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

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)

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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 millennium"?
Sociological Readings: D. Anthony & T. Robbins, "Religious Totalism, Exemplary Dualism, and the Waco Tragedy" (R&P, 261-284)
  1. 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)
  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)
  3. 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

  1. Compare Jack Gladney's death anxiety in White Noise to the pre-millennialist expectation of universal catastrophe.
  2. 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?
  3. Explain the role that the media play in the life of the Gladney family.
  4. What is the relationship between shopping, blandness, and dread?
  5. 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"?

Tues, Feb. 1

Biblical Readings: 1 Thess 4:13-5:11; 2 Thess 1:1-3:18; 2 Peter 3:1-18

  1. 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?
  2. 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 John
  1. According to 1 John and 2 John, who is the "anti-Christ"? Can there be more than one?
  2. What are the main problems dividing the early Johannine Christian community, as reflected in 2 John and 3 John?
  3. 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)
  1. Are all elements of the definition of a literary "apocalypse" (cf. Reddish, 20) fulfilled in this short work? How?
  2. Into how many periods is history divided in this apocalypse? In which period is the actual author living?
Extra-Biblical Readings: 1 Enoch 85-90: "The Animal Apocalpyse" (Reddish, 41-53)
  1. In this highly allegorical apocalypse, which people from ancient Israelite history do the various animals represent?
  2. 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).

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