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Joachim Valentin

Final Fight - Hell - Paradise

The History of the Impact of Apocalyptic Prophecies
in the Monotheistic Religions

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 2005/12, p. 843-856
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

After they had in the last decades rather lead a shadowy existence and just managed to keep alive in the pastoral of the mainline churches, in recent time the conceptions of final fight, hell, and paradise gain a sad political explosiveness. The need of theological reflection which becomes apparent here remains however usually unnoticed in public. Thus the religious guidance found in the luggage of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the assassins of September 11th 2001 reads:

Show no signs of confusion and nervous strain, but be glad, lucky, cheerful and confident, for you are performing an act which is loved and approved by God. Afterwards the day will come which you spend by God's permission with the black-eyed virgins in paradise. 'Smile into death's face, young fighter, because you will go directly into the eternal gardens'. ... You may not think that those who were killed for the sake of God are really dead." {1}

Not less than seven explicit references to judgment and paradise - written here in the usual literary form of a hutab gihadiya, an encouraging war speech as it was common before large battles for almost 1500 years - are found here on four sheets of paper.

 

The Topicality of Politically Sharpened Conceptions
of the 'Eschaton' (Final Time)

Their religio-psychological function is obvious. Together with the incessant citation of prayers and other religious texts they are to turn away the view from the frightening present situation of the suicide assassin to the in the Koran promised joys of the hereafter. At the same time the assassin can be at ease that his victims really deserve the death, for they are Satan's friends {2}, and enemies of God {3}. They will therefore for certain be condemned after their death to a life of terrible agonies in eternal hell. Himself he can see as instrument of the Almighty God.

Scene-change: Already in 1999, two years before the assassination attempts of September 11th 2001 and four years before the beginning of the recent Iraq war, one could read from the pen

 


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of the evangelical Reverend Tim LaHaye in the theological commentary to his apocalyptic novel series "Left Behind":

"Saddam Hussein's hatred against Jews, Jesus Christ and his successors, and all those who get in his way and impede his goals, can be understood best as demonic obsession. ... It might be that he is a forerunner of Antichrist who will soon appear on the world stage to take over, as we believe, the leadership of the United Nations." {4}

LaHaye's novels have been sold not only in the USA sixty million times. He did not only massively further the politicization of the Christian Right in the USA since the 70ies of the last century but belongs to the organizers of several decidedly influential quasi-political organizations, the "Politic Action Committees" (PAC). They considerably financed George W. Bush's two election campaigns and substantially contributed to his re-election last year by mobilizing an up till now unequalled number of "Born Again Christians". Conceptions of a final judgment with a following (usually seen as) eternal reward or punishment work obviously in a special way as crystallization points, yes, as trigger of that for some time world-wide building up of religiously motivated violence. Thereby the fact is unquestionable that those conceptions developed in the monotheistic religions since about the second century B.C.

 

Is Jan Assmann Right with his Criticism of Monotheism?

Seemingly with good reason the Heidelberg Egyptologist Jan Assmann in recent statements therefore gives the martyrdom motivated by the life to come as the most striking example of the inherent inclination to violence of the monotheistic religions. In his opinion it is a phenomenon that was "inconceivable in the religions of an older type (as for instance the Egyptian ones!)".

Assmann sees in martyrdom the "clearest signature of the new man that was formed in the horizon of the monotheistic turn. ... Martyrdom and violence - dying and killing for God - (belong) together. Both appear at the same time in the context of the same historical situation on the stage of history, and both are considered as expression of the highest engagement for God to which man is able." {5}

You can agree with Assmann in many points, above all in the one that he, in the way of Enlightenment, calls for the critique of monotheism with the means of human reason. But that paradoxically happens just because he implicitly recognizes the typical monotheistic distinction between true and wrong religions. With it Jan Assmann places himself in the tradition of Moses, the Egyptian {6}.

