A Doomsday Reader

A Doomsday Reader: Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation

Edited by Ted Daniels
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    A Doomsday Reader
    Book Description:

    The approach of the year 2000 has made the study of apocalyptic movements trendy. But groups anticipating the end of the world will continue to predict Armageddon even after the calendar clicks to triple 0s. A Doomsday Reader brings together pronouncements, edicts, and scriptures written by prominent apocalyptic movements from a wide range of traditions and ideologies to offer an exceptional look into their belief systems. Focused on attaining paradise, millenarianism often anticipates great, cosmic change. While most think of religious belief as motivating such fervor, Daniels' comparative approach encompasses secular movements such as environmentalism and the Montana Freemen, and argues that such groups are often more political than religious in nature. The book includes documents from groups such as the Branch Davidians, the Order of the Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate, and white supremacists. Each document is preceded by a substantive introduction placing the movement and its beliefs in context. This important overview of contemporary politics of the End will remain a valuable resource long after the year 2000 has come and gone.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4404-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-18)

    At Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978 the Christian-Socialist movement called the Peoples Temple was in grave trouble. Jim Jones, the charismatic leader of the group, had recently moved most of his following to Guyana from the San Francisco Bay Area upon learning of a forthcoming exposé of his alleged abuse of his flock.

    Relatives of members had raised enough concern about their well-being for California congressman Leo Ryan to visit Guyana to investigate. He found a community in disarray struggling to reestablish the life as a “family” it had known. He took some dissident followers with him as he left,...

    (pp. 19-52)

    This book will deal with political millenarianism and the ideas that inform it. However, all millenarianism ultimately derives from a religious original. Before moving on to the primary texts, it is therefore worthwhile to discuss some of the forms that millennialism has taken in the major world religions. This chapter provides brief historical sketches of the main streams of apocalyptic and millenarian ideas and texts, focusing on those that have had the most influence on later ideas and movements.

    Hinduism is probably the oldest, most diverse, and most tolerant major religion practiced today. It is largely confined to India, but...

  6. PART I Enlightenment and Secular Millenarianism
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 53-55)

      We can already see in Gnosticism the emphasis on individual thought that was to come into its fullest expression in the views of the secular Enlightenment, and eventually in modernism. Gnosticism’s reliance on individual effort and exploration, rather than acceptance of dogma and submission to authority, also appears forcefully in Enlightenment rhetoric. Enlightenment ideals included a version of the Gnostic emphasis on salvation through knowledge, although Enlightenment thinkers saw salvation as collective rather than individual. They promoted the belief that the increase of knowledge would lead the world to perfection through a slow but inevitable progress, which is a basic...

      (pp. 56-63)

      Marxism arose out of a reaction to and critique of the conditions of early capitalism. Karl Marx amassed statistics to support not only his critique, but the principles behind his revolutionary response. The statistics performed admirably in his critique of the early capitalist system, because Marx was observing actual conditions. Where his system went awry was in its predictions of the inevitable rise of a dictatorship of the proletariat out of the class struggle inherent in capitalism.

      Marx’s system is based on “natural law”—in this case, the supposedly inevitable working-out of the dialectic of history. This process was progressive...

    • CHAPTER 3 NAZISM: Adolf Hitler and Mein Kampf
      (pp. 64-78)

      Despite literally tons of biography and analysis of his life and career, Adolf Hitler remains one of the twentieth century’s most emblematic, and enigmatic, figures. His image continues to exercise a fascination that time cannot abrade. One writer says it is the best-known face ever; its appearance on a book or magazine cover is “known to increase sales by 25 to 50 percent,” a figure rivaled only by the late Princess Diana.¹ Both his character and his appeal are mysteries to most responsible writers about his career, though some lesser figures claim to have knowledge of these matters. There is...

      (pp. 79-92)

      Old political alignments, the familiar progressive left-wing versus conservative right-wing battles, sometimes converge, blur and ultimately get lost in modern apocalypticism. This is especially true in the environmentalist movements that have emerged since the writings of Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold—notablySilent Spring(1962) andSand County Almanac(1949), respectively—gave new life to an older conservationist tradition.

      Many observers date the contemporary American environmental movement from the first “Earth Day,” April 22, 1970. In fact, the movement’s roots are much deeper. A newfound appreciation for nature was part of the Romantic movement, and starting at least in the...

  7. PART II Millennial Evil
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 93-98)

      An apocalyptic rhetoric drove the Manhattan Project. Its director, General Leslie Groves, said of the project that it was an accomplishment to equal Columbus’s millennial discovery of America.¹ The comparison with Columbus is apt, in view of the Admiral’s own apocalyptic agenda: Columbus declared himself “the messenger” of the New Jerusalem, guided by God to find it.²

      Groves and President Harry Truman alike regarded the bomb “as a gift of God, confirming a symbolic mandate that would make the United States the leader among nations.”³

      Almost since its first discovery, nuclear radiation seems to have held for scientists a millennial...

