I was reminded yesterday that the world was ending. That Judgment Day–the bookish Revelation 20/12 version, not the Terminator Schwarzenegger version–was upon us again. I had not packed. The person who told me was in the know: she works at the local chamber of commerce.
- Varieties of Religious Experience: Watching an Eagles’ Nest, Live
- Mother’s Day Confidential: News of My Mom’s Death Was Slightly Premature
- Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross
I spent most of the afternoon in Bunnell, where the potato festival was in full fry. No one was sucked up to heaven the entire afternoon. Not that I saw, anyway. Not even John Rogers, the new city commissioner, whose most recent contribution to the city was to inspire the choreography of a prayer day a couple of weeks back, leading to tomorrow’s official proclamation of a tamer version of “God’s City Day” in a city still not quite literate when it comes to the reading of the state and federal constitutions. (In a place where the First and Fourth Amendments are optional and a city government depends on the county’s overhead welfare to survive, “We do things differently in Bunnell” is a more honest city motto than the wishful “crossroads of Flagler County.” Someone should write Bunnell’s book of revelations. Plural.)
The day ended. The world didn’t. Aside from the 45 or so Americans murdered Saturday in our peace-loving country, the usual few wasted in those distant and useless wars exporting our peaceable ways, the 100 or so killed on our roads, and the 7,000 more naturally dearly departed (that’s the daily average, anyway), most of us were still in it, suggesting that we’ll all perish over the next five months of judging, if not on Tuesday and Wednesday, when American Idol judges its last. Then again these days every day is Judgment Day: where would talk radio’s gobs of gods be without it? What would become of the beloved bullying of the Bill O’Reillys and Donald Trumps of this world without their presumptions of speaking for the white-bearded one? And where would the Left Behind series be without its only marketing ploy?
If Saturday was a dud, rapture-wise, blame it on the book. Revelation isn’t the bible’s best work. It does have that end-of-days feel, but in the same sense that the latter third of Huckleberry Finn and the last quarter of Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March, or even the last few pages of Nabokov’s Lolita, do: the story has run its course, but it needs an ending. The result is forced. Tying up loose ends is never as fun as untangling them. Revelation, slapped on at the end of the bible in the 4th century, where the bible as we know it made its publishing debut, reads like the last chapter of Job, a hurried addition trying too hard for a happy ending and authenticity (“John has written down everything he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ”). It goes overboard with the special effects of a movie short on character development: all those multi-headed dragons springing up everywhere, shouting animals, numerology going haywire and trumpets blaring endlessly. No wonder teenagers (and eternal adolescents) love it.
It’s a bit much. Hitchcock would have suggested more subtlety, more suspense. You don’t need to oversell heaven if that’s what you’re selling, unless your product is wanting. You could forgive the breathless heaven’s-my-destination bits, but not the brutality. If Christianity over the centuries has been history’s reigning champion of violence and massacres in the name of god, we have the book of Revelation to thank, at least in the new testament. It doesn’t merely justify holocausts. It romanticizes them, makes a fetish of suffering. I mean: Chapter 16’s seven bowls of plagues? seriously? What sadist wrote these lines? What god in her right mind would want to be associated with that kind of blood lust?
Enough revelatory theory. In August 2009 the country singer Billy Currington appeared on David Letterman’s Late Show to perform his “God Is Great, Beer Is Good, People Are Crazy,” a song that could be substituted for the entire book of Revelation and make it work. I’m not sure about the first, Englishized Allahu Akbar part of the title–too overtly Southern-Baptist-Shiite for my taste, god being the ultimate undocumented alien of creation–but the bits about beer and people are dead on, and in combination with that first part seem to create a perfect trinity in god’s image, which is probably what led Letterman to call the song “transcendent.” Letterman’s not one for gushy praise. I’ve never seen him go on about a song as much as he did about that one. He called it “absolute perfection.” “This song will change your life,” he said. “You’re not going to do any better than this song here. If I were the people running country music, I would shut it down now.”
Not bad advice, considering country music’s bowls-of-plague direction of late. Currington’s is the best song since Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (1975). And as Letterman put it after the song, “that’s all you need to know, ladies and gentleman. God is great. Beer is good. People are crazy.” Make it Carlsberg and you’re guaranteed that spot in heaven. Here’s the song, and happy judgment days.