 


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For also the criticism of religion developed already early on the soil of the monotheistic religion. Here has to be reminded of the "Jewish Enlightenment" {7} in the books of the prophets, and of the emergence of theology as critical instance towards the institutionalized religion. Assmann explicitly writes about the aim of his criticism of monotheism:

"'Not back, but ahead!' has to be the motto, towards a critical reflection of our cultural inheritance, which we have to understand in its ambivalence, in order to be able to retain it in the world of today. To say it with Sigmund Freud: a mental progress is required. If we shrink back from such a critical reflection, we will scarcely be capable of this mental progress." {8}

Altogether one may not strain Assmann's approach, as it often happened in the debates of the last years, and so declare his global criticism of monotheism as the magic formula of religio-historical description. Assmann is hardly able to analyze appropriately concrete phenomena of historical violence and their concrete causes. Also in newer publications he does hardly more than (to) repeat his characterization of the "violent nature of monotheism". On that occasion he likes it to push the historical circumstances of the emergence of violence into the second row. Why then, one could ask him, did the calls to a brutal fight in the Indian war epos "Bhagavadgita" not led to just as expansive wars of conquest as in Islam and Christianity? Anyhow, the current Hindu nationalism does primarily not draw on religion-historical sources but can be described best as the late phenomenon of the idea and reality of European national states.

Why has Judaism for more than two millennia proved to be an almost passive, in any case however peaceful religion, although in its fold developed that apocalyptic view which legitimized martyrdom, and texts of the Old Testament already describe the occupation of the country as an outbreak of violence that can hardly be exceeded, to which Israel felt entitled by God's grace? Even the suicide assassination attempts of our time, which are usually named "Islamic", do - religio-historically regarded - not originate from the source 'monotheism'. On the contrary, the first suicide assassination attempt on Israel soil was in 1972 committed on the airport of Tel Aviv by Japanese Red Army soldiers - hence not by religious but political fighters who even came from the cultural horizon of Buddhism. Though, such suicide assassination attempts were later copied because of their disturbing effect and with substantial theological justification problems by the Palestinian freedom fighters {9}.

The characteristics of a religion obviously seem to be less crucial than the socio-economic and political conditions under which religion is used as instrument for the interpretation of the world. The religious scholar Hans G. Kippenberg appropriately writes:

 


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"In reality the views on life and the ethics of the faithful of all major religions are based on a selection from an extensive and contradictory fund. These ethics and views on life are not - because of their status as traditions - obligatory per se. They can become it only when they are selected as up-to-date relevant and get reflexive and practical validity by an act of subjective agreement." {10}

My thesis, which shall be proved in the following in general terms by the religion-historical data of the three major monotheistic religions, therefore reads: On the one hand, since the time of the Maccabees the model of an otherworldly retaliation of earthly acts is necessarily on the idea-historical agenda of monotheistic religions; necessarily - for it satisfactorily solves otherwise hardly solvable theological basic conflicts. Even a not expressly religious philosopher like Walter Benjamin referred - in view of the losers of history - in his correspondence with Max Horckheimer to the logical necessity of the conception of a final judgement. In their writings about Eschatology and Apocalyptic events Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida saw on the one hand just here a sore spot of western thinking, but on the other hand they developed under the heading "Messianic Movement" also alternatives which are conceivable on the soil of monotheism, yes, which can be deduced from its holy texts {11}. Also the developments of the recent history of theology speak for the lasting topicality of the eschatological treatise. On the other hand the conceptions of final fight, judgement, hell and paradise were not created as "essential elements" of monotheistic religions but as specific form of the topical digesting of compelling problems under special historical conditions. As such they became time and again politically effective.

Beyond that the mere presence of certain conceptions of the hereafter and of the final judgment does not per se already cause their current political sharpening. Only the either universally or individually immediate expectation of a certain outcome of that judgement, i.e. reward for one's own violence and punishment of other people's behaviour (enemies), indicates, motivates or strengthens the unrestrained practice of violence in the monotheistic context. And only historical situations either of a substantial crises, of one's own triumph or of the dualistic building up of political conflicts are usually able to cause such an apocalyptic intensification. This description analogously applies to the developments of the Jewish Messianic movement, to Christian Chiliasm, and also to the eschatological motivation of Islamic fighters in the so-called small Gihad. One may call them marginal, but such phenomena have nevertheless just in recent time become the inroad door of a broadly appreciated criticism of monotheism. In a cursory survey they are now to be regarded critically, in the sense of a scientific comparison of those three religions.

