Monthly Archives: September 2011

Waiting for Armageddon

I need to come clean before I begin this blog post: I am not a religious person. I have no faith-based core, no feeling of confusion or yearning for my life to be in someone else’s hands, and yet the idea of The Rapture intrigues me.

This weekend I sat down with some tea and cookies and watched Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary following several Evangelical Christians who believe, very seriously, that The Rapture is coming, and coming soon. Different types of Evangelicals were looked at in this documentary: a mother of about six children, a middle-aged couple, and a Pastor, just to name a few. A great deal of this documentary focuses on the site of The Second Coming—Jerusalem—and how so much of the prophecy relies on good relations with Israel so that all of God’s plans can play out just as he wrote them. For those of you who are also just tuning into the Bible (as I am), in order for all of this to work out, a large mosque which currently sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, needs to be demolished so that a Third Temple for God can be built by the Jews. Then there’s a lot of hubbub with the sacrifice of a red angus cow… and I get a little lost on the prophecy. In any event, the documentary picks at the holes in the scripture, highlights the blemishes of these Evangelicals, and brings in experts who testify at the hypocrisy of this group of people and their belief in The Rapture.

Frankly, I’m not here to tell you one way or the other.

I find it fascinating that these people believe in something so deeply, so truly, that they tell themselves that their children will not live to see their high school graduation because the end is near. Sure, this sounds crazy to me—I grew up as a non-practicing Jewish girl in the suburbs of New Jersey. The Evangelical world view is MILES away from what I was brought up with. What I can’t imagine is having to negotiate such a strong view (and one rooted in such old scripture) in a world that changes faster than we can keep track. Waiting for Armageddon feels a little like an exposé, which to me is strange because clearly these people have nothing to hide. They are proud of what they believe in. Their book of life instructions is public and translated into heaps of languages. I just wish I had been better informed on what they believe in.

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

*Watch the trailer on YouTube here and the entire documentary is available on Netflix.

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Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Life

“You work at a Hobby Lobby, Anna,” Will states harshly during the climactic events of A Bright New Boise. Will, the fundamentalist protagonist of Boise—who works with Anna at that same Hobby Lobby—attempts to explain the importance of his Rapture-obsessed beliefs, and continues, “Before that, you worked at Walmart, JC Penney, McDonald’s, Barnes and Noble, and now we both work here.”

Will continues: “Your life is meaningless, my life is meaningless, and the only thing that gives any meaning, that brings any hope to this life is my unshakeable belief that God will come again to replace this disgusting life with something new, and pure, and meaningful.”

My own credentials could not separate me more from Will’s social and intellectual world: I am a far-left theatre artist, East-Coast-raised (with a stint in Europe,) with a degree in Philosophy from Brown University. Naturally, my intellectual combative mind wants to greet such a statement with gleeful opportunism, mentally marshaling History, Literature, and Metaphysics to the defense of my (let’s be honest) smug atheism.

But A Bright New Boise quietly brushes aside such a discussion. The factuality and value of various belief systems seems irrelevant, even crude. The real topic at hand is Belief- any belief. Meaning-any meaning.

Can we fault Will for finding his life meaningless? So utterly meaningless that the only change he can imagine is total, apocalyptic reversal? After all, I personally find beauty and meaning in the smallest corners of my life: a rambling row house I walk by, a perfectly ripe vegetable, a work of theater.

But the lives of Will and Anna make such moments rare. It has been often observed that poverty provokes religious belief; perhaps the 21st century American exurbian brand of poverty encourages even more extreme modes of worship. Car-centric sprawl means that for Will and Anna, there are no row houses, only bland supermarket vegetables, and (gasp!) no theater. Corporatized, globalized systems mean that low-income jobs can only be found for gigantic conglomerates which encourage impersonality. Your face becomes one of thousands, all inseparable. Finding meaning in such a job is practically discouraged; what matters is a base execution of functions, all feeding the broader function of serving shareholders. Big-box retailers, and the paved environments around them, seem directly opposed to human individuality.

As someone who disagrees quite vehemently with Will’s beliefs, I want to greet them with argument. Boise makes me realize: there is a context for Will’s worldview, and a context for my own. I want Will to find the same joy in his day-to-day life that I find in mine; for me, this quotidian transcendence makes religious belief seem entirely unnecessary. But that joy is made possible by certain privileges of upbringing, education, and economics. If, as a society, we want to discourage our citizens from holding fanatic belief systems, we have to give them something in return. If we want Will to find meaning in his life –rather than finding meaning in the possibility of mass death—we have to give him, well, a meaningful life. Urban planning, welfare programs, support for the arts, restrictions on corporate size: we can create a better life for ourselves. God does not need to replace Will’s “disgusting” life. We can replace it ourselves.

