Howard, Bush, the war, the election

The intertextual reltions between John Howard and George Bush seem a lot more significant from the Australian perspective. The Sydney Morning Herald this morning positions Howard very strongly as an international player:

With strong global interest in the Australian poll as the first of several referenda on the war in Iraq, John Howard and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, hit foreign media outlets to help out partners in the US-led coalition of the willing….

Mr Howard’s son Richard is working for Mr Bush’s re-election campaign and the Prime Minister has a close relationship with his US counterpart, whom he saluted yesterday as consultative, yet decisive.

Certainly Howard’s comments to CNN are glowing about Bush:

“George Bush always sends a very clear cut strong view and, in the end in politics, that is very important,” he told CNN. “People will vote for you because they respect the strength and consistency of your view, even though on a given issue they may not agree with you….

“I respect him very much as an individual and a very strong leader and I think that the strength of his stand against terrorism has been very important.”

I think the relationship between Bush and Howrad is overplayed. After all in the first debate when talking about coalitions in Iraq Bush mentioned Britain and Poland not Australia.

Bush’s comments have not produced major hits in overseas media outlets although the election win was probably covered more thoroughly than usual. One American commentator who gave an extended analysis, John Sullivan at the Chicago Sun Times, provides an interesting analysis of the result and points out that while Hoard’s victory is comforting for Bush a Latham victory would have been much more impactful:

Mark Latham had committed Labor to bring home most Aussie troops in Iraq by Christmas. So if Labor had won, the world would have seen the result as a dramatic erosion of international support for George W. Bush’s Iraq intervention.

That in turn would have seemingly confirmed the international trend set by the Spanish elections that threw out a Bush ally in favor of a left-wing government that immediately withdrew Spanish troops. But it would have been much more important than the Spanish result because Australia has been a faithful U.S. ally in every American war since 1917 without needing (to use John Kerry’s terminology) to be either ”coerced” or ”bribed.” It would have been a splintering of the English-speaking alliance — of America, Australia and Great Britain — that has been the moral and military core of the war on terrorism.

In short, a Howard defeat would have been a disaster for the United States and a catastrophe for Bush (and Tony Blair).

President or Prophet?

David Domke and Kevin Coe point out, in an interesting article for The Revealer, that Bush’s religious language is radically different to the religious language of other presidents:

The key difference is this: Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have spoken as petitioners of God, seeking blessing and guidance; this president positions himself as a prophet, issuing declarations of divine desires for the nation and world. Most fundamentally, Bush’s language suggests that he speaks not only of God and to God, but also for God. Among modern presidents, only Ronald Reagan has spoken in a similar manner — and he did so far less frequently than has Bush.

They have analysed the inaugural speeches of all presidents and found that: “For presidents other than Reagan or Bush, only four of 61 addresses (7%) contained claims linking the wishes of God with freedom or liberty.” While “such claims were present in five of 12 addresses (42%) by Reagan and Bush.”

It is only a short article and I don’t find the examples they give entirely convincing although instinctively I think the distinction is useful. A detailed analysis of concepts of mission, religious destiny, fate and eschatology from the inaugural addressess may be an interesting way forward in my analysis of the intertextual relations between Bush and previous presidential texts.

American political religiosity

“I’d be delighted to live in a country where happily married gay couples had closets full of assault weapons.”

US blogger Glen Reynolds giving an example of why he can’t be easily classified as left or right!

Reynold’s Instapundit blog is one of the A-list blogs, and I must admit that I had dismissed it as a pointless pro-Bush blog without looking too closely at his posts. In his Guardian column this week Reynolds points out why he sits uneasily in any easily defined spectrum of American politics. His main point is that religiosity affects both the left and right wing agendas and he finds both equally disturbing:

The language of righteousness and sin, if not that of redemption and grace, remains a hallmark of the purportedly secular left, though I find it no more attractive than the language of the religious right.

I don’t fit into the religious right or the religious left. But, in America, you don’t get to choose a major political party that does not have some sort of religious strain to it.

