Nov. 12-14. The Underworld, Prophecy, and Mass Destruction.

This week we read and heard a series of ideas and arguments  about the myths of the underworld and their relation to terms of the sacred: miracles, prophecy, hope, and peace.  In our discussions, we sought to understand how in American Millenialism oftentimes these myths are correlated with reptile people, mass destruction, war, atomic energy machinery, and last judgements.  On Tuesday we discussed Barkun’s exploration of these myths.  On Thursday, we mobilized a comparative analysis of Gordon Melton’s view of American Millenialism and  Coltri’s response to this view, and dig deeper on the nexus of miracles and machunes established by Derrida and Naas.

By Monday at noon, please post your reflection about ONE of these myths keeps reoccurring today, and how it has changed, faded, or escalated.

Join the Conversation


  1. The myths of the underground “King of the World” stood out to me. The reason is that its similarities to Christian beliefs about the end times and Jesus’ second coming were very strong. An underground king who is “spiritually advanced” and “would lead the all the good people against the bad…”, as was written by Ferdinand Ossendowski, sounds like the prophecy of Jesus visiting and earth and saving Christian followers and the final battle between the forces of heaven and Satan. What I find interesting about this myth is that Ossendowski appeared to have heard these stories and sources from the Mongol and Tibetan princes and spiritual figures. The fact that such stories from completely opposite cultures and hemispheres bear such similarities hints at the idea that there different cultural myths can potentially originate from the same origin and are just different versions of that origin. However, I am also aware that Ossendowski could have made these stories up and decided to draw from Christian ideas and beliefs to tell them. If that is the case, then that speaks to how non-religiously branded myths and ideas can be influenced by religiously branded ones.

  2. Naas’ “Prologue” to Miracle and Machine by Jacques Derrida fascinates me because it challenges the audience’s perception by using the analogy (or some can argue example) of baseball. From the reading I understood the sport of baseball to be a religion and the loyal baseball fans to be an underground following of the belief — equating them to the underworld. Loyal baseball fans see the game as sacred. Like a religion, the fans have faith that their team will win the game. Whether or not their team wins affects if they are at peace or not with the end result. I understood Nass’ intended message was to make the concept of the underworld more relatable. Rather than seeing believers of the underworld as silly or unreasonable, we can look at them the way we look at extreme baseball fans or religious followers — as having hope.
    In this analogy, Naas notes that October 2, 1951, was prophecized as doomsday. While the world did not end, the following day, the New York Giants “unbelievably” won over the Brooklyn Dodgers. While some saw this as a coincidence, others deemed it to be a miracle. One can even argue that it was a prophecy that came to fruition. For fans of the Dodgers, this loss was the end of the world for them — their doomsday. Again, while this comparison may seem silly, it illustrates the complexities of sacredness and faith — proving that religion does not always align with logic.

  3. Our understanding of myths have been deepened with this week’s readings. Barkun connects conspiracies to millennialism . The increasing power of conspiracy will make those who believe in them view them as the hope of salvation in our society, and this idea in evident in millennialism. In Melton’s podcast Prophecy and American Millennialism , the idea of changing dynamic of millennialism is brought up (from premillennialism to postmillennialism), and Melton states that prophecies will continue to fail as population grows, but to those who believe in them, they will continue to hold its truth. In Coltri’s response to Melton’s Prophecy and American Millennialism, Coltri brings up the argument that millenarian movements are derived from religious, economic, and racial factors that put them in a marginalized place, whether catastrophic or progressive. They are excited about the new era because of the failures and violence. In Prologue to Miracle and Machine by Jacques Derrida, Naas has brought up an interesting perspective on miracles and mass destruction in relation to DeLillo’s Underworld and baseball. Miracles can happen on the baseball field, and baseball as a national sport perhaps can be the “engine of the apocalypse.”

    The Millennial myth is altered in form with time, and it is kept alive in many different context. I began to understand the origins and power of the myths, and the underworld and systems of beliefs are penetrated in our society in different ways, whether through pre to postmillenialism, as failures to outsiders according to Melton, or as day to day activities like baseball that portrays miracles and mass destruction. It is a truly malleable yet perplex concept to grasp upon.

  4. As I understood it, Naas was attempting to demonstrate that mythic themes and concepts, such as an apocalypse or prophecy, can and do occur in our lives, just in more civil forms. He made the comparison with a famous baseball game between the Dodgers and the Giants, comparing an upset in the game to the apocalypse, in the sense of a Day of Judgment. An apocalypse for fans of baseball where a massive event in baseball history caused an uproar and was very impactful on baseball history. In this parable, a prophet could be a sportscaster predicting the outcome of a game. While I think this may trivialize the concept of an apocalypse, I do this that this same principle continues today. One particularly apparent example is the United States political system (and other political systems across the world). Many people not only believe that there are shadowy forces (New World Order?) control politics, but for many people, the election of our current president was similar to an apocalypse of the sort Naas was describing. There are many forms that a mundane apocalypse can take, I think it depends on the individual or the group, but they can happen similarly to how Naas framed his baseball example.

