The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and the Apocalypse in America by Daniel Wojcik examines the role and belief of the apocalypse in American society and culture, with chapter two focusing on the origins of apocalyptic beliefs in America. Starting with America’s founding, in chapter two, “The American Apocalyptic Legacy” starts as defining “the United States…as the new Eden” historically (Wojcik, 21). The concept of America, not only as a hub of apocalyptic belief, but as an originator of modern apocalyptic belief is fascinating.
A central theme of apocalyptic belief, especially traditional, religious apocalyptic belief, is the image of rebirth – a new, better world to come out of the ashes of suffering. Wojcik discusses the prevalence of “apocalyptic ideas…in Puritan belief” (Wojcik, 23) and the imagery of “hellfire and brimstone” (Wojcik, 24) which prevailed religious ideas and sermons. The Puritan apocalyptic beliefs could have found symbolism in the very way America came to exist. As the “new world” of the Americas offered a new beginning and a safe haven for the persecuted Puritans – a physical manifestation of their beliefs, that shows how the world changes to accommodate human beliefs, as humanity shapes the world. Many modern apocalypses have an element of a self-fulfilling prophecy – environmental collapse and nuclear war as fears get worse the more they are debated or ignored. The apocalyptic narrative of America’s beginning could lend credibility to the beliefs of those who lived through it, a confirmation of their faith, and a jumpstart to the perpetuating cycle of continued belief in today’s America, though the specifics of the apocalypse, and the shift away from the religious to the secular have come over time.
Originally, America has its roots in apocalyptic imagery, with its status as “a city on a hill” a shining example, a sort of ideal of god’s plans coming to fruition . Centuries later, even as apocalyptic beliefs has shifted from the religious to the secular, biblical allegory showing America as a central focus in the apocalypse is inescapable. America is considered by many a catalyst of most modern apocalyptic theories of environmental or nuclear disaster – a key component to the beginning of the end. Wojcik traces this continued biblical imagery into the 1980’s (modern for Wojcik, who published this book in 1997) with President Reagan’s views of “Armageddon as the fulfillment of divine prophecy” (Wojcik, 30) citing apocalyptic beliefs in foreign policy and “initiating…a divinely sanctioned nuclear war” (Wojcik, 30) showing how America’s religious apocalyptic beginnings tie inexorably to America’s role in modern secular apocalypses, which are not separate apocalypses at all.
Wojcik examines the way the apocalypse has and hasn’t changed over the years. The core existence of the apocalypse has persisted over centuries, though Wojcik focuses on the distractions of “premillennialist and postmillennialist systems of belief” (Wojcik, 36), showing how belief has shifted from the apocalypse solely being in god’s hands to human beings ability to affect it, from the pessimistic to the optimistic. This shift is centered in American belief and discourse, showing how America has been and continues to be central to the apocalypse, as its inception could be considered a kind of apocalypse itself. This is only one chapter of Wojcik’s book, but America’s apocalyptic origin extends past the genocide of native americans into core ideology of the people who made the new world, and this different apocalyptic view is symbolic of the way, today, the same events can be viewed through different apocalyptic lenses.
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