Horizentalization of Vertical Eschatology As Recipe For Planetary Survival
Twelve years ago, while we were sitting in front of a college in Mindanao State University-Main Campus, Philippines, a Seventh-Day Adventist friend of mine from Bukidnon, Mindanao, told me, "Everything can serve any purpose. You see, if I position this horizontally (referring to a blue ballpen he was holding), it serves as a bridge, but if I put it this way (that is, vertically), it becomes a wall."
Accordingly, 'horizontal' God is He who is viewed as the Creator and Lord of the universe and all mankind.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29)
"I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior." (Isaiah 43:11)
"I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me." (Isaiah 45:5)
"I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me." (Isaiah 46:9)
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3-5)
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent." (John 17:3)
"Say, 'He is Allah, the One. Allah is the All-embracing. He neither begat, nor was begotten, nor has He any equal." (Surah al-Ikhlas, 1-4)
This Supreme Being becomes 'vertical' when He is thought to have certain few 'favorites' at the expense of a 'damned' majority.
Religions also function as a bridge if the common elements among them such as spirituality, moral principles and a notion of Judgment Day are more emphasized. This function was illustrated by la convivencia ('coexistence' or 'living together') put into practice in Toledo in particular during the Moorish rule of Spain. As a microcosm of the atmosphere of religious tolerance then prevalent in the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims were working together in the city's libraries, translating books from Arabic into Castilian Spanish and then into Latin.
This scientific collaboration continued for sometime after the end of the Moorish rule. Jane Smith thus observes:
Transmission of knowledge from Arabic to Latin came close on the heels of the Christian reconquest of Sicily and of large areas of Muslim Spain. When Toledo was taken in 1085, a major step in the Christian reconquest of Spain, a large number of Arabic manuscripts were made available to Christian scholars. By the twelfth century Toledo had become a center of study as scholars from all over Europe came to work with native speakers of Arabic.
As corroborated by J.B. Trend,
The gates of oriental learning and story were opened both to Spain and to the whole of Europe by the capture of Toledo (1085), which became a school of translation from oriental languages. As early as 1120 Petrus Alfonsi, a Spanish Jew who was baptized and whose godfather was Alfonso VII, introduced Indian fable into Spain by the celebrated collection of stories known as Disciplina Clericalis. The Spanish translation of the 'Indian tales' of Calila e Dimna made directly from the Arabic text dates from 1251.
When "Toledo, the greatest center of Muslim learning in the West, fell before the Spanish Christians" also says Max Meyerhof:
Latin students began to come to the new capital to admire the remains of Moorish civilization and to study the Artes Arabum. The intermediaries for the learning and later on the translation work were native Jews and former Muslim subjects (Mozarabs). Charles and Dorothea Singer… have painted a lively picture of this collaboration, which gives a clear idea of a curious scientific syncretism.
The first prominent European man of science who came to Toledo was Adelard of Bath, an English mathematician and philosopher. On the other hand a Spanish Jew converted to Christianity, Petrus Alphonsi, went to England where he became physician to Henry I and spread the science of the Muslims there for the first time.
On the contrary, there is no more need of embellishing this paper with accounts of religions in 'vertical' position as human history is drenched enough with innocent blood spilled in their name.
Eschatology is no exception to this horizontal-vertical binary. Etymologically derived from the Latin eschatos ('last' or 'farthest'), eschatology refers to the branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or the ultimate destiny of mankind. Simply put, eschatology is a doctrine or theory (logos) of the end (eschaton) whose origin, according to Encarta Encyclopedia, is almost as old as humanity as "archeological evidence of customs in the Old Stone Age indicates a rudimentary concept of immortality.
According to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "end" here can have two meanings:
First, it can mean the end of each individual human life. Second, it can mean the end of the world-or, more narrowly, of the human race. In the first, the individualistic, sense eschatology is an account of the destiny that awaits each person after death. In the second, the cosmic or social, sense it is a description of a goal (telos) in which history will be fulfilled.
This goal may be either a this-worldly or an otherworldly kind.
One of the important subjects of eschatology is the idea of a 'savior' to come at the end of time. This awaited savior is known by various names and titles-Saoshyant, Messiah, Christ (in his Second Coming), and Mahdi, among many others. Since after the reign of King Solomon, the Jews have been waiting for the coming of a Messiah who, it is believed, would restore their lost glory and grandeur. Post-ascension of Jesus Christ is a period where the Christians have been longing for the second coming of Christ (Parousia).
The Muslims, on the other hand, have been expecting for the advent of Al-Mahdi (the Guided One) who, as a descendant of both Ishmael and Isaac, is believed to have been the epitome of fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant:
"And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them, He said: 'I am making you the Imam of mankind.' Said he: 'And from among my descendants?' He said: 'My pledge does not extend to the unjust.'" (Surah al-Baqarah, 124)
Neither is Filipino folklore devoid of it. Legend tells us that Bernardo Carpio who is confined in a cave in Mt. Tapusi in Montalban Mountains (or Mt. San Mateo in Rizal) or trapped within two clashing mountains for a long time will one day come out to redeem the Philippines. (Ferdinand Marcos, as I was told by a Marcos loyalist when I was 12 during the 1986 Presidential Snap Election in the Philippines, was the personification of Bernardo! Remember the catchphrase, "This nation can be great again!")
