Monday, November 24, 2008

Doomsday Anxiety

A fear of the end of the world, a sort of ‘doomsday anxiety,’ may be the source of the resistance nearly all Latter-day Saints demonstrate when confronted with the planetary catastrophe scenario of the last days, prophetic imagery and ancient history taught in these pages.

It is a syndrome that afflicts everyone to one degree or another.

The answer to many gospel questions

Given the ability of the catastrophe scenario to explain so much — the imagery found in the scriptures and modern revelation, the iconography of modern temples, the mythology, religion and traditions of every ancient culture, as well as that of our own, and the seemingly extravagant statements of Joseph Smith that find meaning only when placed in the planetary catastrophe scenario — one would think that the Saints might rush to embrace these concepts.

But, just the opposite is true. Their reactions range from confusion to apathetic disbelief to overt skepticism or even outright antagonism.

Unwarranted reactions

Otherwise rational and thoughtful Mormons exhibit abnormal responses to these ideas. Most become uneasy when these concepts are introduced into any discussion. They are clearly conflicted emotionally about the concepts that confront them. Others seem to have difficulty following the concepts and quickly become distracted. Still others see no relevance to the gospel and soon lose interest or become bored.

A psychological cause?

It may seem odd to suggest that all these are emotional reactions, yet they mirror the reactions listed by psychologists for victims of amnesia when they are confronted with a painful truth or reality. Velikovsky, a psychologist by training and profession, saw these as forms of amnesia because the range of reactions is the same.

The Latter-day Saints’ resistance to concepts that they should otherwise easily recognize as invaluable aids to their gospel study and comprehension is puzzling. The natural assumption that these reactions are the result of exposure to unfamiliar ideas that seem illogical at first glance may be unsound. It may be precisely because they are too familiar that individuals react as they do.

The explanation may lie beyond the veil.

First of all, it’s worth noting that logic always takes a back seat to emotional, internal conflicts. Psychologists tell us that powerful emotional reactions always trump clear-headed thinking. It is for this reason that people who are normally clear headed and logical will act irrationally in certain situations. The heart rules the head, as folk wisdom tells us.

Let’s look at this carefully.

Knowledge from the preexistence

Numerous general authorities have described the process of conversion to the Restored Gospel as a “remembering” of the things we knew in the preexistence. Every human being who came to this world learned those gospel truths in that premortal epoch.

At birth, a veil of forgetfulness hid that knowledge and those experiences from our conscious thought. But it is our individual dedication to those innate principles acquired in our preexistence that make each of us what and who we are. That’s why we are drawn by an emotional bond or component to those principles and truths.

Knowledge is blocked, but emotions come through

The knowledge gained in our prior existence is inaccessible to us, due to the veil. But the old spirit within us, which has been in existence forever, reacts to that knowledge, producing emotions in us that we, in turn, act upon. For example, we are emotionally drawn to the plan of salvation because it is familiar to our spirit, while our conscious mind sees only a new and unusual concept.

This accounts for the reactions of investigators to gospel principles. We often refer to it as revelation from the Spirit. But it may be that it is simply that eternal part of us that recognizes the truths of the gospel and reacts to them. Thus, the spirit within us is confirming to us that what we are seeing and hearing is the truth.

Of course, the positive reactions vary in each individual, running the gamut from “whisperings of the spirit” to overwhelming “hit over the head” responses. The workings within us we call “conscience” or “intuition” are most likely of the same nature.

Positive for the good, negative for the bad

For those spirits who have innately followed those preexistent precepts and who therefore wish to embrace these recognized truths and conform their life to them, the experience is affirmative. Encountering the truth once again in this life is a confirming, uplifting experience accompanied by strong, positive emotions. They want to know more; they instinctively recognize the value of the gospel as their one, sure guide, as they learned in the preexistence.

For those who find their behavior in this world is at odds with those preexistent precepts, who have deluded themselves by suppressing their spirit’s urge to act circumspectly, who have systematically denied the warnings of their spirit called “conscience” and who wish to continue to indulge in the worldly lusts and pursuits they find so attractive, such an encounter with truth provokes a violent, negative reaction within them, ranging, as we have seen from confused indifference to outright anger. Hence, they seek to destroy the message by attacking the messenger. Many prophets have lost their lives due to these negative responses manifest by large, wayward segments of the human population in all ages.

As with the gospel, so with prophecy

These same principles apply when individuals are exposed to the concepts of planetary catastrophe.

During our preexistence, we all saw the way these events played out in other creations. We all vicariously experienced what would surely occur on the world we would one day inhabit. Thus, we had a firsthand knowledge of the nature and extent of what we might one day encounter in mortality.

