From a naive empirical standpoint, history would appear to display a random sequence of events. As with the past, so with the future. Hence the hazards of prophecy, at least for most of us.
Yet many observers reject this common-garden version of chaos theory. In their view, analysis of history must yield a pattern or patterns--but of what sort?
In fact, the comparative analysis of historical templates discloses two dominant schemes. 1) In the linear mode events unfold on a single time-line which has a beginning, an extended middle, and (possibly) an end. Holding that the future is unknowable, some traditions are agnostic about the latter, though a concluding omega point (regardless of its timing) would seem likely. 2) Then there is the cyclical mode. This view denies the need for any original beginning or final end; things keep repeating themselves in a kind of eternal return. The first pattern generally informs the Abrahamic religions, while the second predominates in Hindu and Buddhist thought. (It was also championed in different form by Friedrich Nietzsche).
Another issue is time scale. According to the Biblical world view, the cosmos originated a mere 6000 years ago. Still, many believers, seeking honestly to come to terms with the findings of modern science, accept that universe requires a much longer time line. Allowing for the twelve billion or so years that would be required (a big concession on their part), they find common ground with secular scientists in assuming that the universe started at a particular point.
So the issues are joined: eternal recurrence or starting point/end point? If there is to be an end point, what will it be like?
ESCHATOLOGY AND APOCALYPTICISM
Eschatology (from the Greek eschatos meaning "last" and -logy meaning "the study of") is a part of theology and philosophy addressing what is believed to be the final events in world history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world. As a rule, the Abrahamic religions regard this culmination as a true future event, one in fact prophesied in sacred texts (enhanced, to be sure, by later interpretations and by folklore). More broadly, the umbrella term eschatology encompasses a basket of related concepts such as apocalypticism, the Messiah or Messianic Age, the Millennium, the End Time, and the end of days.
Much modern eschatology and apocalypticism, both religious and secular, emphasize the violent disruption or destruction of the world, whereas Christian and Islamic (as well as some Jewish) eschatologies view the end times as the consummation or perfection of God's creation of the world.
That the yearning for knowledge of the future, specifically in the form of a final cataclysm, is not limited to these contexts transpires from the current popularity of the supposed Maya prophecy that the world will end in the year 2012.
Some of these ideas require further elaboration.
The term apocalypse originally referred to a revelation of God's will, and by extension to sacred books (such as Revelation, the last book of the Christian bible) that purport to convey this, often in the form of a kind of time line permitting one to access knowledge of future events. The expression apocalypticism now usually references the belief that the world is destined to enter the End Time (or Aeon) very soon, possibly within one's own lifetime. This esoteric notion is usually accompanied by the idea that civilization as we know it will collapse into a horrendous disaster marked by some sort of global warfare. Apocalypticism typically bonds with a scenario that will play itself out in a major confrontation between good and evil forces, thus achieving the consummation of history.
Broadly speaking, Messianism may be defined as the belief in a messiah, a savior or redeemer. Many religions have a messiah concept, including the Zoroastrian Saoshyant, the Jewish Messiah, the Christian Christ, the Buddhist Maitreya, and the Hindu Kalki. The world is seen as so hopelessly flawed--beyond any specifically human powers of correction--that the the situation can only be resolved by divine intervention, possibly working through specially selected human agency.
Some scholars hold that seemingly secular political movements, such as Marxism and Zionism, also incorporate elements of messianic provenance. In these belief systems religious motifs are replaced with "scientific" or "historical" claims.
The term Messiah [Hebrew: משיח; mashiah, moshiah, mashiach, or moshiach, ("anointed [one]"] originally served in the Hebrew Bible to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed. For example, Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, is referred to as "God's anointed" (Messiah) in the Bible.
In Jewish messianic tradition and eschatology, the term came to refer to a future Jewish King from the Davidic line, who will be "anointed" with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age.
Today, the various Jewish denominations have sharp disagreements about the nature of the Messiah and the Messianic Age, with some groups holding that the Messiah will be a person and other groups maintaining that the Messiah is simply a stand-in for the Messianic Age itself.
Traditional Jewish opinion and current Orthodox thought has mainly taken the view that the Messiah will be an anointed one (moshiach), descended from his father through the Davidic line of King David, a leader who will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel and usher in an era of peace.