  5. Naas’s take on the myth of apocalypse and the underworld is quite interesting to me, albeit not my favorite argument. His argument centers around the idea that the prediction of apocalyptic events happening shouldn’t be entirely discounted on the grounds of being an extreme form of thought. This is because, while the earth may not completely come to an end or combust in an inferno, miracles and events of an apocalyptic level still occur. Naas is clear that in response to ideas of apocalypse, “while it is tempting to read this passage today with a smile as yet another example of a mistaken or false prophecy, as one that simply never came to pass as predicted, I would like to suggest that we not be so quick to dismiss it in this way” (14). He explains that a man named Carson McCullers predicted that a day of Judgement would occur on October 2, 1951 and the following day, a judgement-like event occurred when the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a freak baseball occurrence which signaled some form of miraculous judgement. Although I am not particularly fond of this specific baseball analogy that Naas uses, his ultimate point is that there is some merit to apocalyptic predictions in that miracles and judgements can happen every day even in the most secular of ways. For example, baseball is a religion in Naas’s example and the miracle hit taken by Bobby Thompson was the moment of judgement that triggered a miracle of an apocalyptic manner for the faithful followers of both teams. Naas even goes so far as to equate four celebrities at the game with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. For Naas, even the mundane things like baseball can hold apocalyptic meaning, therefore the predictions of the “judgment day” should not be discounted or scoffed at which I agree with to some degree. Though I personally don’t resonate with baseball, this concept of miraculous and even apocalyptic events can be applied to many scenarios based off of personal experience which is often shaped by social groups and interactions.

  6. After our discussion of American Millenialism, I was struck specifically by the principles this overarching idea and myth is based upon. Coltri’s discussion regarding social movements and their genesis folds in nicely with Melton’s perspective. Both of these points are based upon the same myth and idea surrounding millennialism. Coltri states that social movements and social phenomenon are ultimately what form religious groups. When big social movements occur, the beliefs can be internalized to such an extreme that they become a religious group. Additionally he posits the idea that historical, economic, social factors influence original social gatherings that turned into movements. Groups internalize beliefs until the point that it goes from extreme beliefs to religion. Melton elucidates upon this idea by claiming that the prophecies that these groups are founded upon can never truly fail to those that endorse them. Additionally, what most people view as normal people who believe in the prophecy will believe it to be a sign of the prophecy. This confirmation bias ensures that millennialism will never truly fail. People simply change their expectations surrounding the prophecy. Millenialism centers around a belief in New World Order which is conducive to certain ideas and prophecies. The success of this myth and its longevity depends directly on the prophecies that it propagates.

  7. One reading we did this past week that I thought was extremely thought provoking was the Coltri reading. I found it particularly interesting when it discussed the ways in which millenarian religions are often formed. The article states that “what happens in various millenarian movements is directly connected to the economic, religious, sexual and racial power which puts their adherents in a marginal position in relation to the dominant society.” I think I found this particularly interesting because it seems to describe how any community is formed in the first place – people find things they share a common passion for whether it be an economic similarity, shared sexual beliefs, or racial or cultural experiences, and form a community of support for and commonality with one another. But what made the millenarian religions interesting to me was that their shared beliefs work outside of traditional religious practices but still call their communities religion rather than a society or fellowship. I also thought it was interesting that these groups and religious formations point out common trends in human nature. I feel as though these communities often form because humans need and want to be a part of a community with whom they share beliefs with. There is always something special about having people who share an experience or belief as you and being able to find in them some support and encouragement. The article also talked about how many people turn to supernatural events or powers to help bring salvation to human kind, saving them from the evils of our world. I thought that this also was an interesting thing to reveal about people and how and why they often join religious communities in the first place, both conventional and unconventional. In this context, the myth of the underworld was created in that the community needed it to be a place and a concept that led to eternal happiness, that they may have peace of mind in the fact that they may be saved from the world’s evils. I think this is often my experience with people of the Christian church, the community in which I grew up in. Many Christians speak of their faith as based around the fact that they are saved by God, this supernatural being, so that we may be lifted out of the evils that the world presents. I thought it interesting that people who form the modern, millenerian religious communities are still seeking this very same thing, just in different sacred spaces.

  8. While listening to Melton’s podcast appearance, the idea that a prophecy never truly fails to those who believe in it struck a chord with me. It is easy for me to look at end of the world prophecies and to quickly dismiss them as ridiculous, especially given that the world has yet to end. In Melton’s words, “prophecies always fail.” However, according to Melton, the myth of those prophecies remains very real to believers. When a predicted date passes without mass destruction, they either claim they misinterpreted a detail – eg. the date- or reinterpret the prophecy in some sort of other destructive “invisible terms.” Perhaps, as seen in the Naas reading, the end of the world actually was seen in a spectacular baseball hit, or the testing of a bomb. Therefore, these prophecies will continuously be made as the population booms and news becomes more widespread. People could theoretically realize a prophecy through any number of tragedies that arise every day. So, in that sense, these myths are inevitably going to expand. American millennialism may then be characterized as an ever-expanding concept and myths of mass destruction will increasingly become more real to the world’s growing population.