 


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Concrete Historical Backgrounds of Attractive Eschatological Scenarios

Judaism

Historically seen the root of the phenomena mentioned lies in Israel {12}. With the achievement of the "Yahweh-Only-Movement" since the fourth century B.C. first suggestions of a belief in resurrection are consistently found, so for instance in Ezek 37, in some psalms, and in Hiob 19, 25. But that belief in resurrection becomes explicit only later, in Dan 12, 2 and in 2 Mac 7. Yahweh's absolute love for his people does no longer allow the idea of the Sheol, a dead realm separated from his sphere of influence. A new model of belief in a hereafter develops: Yahweh himself is the hereafter, and the dead are with him.

The external pressure which had massively risen by foreign rule, but also the in the Hellenistic cultural area freely floating Persian and Egyptian conceptions of the hereafter catalyzed since the third century B.C. the development of that model, which admittedly presupposes the belief in resurrection but does not necessarily result from it. It found its place as "Early Jewish Apocalyptic Ideas" in the history of religion, and feeds on an idea-historical and on a material-political source. In the conflict between Old-Israel's belief to be God's chosen people on the one hand, and the humiliating situation on the other hand, in which the pious fighters of Judas Maccabee (Chassidim) were in their fight for the stained purity of the temple against the Seleucid ruler Antiochos IV (Epiphanes), the idea of a divine aeon presented itself as solution; an aeon which - accompanied by catastrophic events as one experienced them just now - brings to an end the terrestrial aeon. The hereafter of that apocalyptic conception was no longer simply identical with Yahweh's saving presence. On the contrary, before entering into it you had to go through a judgment - first thought as local, later as universal - according to the Chassidims' view. From now on they alone were to enjoy eternally Yahweh's presence whereas their opponents had - likewise for ever - to eke out a scanty living in a new Sheol that was loaded with manifold metaphors of terror.

Up to the suppression of the Bar Kochba rebellion in the year 135 A.D. the threat to Israel by superior foreign rule remained acute, and there was a realistic hope to end it by revolution. The constant real political situation kept the apocalyptic model alive, which in its turn offered time and again new food to the fighting strength of those Jewish groups which were absolutely determined to put up armed resistance.

But historically the Jewish, apocalyptically motivated fighters did not survive the clashes with the Roman great power. Instead of this already in 70 A.D. around Jochanan ben Zakkai (who had been secretly smuggled out from occupied Jerusalem) just those forces rallied which, at least in the legend-forming review of Talmud {13}, had rather preferred a peaceful solution. At the same time the kept - differently from the exterminated Sadducees - to their belief in resurrection.

 


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The rabbinical Judaism arose from their world view by adopting a reconstruction of Israel's faith practice. Admittedly, the thought of retaliation is formally taken up here. "God retaliates the things which are done or neglected by man", the Midrasch Vayikra Rabba reads. But after the experiences of the past centuries it could also not be denied that this retaliation would no longer happen in this life. At the same time however the rabbis forbade themselves almost every speculation about the time and the details as regards content of the coming world. According to their opinion all prophecies of the prophets refer to the final Messianic time (Yamot Hamaschiach), which is usually thought as strictly worldly. But the judgment and the future world (Olam hectar bah) are kept almost perfectly free of speculations. Altogether applies to the future world: "All prophets spoke only about the Messianic days. But about the future world is said: 'No eyes, except yours o God, have ever seen what you will prepare for those who await you." {14}

Why this amazing development - at least on the level of the final editorship of the Babylonic Talmud? The researchers agree to a large extent that it has above all two historically neighbouring causes. First the Jewish defeat in the Bar Kochba rebellion. Bar Koziba had been proclaimed as Messiah by the highly esteemed Rabbi Akiba, but since he failed, he could not be the Messiah {15}. In addition, the on the Christian side increasingly clear identification of Jesus Christ with the Messiah lets such an assignment appear as little advisable. As the US-American Judaist Daniel Boyarin in his recent publication "BorderLines. The partition of Judaeo Christianity" {16} has very well shown, the relationship of Judaism and Christianity - in the first centuries of its emergence resp. new formation can be described best as the development of mutual attraction and repulsion. Both religions were coined by an inevitable 'face to face', genealogic models of origin (mother-daughter religion) have thus seemingly become obsolete - at least for the religion-scientific research.

