Good, if shallow, piece in The Washington Post this weekend about a Washington and Lee University course on apocalypticism. Reporter Susan Kenzie is present on the last day of class, which Professor Eduardo Velasquez closes out with the memorable line “Leave.”
Because it was the last class of university for many students, there are a few unintentionally hilarious taking-stock-of-it-all anecdotes. Here’s what passes for staring into the abyss for the many of the kids these days:
Michael Lee, 22, who will graduate from the small Lexington college Thursday . . . knows his immediate future: a job as a health care lobbyist in Washington. “After that, it’s a great unknown.”
“The end of the world for me,” [said senior Tallie Jamison], “is graduation. That’s what it is for most of us. It’s really scary. It’s coming. The clock is ticking. But we don’t really know what comes after that.”
[A job, kids, paying off college loans? -- ed.]
As reporter Kenzie notes, “the idea of the apocalypse has taken hold in strange ways in this post-millennial, post-Cold War, post-Sept. 11 world.” Professor Velasquez, for his part, isn’t an especially sectarian apocalypticist, but he does take the subject matter of his course seriously:
“I can’t tell you about floating up someplace, or a rapture, but it does seem to me that we are at the end of something, that we are a civilization that has exhausted itself.”
Apocalypticism taps into deep currents of what National Post regular Colby Cosh has described as “the pervasive collective feeling (present in all human ages) that the world has gone wrong” and offers an answer to this problem.
The solution is, hold fast to the faith and wait for deliverance by a higher power. The prof rightly tells Kenzie that the end of the world in the apocalyptic context is the beginning of something else. What comes after depends on whether one had faith in that deliverer all along.
Kenzie does a good job of observing the scene — and God bless her for those anecdotes — but I wish she had asked more questions. To wit:
1) Historically, the Apocalypse has tended to be more popular with persecuted religious sects that with sects that have it relatively good. Why is it so popular with many American Christians today?
2) When popular culture adopts apocalyptic themes, does it tend to swallow them whole or is it a lot more selective in its use?
3) Are apocalyptic themes in fact more prevalent today? Have there been any attempts to quantify this?
And so forth. The thing about journalism is, class is never out of session.