And it strikes me that one reason why politics in the US have become so much more bitter over the past couple of decades is that two rather different threads of religiosity have come to dominate the two major parties in distinct fashion, where each party had previously incorporated major components of both. This has turned political battles into quasi-religious ones.

I think this is undoubtedly true and Reynolds gives the example of Hilary Clinton as a religiously inspired leftie, pointing out that “the roots of this do-goodism are ultimately in New England Puritanism, which had many characteristics associated with today’s left.”.

However, I think there is a fundamental difference between the right’s use of religious rhetoric and the left’s use of religious rhetoric. One of the primary religious values of the left is a call to inclusive community. This is inherent in the title of Hilary Clinton’s book about children: “It takes a village” I haven’t read the book but the excerpts here seem to support this view:

The horizons of the contemporary village extend well beyond the town line. From the moment we are born, we are exposed to vast numbers of other people and influences through the media. Technology connects us to the impersonal global village it has created.

To many, this brave new world seems dehumanizing and inhospitable. It is not surprising, then,, that there is a yearning for the “good old days” as a refuge from the problems of the present. But by turning away, we blind ourselves to the continuing, evolving presence of the village in our lives, and its critical importance for how we live together. The village can no longer be defined as a place on a map, or as a list of people or organizations, but its essence remains the same: it is the network of values and relationships that support and affect our lives….

We cannot move forward by looking to the past for easy solutions. Even if a golden age had existed, we could not simply graft it onto today’s busier, more impersonal and complicated world. Instead, our challenge is to arrive at a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.

Creating that consensus in a democracy depends on seriously considering other points of view, resisting the lure of extremist rhetoric, and balancing individual rights and freedoms with personal responsibility and mutual obligations.

This is a fundamentally different view to the resisting pre-apocalyptic communities of the religious right, whose religious world view promotes a divisive politics that wants to proscribe, people and practices that don’t conform to their particular beliefs. Now this does not mean that the left does not also use the politics of consensus in devise ways, nor do they always live up to their ideals of inclusion, but in their basic orientation I think that religious conservatism and the religious liberalism need to be read quite differently.

The similarities and differences of the religiously inspired right and the religiously inspired left is certainly something that I should look at further.

Any world view, strongly held, creates divisions: sometimes these divisions are helpful organising devices, other times they lead to easy judgments, (like my instant assessment of Reynolds!) that really deserve more open thought.

The revenge of the source

Interesting post this morning on ojr about journalists, blogs and their sources. Mark Glaser notes the interesting case of billionaire sporting and tech entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, who is using his blog to strike back when interviews are not reported the way he would like. It’s hardly the revenge of the little guy, but it presents an interesting dynamic in terms of journalist/source power relations. Glaser sets the scene:

You interview someone by e-mail. You write up the story and edit what they said, condensing their quotes to a few saliable points. Your story runs, and that’s that, you think. But to your surprise, your source decided to post all the interview questions and answers on their Weblog, showing the public that you cut something important to them.

More and more, blogs are giving sources the power to strike back and making journalists think twice about what they run in a story and how they conduct an interview. Case in point: Billionaire technology entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who also owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks basketball team, launched a blog last spring and quickly posted an e-mail exchange he had with Dallas Morning News sports columnist Kevin Blackistone.

The most interesting aspect of this story is the extremely defensive reaction of the journalist, Kevin Blackistone:

While Cuban wrote that the best thing about a blog was that “I get to respond to the media,” Blackistone wasn’t too thrilled that Cuban had posted their e-mail exchange. “I didn’t think much of being surprised by having what I thought was a private exchange with Mark Cuban posted on a public Web site,” Blackistone told me via e-mail. “That is a reason I stopped responding to readers years ago, because I discovered they started posting my personal responses to them on message boards.”

This again highlights the way blogs are shifting notions of public and private communications. In many ways this is the most fundamental challenge of the blogsphere and its most serious challenge to traditional journalism.

Blackistone regards the exchange as private because to him it is a set of working notes, the exchange is raw data that only becomes a a piece of journalism through his application of professional skill. This is a product oriented, journalist centered, view of journalism that doesn’t properly acknowledge the exchange value or the process of journalism. For Cuban of course the exchnage is not just data, it is an act of self representation because he is aware that anything he says to a journalist can be made public.

