Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Snap: Michael Baigent's "Racing Toward Armageddon"


From the December 2009 E-Block.
***
It was hard to come at Michael Baigent's Racing Toward Armageddon (RTA) without having in mind his cooperative yet disastrous efforts in bending Holy Grail lore into explaining Christianity. Nevertheless, RTA seems to be -- factually speaking -- as sober as Baigent could possibly get. For the most part, factual material seems in order, or at the very least, isn't the sort of thing one would hear as well from persons wearing aluminum haberdashery. However, what Baigent lacks in that respect is more than made up for by a marginally paranoid (and exceptionally hypocritical) intolerance towards "fundamentalists". 

To sum it up: RTA is all about eschatological movements -- mostly in Christianity, but also in Judaism and Islam -- and how Baigent sees them trying to manipulate world events so that prophecy will be fulfilled. Baigent sees such efforts as dangerous to the safety and well-being of humanity. Fair enough. This is not news, though advertising it as a "plot to end the world" (as on the cover) smacks rather of its own form of eschatological excess. That in itself will prove prophetic. 

Of course I am in the position of again reminding readers that as a preterist, I have no axe to grind on behalf of people like John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, and Hal Lindsey, much less the Christian Reconstructionist movement. Indeed a handful of Baigent's criticisms of these writers mirror my own (though to little credit to Baigent, since the sort of problems he sees would have as well been spotted by a child of five). However, in criticizing such persons, Baigent's own rhetoric becomes eschatologically hysterical at times in its own right. To put it another way, Baigent's volume is frequently little more than a catalog of cliches', in the main with focus on fundamentalist ignorance, closed-mindedness, and danger to society: E.g., "Fundamentalist religions are humanity's greatest enemy," they "leave no room for human frailty, for compassion, for forgiveness, or for creative freedom of thought", it is "trying to return us to that time of darkness...where blind belief was considered more important than farsighted discovery," etc etc, ad nauseaum [xx] on page after page after page. 

Not that Baigent thinks he needs to engage the factual basis of religions, much less reconcile their contradictory truth claims. Apparently Baigent's spirituality is indifferent to epistemology: While "ecumenical understanding" is to be preferred to a "rigid" interpretation of religion [104] there seems to be no mention of the more basic categorical distinctions of "true" or "false." Why this is so is not hard to find, for Baigent's episteomology is of the "burning in the bosom" school. He refers to "feeling a deep spirit" at various sites around the world (including the post 9/11 WTC site) "emerging from the living earth" to tickle his senses. This, apparently, is his basis for his faith; and if so, it is little wonder he showed such indifference to fact much earlier when he was preparing Dan Brown for stardom. So likewise, it is no surprise that he force-fits teachings of Jesus and the NT into a New-Agish sort of mysticism than first century Jews would never have recognized, or else casually misinterprets them for his purposes (e.g., 54; 109; 119f; 228). 

All of this might be of some effect were Baigent's factual ducks in a row regarding the validity of Christianity (as well as Judaism and Islam), but too frequently, they either are not, or else ducklings are magnified to the size of a Macy's parade float. Baigent never reaches the excesses of his Grail legend malfeasances, but he starts with an exceptionally incomplete and tendentious rendition of the Crusades [1 -- one would never know hat they were preceded by a serious military threat from Muslim powers), and the NT canonical process [111-2]. He also delivers a jaded assessment of the status of Mark 16:9-20 as some sort of serious problem [231] and an embarrassing rendition of the Trinity [233]. And naturally, he commits standard errors of this sort: claiming that "Jesus and God were made the same" at the Council of Nicaea. [76] False to be sure, but at least he's not plugging Mary Magdalene into the mix this time.
Otherwise he makes very few errors, but this is in the main because he makes few debatable claims about the validity of the faiths he criticizes, mostly either offering unverifiable personal anecdotes, material verifiable by international news sources, or otherwise preferring to offer what I have called "argument by posturing astonishment". Perhaps his wildest suggestion is that John's prediction of a burning mountain falling into the sea was intended to reflect the volcanic disaster at Pompeii. [71] 

In terms of modern persons effecting their eschatological beliefs, Baigent's difficulty seems not to be so much factual errors as it is overstating or failing to justify the severity of perceived threats. In that sense he again mirrors several we have here profiled (particularly Constance Cumbey) and so ends up ironically being no better than they are. (Ironic indeed: Like Grant Jeffrey, per our September 2009 issue, he refers to the founding of a new Jewish Sanhedrin in 2004 [35], as evidence that eshcatologists are trying to fulfill prophecy, but he does not mention that this body has not been recognized by the state of Israel as an authoritative body.) He also sniffs out conspiracy in the use of, erm, Biblical language in the naming and description of various weapons. We are told, for example, that it "does not seem coincidental, or innocent" that there exists an acronym MOAB, which stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast. [140] Why Baigent supposes anyone would express eschatology through the name of a pagan nation that harried Israel in the Old Testament, and was long gone by the time of the New Testament, is not explained. One also wonders what eschatological signficance Baigent found in the named predecessor of the MOAB, which was called the Daisy Cutter. 

In sum, RTA ends up being an example of the very sort of hysterical eschatology it so condemns.

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