So, when a comet appears in the sky or the sun is darkened in an eclipse, that part of us that is eternal, our spirit, recalls that these are earmarks of great planetary disasters. Even when someone begins to rehearse the imagery of such events, we can become uneasy, and we are filled with dread — an emotion we could not experience in the preexistence, but which is endemic to our present condition.

This is the doomsday anxiety syndrome.

Attack the messenger if you don’t like the message

The connections rehearsed by this author in his books, articles and in these pages — stories of planetary catastrophe in ancient history, cultural tradition and ritual, gospel symbolism and the language of the prophets — evoke the same reaction.

Some few embrace the information because it “rings true.” Others, even some who have wholeheartedly embraced the Restored Gospel and its marvelous truths, have a negative reaction — not because they aren’t good people, but because they subconsciously fear that the planetary catastrophe scenario might suddenly hurdle them out of their comfortable, safe existence into a scene of chaos, unimaginable destruction and even death. Unconscious of the deep motivation for their feeling, they recoil from both the message and the messenger as powerful emotions arising from within their spirit work to block the reality of what they are seeing or hearing by creating a confusion of thought, denying the truth in all of it or reacting angrily to it. Depending upon the individual, they display the spectrum of familiar responses psychologists expect to anything the individual sees as profoundly fearful and unthinkable.

Mankind in amnesia

These are the classic reactions of an amnesiac. The one thing an amnesia victim cannot deal with rationally is a confrontation with the reality that was so painful, the truth that his or her mind blocked out entirely. They are in denial. In fact, when seen in this light, we discover that denial is simply a more mild form of amnesia.

But whether you call it denial or amnesia, the results are the same: The individual cannot rationally confront and deal with something because powerful emotional forces absolutely prevent it.

Rather than seeing the reaction of most Saints to this topic as an irrational quirk of the human species, it should be seen as a perfectly normal response in an eternal being, and it serves to explain why otherwise prudent and rational Mormons suddenly exhibit signs of denial that run the gambit whenever the subject of planetary catastrophe emerges as it relates to the gospel.

Remembering means acting out

This amnesia-like behavior alone explains the proclivity of the human race to incessantly and compulsively rehearse the dramas and symbols of the planetary gods in literature, art, architecture, religion and drama. Psychologists are well acquainted with the emotional phenomenon. Children, for example, will repeatedly act out some traumatic event in their play activities, rehearsing one aspect or another of the trauma in a range of behaviors that vary from simply odd to very self destructive, depending upon the severity of the original ordeal. This explains why Aztec priests would cut the hearts from their sacrificial victims and present them as offerings to placate their vengeful planetary gods. It explains why all our holidays and festivals — Halloween, Christmas, New Year, May Day and Easter, all copies of ancient celebrations — religiously preserve the symbols, rites and rituals of cosmic upheaval.

It is no exaggeration to say that we, like our ancestors are obsessed with these things without recognizing their origins or their true meaning. Like amnesiacs, we act out or fears in self-destructive ways. Instead of acknowledging to ourselves the ugly, fearful truth, we find ways to sublimate the emotions of fear and anxiety these festivals memorialize, choosing instead to embrace them as joyous or celebratory occasions in keeping with our near total denial of their true meaning. Thus, every such festival has it rituals, which are ceremonies, rites, practices and customs that rehearse the symbolic elements of the catastrophe that initiated the festival.

Hiding the truth in plain sight

All this is a way to act out our deepest fears without once confronting the truth behind the festive facade. These holidays and festivals are like hideous monsters that we have festooned with flowers and decorative treatments to completely hide the ugliness, so we can pretend there is nothing ominous or fearful there. But, it continues to repeatedly manifest itself.

Ironically, modern, orthodox science represents the ultimate intellectual manifestation of such denial. First, science totally rejected religion, the primary guardian of the ancient knowledge of planetary catastrophe and its principle vehicles for transmitting that knowledge down through the ages: the scriptures and temple worship. Then, it banned all ancient tradition as fabrication and folly, replacing it with its own doctrine of denial: Empiricism — if you can’t see it happening now, it never happened. In fact, one might characterize the empirical method as the most certain way to avoid the truth, positing a myriad of “theories,” a kind of “scientific mythology,” rather than acknowledging the unthinkable.

The flawed notion that archaic memories of universal catastrophe were nothing more than exaggerated accounts of local disasters, as scientists and scholars have steadfastly declared, is unsupportable — another attempt at denial. Consider the profound nature of these past events.

