As part of the lead-up to Centre for Inquiry Ottawa's Eschaton 2012 conference, Celebrating Reason at the End of the World, we are pleased to present Apocalypse When, a series covering some of the many eschatological visions and scenarios that have gained or maintained popularity over the centuries.
- Islamic: Taste the Doom of Fire
- Buddhist: The Dwarf Somalia
- Raëlian: Waiting Room Battle Royale
- Zoroastrian: Hot, Sticky Justice
- Death by Comet Flatus
- The Surf Shop at the End of the World
- Norse: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!
- Y2K: Your Mother Smelled of Subroutines
- Left Behind: Romania Will Rise Again
- Revelation: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle
- Nostradamus: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith
- Mayan: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero
Apocalypse #10: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle
Tribulation. The Rapture. The Second Coming. For many, these terms are synonymous with the end of the world. Indeed, the terms "apocalypse" and "Armageddon" both entered the public consciousness because of their appearances in the Bible, and have since become synonymous with the more general term "eschaton." But what's actually involved in the Christian vision of the end of the world? One could be forgiven for forgetting that the original story bears little resemblance to the modern-day, politics-themed reimagining lampooned in the last installment. Rather, here be dragons. And enough gruesome torture to make Mortal Kombat cutscenes feel like Sesame Street.
The end times are hinted at in various Old and New Testament books, which mention but don't elaborate on the ideas of a Rapture, a Savior, and an Antichrist. These ideas do not come into their own until Revelation, the famous last book of the Bible and a rollicking ATV ride through the depths of madness. Each segment reads like a separate fever dream from the same psychopath, with little continuity between segments and a new brand of derangement visible each time.
In this story, an angel visits someone named John on a Greek isle near modern-day Turkey and offers Revelation as a, well, revelation. The chapters tend to switch around between having John as a recipient of prophecy or as a participant, making the opening phase of this book perfect fodder for endless arguments between biblical scholars. Also, it's nearly all written in past tense, so I'm not sure why they think it's a prophecy. Anyway, the angel explains how Jesus will berate the seven churches of Asia (which all happen to be within spitting distance of where John is standing, betraying how small Asia was to the writer) with various promises of hellfire and torment. This takes four entire chapters and has little to do with the rest of the book. Maybe the angel had his lunch money stolen by someone from Ephesus or Laodicea?
Also, I think I owe the Buddhists an apology, because throughout this section Jesus has a sword sticking out of his mouth, with which he frequently threatens to dismember people. The Buddhist sword-interval is downright sensible compared to Jesus threatening to cut people with his face while holding seven stars in one hand and some candlesticks in the other, and awarding the planet Venus to those he favors.
John then astral-projects/hallucinates his way into Heaven, where he meets God and the nightmare beasts that God keeps at his right hand, which each resemble an ordinary creature (lion, calf, "face of a man," eagle) "full of eyes" and each bearing six wings, which are also full of eyes. These creatures watch as a man called the "Lion of Judah" wrestles open a magic book and transforms into a zombie lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, which is apparently supposed to be Jesus whenever Jesus isn't the guy with a sword sticking out of his face. Sheep-Zombie Jesus opens some more magical seals, which unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to slaughter the world's peoples via war, famine, pestilence, and…death? Death is his own horseman? That makes the other three rather superfluous, no?
Here's my favorite part: between introducing the third and the fourth horsemen, this line appears (Revelation 6:6): "And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." Perhaps there was a sale at the Bottega Nicastro outside where this writer was having his peyote dream?
Incidentally, the horsemen don't appear again at all after their introductions.
The next few seals unleash a wave of earthquakes and reveal a collection of slain martyrs (no word on how many horns or eyes they had) that God implores not to start slaughtering until he's done slaughtering. Sheesh, wait your turn, martyrs. Some angels then implore God to avoid demolishing the very earth itself until they're done marking the foreheads of 144,000 male Jews from 12 tribes to be spared, because God is apparently so kill-happy that he very well might annihilate the universe before saving his chosen people if someone doesn't check his bloodlust. Also, it's only Jews from those 12 tribes who get to go to heaven, or something—later sections get very confused about what it means to be among the 144,000, or what it means to be Chinese or Brazilian or otherwise non-Israeli when God enters his murder frenzy. And they're all men who have never lain with women. Ahem.
