A local radio station is playing the “End of the World as We Know It” song over and over and it has me thinking of my own personal favorite End of the World material. Here are five End of the World “best-of” items. Add more in the comments if you like.
1. Best End of the World Story: “Tale of the Anti-Christ” by Vladimir Soloviev
In the three temptations of Jesus, the Gospels tell the story of the anticlimactic showdown between Satan and Jesus. Satan throws everything he has at Jesus, and Jesus shrugs his shoulders. That’s how “Second Person of the Trinity vs. creature” battles go. But when the battle is Satan’s followers vs. Jesus’ followers, the story gets more exciting.
In “A Tale of the Anti-Christ” Catholic-friendly Russian Orthodox author Vladmir Soloviev tells the story of a future time when the friendly, forward-thinking forces of Satan reduce the followers of Christ to a demoralized mixed-confessional band of true-believers wandering in the desert.
The book is anti-environmentalism and pro-environment; it’s anti-syncretism and pro-ecumenism; it is anti-capitalist and anti-interventionist. It is a masterpiece (after the long introductory part, anyway).
“The Emperor, taken by surprise at the sudden outburst, lost all self-control and issued a decree sentencing to death all insubordinate Jews and Christians. Many thousands and tens of thousands who could not arm themselves in time were ruthlessly massacred. But an army of Jews, one million strong, soon took Jerusalem and locked up the Anti-Christ in Haram-esh-Sheriff.”
2. Best End of the World song: When He Returns by Bob Dylan.
The followers of the “Family Radio” prophet would love this song (except that Dylan stresses that no one knows the hour), but so do I. It is Dylan at his Christian best, declaring the majesty of an Almighty God. In Dylan’s telling, a God who unconcerned with “every earthly plan” demands that idolatrous humanity “surrender your crown” and “take off your mask.” His God is the Sabboath God, not exactly the loving Father, but his sense of God’s greatness and otherness is refreshingly different from the unthreatening Jesus of most Christian music.
Here’s an amazing Rance Allen version.
3. Best End of the World novel: Cormac McCarthy The Road.
Cormac McCarthy was raised Catholic and is the author of uncompromising novels about hard questions. In The Road, he has done an amazing thing: He has constructed a popular-appeal page-turner about the possibility of faith, hope and love amid the most hopeless of situations in which mankind is reduced to the most animal stage possible.
Don’t hold it against him that Oprah offers this excerpt. I have heard Archbishop Chaput is also a fan.
4. Best End of the World poem: Czeslaw Milosz’s “Song at the End of the World.”
There are lots of candidates for best End of the World poem – and, truth be told, Yeats would probably win on merit. This one wins out for me today, though, because of its beguiling conceit that the end of the world will be undramatic. Besides, Dr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis assigned it to us in college, and he is a true great who will be read more in the decades to come (if the world doesn’t end) than he is in his own time.
Song on the End of the World
by Czeslaw Milosz
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk though the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and angels’ trumpets
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
— Warsaw, 1944
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and editor of its speech digest, The Gregorian.