Chapter 5. Leaving Others Behind
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64 Chapter 5 Leaving Others Behind And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. —Revelation 13:16–18 The Second Coming evokes not a Jesus who saves, but one who pays dividends. Or, more accurately, one who promises a miraculous return on a limited spiritual investment. —Jean and John Comaroff, “Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming” Religious discourses can contribute significantly to the production of insecurity subjects, especially, it seems, when they stress personal over collective responsibility for meeting physical and spiritual needs during times of crisis. Broadly speaking, feelings of insecurity are often used by communities to justify harsh or unequal treatment of people considered to be different. Xenophobic responses are common, as seen with racial profiling of Arab-looking individuals after 9/11 or with the fortification of national borders to keep out illegal immigrants. Similarly, in religious communities belief in the forthcoming destruction of the world may be used as a rationalization for excluding others and abdicating responsibility for the greater social good. Prophecies of the apocalypse circulate and multiply with incredible frequency , velocity, and profitability. In some respects, concerns over the impending destruction of the world are ancient obsessions and well-worn mythological motifs, which wax and wane according to technological changes, historical contingencies, or significant turning points on arbitrary calendars. On the other hand, contemporary apocalypse prophecies fuse in interesting—and perhaps indelible—ways with capitalist economies. Whether the looming disasters are Leaving Others Behind 65 technological, environmental, or biblical, they tend to afford rewarding opportunities for some while fueling the increasing vulnerability of others. Jean and John Comaroff label this emerging set of practices millennial capitalism, indicating a globalized, neoliberal form of capitalism predicated upon privatization, individual responsibility, and the right to consume (not to produce).1 Especially for various end-of-days movements, this neoliberal logic introduces provocative dissonances between value placed on individual profit versus universal salvation , upon the medium versus the message. In some instances, religious warnings about the dangers of technology and the capitalist market are themselves highly mediated by technology and are enormously profitable ventures. An entire industry has developed to feed the fears of Christians, and presumably others, about the imminent coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. As part of the $7 billion market for Christian products,2 religious fiction now occupies aisles upon aisles of bookshelves in some large chain bookstores. Much of this religious material demonstrates a significant degree of gloating by Christian authors over the presumably “condemned” lapsed Christians and nonbelievers who will remain on Earth to suffer after “the rapture ” (or the taking of Christian souls to heaven) occurs. Apart from religious fiction, products in this genre include video games, board games, Web sites, DVDs, televised sermons, and a host of “nonfiction” books, which delineate in great detail the many forms that current and future threats upon souls can take, along with identifying the complicit parties involved in propagating the secular mechanisms and ideologies of damnation. Particularly fascinating is the mobilization of discourse about the “mark of the beast,” which singles out certain technologies for vilification and people for damnation. As referenced by the opening quote from the Bible’s book of Revelation, the mark of the beast indicates a symbol that will be given to people during the Last Days before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. From this perspective, whereas the mark will be required for people to engage in any form of capitalist exchange such as might be necessary for general sustenance, in voluntarily accepting the mark people will perforce align themselves with the Antichrist and doom themselves to perdition. The alternative, as many exegeses suggest, is to reject the mark, and thus commit oneself to dying miserably on Earth to enable the possibility of eternal life in heaven. Various technologies have been nominated by Christian groups as metaphorically representing or literally being the mark of the beast. Some of these include radiofrequency identification (RFID) chips implanted into individuals’ arms, national identity card schemes...


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Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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