In Christianity, the Second Coming (or Parousia) is the anticipated return of Jesus from the heavens to the earth, an event that will trigger the fulfillment of other components of Messianic prophecy, such as the general resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment of the living and the dead, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (also called the "Reign of God"), including the Messianic Age. Today this thinking flourishes most abundantly among evangelical Christian groups.
In Islamic eschatology the Mahdi (مهدي Mahdī, also Mehdi; "Guided One") is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will stay on earth seven, nine, or nineteen years (depending on the interpretation) before the coming of Yaum al-Qiyamah (literally "Day of the Resurrection" or "Day of the Standing"). Muslims believe the Mahdi will rid the world of error, injustice, and tyranny inn concert with Jesus. Since the concept of Mahdi is not mentioned in the Koran or in the hadiths, many orthodox Sunnī theologians question Mahdist beliefs. Yet such beliefs now seem deeply rooted in Shī'ī doctrine.
The Arabic word Masih literally means "The anointed one," and in Islam, Issa son of Mariam, al-Masih (the Messiah Jesus, son of the Virgin Mary) is believed to have been anointed from birth by Allah with the specific task of being a prophet and a king. Orthodox Muslim thought holds that Issa has the task of slaying the false messiah al-Dajjal, the Antichrist. After he has destroyed al-Dajjal, he will assume the leadership of the Muslims. Adhering to his true character, Issa will unify the Muslim faithful under the common purpose of worshiping Allah alone, thereby ending divisions and deviations among the adherents. Mainstream Muslims believe that at that time Issa will dispel erroneous Christian and Jewish claims about him.
Such notions have evoked a wave of popular interest in today's Muslim-majority countries, where the current apocalyptic literature parallels the similar upsurge in the Christian West. Here too we find a series of fictionalized best-sellers produced by such writers as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, and Joel Rosenberg.
Typically Christian is the concept of millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "thousand years"), or chiliasm in Greek. This is the belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" prior to the final judgment and future eternal state (the New Heavens and New Earth). This belief stems primarily from the book of Revelation 20:1-6.
Among Christians who hold this view, the Millennium is not specifically part of the "end of the world," but rather constitutes the penultimate age, the era just prior to the end of the world when the present heavens and earth will flee away (Rev. 21:1). Some believe that between the Millennium proper and the end of the world there will be a period of strife and tribulation in which a final battle with Satan will take place. After this follows the Last Judgment.
Today, Protestants who address these matters distinguish among Post-tribulational Premillennialism' Pre-tribulational (dispensational) Premillennialism; Postmilennialism; and Amillennialism. The first three refer to different views of the relationship between the "millennial Kingdom" and Christ's second coming. Premillennialism (which has two varieties) sees Christ's second advent as preceding the Millennium, thereby separating the second coming from the Last Judgment. In this view, "Christ's reign" will be physical. Postmillennialism regards Christ's second coming as subsequent to the Millennium, synchronizing with the Last Judgment. In this view "Christ's reign" (during the Millennium) will be spiritual in and through the church. Standing apart from the others, Amillennialism (the prefix means "not") basically denies a future literal 1000-year Kingdom and sees the church age metaphorically described in Rev. 20:1-6. In this view, "Christ's reign" is current in and through the church (this view is sometimes termed “realized eschatology”). Thankfully it is not necessary to be well-versed in these distinctions to get a general sense of the doctrine.
Beliefs such as those just outlined are commonly ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed in the mainstream secular thought of our own time. Yet this was not the case during the formative stages of such major religions as Christianity and Islam.
We turn now to one theme from New Testament days.
THE DELAYED PAROUSIA
In the apocalyptic discourse of Matthew 24-25, Jesus starkly limns the coming crisis, a testing time in which the present dispensation will pass away, to be replaced by a New Age. The key event will be the Savior’s own Second Coming (Parousia), when he will return in glory to judge the living and the dead and to establish his Kingdom (Basileia). Some thought that the Kingdom would last one thousand years, and this belief has, over time, periodically inspired charismatic movements that make up the general trend called Millenarianism.
