Weight Watchers Meets the Book of Revelation—and Denis Dutton

In the New York Times today, philosopher Denis Dutton meditates on our cultural fondness for the apocalyptic:

We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the “twinkling of an eye” — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. . . . Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment.

While I agree with Dutton about eschatology, I would also ask: where does eschatology come from?

My answer: religious psychology.

In other words, when I read Dutton’s passing gloss on modernity’s “wasteful comforts” I hear the voice of John Calvin, and I think, not just of the collective sense that the capitalist system has something coming to it, but that we, individually—by our narcissistic participation in the system—have something coming to us. Our collective fascination with (and barely concealed desire for) apocalypse is the product of guilt that has gone unpunished. Put still differently:

  • The apocalyptic fantasy conceals a wish for our own self-harm as a way to relieve sin.

We terrorize ourselves with Hell Mouth—and the fear of being eaten—-because we ourselves have “eaten” too indulgently, and so our training in religious altruism has met up with our oil and technology generated secular abundance. The result? On the one hand, we have aspects of our culture that display outrage and aggression toward outsiders, unapologetic consumerism, anti-ecological big car driving, overeating, gun ownership, and torture advocacy. On the other hand, we have aspects of our culture that show a masochistic obsession with apocalypse, terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories, and dieting. Apparently, these ridiculous alternations are what happen when people who feel themselves to be both the children of monotheism and secular modernism try to integrate these two contradictory ways of being in the world into some sort of emotional whole.

It ain’t always pretty.

Here’s some inanity exploiting people’s fears (from the History Channel):

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Weight Watchers Meets the Book of Revelation—and Denis Dutton

  1. monarc7 says:

    Concur. That integration is just not reasonable.

  2. christianclarityreview says:

    it isn’t that I don’t understand why you lie about Christ. I do. You can’t help it and you can’t stop.

    It’s that I wonder why the spirit in you lies about John Calvin and makes every effort to confound him with Adam Smith in addition to trying to place moral responsibility on a mere system of thought instead of men who hate Christ. I’m not saying the type of moral responsibility exists as you say exists. But since you say it exists, at least get your targets straight.

    The usual Christ-hating take on life is a lie that goes “if we had a better system, we would not sin as much and wouldn’t be guilty, so trust us to build that system and proclaim everyone guilt free”. Then, you seek to establish as common life homosexuality, abortion, immorality of every stripe that in addition to being a abomination to God, destroys human life while calling for a system that makes you ‘less guilty’ for nonsensical ‘sins’ like failing to be Green or not eating meat or some such nonsense.

    Like so many on the far left, you always want to blame Calvin for the immorality, thievery and cowardly guilt that liberalism is and causes via the lie of human free will. The fact is that what you and all those of the far left seek to call capitalism is not capitalism and never came from John Calvin. Calvin would have hanged or burned those you seek on the one hand to establish as Cults of Personality as leadership for the new immorality and on the other hand blame for being capitalists.

    You guys always want a new system because you can’t be robotic enough in any system in doing the ‘perfect’ behavior. Instead of baldly admitting you are crying over not being able to be a robot and do some ideal model of behavior perfectly to be guilt free, you just try to jump systems once you fail at the ideal behavior in one over another to ditch the guilt by buying into a new ideology/legalism/fatalism that denies the guilt of the old and makes you a hero for a day in your own eyes for ‘changing’. You need lots of systems to jump to because each new one takes less time to be guilty in the more experienced you get. Knowledge is sticky that way. So you are both wondering out loud about going to another ..and hoping one is going to be there for you to give you the next emotional rest.

    The truth that crushes them all is Jesus Christ. And that panics you. It has nothing to do with some grievance based issues you have with real Calvinists. It is that there won’t be a ‘new’ system for you to jump to.

    One would think you would just man up and attack Christ directly in public and out loud rather than trying to call Christianity a code word like Calvinism and Capitalism and take side swipes. Why the charade? You hate Christ, you hate Christians, you hate the peace and prosperity and stability that God gives God-fearing people. Why not just call it what it is and stop protecting the very people who are the criminals yet who you want to portray as the underdog fighting the Calvinist ‘mindset’ for the good of some ideal system that makes everyone –like you– not-guilty?

    All you have to do to know that spirit in you is a liar is count the Calvinists involved in the criminal behavior you complain so loudly about. What you will find is that they hate Christ and love the lie of human free will exactly as much as you do and that none –none– were Calvinists. The board at Enron, GM and all of Bush’s and Obama’s ‘economic men’ are your ideological twins.

    By all means, now write a post on saving whales, drying off wet puppies and/or defending the lie of free will in holocaust perpetrators and survivors. Or find a weird haired rapture believer to run for office and portray them as the arch typical Christian out to save the world so you can surreptitiously make fun of the only kind of Christianity that actually deserves derision: false Christianity of the lie of human free will.

    After all, you’re a deep person and other people who are deceived they have free will like you.

    Job 26:4,5 To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee? Dead things are formed from under the waters, and the inhabitants thereof.


    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  3. santitafarella says:


    I was thinking of Calvin in terms of guilt, not as an advocate of capitalism.

    As to your use of the word Christ, I don’t know what you mean. There are so many Christs, you would need to specify which one that you are talking about. There’s the Christ of Matthew, the Christ of Mark, the Christ of Luke, the Christ of Paul, the Christ of the Book of Revelation, the Christ of John’s gospel, the Christ of Liberation Theology, the Christ of history, the Christ of Mormonism, the Christ of Calvin, the Christ of Saint Thomas, the American health and wealth gospel Christ, etc.

    All these Christs are very different from one another. It’s hard to know, exactly, who it is that you accuse me of disliking. Personally, I like the Jesus of the gospel of Mark, and I like some of Jesus’s sayings in Luke, and I’m moved by the crucifixion. Does that make me (in your book) a hater of Christ?

    Oh, and I’m a liberal. I thought of myself, for a very brief span of perhaps a year, when I was about 20 and reading a lot of Marxist literature, as someone on the left. I no longer do. I grew out of that phase of my life very quickly. Of course, if you don’t make distinctions concerning the Christ that you mean, I’m not surprised if you don’t make distinctions between liberals and the “far left.”


  4. dpomeroy says:

    Western religion is mixed in with our capitalistic tendecies. I like to refer to Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Written in early 1900’s, a very dry read with some nuggets of truth: good work promotes the self-confidence needed to be listed as one of the “saved”. Wealth is accumulated when ones work is is performed as if it was a “calling”. Therefore, the wealthy must be saved because they do good work. The slovenly and the poor do not do good works-their lifestyle is their punishment. Weber uncovered a paradox: According to the Protestant doctrine, the wealth accumulated via a zealous approach to ones work, could not be used to purchase goods beyond the basic necessities, nor could it be donated to the poor (promotes begging). The wealth was invested. Money begets money. The beginning of capitalism.

  5. santitafarella says:


    I like your tart summing up of Weber’s thesis.


  6. Dave says:

    Weber’s thesis was quite brilliant

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