February 8, 2013 by christopherpdavey
Those familiar with the jittering neo-communist philosopher Slavoj Zizek will note that in his recent book Living in the End Times, he claims that the current state of global politics and economy, and general human suffering is reaching catastrophic proportions. Unsurprisingly, most of this bad news revolves around the capitalist system, and its paradoxical grip on perpetuation and simultaneous decay. Zizek has noted the following ingredients to this recipe for disaster:
1.”The looming threat of ecological catastrophe.”
2.”The inappropriateness of the notion of private property for so-called ‘intellectual property’.”
3. “The socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics).”
4. “New forms of apartheid, new walls and slums.”(1)
Even though these events and ‘accomplishments’ of contemporary humanity cast a shadow over the future of capitalism, and neoliberal agendas, the ideology of profit itself is in decline. Zizek claims that the “system has lost its self-evidence, its automatic legitimacy”.(2) This derives not least from the recent economic crises, multiple dip recessions, increasing poverty rates even in places such as the USA.
What then does this cocktail of greed, mayhem, the end of the West as we know it all mean? Surely, for those with ears to hear, etc. this could be taken in at least two different ways: ‘it’s the Second Coming stupid’, OR, perhaps we could say something more nuanced that still has some spiritual significance. Certainly what Zizek is describing here may not be news to us, and perhaps we welcome the reform or even collapse of capitalism. But, we are still left with the problems of potentially filling the remaining vacuum, responding to massive fallouts of climate change, and prolonged human suffering where the prior two items at some point in the past, or currently, are causing destabilization and violence beyond our (Western) comprehension, let alone control (if that is even appropriate).
The ills generated by the relentless search and promise of capital, violent control of markets, subordinating humans, natural resources, and ecosystems to profits and imperial realism (again, the West is our chief villain here), cannot be disassociated from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. How, then, are we to understand the signs of the times, the event itself, and associated phenomena that is often human caused? The following offering is a two-part posting that deals with the specific signs of the times and armageddon-ish experiences of climate change and genocide. And attempts to offer some radical Mormon perspective on how we are to first comprehend such experiences and then gauge our own responsiveness, if at all, to both a failing natural world and mass group destruction.
Firstly and briefly, we should define our subjects and identify their mirroring in scriptural signs of the times. Anthropogenic climate change will here be treat as scientific fact, and leave debate over the human causation to someone who wishes to do so. From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the more recent World Bank report Turn Down the Heath: Why a 4⁰C Warmer World Must Be Avoided, to the ubiquitous activism of Bill McKibben, and the recent book by Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos, documentation and descriptions of this phenomenon are not hard to come by. Western CO2 output has contributed to increasing temperatures, melting ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels. The destabilization of delicate ecosystems, even with the rise of only a degree or two, has massive human impact.
Images of a hot world, with melting ice caps, rising sea levels, dying forests, and depleted natural resources, all seem biblical enough, but how are these things actually described in the scriptures? Jesus, in response to queries on the signs of His Coming described ‘famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places’ (Matthew 24:7). Although, this does not lay out direct translation to anthropogenic climate change catastrophes, the connections are there: the rise of adverse weather in areas where this has not been known for hundreds of years is either a result of dramatic shifts in seas levels, or jumping jet streams.
Mormon speaks most transparently of “great pollutions” (8:31). While this certainly finds a context in moral decay and whoredoms, murdering, etc., if we note the unity of all things temporal and spiritual, there must then be a connection between the cause, effect, and therefore scope of ‘great pollutions’.(3) Further, concerning sea levels, we have “the voice of the waves of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds” (D&C 88:90). Hurricane Sandy, described by many as a super-storm fits this bill of climate change related signs.(4) Another story of human impact can also be found in islands and near or below sea level; areas that will be exposed to massive flooding and, in some cases, will be simply put underwater. (5)
Perhaps the most common imagery we gain from a such passages is the imagery of burning and fire. Many verses seem to indicate that this is directly associated with the immediate environment of the arrival of Christ. Malachi 4:1 reads, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Quite comfortably this verse seems oddly distanced from the average Mormon because ‘wicked’ signals an ‘other’ from which we as ‘Saints’ are somehow distinguished from. Clearly, though this is spiritually reaching and a pride filled assumption to think that we are ‘without sin’. In Revelations, John, describes the burning the follows the opening of the seventh seal, “hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up” (Revelation 8:7). This burning of the earth is certainly not limited to the exact moment He descends in a chariot of fire, but surely our end times today.
Genocide is perhaps, for many, a much clearer, and easily accepted sign. The biblical experiences of this phenomenon are painfully clear and are repeated in the Book of Mormon for both the Nephites, et al. and the Jaredites. The destruction of a specific group, is however, as a concept intellectually impoverished by two things: the wholesale acceptance of a few cases (the Holocaust, Rwanda in 1994, and Armenia during World War One) as iron clad measuring standards and the compromised legal determination in the United Nation’s Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. These hallmarks signal to Western publics that a real genocide only occurs when it can be clearly and singularly identified as mass murder after the fact, and to the future and current victims of such atrocities little will be recognized acted on or even conceived of until it is too late.
Further compounding the problem here is the emerging forms of this destructive collection of practices (mass deportation, murder, rape, destruction of cultural symbols and heritage, interruption of group biological propagation,and removal of children, to name only a few). Genocide and war making, over the course of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first have become such that they can be conceptually unified as “degenerative warfare” or “new wars”.# Civilian populations are the target and prize for a conglomeration of mostly violent economic, political, and perceived ‘ethnic’ motivations. Certainly at the root of this development is the simple contemporary reality and sign that “the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound” (D&C 45:27). And of course, the following is a common sense mirroring: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7). True, this indicates more of the interstate warfare that is, perhaps, increasingly a thing of the past. Conversely, though, the violence that we see today in Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Sudan is certainly typical of what we could call emerging forms of genocide, that features more intra-state and civil conflicts, often involving resources. It would not be amiss to also note the crises in Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Zimbabwe as potential forerunners to similar conditions of mass destruction. Lest we also forget the politically and economically irrelevant victims of colonial generated destruction who live within the borders of Western states like Canada, Australia, and the USA. No catastrophe could be more tragically engendered by humans.
The stories we tell ourselves about the Second Coming, climate change and genocide are ones of horror and all too often distant tragedy, which is easily solved by changing the channel, or whatever it is that we might do to create moral distance. We may even make the error of denying that these things exist, in their discrete occurrences or even as contemporary phenomena. One might go as far as stating the denial of these phenomena obfuscates the reality of the signs and conditions prior to the Second Coming, but also, and more importantly, the duties and obligations we have as Christians living in the end times. If, then, it is clear that both climate change and genocide are increasingly disrupting to all, what is less crystal is how we might respond and why we should respond to these catastrophic signs.
1. Satiago Zabala, “Zizek adn the Communist Horizon,” Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/2013127122357321377.html
2. Al Jazeera, “Slavoj Zizek: Capitalism with Asain Values”, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2011/10/2011102813360731764.html
3. D&C 29:31-34; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, 364, (http://jod.mrm.org/10/358)
4. The Guardian, “Was Hurricane Sandy supersized by climate change?” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/oct/30/hurricane-sandy-supersized-climate-change
5. University of Copenhagen, “Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges, and Decisions,” http://climatecongress.ku.dk/newsroom/rising_sealevels/