While not everyone interviewed by a journalist is going to have a blog, the very fact that some people do may begin to have a ripple effect and help to enact a new paradigm in thinking about the respective rights and values of interviewers and interviewees. A good journalist will of course welcome the kind of interaction that Blackistone seems to find so irksome. But even good journalists need to think more about the public and private dimensions of their practice and work towards a model of transparent journalism that is about dialogue not pronouncement.

This brings me back to the comments about McLuhan’s notions of “publicy” and privacy that I posted about last month: “Blogging is an “outering” of the private mind in a public way (that in turn leads to the multi-way participation that is again characteristic of multi-way instanteous communictions.)” (Mark from the McLuhan project)

In any journalistic encounter a source is prepared for this “outering” but a journalist often hides behind a shield of privacy in the very act of making things public.

Interestingly Cuban also has his own reality TV show, which of course is a whole other set of public/private inversions.

Blogs versus discussion boards

James Framer at his new blog Incorporated Subversion has an excellent article:Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments. His general conclusions fuel my doubts about the appropriateness of threaded discussions as effective learning forums. His notion that they support a very limited “social presence” is interesting in light of my thinking about blogs as personal publication spaces.

In terms of social presence this kind of discussion board could be seen to offer little opportunity for users to “project themselves socially and emotionally, as ‘real’ people” (Garrison & Anderson 2003) as the opportunity for projection is limited and when and if it is achieved, the ability of the projector to project and appear as a “real” person is also severely limited. For example, in a face-to-face context individuals are able to project themselves in many ways, primarily through verbal and physical contributions to the people present in the area. However, in a discussion board, as well as being limited to the ability to express themselves through text, users are unable to express themselves to people in the area because there may not be any people there. A contribution can be viewed and read by one person, the whole group or nobody and because how a writer understands the intended audience of their work dramatically impacts on their entire approach to the task of writing (Abdullah 2003), this uncertainty impacts considerably on the ability of the individual to project themselves….

In establishing cognitive presence, issues associated with the lack of any definable audience do not only affect the nature of the way in which an individual writes, but also the discourse possible and in this the ability of a writer to reflect on their thoughts and “construct and confirm” meaning.

Blogs on the other hand, he argues, contribute a significant sense of presence that potentially assists and motivates communication, discourse and learning:

In terms establishing social presence it can be argued that weblogs offer a significant opportunity for users to project themselves as “real” people. Primarily the blogger is writing to their own area and context, designed to their liking (if the blogger is not a web designer there are a wide range of templates available with every provider) and developing on their previous postings from the online persona they have developed. Indeed, the fact that the blogger is also able to retain ownership of their writing, edit at will, refer to previous items and ideas, and control in its entirety the space and manner in which the weblog is published, can significantly augment their control over their expression and hence increase the opportunity to project and the motivation for doing so.

He quotes research which indicates that weblogs encourage more in-depth wrtiting.

A weblog is a reflective medium (hence comparisons with and use as journals and diaries), and the nature of publishing to an audience in a manner that will be archived, can be referred to and for which the author maintains responsibility and ownership has developed a certain style of expression. Certain research (Herring et al. 2004) across the blogging spectrum has indicated that there is a possibility that weblogs encourage significantly more in-depth and extended writing than communication by email or through discussion board environments and yet less extensive than more formal modes of publication, producing in an academic sense a kind of discourse somewhere between the conversational and the article. The value of this is evidenced through numerous examples of academic weblogs taking advantage of weblogs in order to engage with their peers and students and to reflect on their own learning (e.g. PhDWeblogs, Crooked Timber).

Note: I discovered this article through another great web sharing device, that I am loving: Furl. Specifically by tracking the furl list of a bloger I like: Amy Gahran who writes about her own love of furl here.

Cyber literacy

Another advantage of the ongoing course blog is that it really foregrounds both blog literacy and wider cyber-literacy as an important ongoing course objective.

One of the aims of using blogs in educational settings must actually be about the process itself, in some sense all education is about both content and process and all educational technologies (from face to face to computer mediated) are about learning to learn.