  9. This week I was particularly interested in Coltri’s argument about myth and prophecy. I found Coltri’s response to Melton’s argument to be important to our understanding about how culture informs religion. Coltri makes the argument that social movements create religious groups– that when people buy into a social movement so deeply it transforms into a religious group. When large social movements occur, and people deeply internalize the beliefs instilled through these movements, they adopt these beliefs as a new religion. I found Melton’s arguments to be deeply interconnected. Melton makes the argument that to the people who create their own new prophecies, to them they are successful. I think this speaks to Coltri’s argument as well– that while social movements may be polarizing and divisive, the prophecy created from these movements is seen as extremely successful by those who partake in it. Even if in reality these social movements or religious groups have failed, those who endorsed them will always see them as being successful and legitimate. So while Melton argues that Millennials may be failing with their new prophecies, they have not really failed in their entirety because there are people who put their faith and belief into those ideals. The New World Order has informed the way that millennial’s think about their beliefs. The success of prophecies and myths depends entirely on their ability to be endorsed by the current generation, and if they are endorsed then they will be seen as successful. I think Melton and Coltri’s claims create a bigger argument: it is entirely possible for myths to devolve into real belief if communities endorse them, no matter how much factual basis or reality is founded on these beliefs.

  10. I did not listen to Coltri’s podcast, but the discussions had in class about his ideas, gave me a new perspective to look at underworld from. Coltri came up with his argument because a prophecy was made that judgment day would happen on a certain date (baseball game date) and paranormal occurrences in the baseball game drew him to the conclusion that the prophecy came true and that humanity has entered the judgment days. Although many do not notice, small but abnormal events happen, and these events serve to indicate that we indeed are in the judgment days. This was interesting to me because normally, as a Christian, I link judgment day to a specific day in which God would judge mankind after which the earth will be destroyed. My upbringing in Christianity seems to have limited my views on certain things such as judgment day and now as I write, I wonder how other religions and non-religious people interpret judgment day. Back to Coltri’s argument, I will not dismiss the idea that judgment day is currently happening. Melton discusses though that prophecies do not happen, and this would discredit the ideas of Melton and my Christian beliefs, but, just because things do not come true presently, does not mean they will not in the future. I also believe that humans need a place to put their hope and so regardless of whether prophecies occur or not, prophecies such as that of Coltri will persist and will be escalated in in American millennialism.

  11. I was assigned to complete the Coltri reading, but through our discussion in class, I found the Naas reading to be the most exciting to me. Naas argues that myths, especially those regarding apocalypse, are far more mundane than we have come to expect. The idea of an apocalypse today is generally thought of as an event of mass catastrophe or destruction which will ultimately lead to a new world order. This type of apocalypse is the type imagined by the millenarian movements in Coltri. These movements believe that there is some problem in the world which they need to escape from through some type of supernatural guide towards salvation. Naas argues that the concept of an apocalypse is far more secular. He says that something that catalyzes a large change, positive or negative, can be deemed an apocalypse. He gives the example of a baseball game that became massively famous for its winning home run. This game resulted in a change in how people viewed baseball and viewed the teams involved; it sparked a cultural shift, making it, in Naas’ view, an apocalypse. I am not sure I agree with Naas’ argument that an apocalypse can be more mundane. I think that the term apocalypse is far too extreme to describe a cultural change. An apocalypse signifies a disaster on a massive scale; something that destroys civilization, resulting in a completely new world. While something such as a famous baseball game will change culture, it will not have the same gravity to it that a true apocalypse would.

  12. On Tuesday, we discussed Barkun’s reading and his views on millennialism. The power of the New World Order is a major part of these religions. Many of these groups see the world as dissatisfactory and that divine intervention will change everything. Some groups even have millennium based prophecies; they believe the world will end at the turn of the millennium.
    Thursday, we discussed Melton’s podcast on prophecy. Prophecy is guaranteed to happen for those who believe in it, but outside perspectives don’t see this. People are looking for signs and omens, and have a confirmation bias. Those who believe these prophecies feed off of the attention and fear the myths receive.
    I feel like the doomsday myths have been dying down. Groups like the Illuminati have become comical, and their original group meaning has been lost. There are very few, if any, “popular” groups that push the idea of divine intervention/doomsday. Events like Y2K show how attention/focused belief can reign havoc. People believed the world would end, and the more attention the idea got, the scarier it became for people. So many of these groups feed off of attention, and the lack of attention in recent years has caused them to fade into the background.

  13. I found Melton’s commentary on Millenialism particularly salient within my own experiences with religion. Essentially, Melton posits that prophecy will occur for those that believe in it. My parents, who are religious, often see prophecy being fulfilled in the current events in the news and the local community. For instance, to them climate change is considered a for sure sign that the catastrophic weather events in Revelation are being fulfilled. For most, these events are a sign that we should change our current emissions and lifestyles habits.

Leave a comment