Conservatism and the End of the World

This week in The New Inquiry William Osterweil explores the recently prevalent “Ancient Apocalypse” film and TV genre. From Gladiator to Apocalypto to Noah to an endless shambling parade of zombie films, an Ancient Apocalypse doesn’t depict the literal end of the world, but situates its heroes at the end of an age, the downfall of a quasi-historical civilization. Osterweil explains:

There is a subnational social group: a tribe, city-state or family, living, if not happily, at least in stability and relative peace. That group receives a prophecy of a coming apocalypse. The prophecy proves true almost immediately, though it refers to the end of the world only insofar as it is the end of the group as currently constituted, the end of the group’s forms of life, the group’s world. This end is violent, sudden, and comes from the outside, in the form of natural disaster, foreign hordes, or rival groups with better technology—although its effects are exacerbated by internal decadence, corruption, weakness, willful ignorance, and/or betrayal.

At first blush, these apocalyptic fantasies may seem to promote conservative values. They feature strong heroic individuals who win survival or glory against all odds in the burning debris of a collapsed civilization. Continue reading Conservatism and the End of the World

Michael O’Brien, the Catholic Tim LaHaye

Cover image of "Father Elijah" by Michael O'Brien

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse
by Michael D. O’Brien
Ignatius Press, 1997
576 pages, paperback, $17.95

It was the best end-times, it was the worst end-times. Forgive me that line. Please read on.

“It’s true that Catholics produce and safeguard true art,” I said one evening to my non-Catholic-but-Catholic-admiring friend, “but they also produce a vast amount of kitschy, tacky, pietistic nonsense. And that’s a shame.” To defend my case, I made reference to “the Catholic Tim LaHaye,” whose name I did not know, but by whom I meant Michael O’Brien and the book Father Elijah. (For those of you who don’t know, Tim LaHaye is the coauthor of the gawdawfull Left Behind series, which can only be described to those unfamiliar with Evangelicalism as an unholy mixture of Gnostic numerology and Jerry Falwell-style Zionism.)

Well, my non-Catholic-but-Catholic-admiring friend had, in fact, read that book, and informed that I had misjudged it. Sort of. My friend is a smart girl, and knew the book has deep flaws, but she encouraged me to read it anyway.

“Reminiscent of Tolstoy and Charles Williams,” wrote Thomas Howard. Being an admirer of Tolstoy and a huge enthusiast of Williams, I thought: Hot damn! Maybe I’ve misjudged this O’Brien fellow. Continue reading Michael O’Brien, the Catholic Tim LaHaye