Sociologically, human society in whatever appearance it takes-race, nation, class or religious order-upholds this concept. As argued by Dr. 'Ali Shari'ati, a contemporary Iranian sociologist and historian, all known communities, without exception, display two common characteristics.
First, every community holds that in the distant past it had a 'golden age' during which there was justice, peace, tranquility, and love, and that this golden age came to an end at some point in time and was followed by corruption, darkness and injustice. Secondly, they believe in a great and liberating upheaval in the future and a return to the golden age-the age of victory of justice, equality and brotherhood.
These beliefs obviously serve as a bridge as they give a sense of hope, determination and common universal vision and purpose for all peoples of diverse cultural currents and religious persuasions. This is the 'horizontal' side of the story.
** Its 'vertical' side is now spectacularly moving toward its catastrophic climax as suggested by the carnage of civilians perpetrated daily by 'Islamist puritans' in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, certain messianic extremists in Iraq are reportedly as zealous in resisting foreign occupiers as in engaging in intra- and inter-sectarian frenzy of reprisals, executions and vandalism.
How to convey a sectarian message totally comprehensible to adherents and at the same time capable of fending off outsiders' accusation of the message's advocacy of sectarian-based civil war and division of the ummah? The solution lies in playing with the ambiguity of the word rafidah. Literally means 'one who rejects', rafidah (plural rawafid) is translated as 'heretic' and its derivative modifier rafidi as 'sectarian'.
For centuries and especially more recently, it is increasingly used as a pejorative designation for the Shi'ah who are demographically the majority in Iraq before and after its British-midwifed birth in 1920. Until the fall of the Ba'ath regime in 2003, however, this majority had been persecuted and politically disenfranchised.
Vitriolic verdicts on the urgency of killing rawafid channeled through audiotapes distributed within the flock of votaries and downloadable at insurgent websites are coupled with everyday carnage of civilians in public places such as markets and houses of worship. Condemnation of these mass murders is immediately deflected by claiming that the targets are only the "collaborators working with the Crusaders".
Granting that police stations, military outposts and political figures are legitimate targets, why market-goers and worshippers are daily victims?
If ever pounded with this question, rafidah-manipulators argue that voters are responsible for the actions of leaders they elected: "[T]hey are not ordinary people… for they have become the soldiers of the infidel occupier… Did not al-Ja'fari, al-Hakim and others come to power through their votes?"
Given this line of argument, one may wonder how and at which voting precinct the dome and two minarets in Samarra cast their votes for which they were condemned to destruction for two counts. Hence, the use of such word is truly a powerful bomb that must be detonated. In postmodernist parlance, this textual interplay at work requires either deconstruction or double reading, or both.
Meanwhile, televangelists and other 'new armies of God' are passionate enough in freeing the genie of apocalyptic prophecies (e.g. Daniel 9, Ezekiel 38, Revelation 16:14-16) out of the bottle and wish for their governments to unleash trigger-happy dogs of war in the Middle East, thereby heralding the 'coming of the Lord'.
In a recently published book, titled "Beyond Iraq: The Next Move-Ancient Prophecy and Modern-Day Conspiracy Collide" (Whitestone Books, Florida, 2003), Texas-based author and preacher Michael Evans who is one of the most notorious American Christian fundamentalist preachers today, spells out a grand design for American global hegemony under the guise of a holy global war in which key players include the CIA, the American government and army, and Israel, besides various Christian fundamentalist outfits.
Another popular televangelist, Pastor John Hagee, who leads the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, argues in his 2006 book, "Jerusalem Countdown," that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. He insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West.
An equally smart version of 'vertical' eschatology is the espousal of God's alleged consignment of land to His selected 'darlings' to the detriment of the 'outcasts' and 'bastards'. Obviously, political Zionism is an illustrious example of this version of 'vertical' eschatology.
Zionists seemingly regard themselves as the chosen children of God, who had been granted the privilege to take other peoples' land and properties by trickery when in a state of weakness and by force when in a state of power. By invoking the alleged curse of Noah upon his son Ham, believed to be the ancestor of the Africans, and his descendants to a status of slavery (Genesis 9:18-27), the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa gave theological support to the Apartheid in the 1930s.
In this critical moment when eschatology is extensively fielded via satellite and in the cyberspace as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), a universal campaign to stop its 'verticalization' is an indubitable recipe for planetary survival. Sincere followers of the three Abrahamic faiths have the religious potential as well as duty to spearhead this campaign, first to their co-religionists, and then to members of other creeds.
This annual worldwide gathering on Messianism/Mahdism is a seminal stride, though a limited one, in a long gradual process of forging a 'Non-Proliferation Treaty' specifically covering this more devastating type of WMD.
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