In the same way that one of the aims of encouraging good essay writing is about helping students to develop expressive skills that they will apply in a range of different ways in a professional or personal context, one of the aims of blogging ought to be to encourage cyber-literacy and an understanding of the ecology of the link in a networked society.

This is particularly important for journalism students. All forms of major media now have online presences and future journalists will need to be increasingly cyber-literate. Many traditional media forms are also specifically incorporating blogs, so skills in this form will advantage students in their future practice. (For an interesting and humorous take on blogs as the future of journalism check out John Hiler’s, Borg Journalism: We are the Blogs. Journalism will be Assimilated.)

Even if, as future journalists, they are never called upon to write “blog journalism”, the internet research skills and practice of assessing, organising and archiving internet information sources, essential to good blogging, are also now essential to good journalism.

But this is not just restricted to journalism students, blogs, wikkis and intranet sites are also fast becoming part of good business practice in a range of situations and students from all sorts of disciplines will need to know how to operate convincingly in these virtual work environments.

Course blogs or subject blogs?

Thinking about some of the issues I raised about the WHAT of blogs, and thinking about how blogs might be best used in journalism education, specifically how they might be used in our course at UTS, I am becoming increasingly convinced that blogs used across classes over the duration of a degree course may provide a very interesting way forward.

If students were encouraged to establish a blog at the beginning of their course and continued to use it to post research notes, stories and reflections throughout their three year degree this would become a unique and powerful teaching and learning tool. The blog would evolve together with (and record) the student’s learning and practice experience. Then both the WHAT and the HOW of blogs becomes easier to analyse.

* Students grow into blogging and gradually figure out WHAT it is best for them to blog and how;
* Connections in the course blogsphere develop organically over time;
* It becomes a metalearning tool that allows students to make connections across subjects;
* It has the potential to contribute to a department wide sense of learning community.

For journalism students this approach has particular advantages:

* It encourages the habit of writing;
* It provides a personal publication space over which they have journalistic control;
* It provides an immediate portfolio of work for future job hunting;
* It provides a single space which links the practice based elements of the course and the theory based units

One of the particular advantages of an ongoing course blog, as opposed to a time specific subject blog, is that it takes better advantage of the blog form – a form of research and publication that is episodic, cumulative and open-ended. But it can also provide a place to house certain projects and more “finished” pieces of work. Thus it offers unique opportunities that are not usually provided by traditional forms of essay writing and other assessed work.

If conceived in this way, as a personal course archive, then other differences with traditional CMS tools such as threaded discussions also come into focus. The discussion that occurs on a class discussion board has no permanent archival value, it is by nature ephemeral and is perhaps valued by students as such. However if they conceive of their posts as part of a permanent archive which interacts with the permanent archive of other students perhaps this will lead to their valuing the discussion in new and different ways. What the effect of this might be, of course, is unknown but it seems reasonable to hypothesise that this may well lead to a greater sense of ownership and involvement in the generation of ideas.

There are a whole range of interface issues that would need to be worked out – how permanent individual blogs might be linked in to aggregating class front pages for example – but I am sure there are nifty technical solutions.

The WHAT of blogging

I’ve been thinking about another of Tanja’s comments over the last few days. Commenting on one of my posts about a blog research study, she notes:

In the study it seemed that WHAT the students might be learning through the blogging experience was not clear.

Even you, Marcus (in your very first post) outlined WHAT you saw the purpose of this blog was: you set a particular agenda for using this blog in a particular way.

Does a blog have to have a WHAT?

I think the answer is probably yes and no.

I’ve already referred to Steven Krause’s article “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction” which is a fascinating practice analysis of his course blogging experience. In noting some of the reasons why his use of collaborative blogging in a a writing class did not work as well as he intended, one of the reasons he offers is his own lack of clarity in setting up the task:

This assignment did not have any specific requirements in terms of the number of postings, the subject of the postings, or just about anything else. While we set up subject groups on the first day of class, this was a quick and somewhat haphazard exercise, and I tried to make it clear that students were more than welcome to drift away from this initial focus….

