The state of the religious apocalypse novel, 2011

Dear readers,

The religious apocalypse novel is in a rut. Consider other “genres” of similar stupendous mayhem: the lone outcast Dr. Frankenstein has given way to scientifiction Victorian villains and they to greedy megacorporations as the source of novel biological terrors: and those terrors have similarly mutated from single lightning-powered stitch-men into Moreau’s man-beasts, and they into all manner of hyperpredatory animals and aliens (Scott Sigler‘s Ancestor and Infected; the Piranha movie) and viruses and bacteria even.

Likewise, the more physics-related apocalypses and havocs have grown: where once we were spooked by Verne’s then-plausible fiction of a comet scraping a portion of Earth away into weird wanderings, so we endured black holes, and more directs impacts, to grow into fictions of CERN fucking with the structure of space-time itself (Flashforward).

In all genres of apocalypse there has been growth corresponding to the evolution of the science that apocalypse is based on — save one.

The religious apocalypse novel is in a rut. Left Behinds and Christ Clones and the like are stuck in a theology and a Bibliology that is woefully outdated. Their religion is on the level of a serious science havocist spouting of aether and elan vital!

This is not merely a problem of reading the Book of Revelation and taking it literally. No, the problem runs much deeper. Religious apocalypses, even those that are somewhat anti-theistic, are stuck in slavishly assuming as their twist the stodgy orthodoxies of mainstream Christian theology, instead of higher criticism and biblical scholarship.

It has been known for decades, for so long its novelty value is on par with that of motorcars, that Jesus of New Testament fame was most likely a Jewish preacher of an imminent apocalypse, a man that did not consider himself a son of God except as a job title.

It is well known the four Gospels are works with very different Christologies, and will not and should not fit together as pictures of Jesus’s life, as not one of them is a picture that is true to life.

It is well-known that the Apocalypse that ends that Testament is, in addition to its distance from Jesus, also far removed from its more recent interpretations; but as far as I know, only the appendix of a single book recognizes this mismatch and speculates.

Similarly, we now know the Old Testament is largely fiction: there was no Garden of Eden, no Exodus; none of the memorable high points happened, or if they did they were of tremendously inferior magnitude and import.

The Jewish religion itself, of which the Old Testament is a late example, was for a long, long time much like any other Baalism of the area. It was much less remarkable, even, initially, being the religion of some desert-edge herdsmen, whose fixed habitation and self-glorification began long after the days of their imagined royal glory had passed. Not only are Adam and Abraham and Moses fictions: so too David and Solomon. Later kings such as Omri and Josiah would not be as well known, for they were small men: but they would be real, not inventions or distorted memories of ragged warlords of a few hovels and some starving sheep. Such fragmentary tales and legends were the fodder of dynastic priests and kings desirous of unity, of a grand history; and thus the document known as the Old Testament came into being: by compilation, commingling and conservation, not by revelation.

Any serious modern fiction based on the Bible should understand how dated a document it is: to treat it as the infallible word of God would be as wrongheaded as a biological thriller assuming the utter final inerrancy of Lamarck or Darwin, or a physics doomsday story of Newton that wilfully denied Einstein!

That this would require a radical departure, a revolution in the apocalypse business, even, I do not gainsay: it would no doubt be a devastation likely to end careers and to infuriate readers, but it is a devastation I would heartily welcome and embrace.

So — away with the motif of Lucifer, whether found, visited or loosened upon this earth! Look instead at ha-Satan, the Accuser, the much misappropriated and abused angel that stood next to God and didn’t have confidence in Job; and do not mistake him for the unrelated serpent of the tale usually told first, or the falling godling of many a myth. They are where the story began; they are where the twist of a surprising truth or survival must be found. Could the origins of the devil have been wrong in the originals, wrong until the Middle Ages, until the truth of a horned, red-caped devil peeked out, only to recede back into the shadows when faced by modern scrutiny? That is ludicrous!

Away with cutesy, overworked anodyne angels: look into history and behold the rowdy and physical Sons of God! Away with God, ever-loving and distant, an omnibenevolent all-father — that God is a later invention. The God of these religions’ origin was a tribal force, a Baal, ever embodied, a thunder-god of manlike shape and mind; to assume a different God is again to assume the truth of the matter was not known when it occurred, and is not known now: it is to say that only in the dim and ignorant period between, the nature of God’s origins was known. That is a laughable assumption to build one’s plot on.

So — away with the claptrap and hooey of the Middle Ages, the luminiferous aethers of religion, that in no way convey the true origins of these religions as they happened, or as we are now coming to understand their happening. If a novel seeks to portray a religious apocalypse in a real world, it needs to come to terms with the real history of religion: and that history is devoid of miracles and shows a Jewish Jesus, and a Baalist Yahweh! Let that be the place where the twist, the seed of god, the original deity, the plausible fiction, is found!

Let Yahweh-Baal come roaring from the heights of Sinai, crowned in thunder and wrath, to assist his Chosen People in wars and genocides such as were told in honor of him in the days of old! Let other old gods come reborn in fires, come against him, as the feuds of the Philistines and the Edomites, the Jebusites and the Amalekites, are rekindled!

Or let the apocalypse come as Jesus, just a prophet, prophesied it: an overturning of eastern Mediterranean’s order by a physical deity of martial and non-cuddly aspect! Let him descend in clouds of fire, enthroned and terrible, let life screech to a halt, and let his Messiah come as he was foreseen, the king and warlord unsurpassed, undefeated, and uninterested in missionary work!

Any story which does not deal with the scientifically, critically discovered approximate truth of the Judeo-Christian traditions’ origins is a story that by wilfully disregarding the best consensus of scholars and scientists robs itself of all value of novelty, plausibility and techno-thrillerism.

Down with such outdated formulaic cowardice!

Upwards in a bold rhythmic motion with new religious apocalypsic literature!


2 Responses to “The state of the religious apocalypse novel, 2011”

  1. mhilm Says:

    I wish you’d write this. I find myself wanting to. If I do, I’ll credit you for the inspiration.
    Not completely irrelevant (or irreverent)- have you ever read “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman? A delightful apocalypse story, with all of Pratchett’s characteristic insight and affection for the vagaries of humanity.

  2. Masks of Eris Says:

    Good Omens? Oh yes, the Other Four Horsemen and all. Actually, that’s the only book I’ve read in three different languages. Finnish and English were easy; in German there were large parts of “this seems strangely familiar! I am sure soon I will understand what’s happening here!”

    I think that, sooner or later, I will write some kind of an apocalypse novel. Come this year’s NaNoWriMo, maybe I’ll finally try doing it in English instead of Finnish; this might be a demented enough idea. (The previous, and victorious, Finnish ideas have included “a universityperson finds the countryside has too many murderous hicks”, “a universityperson discover a human skull in his office; things go downhill”, and “universityperson awakens upside down in a trash container; suspects an undead professor crammed him there”. Write what you know, and like.)

    If you happen to write anything, please drop a link!

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