the Pax Britannica. The entire world acknowledged the magnitude of British achievement. There was really nothing to challenge the conviction that civilisation, under Britain's benign aegis, had attained a point just marginally short of perfection; and this lent itself to interpretation as God's seal of approval, or even the workings of His divine plan.
Needless to say, the subsequent erosion af Britain's overseas imperium constituted an incommodious embarrassment for the successors of Wilson, Glover and Hine, one af whom, speaking in 1969, declared, rather poignantly (if not altogether lucidly): "We cannot now talk glibly of the identity mark, that we possess the gates of our enemies. We cannot talk proudly that one of the marks of Israel is that we are the wealthiest of nations, who lend but never borrow; we cannot really talk with great emphasis of Great Britain." But there is, of course, an explanation for this: "…the measure of our fall into disgrace and abject conditions is the measure of our departure fnrm Almighty God."
If Britain had fallen from grace, however, America had not. Stressing its British—that is, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant origins. Hine had already identified America with the Tribe of Manassah. By the end of the First World War, the thinking of men such as Hine, rather like the influenza epidemic of the same period, had found its way across the Atlantic. The deterioration of British exports is by no means a modern phenomenon.
Modern American fundamentalism rests on premises that are often startling in their anachronism, their credulity and their naivety. The Bible is held to be immutable as it stands, the indisputable and unalterable word of God, is if councils such as Nicaea had never occurred, and as if there were not alternative gospels.
Nothing has ever been, or can ever be, added to it or subtracted from it. In its existing form, it contains all the knowledge necessary for individual salvation. In this respect, of course, fundamentalism has much in common with other Christian sects, especially of an evangelical character. But there are certain premises which are specifically fundamentalist.
The first of these is that the United States and the United Kingdom today are to be identified—sometimes symbolically but more often quite literally—with the scattered 'remnants' of ancient Israel. Modern Judaism is believed to derive from the biblical Tribe of Judah, but the descendants of the remaining tribes are damned to be the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of Britain and America—and their kindred abroad, in places such as South Africa. These are the new 'elect', the new 'chosen people'.
The second underlying premise of modern fundamentalism is that biblical prophecy is of cardinal importance. Certain specific works are repeatedly cited, notably the Book of Revelation (dating from the late first or early second century A.D.) and the classical prophecies of the Old Testament (dating from between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C.). These works, it is believed, were composed in large part to predict events in the modern world—events 'scheduled' to occur in our own time. Despite numerous documented blunders of Old Testament prophets about their own epoch, they are held to be infallible prognosticators about ours. Even their dire fulminations against each other are lifted out of the original historical context and deemed applicable today. And yet it is worth remembering at least something of the historical context which fundamentalists so cavalierly ignore. Ancient Israel, after all, was a loose-knit, ill-defined and often ungovernable political entity smaller than the county of Yorkshire or the state of New Jersey—and with a bare fraction of the population of either. It occupied an inconsequential fragment of what, even then, was the known world. And yet the records of its internal wranglings are regarded as an infallible guide to the late twentieth century, in virtually every sphere, from personal conduct to foreign relations. It is rather as if the vision of the future propounded by one member of a Yorkshire council, or the New Jersey legislature, in 1986 were to be used, quite literally, as a means of explaining friction between, say, Canada and China, or even between earth colonies in space, in the fiftieth or sixtieth century.
The third premise underlying modern fundamentalism involves the specific message of certain prophecies. This message, of course, is that the apocalypse is imminent. For the fundamentalist, the world has entered the Last Days, just as it was believed to have done in Jesus's time. The Antichrist will shortly appear (if he has not already done so) and wreak assorted kinds of havoc. A period of 'tribulation' will ensue, culminating in the epic Battle of Armageddon, and the world will be utterly destroyed in some kind of holocaust. After this debacle, the Second Coming will occur—Jesus will descend in glory from the heavens, the dead will rise from their graves and the new Kingdom will be inaugurated. Needless to say, only the 'elect' or the 'saved' will be granted residence permits.