About the highly complex developments of the medieval Jewish theology you can simplifying say that the theological-philosophically reflected position e.g. of Moses Maimonides faced time and again a popular Messianism. Moshe ben Maimon, particularly under the influence of Aristotle formed the relation of "Olam ha zeh" and "Olam ha ba", i.e. the present to the future world, in a similar way as Immanuel Kant and therefore expected the coming of the Messiah only when all citizens had fulfilled their ethical obligations, in connection with dramatic historical events as e.g. the Mongolian invasion, the crusades or the Reconquista (reconquest of Spain by Christianity, completed 1492) time and again popular Messianic movements emerge. As temporary last phenomenon of that chain can be taken Messiah Sabbatai Zwi (1626-1676), who tragically failed.

 


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His conversion to Islam in conjunction with spiritual cabbalistic movements in Israel and the opening of the European Judaism to Enlightenment triggered finally again a broad internalization and spiritualization of the Messianic expectations.

Only in the twentieth century, after the perhaps most substantial historical changes which the younger Judaism had to digest, the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel, two new increasing Messianic movements can be seen these days: the so-called Messianic Zionism in Israel, and the Lubawit Chassidism spreading world-wide from New York. The "Lubawit" followers (Habád Chassidím) revere the deceased Rebbe Schneerson as Messiah. He had interpreted the Holocaust as sign of the final time: "Israel's sufferings have now reached their zenith ... be now ready for the salvation." His serious illness is interpreted with Jes 53 as the Messiah's suffering against the background of the general Messianic distortions. But how long the community will bear his non-appearance is doubtful.

But the military conquest of the holy places in Jerusalem and of the Westbank in the Six-Day War 1967 gave a politically effective religious turn also to the secular Zionism. Groupings such as Bnei Akiva, Gusch Emunim and Mafdal, which emerged at the beginning of the seventies, experienced soon a rapid rise, and play until today - particularly as representatives of the radical settlers - an important political role. The "Messianic Zionism" works here. Its engine is the awareness of a national renaissance and of the historical actualization of Biblical prophecies. The arising of Zionism, the Shoah, and the establishment of the State of Israel are understood as consequence of a divine intervention in history, and as omen of the approaching Messiah. Thereby the Messianic Zionism must politically insist on the possession of an undivided "Eretz Israel". The division of the country, as it is planned for instance by the Oslo Agreement and all further peace negotiations, contradicts God's direct will, which found its expression not only in the Torah but also in a with Hegel understood history. Out of mere reasons of self-preservation everything that reduces this Messianic suspense must be prevented. Here emerge, as we will see, amazing convergences between the Realpolitik of Messianic Zionism and the Evangelical Protestantism in the USA.

 

Christianity

Christianity had adopted the Jewish idea of a final judgement with some changes. At the end of time Jesus Christ would return as judge and would lead his followers into the "basileia tou theou", into the Kingdom of God, which had been announced by him. St John's Revelation is the concrete picture of that end - under the impression of those disappointed expectations of Christ's return in the near future.

 


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Against the background of a repeated marginalization of the early Christians, the hope of an improvement, yes, of a reversal of the current religio-political conditions in the hereafter suggests itself. Still in the probably lately inserted verses of Rev 17:9 Rome that is lain on seven hills is made out as one of the apocalyptic animals and thus also sign for the entry of Realpolitik into the Holy Scriptures.

When about two hundred years after the origin of St John's Apocalypse Christianity got by Emperor Constantine the status 'religio licita' and some decades later even the status 'state religion', a rapid reinterpretation of the Apocalypse occurred. In his monumental work "De Civitate Dei" (book XX/XXI) Augustine said finally 'good-bye' to the heated up expectation of the small sect for the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Crucial for Augustine is God's revelation in the past, which can no longer be surpassed by a historical date but is only more or less met by every later history. Roman Catholic theologians for a long time therefore regard history above all as place to stand the test before the tremendous event of divine presence on earth in the One God's incarnation, and scarcely as aeon doomed to disaster. How then should you understand the own present time as catastrophic aeon, when it is, as time of the church, was determined by St Peter's successors and by Christ's law? Chiliasm consistently became a heresy, and up to the nineteenth century the eschatological treatise "De Novissimis" led a shadowy existence, whereas secular utopias and models of philosophy of history became attractive and in the end found in the twentieth century in their totalitarian realization a temporary culmination and end.