Certainly, much of the failure of this assignment can be traced to its open-ended nature. As I already said, I purposefully gave my students minimal directions with this project because I didn’t know what we would come up with (after all, I hadn’t attempted blogging in my teaching before), but also because they were grad students (i.e., “grown-ups”) and I thought in less need of the forced motivation by assignment than some of my undergraduate classes. I also thought that the blog technology very much called for this sort of open-ended and unformed writing assignment. My goal was to create an opportunity/space where my students would simply just want to write.

But what I found is my “open-ended” non-assignment translated into “vagueness.”

Krause also speculates that one way of giving the task some shape, without directing it too forcefully, may have been as simple as showing the students good examples of collaborative blogs such as Crooked Timber. While I think this would certainly have helped I think this would require an active analysis of the site in a class (or perhaps online) discussion rather than just pointing them to the site as an example to look at.

One of the things that really surprised me when I started teaching is that even post-grad students in the class I was taking still had difficulties in writing essays. This was because some were returning to study after long absences while others were coming to journalism from non-humanities backgrounds. It was also because in the course I was teaching we were after a particular kind of essay: an empirically based case study with a strong theoretical framework. It took me a while to realise that, even the “good” students who were used to traditional literature review based argumentative essays, were a little puzzled by this form.

So I certainly believe that we have to be clear about what blogging as a “form” means when we set students the task of blogging in a course. Part of the problem of course is that the form itself is evolving. But I think that we can provide both a sense of openness and a sense of direction

Some student’s really respond to an open-ended approach. I have already noted this comment from one of Adrian Mile’s students:

For example, the assessment was our blogs and a hypertext rather than the regulatory ‘intro-body-conclusion’, word-limited essay that restricted the amount of problems we could discuss.

Miles however does provide a quite specific framework for this project and talks about the “assessment matrix” that he has developed for the task. Significantly all the students get a chance to self assess against this matrix, so that they can determine, with the teacher’s input, if they are on track with their blogging project.

Dennis Jerz is very precise in his instructions to his American Lit class about his expectations and assessment criteria. His framework includes:

1. Coverage: substantial posts that cover the topics

2. Depth: that goes beyond just notes

3. Interaction: with other bloggers

4. Discussion: each blog should generate discussion

His final criteria is what he calls “Xenoblogging”:

Xenoblogging. “Xeno” means “foreign,” so xenoblogging (a term that I just coined) means the work that you do that helps other people’s weblogs. Your portfolio should include three entries (which may or may not overlap with the ones you have already selected for “Coverage”) that demonstrate your willingness to contribute selflessly and generously to the online classroom community. Examples of good xenoblogging:
* The Comment Primo: Be the first to comment on a peer’s blog entry; rather than simply say “Nice job!” or “I’m commenting on your blog,” launch an intellectual discussion; return to help sustain it.
* The Comment Grande: Write a long, thoughtful comment in a peer’s blog entry. Refer to and post the URLs of other discussions and other blog entries that are related.
* The Comment Informative: If your peer makes a general, passing reference to something that you know a lot about, post a comment that offers a detailed explanation. (For example, the in the third comment on a recent blog entry about the history and culture of print, Mike Arnzen mentions three books that offer far more information than my post did.)
* The Link Gracious: If you got an idea for a post by reading something somebody else wrote, give credit where credit is due. (Since a link is so easy to create, it’s not good blogging ethics to hide the source of your ideas.) If a good conversation is simmering on someone else’s blog — whether you are heavily involved or not — post a link to it and invite your own readers to join in.

In each of his categories he links to blog examples which model the criteria that he is describing.

Another interesting discussion on Kairosnews about ways to encourage “good” bloggging in students also emphasises the need for working hard at showing model blogs and model blog enteries. Setting up specific activities that encourage peer interaction and peer review also seem to be important:

We had assignments scattered throughout the semester where our students had to go read each other’s blogsites and post blogs to their own blogsites about what they read. Because they knew they had a relatively large audience of classmates (not to mention the WWW), they really didn’t post crap. This was especially true when they started to see their names/blogsites referenced on other people’s blogsites. They wanted other people to blog about them, so they didn’t just post something to get something up there. …lots of my students commented that knowing everyone in class was reading their blogsites at any given time made them want to write more engaging stuff.