This, in general, is the prospect envisaged by fundamentalist preachers. At given points here and there, certain of them become more specific. Thus, for example, the Antichrist is often identified with the Soviet Union—the 'evil empire' castigated by Ronald Reagan. One of the wealthiest and most powerful fundamentalist organisations, however, identifies the menacing ten-crowned 'Beast' of the Book of Revelation—that is, the Antichrist—quite precisely as the EEC with its ten member nations. (That they are now twelve is presumably some new, pernicious and devious stratagem on the part of the 'Beast'.) It is predicted that the nations of the EEC will wage war against the United States and the United Kingdom, will defeat them and will then enslave them. Britain and America will become satellites of a new world power based in Europe, and this power will embark on the Third World War— presumably against the Soviet Union. Biblical prophecies are invoked to forecast that the war will last two and a half years and cost the lives of two-thirds of the population of Britain and America, all in order to bring people around to God's way of thinking. "In this fearful, awesome atomic age, World War III will start with nuclear devastation, unleashed on London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh without warning!" Curiously enough, the major cities on America's West Coast, which would surely seem to qualify as the modern world's Sodom and Gomorrah, are exempted from this catalogue of destructive retribution. But then again, as the Old Testament prophets never mentioned any of the cities in question, there is probably a greater margin for error on the part of the modern interpreter. It was inconsiderate of Jeremiah not to have said anything about Hollywood, thus leaving its residents uncertain of their fate.
At the end of the Third World War, the climactic Battle of Armageddon will be fought somewhere in the Middle East. The Antichrist will appear again—or perhaps it is a different Antichrist—and contend against the forces of God. Since the game has been fixed in advance, God's forces, commanded by Jesus in the role of field-marshal, will finally emerge triumphant—but the whole affair will have been messy in the extreme. However, if one repents now. if one allows oneself to be 'saved' and especially if one makes a financial contribution to the church, one will be spared all the carnage and removed to a place of safety until the turmoil has been resolved. In a variation on this theme, certain fundamentalist preachers speak of a moment in the present generation when the faithful will be 'raptured away'. Without warning all true believers will suddenly evaporate, dematerialise, disappear in the flicker of an eyelid from their offices, their homes, their golf-courses, their cars (left careering driverless across streets and motorways), and will rocket upwards to a personal interview with Jesus. From a position of shelter amidst his celestial entourage, they will be permitted detachedly to watch the unfolding cataclysm as if it were a football match.
It is, of course, easy enough to scoff at such convictions, compared with which the beliefs of many so-called 'primitive societies' appear downright sophisticated. And yet an extraordinary and ever increasing number of people in America today take them quite seriously, and are not only resigned to an imminent apocalypse, but actually, in some sense, look forward to it, in expectation of a blissful eternity in the millennial Kingdom of the Second Coming. Among this number, it has been suggested, is the President of the United States. In an article which appeared both in the Washington Post and in the Guardian. for example, Ronnie Dugger, a prominent American journalist, writes: "…Americans could fairly wonder if their president…is personally predisposed by fundamentalist theology to expect some kind of Armageddon beginning with a nuclear war in the Middle East." And, further: "If a crisis arises in the Middle East and threatens to become a nuclear confrontation, might President Reagan be predisposed to believe that he sees Armageddon coming and that this is the will of God?" [This was before it was known that the presidents 'bad memory' was actually the manifestation of Alzheimer's Disease - Ed.]
According to the President himself, certain unspecified and unidentified 'theologians' have told him that at no previous occasion in world history were 'so many prophecies coming together'." In a television interview during his campaign for his party's nomination in 1980 he said: "We may be the generation that sees Armageddon." During the same campaign, in an address to prominent New York Jews, he is quoted as saying: "Israel is the only stable democracy we can rely on in a spot where Armageddon could come."