But this weakening of the apocalyptic suspense takes place only in the mainline churches. The closely expected apocalyptic events remained for centuries the ideological equipment of those who - due to their religious and political suppression and discontent - longed for and prepared a historical turn: small splintered off Christian groups and sects. The in the history of ideas most important group are the Franciscan spiritualists in the 14th century. Based on Joachim of Fiore's teachings they not only expected the new age of the Holy Spirit, a time of religious Orders which should revolutionize the entire structure of a 'Church of the Flesh', but they expected this new age also as a real political revolution in the world of the late 13th century. Already in the High Middle Ages here the idea of the "modern age" arose. Joachim of Fiore's heritage was taken over by utopias of a better life, as it found expression with some reformers, Thomas Morus, the progress model of modern technology and natural sciences, Hegel's dialectic model of history, and particularly effective in Marxism, hence beyond every religion, yes, in confrontation to them.

 


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The 19th century, however, may still for other reasons be called the century of a renaissance of the apocalyptic thinking within the Western world. For the Anglican revivalist John Wesley developed here, inspired by the Herrnhut Reform, a counter-model to the increasing anonymity and erosion of England's early industrial society. Apocalyptic elements, which were rather of less importance in his sermons, developed an amazing political effectiveness in the USA. In view of the closely forthcoming judgement everybody is, independently of his/her church affiliation, called upon to return to Jesus Christ, and to live according to Jesus' ethics. Into the following decades emerged the so-called 'Churches of the Final Time', the Mormons, Adventists and the Witnesses of Jehovah in the USA - a confederation of states that, anyway, is usually seen by its Protestant inhabitants as the "New World" in the apocalyptic sense. Today those ideas continue to work, slightly modified but in return widely spread, as enzyme in the politically decidedly powerful US-American Christian Right.

Here the apocalyptic idea gained in significance in the USA since that crisis at the beginning of the 1990ies, which had been triggered by the end of the Cold War and by the successful but "morally" depraved Clinton Administration with the Christian Right. Similar to the Messianic Zionists also Tim LaHaye and Bill Jenkins, the authors of the aforementioned book series "Left Behind" {17} interpret, following the example of Hal Lindsey, the establishment of the State Israel in 1948, but also the invention of the atom bomb, the moral decay, and the liberal theology of the US-American mainline churches as culmination points of an apocalyptic "timetable" inevitably passing. But while among the Messianic Jews and Zionists on the one hand and the eschatological oriented Christian Evangelicals on the other hand amazing political and religion-political coalitions emerge, Islam is increasingly endangered to get - in a dualistic world view orientated towards the final fight Armageddon - the role of the inevitable enemy for the troops of the New World.

 

Islam

Since the earliest suras of the Koran the belief in a Last Judgment belongs to the core of Muslim faith {18}. There is hardly a Koran sure where the impending judgement does not occur. Mohammed, who lived in a "time of fermentation" (Tilmann Nagel), performs the announcement of the in the Koran expressly revealed expectation for the imminent coming of the divine judgment as his most urgent task {19}. In Arabia's pre-Islamic time obviously no concrete conceptions of the hereafter existed. Poems handed down from the pre-Islamic time represent a view of life and ethics that is completely adjusted to this world;

 


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in Mohammed's kinship, the Quraisch it found its expression in ethics which was orientated towards personal wealth and an almost godless view of life. At the same it is to be assumed that on the Arab peninsula at Mohammed's time Jewish, Christian, and Persian conceptions of the hereafter existed.

