The End of the World, Or: “Pray they die quickly”

I’m wondering what breakfast on Sunday morning is going to be like at the home of Abby and Robert Carson. Look, I grew up with people who put bumper stickers on their cars saying RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK I’M LEAVING WITH THE RAPTURE, but crazy as they were they had the sense not to set a date. But for me this story is an example of a stunning sort of shallow nihilism combined with complete spiritual failure. These parents, it seems to me, have forfeited any right to govern their children’s lives & I hope the kids light out for the hills as soon as they possibly can.

“My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven,” Grace Haddad, 16, said. “At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.”

“People look at my family and think I’m like that,” said Joseph, their 14-year-old, as his parents walked through the street fair on Ninth Avenue, giving out Bibles. “I keep my friends as far away from them as possible.”

“I don’t really have any motivation to try to figure out what I want to do anymore,” he said, “because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.”

His mother said she accepted that believers “lose friends and you lose family members in the process.”

“I have mixed feelings,” Ms. Haddad Carson said. “I’m very excited about the Lord’s return, but I’m fearful that my children might get left behind. But you have to accept God’s will.

As I said, I grew up among Premillennialists and on Sunday evenings some traveling evangelist would come to our church and put up his charts proving that we were living in the end times, but at least among the Southern Baptists and Grace Brethren, they always left a little wiggle room about exact dates to get around that canonical statement of Jesus that no one knew when he’d be turning up again. That’s probably why this sort of stupidity makes me so angry.

Harold Camping is the leader of this cult:

On May 21, the saved will go to straight to heaven to meet Jesus, he claims. The unsaved, including those already dead, “will never have conscious existence again…That person himself will not know anything about it they are dead,” he said.

“Christ has no pleasure in the death of the unsaved. It is an enormous comfort about our loved ones,” he added. “Pray they die quickly.”

 

 

 

On Failing to Wake the Dead

I seem to be waking slowly from the trance induced by the last few weeks of the semester. The cold, wet weather isn’t helping.

It’s not that I was overwhelmed with work — the number of papers and conferences and faculty meetings was about average, I guess. But I admit to feeling a little bit demoralized by my students this term. I had a long wrangle with some of the students in my Honors seminar on modernity because they really didn’t believe the course had anything to do with their careers and they really didn’t like the fact that I kept asking open-ended questions that did not appear to yield to the usual procedures of problem solving. Seniors in the Honors Program have mastered the art of problem solving, though in many cases they have not mastered much else. [Here is what I wrote on our class blog after turning my grades in.] But at least the wrangle with the Honors seniors involved the active expenditure of effort; the vast majority of the sixty students in the two sections of my Literature of American Popular Music course simply absorbed energy like sodden little black holes. Out of the sixty there were perhaps half a dozen who tried from time to time to help be ignite a discussion, but their efforts were ultimately futile in the face of the pervading passivity and sullenness.

This was a course in which we read Howl and The Dharma Bums and listened to Monk and Bird and watched video of Lady Day singing accompanied by Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. We watched documentaries about Dylan and listened to old ballads about murder and adultery. And they just fucking sat there. As if none of it means anything. I’m tempted to never teach the course again — the students don’t deserve it. It profanes the sacred texts to exhibit them to such dolts.

 

Good Colleagues Doing an Impossible Task

I volunteered to lead our annual departmental writing assessment session this year, in which a group of faculty sit together in a room and read sample student essays selected by some magic algorithm known only to the dean in charge of university-wide assessment — or perhaps only to his chief elf. It can be a pretty mind-numbing task as the hours roll by, but I have to say that today’s session was the most pleasant I’ve attended. Perhaps because there is a modest stipend for the job, mostly junior faculty volunteer and we have a particularly fine group of assistant professors in the department at the moment; and perhaps it was because I was nominally in charge of the operation; but the real difference from earlier sessions was the absence of several control-freak senior colleagues whose certainty about the nature of college writing they felt compelled to impose on others. Endless argument over meaningless details. Today, we were so efficient we even developed a set of notes for improving the process in the future.

Assessment, of course, is all the rage in education policy circles these days. The result is mostly a dreary proliferation of standardized tests at the K through 12 level and an equally dreary emphasis on “outcomes assessment” in higher education, in which the outcomes must be quantifiable. The problem is that lots of meaningless things can be quantified and stuck in spread sheets and made to look significant when the truth is that the numbers say little or nothing about the experiences students are actually having with texts and ideas. I think it is perfectly reasonable for students and their families, and even state and federal government agencies who fund education, to ask colleges to assess the relative success or lack of success they are having in educating students; but my notions about what constitute success are probably not what they are thinking of in the dean’s office or in the high councils of the education bureaucracy. Continue reading