A review of our traditions of doomsday

The world-ending catastrophe remembered by Nordic cultures gave rise to the prophetic vision of Ragnarok — the destruction of the world in a rain of fire and stone. In this vision, the great serpent Jormungand rises from the waters of the deep and attacks, spitting its fiery venom upon the world. A battle ensues between gods and giants. Odin’s dark angels, the Valkyries, ride their steeds across the sky, their golden hair streaming behind them. The walls of the heavenly city Asgard fall down, and the celestial bridge of Bifrost dissolves in flames.

A much earlier account of universal disaster, preserved by the Greek poet Hesiod, described the “clash of the Titans.” On one side, the leader of the Titans was the god Kronos, the original ruler of heaven, on the other, his own son, Zeus. Their war in the sky brought the world to the edge of complete destruction.

“For a long time now, the Titan gods and those who were descended from Kronos had fought each other, with heart-hurting struggles, ranged in opposition all through the hard encounters,” wrote Hesiod. The upheaval lasted for ten years, culminating in a heaven-shattering conflagration, when the whole world shuddered beneath the thunderbolts of the gods. The celestial combatants “threw their re-echoing weapons and the noise of either side outcrying went up to the starry heaven as with great war crying they drove at each other.”

No wonder the human race declines to acknowledge the reality of such prodigious destructions. To eyewitnesses of these events, “it absolutely would have seemed as if Earth and the wide Heaven above her had collided, for such would have been the crash arising as Earth wrecked and the sky came piling down on top of her, so vast was the crash heard as the gods collided in battle….” Huge thunderbolts flew between the celestial combatants. The roaring wind and quaking earth brought with them electrical discharge, causing a great dust storm on the Earth, “with thunder and with lightning, and the blazing thunderbolt, the weapons thrown by great Zeus” in the heavens.

Of course, the scriptural equivalent of these traditions is the battle in heaven where Michael and his archangels struggled to save all creation from Lucifer, the dragon, and his minions — the same imagery the prophets use to typify the rebellion that took place in our premortal existence.

Doomsday anxiety, the worldly view and the LDS view

The worldwide doomsday theme has no roots in familiar natural events. Therefore, we cannot ignore the direct implication: The myths arose as imaginative interpretations of extraordinary, destructive occurrences suffered by all. If mankind’s doomsday anxiety was provoked by events no longer occurring, the conventional historians’ dismissive approach to the subject must be counted among the greatest theoretical mistakes in modern times, born of profound denial.

So, too, it would be an oversight to dismiss the Saints’ disdain for this subject as benighted ignorance and not recognize it for the natural reaction that it is.

While the doomsday anxiety phenomenon is otherwise difficult to explain, it is quite understandable and logical in the context of LDS doctrine. As with most of the important questions in life, we now see that there is a clear answer in the revealed gospel.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

From the leaders of the church I hear: resolve hard feelings with family and friends, live so that you qualify to be directed by the spirit each day, get out of debt, and have what you need in your food storage up to date. Everything else is basically out of our control. Why enter into lengthy conversations, even course work, to try and enlighten us all as to how it might all end? Seems like you're missing the point?

Anthony E. Larson said...

Missing the point? Let's see. When Moroni of old first visited Joseph Smith, the founder of this gospel dispensation and the church to which you belong, the first words out of his mouth were prophecies "as to how it all might end." How did that become irrelevant? When did that become "seems like you're missing the point?" And it's not about control. It's a warning. Even the Savior dedicated part of his teachings to this point. Was he missing the point? I suggest your re-evaluate your priorities.

Dharma Sanctuary said...

Hi Anthony, Great job is laying out this epic story. Very few people are able to see the truth in what you write, Mormons or non-Mormons. It is too great a memory for most to handle, so as we know, much has been repressed, sublimated, and turned into its opposite. However, in our psyches we know that the memory of these awe-full moments must be preserved, so we develop myths and literature to handle these past experiences. I believe that if mankind can come to know this story more intimately, it will be its salvation, as the way to heal is to first recover the memory. The rest of the healing will take its own course, we don't need to guide it for others. The main thing is to get people to understand what humanity has been through and not to fear this past. The solar system finally settled down in middle 7th century BCE. Comets are still an issue, but the big human-planet story ended 2,600 years ago. We are still dealing with its impact (and earlier catastrophes).

Andrew said...

I have found the same, people switch off when one mentions the key destruction's to take place in the last days. It is too horrific for them to contemplate so they refuse to consider them - I suppose it is like amnesia, but more to do with trying to forget a bad incident in one's life.

D&C 45:44 And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off.

These things are given to us for a reason - like only 3% of members have food storage, and they will not flee when the time comes.