~ Doug Eacho, Assistant to the Artistic Director

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History of the End Times

May 21st, 2011 was not the first missed Rapture. It’s not even the first time Harold Camping has been off in predicting the Rapture. Despite the fact that, as it is said in the Book of Mark, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” the history of Christianity is full of predicted Raptures, second comings, ends of the world, and apocalypses.

Just as Y2K caused a great deal of end of the world speculation, the year 1000 was also a time when many believed that the end times were near. Though scholars debate just how widespread apocalyptic fears of the millennium were across Europe, there are documented instances of this belief. When year 1000 came and went, without the world ending, some speculated that Christ would return at the 1000 year anniversary of his Crucifixion in 1033.  Others used numbers and events found in the Book of Revelations as a basis for predicting the end. The “mark of the beast,” the number 666, caused end times fear around the year 1666 for this reason.

One of the most widely believed instances of Rapture date setting used a similar approach, looking to the numerology of the Bible as a basis for predicting the timing of the end times. William Miller, a 19th Century preacher whose teachings lead to the founding of several contemporary Christian denominations, calculated that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. Belief in Miller’s prediction became so popular that when October 23, 1844 arrived without any second coming it became known as “The Great Disappointment.”

Others in the field of Eschatology, the theological study of the end times, have avoided setting dates for specific events, but still have promoted the belief that the end times are near. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the popular Left Behind series, avoid any such calendar marking. Instead their novels outline the events of the end times based on their interpretation of the prophetic sections of the Bible, which they claim make up at least 30% of the Bible’s content. They do however make the case in their non-fiction book, Are We Living in the End Times? that Christians today have more reason to believe the Rapture is near than any previous generation due to the prevalence of precursory signs.

With an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week it’s tempting to believe that the signs are pointing towards something major. One can’t help but wonder what our civilization will face next: overdue super volcanic eruption, collision with a massive asteroid, or maybe the Rapture?

~ Cameron Huppertz, Literary Assistant

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#HaroldCamping

Who here remembers that time a few months ago when all our Twitter feeds were dominated by people discussing the Rapture and what they would do if it was the end of the world? Hashtags such as #Rapture, #iftheworldendsSaturday, and #raptureregrets were all trending and there was even a Twitter handle created @May21Rapture. This all came about because this guy Harold Camping predicted the world was going to end on May 21st. I suspect most of these tweeps didn’t actually believe him, or even know who Harold Camping was, but they sure loved jumping in on the Twitter fun. Let’s take a look at Harold Camping and how this all came about:

Harold Camping is an 89-year-old multimillionaire Christian broadcaster and President of Family Radio, one of the largest Christian radio networks in the world. Although he is self-taught and has no formal religious training, he applies numerology to his interpretations of Bible passages to predict dates for the End Times.

Camping’s End Times prediction was that on May 21, 2011 a massive earthquake would occur and Jesus Christ would return to Earth—the saved souls would fly up to heaven and the rest of us would be left to encounter fire, brimstone, and plagues on earth until the end of the world on October 21, 2011. When May 21st passed without any of these incidences, Camping told media outlets that he was “flabbergasted” that the Rapture did not arrive as predicted. However, he later said that he believed the May 21st date was instead a “spiritual judgment,” and that the physical Rapture would now occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the destruction of the universe by God.

This is not the first time Camping’s predictions have been off. He had previously predicted judgment days on May 21, 1988 and September 7, 1994. When these predictions failed, Camping said he didn’t look close enough at the Book of Jeremiah. For the 2011 predictions, Camping calculated the End Times dates by paying attention to certain numbers that repeat in the Bible along with particular themes. To see how Camping used numerology to calculate these dates, read this Huffington Post article.

The number of Camping’s followers is pretty impressive. The Huffington Post article continues by reporting that in 2009 Family Radio brought in about $18 million in contributions, and there were many publicized stories of followers who gave up their life savings to help Camping preach his message with ads, billboards, t-shirts, public demonstrations, etc. (See photos of Judgment Day marketing here) However, The Washington Post reveals that his six living children, 28 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren think his theories are a sham. Only Shirley, his wife of 68 years, believes him.

Well, it looks like we’ve got about a month until the supposed end of the world, we’ll have to wait and see what the Twitterverse has to say this time around. And as for A Bright New Boise, I can’t tell you if the character Will successfully summons the Rapture or not, but I’m thinking you might want to get your tickets before October 21st…just in case.

