One aspect of doom-prophesying scriptural works which has always bothered me is that they get into very specific details about which bad guy will do what, and in what sequence, and how doing just those things in just that sequence will serve to be the bad guy's undoing (and bring about the end of the world, and all that). The problem with that is, it only works of the bad guy is illiterate, or stunningly ill-informed -- or simply an obedient servant of the good guy, which in turn makes the good guy bad. Because, after all, if the bad guy can read, and can get a hold of the end-times writings, there is a road map right there for them to succeed in thwarting the good guy by not doing whatever it is the prophecy sets forth as their undoing action.

This crops up from time to time. It is in Norse mythology; and in the Christian portion of the Bible (the Jews being too canny to put that sort of thing in the Old). There are end-times myths, as well, in Muslim and Aztec and Mayan and Hindu mythohistories, but those forecast an end without inserting conditions which literate actors in the process might influence.

Case study: The Norse Account:

The problem is crystal clear in the Norse account of Ragnorok, with a detailed order of things occurring therein. First, the mighty Thor will begin to battle the great serpent Jörmungandr; at the same time, the king of the gods, Odin will be swallowed alive while fighting Fenrir, the great wolf. The god of war Týr (in whose worship Tuesday is named) will enter into a battle of mutual destruction with the hound Garmr. Then Freyr, another god, will be defeated by the smelly Jötunn Surtr; Odin's son Víðarr will then avenge his father by prying open the jaws of Fenrir and spearing the wolf through its heart. Thor, meanwhile continues battling ferociously until he kills his giant serpent foe, but then takes exactly nine steps and himself collapses dead from the serpent's venom. This event will generally be followed by a period of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, destruction of the human race until only two are left alive, and then a rebirth of the world and repopulation thereof by those two survivors.

Any number of events might be avoided here if the gods and monsters were to stray from their roles in the myth. Knowing, for example, that Víðarr will defeat Fenrir, why not send him to fight the wolf before it devours Odin? Now, I will grant the illiteracy of the wolf, hound, and serpent, but it is those smelly Jötunns (and all Jötunns are smelly) who instigate the whole thing and who unleash those various fell beasts, and the whole of the account makes it clear that they will be defeated -- wiped out -- in this battle. So why engage it at all? It is arguable that the participants in this farce, well aware of their various destinies, carry them through out of a sense of honour and obligation to the mythos. Only the most adamant adherent to A-Thorism, surely, would deny that Thor will dutifully fulfill his part as his scripture demands. It is less clear why the supposedly dastardly and dishonourable Jötunns -- some of whom at the least being undeniably literate -- would choose to instigate such a battle, knowing that their demise was destined to follow.

Case study: The Christian Account:

The problem is even more straightforwardly presented in the Judeo-Christian Bible. To be specific: has Satan not actually read what happens in Revelation? After all, it ends badly for him, what with him getting thrown into a lake o' fire for all eternity. But this punishment comes only after a very specific series of events meticulously ordered in their occurrance, and relying on Satan to carry out at least some of them (though not all) in just that order. If Satan has free will, and actually wishes to defy God, then it seems the easiest way to do so would be to choose not to do the things set forth in Revelation. If the Bible is taken as the word of God, and God has therein decreed what choices Satan will make in the future, then there is no defiance in the act of conforming to this decree.

Amongst the stock responses I have received to this, possibly the most interesting is that it is because Satan is defiant, and because Satan is so pride-filled by nature, that he will do these things despite already knowing how it will turn out. Satan is, in other words, quizically defying God by doing exactly what God has told him to do, because God's eternal plan is in some sense divorced from what God would really wish to see happen. This, again, paints a something less than complete picture, for no account is offered as to why Satan could not defy God through some similar program, but one which deviates sufficiently from the particular path which we know leads to the Lake of Fire.

Another less talked about but equally interesting character to speak of in this volume is the Beast from the Sea. The Beast from the Sea is a pivotal player in the events in Revelation. It crawls up from the abyss fairly early in the process, and is literally described in precise detail: having the body of a male leopard, the paws of a bear, and seven heads inscribed with blasphemous names; the heads have lion mouths, and varying numbers of diadem-crowned-horns so that each head bears at least one horn, and the total number is ten horns. The Beast from the Sea will be greeted on the shoreline by his friend, the Dragon, and the two friends will impose a cruel reign on Earth. With the dragon and another friend, the lamb-horned Beast from the Earth, the Beast from the Sea will force mankind to worship him, engrave his mark on their bodies, and behead resisters. The Beast of the Sea will gather up the kings of the Earth to make war against the rider of the white horse (a fellow who had appeared somewhat before the Beast of the Sea himself); and -- so Revelation tells us -- the Beast of the Sea will lose the battle and be seized, hurled into the lake of fire, and tormented there eternally. Again, it is not clear why a being intelligent enough to govern and command as described (unlike the dumb beasts related in the Norse myths) would be unable to connect the course of events in which it was involved to the fact that it was fulfilling the letter of a prophecy ending in its own eternal torment.

Now, as these beastly types (and Satan, as well) are not human, it is possible that they simply don't view eternal condemnation to a lake of fire as such a bad thing at all. There are after all, it has been discovered, organisms thriving around deep-sea vents where the temperature hovers at lake-of-fire levels, far above what any terrestrial organism could stand. Perhaps the bad guys of Revelation would similarly find a lake of fire to be downright enjoyable, an eternal suana to caress away their cares, earned by conformance to the word of the book. And, finally, there is something of an oddity to the whole event of the Beast of the Sea's appearance. After all, it is, obviously, in no way a naturally occurring life form born of the Earth. It must be either an impossibly unlikely mutation, or a product of genetic engineering, or an alien life form from another planet, or a creature produced by a fingersnap of God itself for the specific purpose of carrying out the various evil deeds ascribed to it. The latter account being the most logical, it also makes the Beast of the Sea (and his similarly uncannily appearing friends) no more than extensions of God itself, and makes God the rather direct doer of all their evil deeds.

Proponents of the inviolability of this prophecy have conveyed other theories as to why Satan and the other characters will conform to God's enunciated plan. In addition to the above outs, one proposition is that Satan, at least, will be reborn in a human form, encapsulating Satan's evil but unaware of his own real identity even as he carries out the acts which carry him towards his sulfuric destiny. And, naturally, another that 'Satan' and 'the Beast' are simply metaphors here for man's kingdoms and characteristics, and there really is no Satan at all, the entity thus related being a mere invention of Milton augmented in mythological presence by heavy metal bands. Another, though seemingly lacking any scriptural foundation, is that these beings are indeed 'illiterate' in the sense of being so evil that they can not even read Scripture without his eyes burning, nor hear it told them without burning ears, and so really are unaware of what they will do in the future.

A final plea for common sense:

Whatever the theory at play, if any smelly Jötunns or Beasts of Revelation should happen to come across this essay, you reall ought to get a hold of a copy of the end-times game plan relevant to your mythos and mix up your moves so as to go off script, where anything can happen.

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