Another comment emphasises that while assessment is important, so to is the perceived centrality of the blogging process to the course:

I think it’s working well… because the course is heavily invested in blogging as a way of sharing writing and the means to meaning making. It’s such a major part of the course that the course would not be the same at all without it. In other words, you may not be able to just “try” it … So assessment of blogging may be much less important than how and to what extent students use it in the course.

Over at Techsophist, Lanette Cadle notes that blogs work better in longer courses where students have a chance to actually develop their own take on the form. She notes that: “It takes time for the synergy between posts in a group blog to develop, and it looks like six weeks is not long enough.”

These problems: not knowing the form; lack of specific objective; perceived centrality of the process; vague assessment criteria and the length of time necessary to develop synergy, certainly express themselves in specific ways in course blogging but they are also issues that I have found in my attempts to get quality work happening in Blackboard threaded discussions.

So getting back to my original question about the WHAT of blogging, issues to do with direction, form and purpose do seem to be critical to developing successful models of blogging for online learning. However part of this modeling must also include helping students get over the anxiety they might experience at the seemingly open-ended nature of blogging. So questions for further reflection include:

How do we provide a WHAT framework that still allows students to discover the more open-ended nature of blogging?

What are the different WHATS of different forms of blogging: writing blogs; research blogs; k-blogs; project blogs; personal blogs? Do we encourage students to sample, mix and match?

What ( if anything) is the specific WHAT of blogging that does not occur in other forms of teaching and learning?

When prophecy fails

Interesting discussion over at Crooked Timber on apocalyptic christianity and the response to failed prophecy. John Quiggin got the ball rolling with this question:

Revelations-based prophecies have similarly failed time after time, but they seem to be more popular than ever. What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation?

There are a number of sub questions in this:

What happens when prophecy fails?
How does the meaning making system of apocalyptic belief work?
What is the relationship between belief and empirical evidence?

I think the first thing to understand is that “apocalyptic Christianity” is much more than a belief in specific apocalyptic events. As I noted in my post yesterday it also includes what Cynthia Burack has called a “politics of desert”. It is a resistance theology that constantly constructs and reconstructs oppositions, that comes from a place of such certainty that the “signs of the times” become a fluid collage that reinforce that central resistance identity.

Some of the posts in response to John mention When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger. Festinger proposed that adherents basically redouble their efforts when prophecies fail as a way of resolving their experience of cognitive dissonance. Post-Festinger scholarship has tended to agree with Festinger’s conclusion that adherents work hard in a post-failure moment but most scholars disagree with his specific conclusions about how this works.

In Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy, Jon Stone has gathered fourteen articles that dialogue with Festinger’s conclusions. For a strange but interesting review of this collection go here. (Haven’t read this but have it on order from Amazon)

In his article on failed prophecy in the Lubavitch movement Simon Dein gives a good summary of some of the arguments in this literature. His reference to Melton ( Melton, J. G. 1985. Spiritualization and reaffirmation: What really happens when prophecy fails. American Studies 26(2):82.) supports my contention that apocalyptic belief cannot be limited to the predictive, but must be seen as a more general belief system:

Melton (1985) points out a number of problems with the thesis…[one] problem involves Festinger’s assertion that millennial groups are organized around the prediction of prospective events. This is seen by Melton as a one-dimensional view of millenarianism which neglects the presence of a complex cosmology. Indeed, prediction often springs from a broad context of belief and disconfirmation provides a “test” which generally strengthens a group. Third, the problem was noted of the researcher’s standard for logic not necessarily being consistent with the internal definitions of the group studied.

John Quiggin’s post also had a reference to Hall Lindsay as an example of apocalyptic christianity. As Stephen O’Leary has shown in Arguing the Apocalypse, the fascinating thing about Lindsay is that although his work is littered with prophetic readings of current events he avoids any major predictions of end events. Instead he produces a dispersed apocalypse that calls for a continuing sense of readiness.