In 1983, the President stated that when he read the Old Testament prophets and 'the signs foretelling Armageddon', it was difficult for him to avoid pondering the likelihood of the battle occurring in the present generation. Certainly, he added, the ancient prophets had precisely described the times now being experienced by the contemporary world." According to the Washington Times, James Mills, a California politician, recalls a conversation in which the President spoke at length about Armageddon. After quoting from the prophecies of Ezekiel, he is reported to have said, "Everything's falling into place. It can't be long now."
In a letter to us, dated March 1986, Ronnie Dugger declares: "…I am now convinced that his Armageddon ideology lies at the root of his foreign and military-nuclear policies toward the Soviet Union." Dugger's conclusion, ironically, was anticipated by Jerry Falwell, one of the most prominent fundamentalist preachers, and president of America's self-styled 'Moral Majority' (now absorbed in the 'Liberty Federation'), which played an important role in Reagan's election campaigns: "Reagan is a fine man. He believes what the Moral Majority believes, what God tells us." When questioned by an interviewer on whether the President endorsed biblical prophecy as a guide to the future, Falwell replied: "Yes, he does. He told me, back in the campaign, 'Jerry, I sometimes believe we're headed very fast for Armageddon right now' "
The President is not alone in appearing to think in terms of an approaching Armageddon. At Harvard University, Casper Weinberger was asked if he expected the end of the world and, if so, whether by man's hand or God's. Weinberger replied that he was familiar with biblical prophecy, "…and yes, I believe the world is going to end—by an act of God, I hope—but every day I think that time is running out." The American writer Christopher Reed reports that Weinberger actually stated where he thought Armageddon would occur. He named the hill of Megiddo, some fifteen miles southeast of Haifa in Israel though he did not clarify how a conflict of such cosmic proportions could be confined to so circumscribed an area unless he envisages Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachov duelling in single combat with laser-swords out of Star Wars .
Another apparent adherent of apocalyptic thinking would seem to be James Watt, former Secretary of the Interior in Reagan's cabinet and noted for making statements comparable in finesse to a dropped drawer of silverware. To a White House committee, Watt declared: "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." And Simon Winchester, in the Sunday Times, reports a conversation with a senior aide to an American senator, who is quoted as saying: "Dozens of young men and women on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, in the various departments of government, insist that we are the generation who will be lucky enough to see Christ return." Admiral James Watkins, Chief of United States Naval Operations, has, in public speeches blamed Lebanese suicide bombings on 'the forces of Antichrist', while General John Vessey, Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urges young men to 'enlist in God's Army'. At a breakfast meeting, he is reported to have got so carried away by Messianic fervour as to have begun leading cheers of 'Hurrah for God!'
Again, all this would be laughable if it were not so ominous. The underlying premises of fundamentalism all conduce to make mass self-immolation morally and theologically acceptable, even desirable. The Muslim fundamentalist in Lebanon, whom Admiral Watkins brands an agent of the Antichrist, is thoroughly convinced that, in destroying his enemies along with himself, he is striking a blow against his version of 'Satan'—and, in the process, earning an express ticket to Paradise. The Christian fundamentalist is convinced of exactly the same thing, from a diametrically opposed point of view. Each is a mirror image of the other and each, when backed into a corner, will react in the same way. But if a man has his finger on a nuclear button, his act of self-immolation in the name of his God will drag the whole of humanity with him.
Even apart from Armageddon, the prevailing image for the fundamentalist is the image of war, rationalised and justified as a crusade. Among the casualties already incurred in this war have been books. If the printed word can serve to convey the will of God, it can also, the fundamentalist believes, convey the will of God's adversary. In consequence, the last few years have witnessed a new wave of censorship in the United States. In communities in more than thirty American states, major works of both fiction and non-fiction have been banned—not only from schools, school curricula and school libraries but from public libraries as well, so that not even adults have access to them. All of this is part of what the fundamentalist 'Liberty Federation', formerly the 'Moral Majority', describes as its crusade against the 'religion of secular humanism'. In theory, the only grounds for acting against a book are supposed to be obscenity, pornography or 'unsuitability for minors'. In practice, books have been condemned for sexual explicitness (even in biology texts), for the depiction of'unorthodox family arrangements, for unflattering representations of American authority, for criticism of business and corpotate ethics, for questionable political ideas and for 'speculation about Christ'. The list of works to have come under attack includes Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth, Jaws by Peter Benchley, The Abortion and other novels by Richard Brautigan, Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown, Kramer vs. Kramer by Avery Cormen, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, established nineteenth-century classics by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, and (most perplexingly) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn not to mention the American Heritage Dictionary and The Dictionary of American Slang.