That means more precisely: The necessity to install serious ethics able to comprise the Arab tribes culminated in the urgent question about retaliation in the hereafter; for the decadent pluralism of the nouveaux riche merchants in Mecca already threatened to ruin the Bedouin tribal ethics, which had developed from the threatening life conditions of traders and nomads in the desert. Here the monotheistic idea of an imminent Last Judgment offered a more effective and intellectually more demanding solution. In view of the day of the Last Judgment it says for instance in Sure 40, 17: "Today is repaid everybody what s/he did (in their earthly life). Today no injustice happens. God is quick in reckoning." After the new creation of all creatures in the resurrection follows - also according to Islamic understanding of the Last Judgment - the reward in paradise (Cennet) resp. the punishment in hell (Gehenna). In Islam paradise and hell are thought as eternal, a place of transition and cleaning (purgatory) does not exist. With it the earthly life alone appears as place of probation, even if Muslims are always allowed to count on Allah's mercy. Those who apostatize from Islam directly incur hell punishments. Infidels have got similar problems, above all those who revere other gods than Allah (Schirk). But peace (salam) and paradisiacal joys are waiting for those who come out justified from the judgment {20}.

Here appears a basic attitude, which historically refers not least to the substantial distress to which the small group of the first Muslims was exposed at its time in Mecca. Social coherency and the putting through of Islamic ethics in all Arab tribes could be expected from such a rigid threat with the Last Judgment against the hostile Quraisch and the renegades of the young Islam. After a brief metaphorical interpretation of the relevant Koran passages during the time of the Arabian Aristotle adoption between the ninth and eleventh century - it quite reasonably has its reference points in the Koran itself (suras 74, 33; 13, 17; 39, 27) {21} - for centuries such passages have by a majority been interpreted in an unbroken literary sense and have been the belief of many Muslims.

In the outgoing nineteenth century the real relevance of the belief in the Last Judgement faded for the time being into the background. A Reform Islam, fascinated by the superiority of the colonizers, is at first interested in nothing else than proving its own ability to catch up with the modern age. The spiritualization and defusing of hell threat and paradise promise, already well-known to us from Judaism, is found now also with influential Muslim reformers, as e.g. Muhammad Abduh {22} in Egypt and Mohammad Iqbal in India. "Heaven", so Iqbal writes, "means to be happy about the triumph over every form of disintegration" {23}.

 


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But with the increasing Islamic disappointment by Modernity, partly already during the world economic crisis in the 20ies and 30ies of the nineteenth century, that model of rationalization and psychologization of the hereafter expectations massively lost in plausibility.

The conception of an Islamic state with clearly eschatological qualities developed then in the middle of the last century under the influence of nation-state, partly also totalitarian ideologies. The hereafter becomes the key for the interpretation of one's own position in the current world-political changes; or more precisely, with regard to colonialism it was the instrument with which from one's own sources a religious renewal and resistance could be developed against a western culture and civilization that - with good reasons - was seen as hostile.

Here is to be mentioned by means of an example Sayyid Qutb (executed by Gamal Abd el-Nasser 1966). He was the brain of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers and is until today a central giver of ideas for Islamic fundamentalism but also terrorism. On the one hand Qutb take up the metaphorical and worldly view of the Islamic apocalyptical concepts of his modernistic predecessors. His objective is not to weaken and spiritualize those concepts but the final armed fight against the powers of unbelief. He expects that fight at the end of a dialectically thought history. Opponents of the "Umma Islamiya", the Islamic community, are the mock democracies of North Africa and Arabia which collaborate with the West, and of course Zionist Israel. But in Qutb's view that apocalyptic final fight can only be won when all Muslims remember their true faith. Here again the clear division into friends and enemies of God therefore serves to sharpen the ethical commandments and thus to clarify one's own situation as a uniformly imagined Islamic community interwoven into the complex socio-economic reality of today's "globalization" and - in extreme cases as motivation for sacrificing one's life in the armed fight.

 

Expectation of Imminent Apocalyptic Events - a Burden of Monotheism?

It should have become clear that the metaphors of final fight, hell and paradise have played a substantial role particularly in times of world- or idea-historical changes. Apart from a few exceptions they have been rather underestimated in the last decades of research in the field of religious studies. That is particularly owed to the omnipresence of the indefinite word "fundamentalism" which is used beyond religious frontiers as 'combat term'.