~ Brooke Miller, Press and Digital Content Manager

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2012 Election: Politics & Religion

“Hi, my name is Brooke and I have zero involvement in government and politics.” I feel like this is a sign that I need to wear prominently across my chest when meeting someone new in this town. Admittedly, I don’t pay that much attention to politics because the inability to get anything done and the bickering between both parties drives me nuts. But as the election season nears I’ve been finding myself reading more and paying closer attention to the candidates and some of the major news stories surrounding the election.

Religion is already shaping up to be a major factor in this election. Mitt Romney is a Mormon (although only four in 10 Americans polled know that), John Huntsman is a Mormon too but claims he’s not very religious, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann both identify with evangelical Christianity, and Rick Santorum is Catholic. On top of that, even since the 2008 election, 18% of Americans continue to wrongly say that Obama is a Muslim, not Christian.

Speaking of Obama, you might remember the controversy over Reverand Jeremiah Wright that ensued during the 2008 election over inflammatory remarks in his sermons uncovered by news organizations, eventually leading the Obamas to resign their membership from the church.  On the Republican side, Sarah Palin faced her own scrutiny where she had to prove she wasn’t affiliated with a pentecostal church, and John McCain had to reject support from pastor John Hagee after he made inflammatory and anti-Semitic comments.

Moving back to 2012, recently Rick Perry drew some criticism over a prayer summit that he held, sparking charges of associating with an anti-gay rights group and blurring the lines between church and state. Michele Bachmann has faced scrutiny over her former church holding anti-Catholic views, and over her husband’s Christian counseling center that allegedly practices anti-gay “reparative” therapy. And some voters, particularly those who come from an evangelical background may have negative perceptions of Romney’s Mormon faith.

Of particular interest to me here at Woolly is Perry and Bachmann (and also Ron Paul) who are reported to be members of the “Dominionism” movement. This movement is the belief that Christians have the God-given right to rule Earth’s institutions and to take over the “seven mountains of society,” including family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, government, education, and business. In A Bright New Boise the  character Will is a devout believer in evangelical Christianity—he believes that his life is meaningless and spreading God’s message is his only purpose in his life. He spends his time summoning the Rapture as a means of deliverance. I think one of the questions the play tries to ask is how much do you let your beliefs dictate your life and your interactions with those around you?

Now personally, I would vote for a candidate if I believed in their policy decisions and felt they’d be a strong leader regardless of their religion. But I do wonder if there is legitimate cause for concern about these super religious candidates, should we be worried that they won’t be able to keep the separation of church and state? Will they reverse certain policy decisions based on religious beliefs?

In elections there is always the debate over how much people’s decisions are based on policy positions and how much on personal qualities of the candidate. Which causes me to wonder that although there has been a lot of media hype and discussion about these candidates’ religious backgrounds, how much will it really matter? The economy is once again faltering, and it seems as if many people will be voting for a candidate based upon who they think will be best to create jobs. The Washington Post even reports that the decline of Michele Bachmann’s popularity recently can partially be attributed to voters’ lack of faith in her ability to handle the economy.

What do you think? Will religion be a major factor in this election? How much should the religious beliefs of the candidates matter, and do you think that a candidate’s beliefs can affect their ability to be an effective leader?

~ Brooke Miller, Press and Digital Content Manager

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Welcome to A BRIGHT NEW BOISE from Playwright Samuel D. Hunter

Most of the plays I’ve written that have eventually gone on to production started with a first draft, which was then circulated to various directors, literary managers, and developmental organizations, which was then developed through readings and workshops, and finally—usually two or three years after the play’s first draft—it finds a first production.  A Bright New Boise couldn’t have been more different. Less than three months elapsed between when I wrote the play and we went into the first rehearsal. Putting a tremendous amount of faith in me, Partial Comfort Productions in New York commissioned me last May to write the play that would open the following September. The process was wonderful but incredibly intense—most rehearsals would begin with distributing 20 or so new pages I had written the night before.

The Woolly production of Boise is going to be very different. For the first time, I’m going to have the chance to do some super-specific work on the play that I didn’t have the time to do before. We’ll be able to examine every moment, every word in the entire script. If the NY production of Boise was about getting the play into working shape, the Woolly production will be all about fine tuning it, re-exploring it, and hopefully, making it more resonant.

Woolly’s beautiful, big theater is a pretty large shift from the play’s initial venue, an 89-seat theater in the East Village. The play was such an unexpected success last September that Partial Comfort didn’t have the chance to extend much beyond the twenty or so initial performances of the run. Now it finally has a chance to play in a larger theater and reach a wider audience. I’m so anxious to see how the dialogue around the play shifts and deepens with DC audiences, and to explore the parts of the play that we didn’t have time to explore in the New York production.

Today is the first read of the play—I’m really excited to see what the next few weeks will bring, and what Boise will look like when we open in October.

~ Samuel D. Hunter, A Bright New Boise Playwright

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