As we have said, fundamentalists see themselves as engaged in a war against the Antichrist, whom they usually regard as embodied by Communism and the Soviet Union. And yet, paradoxically, the consequences of many fundamentalist policies tend to further precisely the objectives of the very 'Antichrist' they purport to oppose. By advocating American isolationism, for example, and by issuing dire pronouncements about the EEC, fundamentalism is in effect seeking to alienate the United States from her most important allies, driving a wedge into NATO. By proscribing books such as those listed above, fundamentalism is in effect alienating America herself From her own cultural heritage and her own most intelligent citizens—if not, indeed, from intelligence in general. No calculated programme could possibly be more congenial to the aims of the KGB. One could reasonably argue that fundamentalism is in fact doing the KGB's work for it.
THE ABSURDITY OF APOCALYPSE
Despite two thousand years of having 'been saved', the world today is not an appreciably safer, saner or more humane place than it was in Jesus's time, nor is man appreciably more responsible or mature. To say so is not, of course, to asperse Christianity or its validity on the level of individual faith. On the level of historical fact, however, there can be little dispute that Jesus, as 'saviour', has proved a signal failure. That, naturally, is hardly his fault, for he had no intention of functioning as 'saviour' in the sense subsequently ascribed to him. But for two thousand years, people have foisted an impossible expectation upon him and sought rationalisations to explain his incapacity to fulfil it. Someone or something has been sought to shoulder the blame for their disappointment.
In this respect, very little has changed, very few 'lessons of history' have been learned, and the mentality which obtained during the Last Days of the first century is as vigorous as ever. Now, as then, it is impossible to ignore the realisation that something is grievously amiss. Now, as then, there is the instinctive assumption that, since God cannot possibly be to blame, humanity must be. In consequence, now, as then, there is a pervasive sense of guilt. But the guilt is transferred, projected on to others whose values and attitudes differ from one's own and can therefore safely be labelled 'sinful'. It is other people who are to blame, not oneself. And it is not the world that one seeks to 'save', nor other people's souls, but one's own. The rest of humanity is complacently abandoned to suffer the fate which the guilty conscience secretly fears for itself. 'To hell with the wicked,' one proclaims as a watchword,'but not me.'
We spoke earlier about the distinction between tribal and archetypal myths. We discussed how archetypal myths lead one inwards towards self-confrontation and a recognition of what men share, while tribal myths, by manufacturing a scapegoat to serve as 'adversary', lead one outwards towards self-aggrandisement, self-glorification, conflict and an emphasis on differences. Any myth, as we said, can itself become either tribal or archetypal, depending on which aspects of it are stressed and on the way in which it is used.
In its essential character, the mythology of Christianity is archetypal. It is in this archetypal dimension that Christianity's most profound validity ultimately lies. Whether one subscribes to Jesus's divinity or not, his story, as it is related in his teachings, in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, is a reservoir of archetypal implications. On this level, Christianity has much to teach—about the nature and meaning of sacrifice, about the relation of humanity to its gods, about personal integrity, about the loneliness of the visionary, about the incompatibility of spiritual aspirations with the mundane world, about decency, charity, forgiveness, humanity and a host of other values which represent or reffect man at his best. When these aspects of Christianity are emphasised—as they are, to take but one example, by a woman such as Mother Theresa—Christianity itself becomes archetypal, something that addresses and encompasses the whole of humankind. It becomes a genuine religion in the strict sense of that word, conferring meaning on the welter of experience, fostering understanding, leading not only to knowledge but to a very real wisdom—wisdom about oneself, about others, about the world.