Certain elements of the early Jewish apocalyptic scenario, e.g. the reward of the just in paradise and the punishment of their enemies in hell, but also the assumption of a final fight are up to our days time and again used as motivation amplifiers for political actions or even for acts of violence.

 


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With it we meet the typical apocalyptic argumentation always unique and adapted to the specific coinages resp. developments of the respective religion. So the politically sharpened Messianism is certainly a temptation of the popular Judaism; on the other hand, just the radical experiences of the after-Biblical Diaspora, the disappointment with wrong Messiahs, the prohibition of images, and the admission of philosophical ideas may have promoted the calming down of concrete expectations of the imminent end.

In Christianity one has clearly to distinguish between the eschatological models of mainline and small churches. While small churches - from their minority position, from a wide-spread non-reflected Biblicism, and increasingly also from the way how one sees oneself religio-politically in the USA - are inclined to a word-for-word expectation of the apocalyptical labours, the mainline churches seem after all to prefer the theological isolation of the apocalyptic sting as long as they profit from keeping the status quo.

Finally, in Islam the probably closest amalgamation between religion and Realpolitik can be established. It is true though, that in current Islamism the continual high valence of the ideas of final fight, hell and paradise which today can certainly be called "dangerous", is - apart from the history of the twentieth century which is felt by many Muslims as chain of humiliations and disasters - above all due to a widely spread literal reading of the Koran. It falls behind the hermeneutical level of the Koran itself, all the more behind its history of theological impact broken off in the Middle Ages, and is at present spread throughout the whole world by mostly badly trained preachers.

The most peaceful digestion of the apocalyptical seething was certainly accomplished in the Jewish theology and philosophy of the Middle Ages and of the modern times, but also in the modern Christian theologies of the mainline churches. It is true though that it was accomplished under very specific, i.e. politically rather peaceful and socio-economically tolerable conditions. Preceding experiences of disaster such as the fall of Jerusalem, the genocides, and world wars of the twentieth century, of which the US-American population as well as the Islamic states were spared, played here likewise a role that can scarcely be underestimated.

With essential statements à la Assmann which do not consider history is therefore little achieved. On the other hand it would also be wrong to speak simplifying of an "instrumentalization of religion by politics". Who talk in such a way relieves religion from the always necessary task to cleanse itself critically. Religion will never occur as monoculture and is then also seldom falsified by a hostile policy rushing at it. It is rather found in highly singular discursive fields the analyses of which critical-comparative religious studies should - by one-sided concentration on the holy texts - as little neglect as a fundamental theology that has on its agenda not only the judging but also the perceiving of contemporary history and can only so be understood as action science.

 


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Against such a background it should become clear once again how unreasonable it is to speak of a "substantial" potential of violence of Islam or Christianity, to want 'philo-Semitically' to keep "Judaism" free of any inclination to violence resp. to make it 'neo-anti-Semitically' responsible for the violence in Near East.

Finally I would like to state - somewhat unprotected and in parenthesis to our historical way through the history of the impact of the apocalyptical idea - that a reflection with the means of philosophical reason and a historical criticism of the holy writings as they are found in the respective specific form in the Talmud and in the historical-critical exegesis but also in the contemporary systematic theology - may increase the peace ability of the majority-Islam as well as of the US-American Christianity. When I am allowed to go still further and to mention elements of a historical and philosophical criticism of the monotheistic idea of the Last Judgement, above all three critical questions about the current or historical conceptions of the Last Judgement come into view:

  1. How is the contact with other people in the judgement imagined; or more exactly: with members of other religions or women? Still the apocalyptic discourse is usually a male one. That means more exactly: Does in the judgment the value of the acts count or the belonging to a religion? And: Are women in the paradise objects or subjects of the male view?
  2. Does a Negative Theology of the apocalyptic topic exist or is it completely missing? Nobody can be sure of his/her punishment or reward when the distinction between transcendence and immanence is taken seriously, which seems at least to be in the same way a sign of the monotheistic religions.
  3. Finally the question is to be asked whether the conceptions of the Last Judgment are theo-centrically structured. It must apply: God judges, not man, and we know neither the day nor the hour.

