End times near or is there hope?

Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 20, 2016

By TJ Ray

To begin with, it is doubtful that the Antichrist is abroad. You know — the one the medievals expected as a sign of the second coming. No, he is no more abroad than he has ever been, which is to say, he’s been here all the time, gnawing away at the souls of us all.

And this essay is not to suggest that the end of the world is near, through signs of its sad condition are teeming. Something, however, may be nearing its end, and that may be in the order of a natural progression. That something is Civilization as we know it.

Email newsletter signup

(Remember that other cultures and times have thought themselves civilized. But they’re gone, like the impotent trunk of Ozymandias.)

Our country, our culture, our institutions came not with a warranty — a guarantee that they would last forever. The country has survived two centuries, which may pale in comparison to other vanished powers. Our culture, as noted in a recent column in these pages, has become so amorphous that it seems to have no shape at all. And many of our institutions have undergone such profound metamorphosis that one could assert they have been replaced.

Observation: America (and to no less degree the world) is in such a state that only a cataclysm may save it. Does this sound like the old Vietnam adage, “Destroy a village to save it?” At the moment no power has asserted itself that might slow our descent into chaos. Failing the advent of a saving power, is there hope for our world? Will nature invoke the terrible deus ex machina of famine or flood or pestilence to purge the Earth of its cancers? Might nature not simply bring mankind to its knees and force it to begin again on simpler, more rudimentary terms?

Other institutions have been emasculated. The church has assumed the role and philosophy of a civic club. Perversion of clergy is hardly more despicable than the lack of concern for the people in the pews. Mission groups happily traipse off to the Caribbean as though everything is fine at home. Long ago sins have become social faux pas that can be absolved or even approved for public practice. The family is an artifact of an earlier age. Is there some duty for parents other than getting their kids to softball practice or into the “right” college? And public education cannot even deal honestly with its shortcomings. It plays games with numbers, steadily eroding the very meaning of the word education.

Yes, there is that other institution —government. But where is the hope in that? The duty of government is apparently to arrogate the greatest power and prestige to a political party. The greater good of the citizenry is important only when it coincides with the party goal. Citizens do not control government: big business directs government.

A simple view of government is that it passes laws that treat all the people as equal and enforces those laws even handedly. How long ago did we abandon that way of governing? A famous singer brings dope through the Miami airport and is punished with a fine. A corporation confesses to major violations of law and is given a fine—no one goes to jail. Leona Helmsley, convicted of major fraud, is sentenced to serve her time in her own penthouse. What agony!

The state of Mississippi has proudly, according to the state auditor, enacted a law that will ensure that corporate executives will spend one year in jail if convicted of embezzling more than $10,000. Hooray! An unfortunate fellow gets three years in prison for stealing food from a convenience store to feed his family. Jails are reserved for the poor and the poorly represented.

So what? We endure. We keep trying. We try to light one little candle. In the simple act of one person, unselfish helping another lead a happier, more productive life, is found the seed of hope. We do not have to go quietly into that good night — even while we see that the approaching night is not a “good” night.

Besides, there remain faith, hope, and charity. Perhaps that’s a cause for hope.

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.