On the other hand, it is equally possible to emphasise the tribal aspects of Christianity—the elements that encourage an autocratic impulse to impose one's values on others, that encourage an elite conviction of one's own superiority, that encourage a sense of self-righteousness, sanctimoniousness and complacency. This is the orientation of American fundamentalism and its kindred beliefs abroad. Fundamentalism rests not on the acknowledged Christian virtues of charity, forgiveness and understanding, but on war—on an imaginary epic conflict between the self-styled 'forces of God' and those of His adversary. Reality is reduced to a simple matter of 'us' and 'them'. The creed defines itself by virtue of its opposite, defines its adherents by everything and everyone that they are not. Whatever seems opposed to certain basic tenets—not of Jesus usually, but of the congregation and its own idiosyncratic interpretations of scripture—is, ipso facto, damned.
By dint of this process, Christianity is in effect drained of its universal applicability. It becomes, instead, merely a ratification of something much more parochial. Christianity is in effect made synonymous with the values of Middle America; God is perceived as a patron of, say, Peoria, Illinois, and such places come to be seen as blueprints, so to speak, for Paradise. Dostoevsky's famous parable of the Grand Inquisitor becomes, if anything, even more apt than when The Brothers Karmazov was written just over a century ago. Were Jesus indeed to return, to appear on the streets of Peoria and begin preaching, he would immediately be arrested as (among other things) un-American and subversive. Even if he were recognised and identified, he would have to be bundled away, muzzled and suppressed. There is no question that, at very least, he would be an acute embarrassment to the creed promulgated in his name. As a social, cultural and political institution, that creed could not risk being compromised by his presence, or, more likely, publicly repudiated by him.
But although there is much about modern fundamentalism that Jesus himself—the historical Jesus or the Jesus of faith—would find horrifying, appalling, downright blasphemous and positively immoral by his own tenets, there is one thing, at any rate, that he would recognise and find familiar. This is the Messianic anticipation, the apocalyptic hysteria reminiscent of the Last Days in which he lived. Thus, in an almost quaintly simplistic fashion—a fashion two thousand years old and long left behind by historical developments—do a great many modern Americans seek to impart meaning to the contemporary world. The mere fact that they can do so reflects the paucity of other alternatives, other principles for imparting coherence to a reality which seems to be running out of control.
As we have noted, apocalyptic hysteria can perform a functional role, imparting a governing myth to an epoch and some sort of meaning to an otherwise fragmented reality. Certainly it has done so in the past, with—depending on circumstances—greater or lesser efficacy. But we cannot afford to let it become the governing myth of our epoch, because, as we also noted before, humanity today is perfectly capable of creating its own apocalypse, its own Armageddon, and of passing responsibility for the debacle on to God. If the hysteria of American fundamentalism is allowed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adopted or embraced as high up as the White House, the result could well be, quite literally, the end of the world—not in a rapturous return of long-dead Zadokites skipping hand-in-hand through Elysian fields, but in the slow breathless agony of a nuclear winter. That we, as authors, can actually write of such a prospect without feeling ourselves over-dramatic is a measure of the extent to which humanity as a whole has come to accept, even to expect, the possibility of mass suicide. If that is the only meaning to be found in the modern age, humanity is indeed bankrupt, and God—however He may be conceived denominationally—has simply been wasting His time.
