I recently read The Road by Cormack McCarthy. We love our post-apocalyptic books and movies, don’t we? We somehow have come to believe that regular work, including filing TPS reports all the time is boring and that fighting for our lives is a lot more fun. This is the romanticizing power of pop culture, that we think we’d shed regular meals, electricity and hot water for some adventure.
McCarthy doesn’t offer us the source of what caused civilization to crumble, we just land in the aftermath with our protagonists, a man and his son. He doesn’t even give us their names. We can live with this, but usually, we hear the word apocalypse and we automatically affix zombie, nuclear, environmental to the front of it. We have our preferences, even jokingly assembling our zombie teams, always making sure that we aren’t the slowest on the team. Somebody has to fall during a chase scene and become zombie food while the rest of us escape, right? Never mind how dehumanizing that joke is.
One of the most important features of apocalyptic literature is the revelation of human nature. How do we behave when there isn’t law enforcement, when shame has become powerless, and when we’re all out of Twinkies? McCarthy went ahead and threw in rape and cannibalism, which means that he likely has a pretty low anthropology. We kind of suck.
But that’s the nature of apocalypse- it’s not an end, it’s a revealing. Sure, the end might come right after we see the awful truth. But then again, maybe not. And our current reality feels slightly apocalyptic in the pop-culture sense of the word: the pandemic, national economies struggling, locusts and other localized craziness, so what’s this revealing to us?
I’m not actually going to answer that question. All I’ll say for myself is that I too hold a pretty low anthropology. Humans sin. All of us. I do and so do you. Which actually means that either all of our heroes are complicated, or that we shouldn’t have heroes. Though we get something right, or show some love, we will inevitably turn around and say something horrific that might lead to our own cancellation. My hope would be that as our many personal shortcomings are revealed, as we’re let down one person at a time, perhaps our need for salvation could also be revealed. It isn’t “Y’all need Jesus, it’s that we all need him.