Do coming events cast their shadows before them? If by that you ask whether societies have sometimes had more than an inkling about what their future holds, then the answer is yes. "Apocalypse & Future" attempts to gain some inkling of the cultural history of the 21st century by employing some of the insights of the field of millennial studies, which was called into existence by the need to record the cultural reaction to the turn of the millennium. The late 20th century thought and talked a great deal about the 21st, both in conscious attempts to make predictions and in the uncritical assumptions it made about the future. "Apocalypse & Future" is a collection of reviews and essays that consider a significant sample of these ideas in a way accessible to a general readership.
"Apocalypse & Future" is divided into seven sections, each of which contains pieces that approach the future from different angles:
"The Hope of the Saints" treats the future in terms of more-or-less traditional Christian ideas about the endtime. It examines a number of the widely popular "apocalyptic novels," and also takes a look at some of the theological resistance to cultural globalization.
"The Forces of Darkness" takes a look at some of the plans that Satanists, transhumanists and other difficult people may have for the outcome of history. Since there is not much difference between a devil and a clown, some of these pieces are less serious than others.
"The Wisdom of the Wise" is, perhaps, a somewhat ironic title. The section deals primarily with attempts to promote some version of Gnostic spirituality. Some of these efforts are light-weight examples of the New Age, while others have made by respectable theologians.
"Doomsday Science" provides a fair sample of the amazing number of ways in which the world as we know it absolutely, positively, has to come to an end any day now. Some of these ideas are more plausible than others. Actually, some of them are fiction. Still, none can be dismissed without a hearing. Certainly the author is in no position to do so: the longest piece in the book, which is in this section, sets out his own ideas along these lines.
"Cults & Madness" covers the kind of thing that the historian Norman Cohn had in mind when he wrote the seminal work, "The Pursuit of the Millennium." Much of the information is historical. Though the world has often benefited from the idea that we must prepare for the approaching end of the age, we cannot avoid the fact that some of the most terrible things in human history, from mass suicides to millenarian uprisings, have been done for that very reason.
"Theories & Models" sets out the rules of thumb, historical laws and wild guesses that have been proposed over the years to give us some idea of how the world will turn out. The variation among models of history is enormous: linear and cyclical, optimistic and pessimistic, local and universal. Here we see some of the most interesting ones in circulation around the year 2000.
"The Mind of the Future" is about final theories, not so much in science as in ethics and politics, and even theology. While not written precisely from a Catholic perspective, most of these items touch on the implications of the end of modernity for the Catholic Church. The reason for this emphasis is largely that the author happens to be Catholic and has frequently had occasion to think about the matter from this perspective. However, readers may well agree that it is not a bad place to start.
"Apocalypse & Future" should provide important insights to all students of metahistory and millennialism, whether or not it tells us anything about the actual future. By looking at images at the end of the world, we can learn a great deal about how things are now.