Yet there was a big problem with the scenario Jesus outlined, for he seems to have regarded these culminating events as imminent. “Truly I tell you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Matthew 24:34). Note also Mark 1:15: “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power.”
Of course these things did not take place on schedule; indeed--unless most of us have missed something very important--they s t i l l have not. Why did the Messiah tarry? The “delayed parousia” was a major problem for the early church, which needed to engineer a fundamental reorientation of its world view and priorities, building institutions for the long haul instead of just preparing for imminent catastrophe and transformation. Jesus’ predictions were falsified, but the Christian church needed to stay in business. Such at any rate, is the analysis advanced by Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer somewhat over a century ago.
Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) saw Jesus not just as a great ethical teacher--the common view at the time that Weiss wrote--but as the proclaimer of a new era, the Kingdom of God. Jesus believed he stood at a critical juncture in history and expected the beginning of the Kingdom, which would be accomplished not through gradual ethical progress, but as "the breaking out of an overpowering storm of God which destroys and renews, . . . bringing in a lasting order of things" (Weiss: 5). Although at first Jesus did not think he would have to die to usher in the Kingdom, he eventually came to that realization, believing (as we have seen) that some persons in the generation then living would experience its coming.
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) went beyond Weiss's emphasis on Jesus' proclamation of the imminent kingdom to contend that Jesus' entire life was dominated by the vision of this apocalyptic transformation. Confident that the realization of the Kingdom was so close it could be said to be present, Jesus sent out the disciples out to give the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" one final chance to repent (Matthew 10). On the basis of Matthew 10:23, where Jesus tells his disciples, "You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes," Schweitzer concluded that Jesus had originally expected the end of the Age to occur before the disciples had concluded their preaching tour. When this transformation failed to occur, Jesus quietly concluded he had been mistaken. Now believing he himself must suffer the messianic woes that would constitute the birth pangs of the new dispensation, Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem to die so as to usher in the kingdom.
The afterlife is the idea that in some significant sense the human personality continues after the death of the body. Most traditions view the subsequent state as an immaterial or spiritual one. However, the ancient Egyptians and many Christians have believed that the body can survive as well. The view that the deceased in transposed onto another plane of existence differs from reincarnation, which typically holds that the individual will return to another existence, perhaps many existences, in the framework of the present dispensation.
Many religions, whether they believe in the soul's existence in another world like Christianity, Islam and some polytheistic belief systems, or in reincarnation as with many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, believe that one's status in the afterlife is either a reward or punishment for personal conduct during life. These beliefs are generally affirmed by sacred scriptures, held to offer the assurance that life will indeed continue after death.
Judaism's position has vacilllated on the matter of the afterlife. The Sadducees, for example, held that there was a God but no afterlife. Many modern Jews are agnostic on the question, though the recitation of the Kadesh, or prayer for the dead, suggests an affirmative answer.
On some occasions the Hebrew Bible names Sheol as the place of the unrighteous dead, a somewhat vague locale where the unrighteous are destined to go after death. The Book of Numbers refers to people going down to Sheol when the earth opens up and destroys the rebellious Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their 250 follower (Numbers 16:31-33). Many other passages, however, indicate uncertainty about what will happen after death. For example, the Book of Job states: "But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he?... So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep... If a man dies, shall he live again?" (Job 14:10,12,14a; NKJV)
However, later Judaism shows the beginning of a more definite view, which is found in the Talmud as well. For example, the second book of Maccabees gives a clear account of the dead awaiting a future resurrection and judgment, accompanied by prayers and offerings for the dead to remove the burden of sin.
According to the Gospels, Jesus clearly taught the belief in life after death. When questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection (in a context relating to who ones spouse would be if one had been married several times in life), he said that marriage will be irrelevant after the resurrection as the resurrected will be (at least in this respect) like the angels in heaven (Matthew 22:23-32).
Jesus also held that the time would come when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who were in the tombs would emerge, the faithful to the resurrection of life, and the unfaithful to eternal perdition. Evidently, one would have to wait for the Last Judgment for this to occur. However, Matthew’s Gospel relates that at the time of the death of Jesus tombs were opened, and at his resurrection many saints who had died emerged from their tombs and went into "the holy city." (Matthew 27:50-54).