 

Notes

{1} Religious guidance of the assassins of September 11th, 3, 169. For the first time completely translated into German, in: Terror im Dienste Gottes. Die 'Geistliche Anleitung' der Attentäter des 11. September 2001, edited by H. G. Kippenberg and T. Seidensticker (Frankfurt 2004) 17-28, 22 and 26.

{2} In the same place 21.

{3} In the same place 25.

{4} T. LaHaye & J. B. Jenkins, Leben wie in der Endzeit? Biblische Prophezeiungen u. ihre Bedeutung für heute (Asslar 2004) 134.

{5} NZZ, 30.10.2004

{6} So reads the title of the monography with which Assmann began the debate in the year 1998: Moses, der Ägypter. Entzifferung einer Gedächtnisspur (Darmstadt 1998).

{7} About the formation of that concept see above all E. Nordhofen, Der Engel der Bestreitung. Über das Verhältnis von Kunst u. Negativer Theologie (Frankfurt 1993).

{8} SZ, 15.9.2004.

{9} See J. Croitoru, Der Märtyrer als Waffe. Die historischen Wurzeln des Selbstmordattentats (München 2003).

{10} Terror im Dienste Gottes (note 1) 84f.

{11} See above all E. Levinas, Messianische Texte; in: the same, Schwierige Freiheit. Versuch über das Judentum (Frankfurt 1992) 58-103; J. Derrida, Apokalypse (Wien 1985); the same, Marx' Gespenster (Frankfurt 1995).

{12} Relevant Literature: F. Albertini, Das Verhältnis von Gesetz, Gemeinde u. der kommenden Welt in Hilkhot De'ot von Moses Maimonides, in: Kirche u. Israel 2/2004, 106-120; K. Hoheisel, Tod u. Jenseits im außerbiblischen Judentum des Orients; in: Tod u. Jenseits im Glauben der Völker, edited by H. J. Klimkeit (Wiesbaden 1978) 97-110; M. Idel, Jewish Apocalyptiscism 670-1670, in: The Encyclopedia of Apocalyptiscism. volume 2: Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture, edited by B. McGinn (New York 2000) 204-237; A. Ravitzky, The Messianism of Success in Contemporary Judaism, in: The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. Volume 3: Apocalyptiscism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age, edited by S. J. Stein, 204-229.

{13} See Babylonischer Talmud, Traktat Gittin 56a/b.

{14} Babylonischer Talmud, Traktat Sanhedrin 99a.

{15} See in the same place 93a: "Kosiva's son ruled for two and a half years. He said to the scholars: I am the Messiah. They said to him: About the Messiah is written that he smells whwere the right is. We want now to see whether he smalls where the right is (Jes 11,3 in rabb. translation). When they saw that he was unable to smell where the right is, they killed him."

{16} D. Boyarin, Border Lines. The partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia 2004).

{17} German edition: Finale (München 2001); see also: J. Valentin, Apokalyptik statt Politik? In den USA boomen Endzeit-Romane, in: HerKorr 59 (2005) 30-34.

{18} Relevant Literature: T. Nagel, Das Leben nach dem Tod in islamischer Sicht, in: Klimkeit (note 12) 130-145; S. Amir Arjomand, Islamic Apocalyptiscism in the Classic Period, in: The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. Volume 2 (note 12) 238-283; A. Amanant, The Resurgence of Apocalypse in Modern Islam; in: The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. Volume 3 (note 12) 230-261.

{19} So it says often in the Koran: "The hour has come" (Suren 54,1; 22,7; 40,59).

{20} "But those who believe and do the things that are right - those who do right, we will not deprive of their reward. They will get the gardens of Eden, where in the valleys brooks are flowing. There they are decorated with bracelets made of gold and dressed in green garments made of Sundus and Istabraq-Brocade, and they lie comfortable on sofas - an exquisite reward and a good resting place." (Sure 18, 30; see also Sure 14, 23; 57, 12 u.a.).

{21} "What does Allah intend with this parable? ... it is just a warning for man." The hint to that passage I owe to Bernhard Uhde.

{22} See about M. Abduh above all: M. H. Kerr, Islamic Reform. The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammed 'abduh and Rashî Ridâ (Berkeley 1966) 103-152.

{23} M. Iqbal, Le livre de l'éternité (Paris 1962) 123.

 

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