I’m off working on new stuff so you get old stuff.
Pretty good old stuff too, if I do say so myself.
Raw Feed (1999): Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America, Alex Heard, 1999.
This book, in its travels amongst and personal meetings with various fringe believers (and background on those beliefs) reminded me of a combination of Philip Finch’s God, Guts, and Guns and Ed Regis’ Great Mambo Chicken, two of my favorite books. Heard also strikes a ground between the two in that his subjects of a scientific, religious, or political nature.
Heard has an odd but useful stylistic quirk of alternating personal reporting with historical background or a completely different topic. Heard is usually sympathetic to his subjects quest for a new world even if usually skeptical of their means or some guru’s motives. I had heard of all these groups to one extant or another except for the Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis cheerfully breeding the “apocalypse cow”, an all-red heifer, necessary for sacrifices in the Restored Temple of Jerusalem prior to Christ returning. The heifers are referred to in the Old Testament and require special breeding to make one without blemish. I’d heard of the Gordon Michael Scallion (one flaw of this book is no index) et al Earth Changers, but Heard revealingly describes the emotional context of their apocalypse mongering. They envision, at least many do, good feelings preempting these Earth upheavals or a better world emerging. Many also seem to have a Heinlein-like “competent man” air about them in that they assume only they and a few others will survive and woe unto those who aren’t wise or rich enough to heed their warnings.
I liked (and these were the author’s favorite) the groups trying to build artificial nations/islands in the sea. They come across as enthusiastic, naïve polymaths. Heard briefly describes the founding of Minerva in 1968 on some tidal atolls in the Pacific. I’d only heard of them and the whole nation building (in every sense of the world) notion in an article for replica (I think) Minervan gold coins. Its fate points to a problem with forming your own countries: if you’re successful, somebody will conquer you as Tonga did Minerva. (Somebody has even written a book on this very subject suggesting the do-it-yourself country needs a do-it-yourself nuke.) Heard also surprised me by relating several episodes of violence by Jewish apocalyptic groups in Jerusalem. (They hate the Dome of the Rock being on the site of the Old Temple.)
Many groups were familiar. The Unarians, who, like many religious groups formed by the revelation of one person – here the married couple of the Normans – are going through a crises after their founders’ deaths, and other saucer contactees. Heard likes most of his subjects and thinks most are sincere (if greedy sometimes), but he spots a total charlatan in NakaMats, Japanese and reputed inventor of a “free energy”. He also is suspicious of the Monroe Institute as a plagiarizing, money-grubbing group that claims to teach “scientific” methods of controlling out-of-body experiences. He regards Dr. Steven Greer as an egomaniacal, though , UFO believer who seems to have deluded himself into thinking only he and his loyal followers can call UFOS down.
The Extropians and other fervent believers that soon science will conquer death show up here along with the various supposed life-extending regiments. In the same chapter (humorously – there’s a lot of humor in this book – entitled “Death, Be Not in My Face”), Chet Flemming, a pseudonym, author of the odd If We Can Keep a Severed Head Alive, shows up. He not only turns out to be a patent attorney and acquaintance of the author, but an environmental apocalyptic though, later, he concentrates on his successful medical investments and less on the end of the world. Heard puts in an afterword as to what’s new with most of his subjects, and he generally sees the irrationality he has reported on as benign if not good sometimes. The one exception is the chapter of the Republic of Texas and other Christian apocalyptics of the Identity and militia sort. Despite generally regarding his subject, Ron Cole, as harmless, he repeats the same old Southern Poverty Law Center – type warnings of this sort of belief being a ticking timebomb. Perhaps, but many millennial groups of all sorts of stripes, have a few members capable of terror. He does point out Cole and authors have legitimate complaints about Waco and that it’s not the publicity seeking members of these groups you have to watch out for. It’s the ones you don’t here about. The stuff on Republic of Texas, some members of which have turned violent, was interesting.
All in all a very entertaining and informative look at millennialism in America.
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