The idea of Purgatory is not found in the New Testament, but arises in the medieval period. Some early Christian writers, such as St. Augustine, speak generically of the need for purification, but the notion of Purgatory as a specific place where sinners are chastised for specific sins emerges only in the twelfth century. The Roman Catholic church definitively affirmed the doctrine of Purgatory only in 1274.
Vivid descriptions of visits to Heaven and Hell appear in some works of the Christian apocryphal literature. An example is the Apocalypse of Paul (or Vision of Paul), a fourth-century text. After some preliminary exhortations, this book describes Heaven as a land of milk and honey. The text revels in the depiction of the horrors of Hell, which has both rivers of fire and of ice. The Apocalypse of Paul may be the first Christian document to describe, in graphic detail, the punishment meeted out to money lenders: "And in another great lake full of foul pus and boiling mire stood men and women up to their knees. And these were the ones who lent money and demanded usury upon usury." (section 31) A different punishment is reserved for male and female homosexuals. They are thrown from a great precipice, only to be returned to it over and over again to suffer the same fate. (section 32)
This text, and others like it, form the background for the supreme work of the genre, the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, which dates from the early fourteenth century.
With the appearance of Protestantism in the sixteenth century, much of Europe abandoned belief in Purgatory. It was regarded as an unwarranted accretion to the original Christian message. Yet Purgatory's disappearance posed a problem, because there were then only two stark possibilities, Heaven or Hell, and the lot of sinners in Hell seemed too uniformly grim. Dissident thinkers began to look for ways to mitigate the horrors of Hell. Some said that this torment was not everlasting after all. More boldly, others suggested that while God had created Hell, in his mercy he had not actually confined anyone there. Gradually, the Western mind began to abandon the idea of Hellfire. Today many Christians believe that good people will indeed go to Heaven after death, but bad people will just disappear.
The afterlife plays an important role in Islam. Before the deceased attains his or her final destination, he or she must sojourn in an intermediate state known as Barzakh. This is a kind of “cold sleep” where the soul will rest until Judgment Day (Qiyama; see Qur’an 23:100). During this period of reclusion, there are several stages. First, the soul separates from the body, hovering over it. Then comes a period of self-analysis in which one evaluates the deeds of one’s earthly existence. Finally, the soul rests, awaiting the Day of Judgment. This general phase is sometimes known as the “age of the grave.” The grave constitutes the third stage of human existence--the first two being the womb and then mortal life, and the fourth being eternity in heaven or hell.
Jannah or Jannat is the Islamic term for paradise. Muslims believe that everything one longs for in this world is waiting in Paradise. According to the Qur’an the highest level of Paradise is Firdaws (sometimes termed Eden), where the prophets, the martyrs, and the most pious will dwell. There is also, of course, “another place.” In contrast to Jannah, the words Jahannam and Nar refer to the concept of Hell.
Paradise is surrounded by eight principal gates. According to tradition, inhabitants will be of the same age (33 years), and of the same standing. Life in that blessed realm is one that is supremely happy — without hurt, sorrow, fear, or shame — where every good wish is fulfilled. The amenities include wearing costly robes, bracelets, and perfumes as the blessed partake in exquisite banquets, served in priceless vessels by immortal youths (the ghilman. For men Paradise offers a particular type of female companionship. The hur or huriyah (sometimes known as the houris) are "splendid” companions of the same age as those they minister to. They are "lovely eyed," of "modest gaze," but nonetheless "voluptuous women."
The blessed recline on couches inlaid with gold or precious stones. Foods include meats, scented wine and clear drinks bringing neither drunkenness nor quarreling--and presumably no hangovers. Inhabitants will rejoice in the company of their parents, spouses, and children (provided they were admitted to paradise) as they converse together, recalling the past. The setting will be most agreeable, with lofty gardens, shady valleys, fountains scented with camphor or ginger. There are also rivers of water, milk, honey and wines; together with delicious fruits of all seasons without thorns.
Notwithstanding all this bliss, to bask in the nearness and approval of God is considered an even greater privilege. According to the Qur'an, Allah will bring the elect near to his throne (`arsh), a day on which "some faces shall be shining in contemplating their Lord." Corresponding to the Christian idea of the beatific vision, this state of beholding God ranks as the greatest of all rewards.