    • CHAPTER 5 A ROYALIST APOCALYPSE: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
      (pp. 99-107)

      The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zionwas written partly in response to Karl Marx and his “spectre of Communism” with which theCommunist Manifestobegins. It is a famous forgery purporting to reveal a plot of world Jewry to enslave the planet under its own rule through a series of Machiavellian manipulations of greed and liberal impulses. In fact it was composed (in large part plagiarized) by Czarist secret police as a rationale to divert criticism from the Romanovs for the decadent condition of their empire and to blame the Jews instead.

      Russia at the end of the...

    • CHAPTER 6 MYTHS OF POWER: Conspiracies, Revenge, and The Turner Diaries
      (pp. 108-118)

      Conspiracy theory is frequently at the heart of millenarian thinking; we have seen examples already inMein Kampf(chapter 3) and theProtocols of the Elders of Zion(chapter 5). An important point about conspiracy theory is that it very often has some basis in fact.¹ One such fact is that no organization can conduct all its business in public. If it had to consult its constituency about every decision, none of them could be carried out. Another fact is that organizations often work toward purposes they don’t divulge. The CIA and the National Security Agency, to name just two,...

      (pp. 119-126)

      George Bush’s 1991 State of the Union Address aroused right-wing excitement over supposed plans for world hegemony. He called that occasion, in the middle of the Gulf War, a “defining hour.” “Halfway around the world, we are engaged in a great struggle in the skies and on the seas and sands. We know why we’re there. We are Americans—part of something larger than ourselves…. What is at stake is more than one small country, it is a big idea—a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind:...

  8. PART III Well-Known Contemporary Movements
      (pp. 128-143)

      Probably the best-known prophet of the late twentieth century is David Koresh, the leader of the Koreshite Branch Davidians, most of whom died in the apocalyptic destruction of the community they called Mt. Carmel, outside Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. The date is important; it’s the date of the Battle of Concord that opened the American Revolution, a point that escaped few members of “patriot” movements, who regard themselves as all but enslaved by an unconstitutional federal despotism. It’s also the date the Warsaw ghetto uprising began in 1943, and the patriots commonly call the government Nazis. Timothy McVeigh...

      (pp. 144-153)

      Early in October 1994 the world was shocked to hear of the deaths of fifty-three members of an organization called the Order of the Solar Temple (OST). The bodies were found in three groups. The first group was discovered in a villa in the prosperous Quebec town of Morin Heights. The next day, the others were discovered in a house in Cheiry, Switzerland, whose nearby barn was ablaze, and in some villas in nearby Granges-sur-Salvain that had also been set on fire. In the latter instance the bodies were arranged in a star pattern on the floor and appeared to...

      (pp. 154-170)

      On March 20, 1995, eleven people were killed and more than five thousand injured in simultaneous poison gas attacks aboard Tokyo subway trains, all converging on a station near the city’s government center. Shoko Asahara, the leader of a new religious movement called Aum Shinri Kyo, was arrested for planning and directing the attacks. At this writing, his trial is still working its glacial way toward its foregone conclusion: Asahara, like everybody else, knows he will hang. But the trial continues its work, one hearing a month.

      Aum’s religious and social system combines traditional Buddhism with elements of Christianity, popular...

      (pp. 171-198)

      The Montana Freemen movement offered its followers the dream of every wage and debt slave: sovereignty.¹ In its fantasy of total independence and Constitutional fundamentalism, its members could become millionaires with no labor simply by issuing their own money. Unlike leftist populist movements of the past, the Freemen and their “Constitutionalist” partners seek this dream not by empowering and reforming government, but by rejecting it. They seek a return to a supposedly ideal time before the federal government subverted the original intent of the founders by usurping power, enslaving us in an unending spiral of debt, taxes, and mercantile justice....

      (pp. 199-223)

      Recent years have seen a series of warnings that the earth faces a catastrophic collision with some wandering bit of space debris. This is always a possibility, but one wonders why these warnings arose so forcefully at the end of the millennium. After all, we have known about comets and asteroids for a century or so and have seen the craters their impacts leave, here and on the moon and other planets. We have had the potential power to deal with them for about thirty years, in long-range nuclear ballistic missiles. So why take alarm now? That the approach of...

  9. THE END
    (pp. 224-234)

    By the time he got to Jonestown, Jim Jones was a seriously impaired drug abuser. Mary Maaga makes a compelling case that when the Peoples Temple moved to Guyana, Jones was little more than a “mascot of cohesion” because the duties of organizing a pioneering life required expertise he did not have.¹ Management was now mostly up to his lieutenants. This coup and his drug-induced unreliability had faded his charisma to some extent. He was visibly incapacitated. Everyone knew it, though the rank and file probably did not acknowledge it among themselves at first. He told some followers that he...

    (pp. 235-244)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 245-252)
    (pp. 253-254)