And yet one must be more precise. It is not, ultimately, a question of 'humanity destroying itself'. 'Humanity' has no desire to do any such thing. If 'mankind' is destroyed, it will not be by 'man', but by a handful of specific individuals whose power, derived from the trust reposed in them, has been mishandled and abused. The Arabs,'en masse', do not wish to destroy Israel, nor did the Israelis, 'en masse', wish to occupy Lebanon. The Argentinians did not collectively decide to invade the Falkland Islands, nor the Russians Afghanistan, nor the Americans to wage war in Vietnam. Nor, for that matter, do the Americans 'en masse' stand behind every act of Ronald Reagan, the Russians behind every act of Mikhail Gorbachov, the British behind every act of Margaret Thatcher, the French behind every act of Francois Mitterrand. It is not ultimately 'humanity', but a frighteningly small conclave of political figures—some more or less 'democratically elected', some not—who wield the authority of life and death over the entire planet. Some of them are intelligent and responsible, but some are unimaginative, insensitive, even positively stupid. Some are manifestly incompetent. Some are arguably insane, to one or another degree. Yet it is they who, with a signature appended to a document, or even with a single spoken word, can send individuals into battle, can determine people's nationalities, can dictate the circumstances in which one lives, can pronounce where one can go or cannot go, what one can do or cannot do. It is they who, for example, by drawing a line on a paper map, can conjure a 'frontier' into being, a barrier as restrictive and insurmountable as any physical wall. They can even order the construction of a physical wall to mark the fictitious 'frontiers' they have invented. And it is they, not 'humanity' who, if there is indeed to be an apocalypse, will bring it about.
There is, needless to say, something monstrously absurd about this situation. There is something intrinsically wrong, in the most profound moral sense of the word, about such people, and so small a number of people, being allowed not just to represent but actually to determine the future of 'mankind'—especially when they have so consistently failed to demonstrate their aptitude or qualification for that task. At the same time, there is hardly likely to be any change in the existing state of affairs. Many regimes, past and present, do not allow the luxury of choice; and even where choice has existed, it has often existed only between different forms of mediocrity. In the Western 'democracies', we have come increasingly to accept our helplessness, rather as we accept the vicissitudes of climate. The more remote and inaccessible government becomes, the more it assumes the inexorable character of a force of nature. One acquiesces, grumbling, in a drought of meaning and in 'spirit' just as one acquiesces in a drought caused by weather.
But where one is fortunate enough to enjoy at least some voice in the matter, one should not, by silence, sanction ineptitude. Even droughts (or famines) caused by weather can be assuaged, as demonstrated by, say, Bob Geldof's 'Live-Aid' crusade—a valid crusade, preached on behalf of what humanity as a whole shares, rather than on tribal differences and scapegoat adversaries. If we can muster the energy exemplified by 'Live-Aid' to cope with the enormity of a 'natural disaster', are we not capable of mobilising a similar effort to cope with the disasters we, by our own negligence, have created in our own affairs? This does not, of course, mean 'revolutions', strikes, marches, petitions or other 'mass movements' based essentially on slogans—slogans as hollow as the political rhetoric they purport to oppose. It means assuming personal responsibility for the creation and dissemination of meaning.
Most political and religious leaders today are themselves frightened, uncertain, lacking their own sense of meaning. Many of them can offer only facile substitutes for meaning to their followers. If we accept such substitutes uncritically, we will remain trapped in our own helplessness. If trust is granted in too careless and too profligate a fashion, it will be betrayed, and power will be aggrandised at the expense of those who, through their trust, conferred it. It is time individuals assumed the responsibility of creating meaning for themselves, from within themselves, not passively accepting second-hand surrogates. The more we come to make our own decisions, the less latitude there will be for others to make them for us.
At the same time, we, as authors, recognise that such exhortations have been made 'from time immemorial', and have not served to change anything. We are not so naive as to think our own exhortations might fare any more successfully. Society will continue to desire its realities, and the meaning of its realities, to be pre-fabricated. Society will continue to seek short cuts. Society will continue to avail itself of one or another 'crutch'. This being the case, it is a matter of choosing one's 'crutches' wisely. What remains to be established is the kind of crutch-assuming there to be one—that the Prieure de Sion [and by extension in this hypothesis: Freemasonry -Ed.] might have to offer.