A CASE STUDY: GOG AND MAGOG
According to report, during a 2003 discussion with French president Jacques Chirac George W. Bush came up with a startling rationale for launching a war against Iraq. The American president explained that the biblical monsters Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East; their nefarious machinations must be defeated. (See Clive Hamilton, “Bush, God, Iraq and Gog,” http://www.counterpunch.org/hamilton05222009.html).
Who were Gog and Magog? The biblical tradition begins with the reference to Gog, son of Magog, son son of Japheth in Genesis (book 10), and continues in cryptic prophecies in the Book of Exekiel, which are echoed in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament and in the Qur’an. Preoccupation with Gog and Magog is pan-Abrahamic, linking all three faiths.
Yet the tradition is many-sided and ambiguous, with varied opinions regarding the nature of the entities. They are variously represented as men, supernatural beings (giants or demons), national groups, or lands. Reaching down into the popular level, Gog and Magog resonate widely in mythology and folklore.
Biblical commentators identified Gog and Magog as archetypal figures of apocalyptic import who will come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. In the New Testament the Book of Revelation (20:7-9) took up the theme:
“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” (King James Version)
In this influential passage, Gog and Magog figure as the nations in the four corners of the earth, and their attack represents an eschatological crisis after the Millennium, a crisis to be resolved by divine intervention. Although the language of Gog and Magog's destruction recalls the passage in Ezekiel, premillennialist Christians believe that Ezekiel's prophecy and the description found in the Book of Revelation rank as two distinct eschatological events. According to this belief, the war described by Ezekiel occurs before the millennium (probably as an opening catastrophe of the apocalyptic era), while the event depicted in the Book of Revelation occurs at the end of the millennium era (as a concluding event that directly leads to the closing of the millennium era).
Later traditions identified Gog and Magog with the Babylonians, the Lydians, the Goths, the Scythians, and even the Irish. Twentieth-century dispensationalism, however, held that the Russians were the most likely candidate. With the fall of the Soviet Union this claim became less plausible, though some seem to think nowadays that an alliance linking Russia, Iran, North Korea and other states might fill the bill.
Where then did George W. Bush get idea that the invasion of Iraq related to the biblical prophecy of Gog and Magog? In all likelihood it stems from a recent trend in popular apocalyptic writing. In recent years the bestsellers of such writers as Hal Lindsey; Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins; and Joel Rosenberg have enjoyed enormous resonance. Since its appearance in 1970, Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” has sold 18 million copies, not counting translations into at least 44 foreign languages. The apocalyptic series of books by LaHaye and Jenkins, “Left Behind,” has sold at least 65 million copies. In fact the "Left Behind" series may be the immediate source of Bush's simulation of biblical erudition, for if begins by evoking the battle of Gog and Magog as depicted in Ezekiel 38–39. ("Frustrated at their inability to profit from Israel’s fortune and determined to dominate and occupy the Holy Land, the Russians had launched an attack against Israel in the middle of the night. The assault became known as the Russian Pearl Harbor . . . The number of aircraft and warheads made it clear their mission was annihilation. . . . Miraculously, not one casualty was reported in all of Israel . . . [W[itnesses reported that it had been a firestorm, along with rain and hail and an earthquake, that consumed the entire offensive effort. . . . Editors and readers had their own explanations for the phenomenon, but Buck admitted, if only to himself, that he became a believer in God that day. Jewish scholars pointed out passages from the Bible that talked about God destroying Israel’s enemies with a firestorm, earthquake, hail, and rain. Buck [a character in the novel] was stunned when he read Ezekiel 38 and 39 about a great enemy from the north invading Israel with the help of Persia, Libya, and Ethiopia.")
Given that the Hebrew Bible supplies several significant texts regarding Gog and Magog, it might be expected that the motif would serve to cement the linkage of evangelical Christians and tradition-minded Jews, at least with those who are open to the alliance. Yet that posited link appears to be a phantom, for the traditional Jewish approach to these portentous figures has been generally cautious, appropriately so. Commenting on Ezekiel 38, the Jewish Study Bible puts the matter well: “[t]he original identity of Gog matters little as later [Jewish[ interpreters have understood hi to be a transnational symbol of evil, much like Edom and Egypt . . . or Chaos monsters such as Leviathan or Behemoth.”
