The Millennium Cometh: Apocalypse and Utopia in Bible, Sociology and Literature Profs. John Coleman, S.J.
(Sociology), Felix Just, S.J. (Theology),
Holli Levitsky (English) Loyola Marymount University - Spring 2000
Reading Guide, Discussion Questions and Writing Assignment
for BLOCK 2: RUPTURE & APOCALYPTIC IMAGINATION
The following questions are intended both to help guide your own reading
of the assigned texts, and to stimulate our small group discussions on
Thursday, Feb. 3. Also, the instructions for your second written exercise
are appended further below.
Tues, Jan. 25
Sociological Readings: Catherine Wessinger, "Millennialism
with and without the Mayhem" (R&P, 47-59)
Do Wessinger's categories of "catastrophic" vs. "progressive" millennialism
improve on the theological categories of pre- vs. post-millennialism? (see
definitions in R&P, 281, note #19). What is gained and what is lost
by this transition?
What evidence does Wessinger give in arguing that "progressive" millennialism
is not compatible with authoritarian charismatic leadership and
violence? Do you think her evidence is sufficient and convincing?
After the 20th century (with the holocaust, terrible wars, etc.)
do you think it is even credible, or is it now naïve, to think as
many people in the 19th century did, of a possible "progressive
Sociological Readings: D. Anthony & T. Robbins, "Religious
Totalism, Exemplary Dualism, and the Waco Tragedy" (R&P, 261-284)
Notice again an appeal to "charismatic leadership," which Wessinger defines
as "having direct access to the superhuman-usually intangible source of
authority" (p. 53). Why would you want to speak, as these two authors do,
of "the intrinsic instability of charismatic leadership"? (cf. pp.
269-270 and p. 271, note #2)
How would you construe the claim that "law enforcement officials [can]
naively become co-participants in millenarians' end-time scripts"? (p.
277; cf. also p. 281, note #22)
Why would an effort to "proselytize" (i.e. get new recruits for the group)
help to downplay any stark confrontation with the surrounding culture
and society which have been defined as the place or locus of evil? (cf.
p. 280, note #15)
Thurs, Jan. 27
Literary Reading: Don DeLillo, White Noise
Compare Jack Gladney's death anxiety in White Noise to the pre-millennialist
expectation of universal catastrophe.
Is Jack's inability to find a stable form for his life related to the cloud
of toxic gas that descends on Blacksmith? How and Why?
Explain the role that the media play in the life of the Gladney family.
What is the relationship between shopping, blandness, and dread?
What does Murray Jay Siskund mean when he says, "Once you've seen the signs
about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn"?
Do the eschatological expectations of 2 Thess contradict those of 1 Thess?
Or does Paul develop his thought further? Or does 2 Thess try to correct
some possible misunderstandings of the earlier teaching of 1 Thess?
Who are the "scoffers" of 2 Peter, and what do they claim? What is this
author's response to their objections?
Biblical Readings: 1 John 2:1-3:24; 2 John & 3 JohnQuestions:
According to 1 John and 2 John, who is the "anti-Christ"? Can there be
more than one?
What are the main problems dividing the early Johannine Christian community,
as reflected in 2 John and 3 John?
In what ways does the early Johannine community seem to be more like a
small "sect" than a "world religion"?
Extra-Biblical Readings: 1 Enoch 93&91: "The Apocalypse of
Weeks" (Reddish, 54-57)
Are all elements of the definition of a literary "apocalypse" (cf. Reddish,
20) fulfilled in this short work? How?
Into how many periods is history divided in this apocalypse? In which period
is the actual author living?
In this highly allegorical apocalypse, which people from ancient Israelite
history do the various animals represent?
Which stage of the story represents the time when the actual author is
living? What does he hope for his future?
Thurs, Feb. 3 - Discussion Groups
Writing Assignment for Block #2 [See the main page of Questions &
Reflections for additional Writing Guidelines and Tips]
Take as your background some of the assumptions
that Robbins and Anthony make in their article on Waco (pp. 261-284). Assume
with them that "coherent selves require a coherent culture" (p. 265), and
that ours is not a coherent culture (cf. pp. 278-9, note #8). Thus, the
culture itself in America cannot give us integral selves. This would seem
to suggest the need for counter-groups to our culture.
Take as another assumption that you actually know some
members of an apocalyptic group similar to the Branch Davidians. Before
they joined the group, they led aimless lives and engaged in self-destructive
behavior through addiction to drugs. Now you see them having new discipline
in their lives and a new sense of purpose. Yet they also seem more distant
and cut off from their families and former friends.
A newspaper editorial has attacked the millennarian group
as engaging in brainwashing.
Option #1: Write a two page letter to the editor
in which you, against this newspaper's position, argue that:
(1) the recruits have voluntarily joined the group and
have not been the victims of brainwashing (give reasons for this argument);
(2) the structure of the group around a new belief system and forceful
charismatic leader helps the members live more disciplined and good lives;
and (3) with careful dialogue, the group can eventually be brought into
dialogue with wider society and will be tamed by this contact. At each
point, try to give sociological reasons for your claims.
Option #2: Write a two page letter to the editor
in which you, agreeing with this newspaper's position, argue that:
(1) there is actual brainwashing and loss of freedom for
the members of the group; (2) the apparent discipline and new good moral
lives of the members are deceptive since they are based on an over-dependence
on a volatile charismatic leader; and (3) the danger is great that the
group's isolation will lead to increased confrontation with society and
possibly to violence. At each point, try to give sociological reasons
for your claims.
How is the original purpose of the Book of
Revelation similar to and/or different from the original purpose of the
Book of Daniel? Make sure you also point out exactly where and how in the
texts these two authors most clearly express their respective intentions,
and how their messages are related to the history and social situation
of the Jews in the early 2nd century BCE (for Daniel) and of the Christians
in the late 1st century CE (for Revelation).