O’Leary shows that between his first book The Late Great Planet Earth and his 80s sequel Countdown to Armageddon Lindsey updated his theology to show a role for America and “a ray of hope” that led to the more activist new right politics of the eighties. This is epitomised by Jerry Falwell’s telling comment that Christians are called “to occupy until he comes.” This is a phase he still uses today. In a September 2004 interview: Falwell: Evangelicals ‘Energized’ for Bush he sets his beliefs out very clearly:

NM: We hear a lot these days that many Christians believe that, based on current events, perhaps Christ’s second coming is near. What do you tell people who ask you about that?

JF: Well, Scripture is clear on that. No man knows the day or hour of His second coming.

It is my feeling, and has been for the 52 years I’ve been a Christian, that we’re to live every day as though the Lord were returning today…but we’re to plan and work as though we had another 100 years, with the next generation in mind.

The danger, if there is a danger in believing in the imminence of the Lord’s return – and I do, is to become a fatalist, that certain things are going to happen regardless and there’s nothing we can do about them. That isn’t true. We’re told to occupy until He comes. We’re told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And we’re given clear instructions about raising our children up in the nurture and admonition of Christ.

Falwell’s theology reflects the fundamental change in premillenial beliefs from the widely believed but failed predictive prophecies of William Miller in the 1840s, which led to what is known as “the great disappointment“, to the current “dispensational premillenialists” of today that believe we are in the end times but won’t hazard a guess at the day or the hour.

Falwell’s beliefs seem to show a gradual merging of elements of the premillenial and the postmillenial belief systems but that’s another story for another posting….

(For a reasonably good but abbreviated precis of O’Leary on the Millerites and Hall Lindsey go here)

Apocalypse and myth

This is a great quote from Lois Parkinson Zamora’s, Writing the Apocalypse that I found while reading Mike Broderick’s excellent essay “The Rupture of Rapture: Recent Film Narratives of Apocalypse”:

Revelation is … as much about the capacity of language to conceal as to reveal… The apocalyptist’s strategies of concealment attest to the sanctified status conceded to the narrative by both author and audience. The tendency to make texts obscure when an elevated degree of truth is desired is familiar in religious ceremonial language, oracular and poetic utterance, specialized academic and professional discourse. In such contexts as these, the perceived significance of the text may grow as the text’s accessible language meaning is suppressed, as translation or interpretation is required. As the coded images and numerical patterns of apocalyptic narration proliferate, so too does the weight of their significance for those who are initiated into their secrets. Apocalypse thus presents not only a model of historical desire but also of linguistic desire: The apocalyptist’s language strains to embody his fiction of historical fulfilment.

This immediately made me think of Barthes on myth and the concealing/revealing dynamic that he ascribes to myth as a genre. But also reminded me of an article that I have just read by Cynthia Burack: “Getting what ‘we’ deserve: Terrorism, Tolerance, Sexuality and the Christian Right” (New Political Science 25/3 September 2003). Burack argues that the Christian right skilfully use parallel discourses, one aimed at the public and one aimed at the faithful. This is particularly the case when they are discussing contentious issues such as sexuality. Writing about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson’s assertions post 9/11 that gays, feminists and abortionists were to blame, Burack puts it this way:

The fact that Falwell’s and Robertson’s claims about the linkage between terrorism and tolerance of sinfulness are intended for an audience of born again, Bible-believing Christians and not for others does not diminish their political significance. Christian Right leaders actively strive to have their political beliefs misidentified by the broad public. Unfortunately, mainstream media and political commentators often collude in this strategy by delivering news reports of new Christian Right religious issues that are “superficial and lacking in context”. Commentators both fail to trace the precedents of controversial comments and overlook the multiple modes of address favoured by Christian Right leaders. (p.332-3)

Taken together these ideas provide some theoretical and practical hints on the “why study apocalypse?” question that keeps lurking at the gate of this thesis.

And another quote from Zamora:

Apocalypse is historicized myth, a myth about history. It is both synchronic and diachronic, mediating and resolving the conflicting claims of real historical anguish and the imaginative transcendence of that anguish.