With Brexit, the pandemic, the energy crisis and cuts to benefits all combining to create difficult months ahead, Reverend Joe Haward considers what can be learnt from the true meaning of ‘apocalypse’

Commentators, the mainstream media, and business leaders have for months called the joint impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and Brexit a ‘perfect storm’ of threats to the UK. Added to this volatile situation is the current energy crisis as wholesale gas prices skyrocket.

The huge demand on gas as a result of people working from home, and an extremely bitter winter, has seen supply strained. But, as Nafeez Ahmed notes for Byline Times: “The gas crisis is thus part of a wider systemic failure. We are now experiencing a series of amplifying feedback loops between different crises within human and earth systems, with crises in the climate and energy systems mutually accelerating one another.”

These accelerating systems will mean a particularly painful autumn and winter for people across the country as gas prices rise further, throwing millions into fuel poverty. The effects of Brexit and the Coronavirus crisis have also seen food prices rise, as well as the cost of living increase.

The Prime Minister has repeated in interviews that “the Government will do everything we can to help people, to help fix it, to make sure that we smooth things over”. Yet, when directly told that the cut to Universal Credit, plus the rise in household energy bills, will plunge families into deeper poverty, his Government continues to refuse to help.

Boris Johnson’s mantra that the market will fix this is are the prayers of an ideologue who chatters incessantly whilst the world burns around them. Over the coming weeks, ‘the market’ will be of no use to people thrown further into economic despair.

The pandemic, Brexit, climate crisis and energy emergency is a deadly combination; a perfect storm of disaster – the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse.

Revealing the Apocalypse

Films and stories about the end of the world have always been in popular. In recent times, Hollywood has given us a variety of versions of how humanity deals with the Earth’s demise – whether by aliens, asteroids, global warming, or nuclear fall-out.

2012, released in 2009, was a popular blockbuster imagining a world destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis and humanity’s will to survive in the face of global extinction. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, Contagion – about a deadly virus that spreads around the world – saw a massive spike in downloads on streaming services. 

Such stories have always fascinated us, in part, because they are just that – stories. Like fairy tales and mythology, we tell them to remind ourselves of deeper messages about the world we live in, relationships, and the human spirit. Tales of the apocalypse also make for entertaining horror stories.

The Four Horsemen of the apocalypse are a good example of such horror stories. Mentioned in the strange and difficult to interpret Book of Revelation, these figures have generated paintings, poetry, and fiction; fearful creatures who will bring war, famine, and death upon the world. But they have always been part of a bigger picture.

The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the Greek apokalypsis which means to ‘uncover’, ‘unveil’ or ‘reveal’. Rather than fire and destruction, apocalypse was understood by some ancients as a ‘revelation’ of things as they really were.

Early Christians didn’t see the apocalypse as the end of the world but an annunciation of another way; an unveiling of reality – but also of how they believed things were going to eventually be. Part of this apocalyptic ‘announcement’, found in a variety of early Christian writings, was that the social and religious orders which had killed and scapegoated innocent victims had been exposed as murderous. 

Early apocalyptic thinking believed that, instead of this murderous ideology, a new world was breaking into the present in which love, forgiveness and justice had the power to overcome oppression and tyranny. There was a liberational aspect; a belief that human freedom and flourishing were intricately connected. This wasn’t freedom understood as unlimited choice, but determined by choosing well for mutual prospering.

In a sense, the dramatic and devastating images Hollywood provides us with when we think of the apocalypse are helpful in that these ancient people believed that a new world was coming and its impact would shake the foundations of the Earth.

The apocalypse, then, was not about the planet’s destruction, but about rescue from the powers that enslaved. By unveiling oppressive systems, society was being called to wake up from its numbness and imagine a different world, working collectively to bring that world into being – a work encapsulated by loving your neighbour.

History reveals that when the Church climbed into the Empire’s bed, the lust for Power corrupts this Rule. But beyond the structures and systems of institutions, there are still apocalyptic people who believe that radical change is possible. 

Unveiling the Corruption

Brexit, the Coronavirus, the climate emergency – this Government has unveiled itself as unwilling and incapable of taking the decisions required to enable the UK to thrive.

Short-sighted, reacting only when the situation is already out of control, it blunders and deceives for populist electoral gain. This behaviour will work for some voters, but eventually the destructive power of these storms of incompetence may leave the Government capsized as events overtake it.

But the challenges facing the world are beyond the whims and desires of one government. Community cohesion will be vital, working together to support the most vulnerable – alongside an apocalyptic approach to creating societies that can navigate our way through the coming tempest.

Reverend Joe Haward is a community and business chaplain


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