Apocalyptic prophecies, as well as religion in general, easily garner an eye-roll from most everyone. What we see on the surface is an extravagant threat made to cow non-believers into fear of eternal damnation, or slaughter at the hands of forces above themselves; a desperate attempt to accrue validity to an ideology. Growing up, it was hard for me to understand this subject as little more than it was presented to me, and I was firmly of the belief that these veiled threats were meant only to be ignored. With adolescence came my insatiable desire to understand everything from an unbiased perspective, and this extended to religious thought. Now, as I enter young adulthood, I feel that religion was never meant to create a description of the end-times as much as outline the general flow of events that is decay.
The Norsemen believed that the end would be heralded by a magnificent battle against forces of chaos destined to replace order and morality. When we take a look at the world today, it’s hard to tell them that they’re wrong. Any sense of order or values is immediately regarded with suspicion by the majority populace. Still, people desire to visually and ideologically appeal to others as unique, and so they seek to adorn themselves with personal symbols that simultaneously do not insult our desire to not apply standards to anyone around us. Culture is appealing to these people, because the idea of being unique by being born into a culture creates a relatively easy method of standing out from the crowd. What this creates is a purely aesthetic understanding of culture.
In the past, culture was a conduit for tradition, which encompassed the goals and values of a people. Over time this tradition became engrained in the cultural aspects of a people, and so people born into that culture would be raised to interpret the world through their lens of tradition. The various religious and civil duties of a people would be designed to accomplish the goals defined by a tradition, and eventually the people would work towards accomplishing these merely by participating within the shared culture of their people.
Tradition insults people. It creates a standard by defining a course of action, and this is because those who are unable to follow that course of action are discarded or ignored. Obviously this can become a problem in a society that values diversity, as people who interpret the world through their tradition are inevitably going to hold the people they meet to the standards set by their traditions. This creates a tension between multiple cultures when one culture that does not understand the standards of another is brought under the scrutiny of them. When we defined the modern world as a multi-cultural world, we beset ourselves with the responsibility of creating a solution to this tension. The solution was reducing cultural values to a purely verbal or visual level.
When one thinks of Asian culture today, they think of Asian cuisine, like those eggrolls found in the frozen food aisle. They think of robed people with long hair and paper dragons dancing through the streets. They think of music played on Asian instruments, although not necessarily Asian in theme and purpose. If one is to become Asian, all they have to do is adopt these aspects – even if they only do so for a month or so. People decide to adopt the visual aspects of varying cultures as they appeal to them, or how they relate to their lives at that particular moment. There is no devotion to the traditions and goals of a culture associated with adopting these aspects, and no great amount of effort goes into the adoption process beyond the shopping spree that occurs at the local Earthbound Trading Company. If I can speak Asian, eat Asian food, and dress in the manner of an Asian, then I am Asian; as far as those who analyze culture with a shallow perspective are concerned.
This same surface-level adoption process extends to ideology. For the myriad of obscure problems we feel are facing the human race today, we have an equal amount of obscure solutions. We become so convinced that the world operates on the same single principle that unites the ideologies that we prescribe to that we spend more time promoting our ideology than living in a manner which improves the conditions that affect us. People will choose the ideology they associate themselves with based on how well they can disprove the ideology of others with it, and this belies our inability to understand anything outside of the social context created by our interaction with each other. What sounds witty (able to disprove the ideas of others) or altruistic (helpful to those we do not wish to be in the position of) all too often trumps simply living in a manner you know is effective and productive.
All of this stems from the same shallow interpretation of the world that reduces culture to a verbal level, and it reduces ideology to this same level. It is what reflects ourselves that we are concerned with, and truly we show little to no concern over the issues we so fervently discuss. I once discussed welfare with an acquaintance of mine for almost two hours before she finally informed me that she was insulting me out of her anger at how inferior she feels in comparison to me, rather than her concern for the issue at hand. We wear our ideas and our culture like clothing we buy at the department store. How meaningful do you find your t-shirt? If you are like most people, it is only something you wear until it doesn’t fit you anymore, after which it is immediately discarded. Is this how we should act towards issues that concern the well-being of our people and our families? What relevance will you proving your opinion correct bear on the proliferation of crime, or corruption?
For those who strongly adhere to their values, life can be truly frightening. Such people are subject to scrutiny from all directions, as their refusal to compromise their standards for the sake of tolerance is a threat to the peace of mind of their fellow citizens. Those who do not agree with these firm individuals will subject them to the same shallow discourse they engage in with others like themselves. They argue only to prove their authority in their own minds, and demonize the intelligent in the process, as intelligence implies an effective course of action which may not always be preferred. The choices of such intelligent individuals can even be perceived as useless in the face of such opposition, creating a sense of despair that so many actually concern themselves with such useless conversation. This assault on the courage of such people is only heightened as they witness the other banal pursuits that their peers elect to spend their time upon: methods of avoiding responsibility, self-gratification, and justification of activities that do nothing to advance the well-being of themselves and their community. With so many people unconcerned about their future, why should we even try?
It’s a harrowing question, but to those who strive to reach higher goals, one thing redeems the slow collapse of order, and that is purpose. Purpose is created when one defines a goal and focuses his actions towards achieving that end. For purpose to exist there must be an obstacle to overcome, and it is here that the Norse myth of the end times, Ragnarok, unveils its beauty.
When chaos surges forth across the world to claim it, it will be successful because of the lack of those with strong enough morale to fight it. But the Norse myths honor those who seek challenge, and thus seek to engage in life directly, and what better challenge than fighting a battle that seems overwhelming? This is a call to all the warriors of the world to fight against this challenge, and to keep the spirit of honoring life and creating meaning within it. It is a gift to those who understand what makes life purposeful to be confronted with these times. Many will feel tempted to become anachronistic, or to romantically pine for a better time, and these people have failed the challenge set before them.
At the end of Ragnarok, a time of understanding and wisdom descends upon the Earth, and the warriors who honored their traditions are hailed by their fathers in Valhalla, the realm of the Gods on high. These warriors are not people who literally praise Odin, although some of those people fit the mold; they are the people who maintain what they know is good, powerful, and meaningful in times when everyone has abandoned these things to recede into themselves. By fighting hard to gain positions of power, and spread their influence to others who feel lost, they have created a desire to build something positive in the wake of collapse that occurs around us. Their lifestyles prove through their results the positive results of their beliefs, and this will inspire generations of the intelligent who wish to find some sort of meaning in the world. This transcendent idea, of crafting an idea that carries itself out through generations, is the realm of the Gods themselves. By helping craft these ideas and beliefs, you are joining the Gods in this realm, and they will surely hail you for giving the fight of your life in the world of men.