Then some people wash their clothes in Jesus's zombie-lamb blood, just for kicks.
The chosen 144,000 now stamped for easy identification, God and his angels get down to the important business of sounding magic trumpets that cause fiery hailstorms, a burning mountain to fall into the sea and turn it into blood (totally sounds like the Azores to me), destroy a third of the sun and stars, and drop a "star" called Wormwood into the rivers, making them bitter and killing many.
Come on, angels. If you're going to make absinthe a key part of your endworld process, at least make it good absinthe. Anything else would be a waste of perfectly good wormwood.
The angels then release a swarm of giant locusts from Hell, which have the heads of humans, the hair of women, the teeth of lions, and the stingers of scorpions, to torment whoever is left after the earthquakes, war, pestilence, famine, fiery hailstorms, burning mountain of blood, disrupted solar systems, and bad booze for five months. Then an army of angels starts killing people, I guess to make sure Horseman War has something to do.
The angels take a break from the carnage to ask John to eat a book. John gets a stomach ache afterward. I wish I were making that up.
God creates some "witnesses" to start adding assorted plagues and droughts to the world's troubles. The witnesses will, individually, duplicate Jesus's story of resurrection, except that people will party while they are dead. Or as much partying as the last vestiges of humanity can manage while they are beset with the incarnation of death on horseback and also giant locust-demons with a penchant for painful torture.
And now things get weird. The endless carnage (just how often can God kill one third of the human race, anyway?) is set aside so that we can watch a woman give birth…in heaven…to a prophesied baby while Satan, in the form of a seven-headed, ten-horned dragon, waits to eat it. She somehow escapes and disappears with her baby while the angels fight Satan and cast him out of heaven (didn't that happen already?) The woman is given eagle wings to keep her away from Satan while Satan is simply turned loose on the world, just in case the fiery hail and armies of angels weren't enough. Also, the baby doesn't do much of anything after this, and it's never explained why this particular birth had prophetic significance, since Jesus was already around stabbing things with his face.
With the aid of a sea monster that also, somehow, has seven heads and ten horns, Satan establishes himself as the religious leader of all non-Christians, and starts doling out the Mark of the Beast to designate his acolytes. Apparently this made Jesus angry, as he and his preferred angels start chopping people up with scythes and squeezing their fluids out in a giant wine press. Some quick math shows that Jesus and pals managed to squeeze out about 400 million liters of blood before getting bored using some magic vials to unleash some diseases, tortures, giant hailstones, and even more rivers of blood.
In any case, God turns his attention to the "great whore," who has herself turned the attention of some kings toward the gigantic seven-headed, ten-horned dragon named Satan that she rides, via the power of her sexy, sexy sex. So far, seven-headed, ten-horned monsters are a dime a dozen in these parts, so I can understand how one more wouldn't rivet as much as a prostitute miraculously not covered in sores, on fire, or in pieces and still on the job after most of the human race has been fed to the crows. Jesus is to defeat the armies of these kings singlehandedly, not a difficult feat after all the red tide poisoning, at which point Satan will turn against the whore, roast her alive, and feed her flesh to the rejoicing kings. Did she charge extra for calling them "Your Magnitude" or something? That is no way to treat the last sex worker at the end of the world, royalty.
Then God destroys Babylon with more plagues and fires. This part's going to be disappointing, though, since Babylon has been gone for over 2000 years, so God's wrath will fall on some ancient archaeological sites. That's probably part of the plan—archaeologists have been making God look bad by showing him to be a liar for a while now.
Jesus takes a break from watching Babylon fester to get married, and spends his honeymoon fighting the remaining armies of Satan in his many-crowned, sword-mouthed form wearing a robe soaked in blood. With Satan defeated, he and the Antichrist (who apparently showed up at some point) are cast into the pit that the locust demons came out of, which is sealed up until some future time when God will let them out "for a season." The story ends with those who followed Satan (i.e., everyone who isn't God's favorite brand of Christian, whatever that is) being cast into the fiery locust pit with him.
So…yeah. Apparently the world will end in a phantasmagoria of random, disjointed seven-headed dragons, blade-faced prophets who are also lamb zombies, and torrents of basketball-sized hail, rivers of blood, and quaking earth induced by angel trumpets. And whores. But not seven-headed whores, because that'd be crazy.