In present-day Islam the theme of Gog and Magog came to the fore among popular interpreters and agitators in the wake of the disastrous sectarian occupation of the holy places in Mecca in 1979, followed by other turmoil in the Islamic world.
First let us look at the Qur'an, which incorporates two relevant passages--in suras 18 and 21. In the first, a mysterious figure called Zul-Qarnain erects a great dam between two palisades to block the incursion of the destructive forces of Gog and Magog. Ultimately, however, Allah will cause the dam to crumble, and humanity will have to deal with the consequences. In sura 21 the text goes as follows: “It is forbidden for any community we had annihilated to return. Not until Gog and Magog reappear will they return--they will come from every direction. That is when the inevitable prophecy will come to pass, and the disbelievers will stare in horror: ‘Woe to us; we have been oblivious. Indeed, we have been wicked.’”
As with the Christian scriptures, the Last Judgment has a prominent place in the Qur'an. This culminating event of the End Time will be preceded by an epic struggle, a series of episodes inaugurated by the coming of the Mahdi, a kind of apocalyptic redeemer figure, who will be a direct descendant of the Prophet. Not mentioned in the Koran, but cited in the hadiths (oral sayings attributed to Muhammad), is the Antichrist (al-Dajjal), who will be defeated by the intervention of Jesus Christ himself. Gog and Magog will also be prominently arrayed among the forces of evil. In the end all will be well, however, and order will be restored in the Last Judgment.
Through most of Islam’s history, mainstream thinkers and theologians tended to treat these events as belonging to the future, and as almost theoretical. During the 1980s, however, a mass of pamphlets and books began to appear that told a different story (Filiu, 2008). These writings come mainly from Muslim journalists and amateur scholars. They have not received official sanction, though they were (and are) widely read. The authors hold that the apocalyptic sequence is already cascading down upon us. The warning signs range from the profusion of tall buildings and the spread of women's equality to UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle. In this light, the Believers must not be discouraged by Western incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq; these are all indicators that the cosmic dooms-day machine has begun to operate. Gog and Magog are of course identified with the West, both Christian and Jewish. As with Falwell (who is sometimes cited) and Hagee, the Antichrist has specifically Jewish features, grossly caricatured on the covers of the books. The strand of anti-Semitism now prominent in the Islamic world focuses also on an earlier locus, the odious forgery known as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which, bizarrely, enjoys wide popularity in the Islamic world today.
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A CONCLUDING REFLECTION
In assessing the approach adopted in the previous chapters it may be useful to adduce the contrast of emic and etic. Stemming from from the distinction between phonetics and phonemics, the terms emic and etic were coined by the linguistic anthropologist Kenneth Pike in 1954. Pike posits two perspectives by which a society’s cultural system may be viewed, following a methodological dichotomy that has long been employed in the study of a language’s sound system. In linguistics, phonemics deals with sounds of a language as experienced by native speakers; phonetics analyzes them according to an external system that is universal in application. In short, one may take the point of view of either the insider or the outsider.
More specifically, the emic perspective focuses on the intrinsic cultural features that are meaningful to the members of a given society. These features include supernatural beliefs and the social rules that purport to derive from them. The native members of a culture are the sole judges of the validity of an emic description.
By contrast, the etic perspective relies upon the extrinsic concepts and categories that scientific and scholarly observers regard as valid.
By and large the approach employed in the preceding chapters is etic, seeking to evaluate the claims advanced by the adherents of the three religions according to a universal standard. In principle, the standard would be equally applicable for a study of, say, Buddhism or the Aztec religion.
The results of an inquiry conducted on this basis are sobering. Among them are the following:
-- widespread resistance to the application of the historical-critical school;
-- the nexus of monotheism and violence;
-- justification for the persecution of external enemies, as well as heretics and nonconformists within the communities;
-- religious rationales for conquests and seizure of the lands of other groups;
-- residual polytheism;
-- obsessive concern with ritual and dietary prescriptions;
-- conflation of religious and civil law systems;
-- dubious economic theories (summed up in the usury question);
-- a predilection for apocalyptic expectations and predictions.