The Millenium is an American Dream
Does the millennium mean "the end of time"? Is the apocalypse the end of the world? "No," says Lois P. Zamora in her book The Apocalyptic Vision in America (Bowling Green University Press). "Apocalypse is a revelation of spiritual realities in the future." The very nature of American thought and culture has always pointed to a future envisioned as a "Promised Land."
America founded itself upon millennial hopes--a terrestrial paradise of religious, political and economic freedoms. The inherent potential of this New World assured release from the bondage of Old World dogmas: no past, only future. Hopes for a coming Messianic Age also reinforced the American outlook--a time of endless possibilities. This orientation to the future, stamped with an almost innocent optimism, attracted the less fortunate, but hopeful.
Crises arose--war, social struggles, rampant disease--that cast doubts on the future of the American dream. Disasters ultimately proved, however, to be times of renewal and re-creation. The Civil War brought forth a nation newly equipped with industrial might and a pioneering spirit. The millennial hope was reborn in the purged Promised Land. World War II became an American crusade to supplant evil with the inherent spirit of the New World. Evangelists preached that Americas "virtues would go forth to redeem the rest of the world."
Popular art also reflects belief in humanity's ultimate transcendence. The Western movie, for an instance of American myth, shows in simplified terms that evil is unredeemable, but will be destroyed even when good is fighting overwhelming odds.
Nowhere in American millenialism is there any sense of God stepping in to save us from our worldly selves. While only a moral person will have a place in the new world, nevertheless salvation is something Americans as a people have to do for themselves. Out of our striving will come peace on earth. The modern dark fear is that we are sinking in the face of growing population, pollution, and impending famine. But the fundamental faith remains that there exists something beyond our present condition and humanity is striving in the correct, if not steady, direction.
It is the American character to intelligently use the means we have available to address the world's ills. We have problems and we will solve them : crises spur us to growth. Our eye cannot be on any forthcoming disaster, but rather on the new world to follow.
(Digest by Myron Gantt, Atlantic University.)