FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Columbia and the Signs from Above

The pieces of the space shuttle Columbia had barely fallen to earth before the heavens were invoked. The Iraqis summoned Allah, describing the disaster as heavenly retribution. “God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans,” an oft-quoted government employee is reported to have said. “They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us.”

President George Bush was the next to point to a higher-up that day. In his address to the nation after the crash, Bush would quote the words of the prophet Isaiah, imploring Americans to look to the heavens for comfort and hope. “Who created all these?” asked Isaiah, as relayed by his earthly rep, the president, as he craned skyward. “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today,” said Bush. And while the astronauts may not have made it back to earth, he concluded, we can pray that they are all safely home.

Not everyone in the audience was convinced. Hours after the president’s address, a heretic post appeared on a popular Christian web site: “[S]ince Bush is a fundamentalist Christian,” wrote the naysayer, “he certainly believes that many of the astronauts are actually on their way to hell.” Heaven or hell, Bush didn’t specify; perhaps home can be either.

Whether Americans took the explosion at 250,000 feet as a sign of His divine retribution is unclear, but many certainly took it as a sign of something. With nerves rubbed raw over the prospect of war, and the economy moribund, people here were suffering from a kind of national edginess long before last weekend. You could hear it in their voices as they flooded cable TV and radio stations with calls about the disaster. “I just can’t believe this is happening,” said Charlene from Lubbock, TX. “It’s like we just got over the last thing and now there’s something else,” said Martin from Houston.

There was the usual bravado, bold claims about how Americans have a special responsiblity–a destiny even– to chart the heavens. “They need to get right back up there and get the space program going again because that is what makes this country great,” said Louis from Albuquerque. But underneath the bluster, doubt was creeping, and anguish worrying: are we now the sort of people to whom bad things happen? What will happen to us next? Will war produce the worst thing of all?

For the millions of Americans who gathered in front of their television sets that day, watching as the shuttle blazed its fiery trail over and over again, a religious explanation of what’s happening to us might have proved soothing. But for every born-again Christian like President Bush, secure in the knowledge that he will proceed direct to heaven, there are two non-believers who are pretty sure that it’s all over when it’s over. And more still are merely muddling through. So instead of the big religions we console ourselves with the small ones: television, pseudoscience, celebrity. As we stared at our screens, we let ourselves be lulled by the well-modulated tones of the commentators, and sought refuge in a wealth of scientific terms we would never really understand: debris trajectory analysis, reboosting, reinforced carbon carbon. By afternoon, the world was back to normal; the first pieces of shuttle debris had been placed up for auction on E-Bay.

One might suspect that the more prophetically-minded Americans would have found irresistible the heavy-handed symbolism of the event: the presence of an Israeli astronaut on board; the fact that the shuttle broke up over Palestine, TX. But the prophet seekers are watching for bigger signs these days, the kind that flash “apocalypse.”

With tensions simmering in the Middle East, and war with Iraq likely to ignite them further, fundamentalist Christians in the US are more convinced than ever that Armageddon is nearly upon us. These biblical literalists believe that in order for Christ to return, Israel must first be reconstituted, and the Jewish Temple, destroyed in 70 AD, rebuilt so that the Antichrist can desecrate it. Thus will be kicked off a period in which the non-faithful among us will not fare well at all. “The stage is being set for what Jesus’ disciples called ‘the sign of His coming and the end of the age,'” writes the Reverend Tim LaHaye, whose end-of-time novels sit perennially atop the New York Times best-seller list.

Despite the burgeoning strength of the conservative Christian movement–and its disturbing influence within the Bush administration–most Americans are not preoccupied with end time matters; the present moment is disturbing enough. Less than a week after the Columbia fell out of the sky, US Attorney General John Ashcroft, himself a true believer, raised the nation’s terror threat level to high. The warnings are at once impossibly vague–‘soft targets’ including apartments, hotels, sports arenas and amusement parks have been placed on high alert–and agonizingly specific: computer simulated graphics of dirty bombs are detonated on television night after night.

Describing the moment at which the faithful will be summoned, suddenly to their heavenly home, leaving the non-believers to endure seven final years of war and fury, Reverend LaHaye writes that “[w]e know that the rapture of the church is a signless event.” For those of who dread deeply the prospect of unending war, the signs couldn’t be clear enough.

JENNIFER C. BERKSHIRE is a writer in Boston. Contact her at jenniferberkshire@hotmail.com.

 

 

More articles by:
June 21, 2018
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail