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Millenial Myths and Modern Messiahs
by Carter Phipps

Journal Entry - July 30, 2004
I have often asked myself what it would have been like to live in the time of Jesus, to be a monk in the time of the Buddha, or to live in Greece in the company of Socrates. No longer. After the earth-shattering events of today, people in the future may very well be asking what it was like to live on this planet in the year 2004.

The day started like any other. I was at the office early, working on some reports for the week. But there was a heavy feeling in the air. The news was bad. Pakistan seemed to be teetering on the edge of chaos and the Middle East on the brink of war. The recent attacks in L.A. were still on everyone's mind, and the talk in the office was of little else.

Around six, I left work. It was a warm evening, and as is my habit, I decided to walk the twenty blocks home. I usually pass through Times Square on my way, and tonight it didn't take but a glance down the street to see that something strange was happening on Broadway. Even from several hundred yards away, the scene was bizarre. Traffic was stopped, taxis were parked in the middle of the street, and everyone was standing still, as if someone had hit the pause button during a crowd scene. As I approached, the gathering, maybe several thousand strong, seemed unusually quiet. New Yorkers are never this quiet, I remember thinking—not on their own, not in public, and certainly not in Times Square on a summer evening. There was a strange intensity in the air, and everyone was looking up at something I couldn't see—probably one of those new giant television screens hanging above the street. Had something happened? For a moment, frightening images burst into my mind—another chemical attack on an American city, exploding nuclear weapons in South Asia. I rushed around the corner and as I did, a voice pierced the quiet night—a voice that seemed to be speaking directly to me.

Startled, I looked to see who was addressing me, but even as I did, it began to dawn on me that the voice was not coming from outside, but from inside my own head! "What the hell?" I exclaimed, and I must have said it louder than I thought because a couple of people a few feet away turned and caught my eye. Saying nothing, they just put out their hands and pointed upward, at the television screen, the focus of everyone's rapt attention. The scene on the screen looked simple enough, a news conference from London. A dark-haired man, dressed in a flowing white robe, was gazing beatifically into the camera. And as far as I could tell, he was not saying a word. Then it hit me. The words I was hearing in my mind were coming from the man on the screen. "Oh my God!" another exclamation slipped out of my mouth. But I felt no fear, only a growing sense of amazement.

"Yes! Yes! I understand," a woman next to me cried out, falling to her knees in response to some unseen inner dialogue. I recognized that my experience was being shared by what must have been almost ten thousand people at that point, stopped in the street, all hearing the inner words of the figure on the screen. In perfect English, he addressed us, a clear and compelling voice that spoke of the spiritual crisis now facing humanity. He explained that the time has come to change the course of human destiny. Forever. A wave of peace and bliss welled up within me as he boldly declared, "I am the One, the one who so many religions have waited for: the Jewish Messiah, the Christian Christ, the Kalki Avatar, the Maitreya Buddha, the prophesied Mahdi of Islam. I have come for all of your sake, to bring hope and salvation. I have come to establish a true and lasting brother- and sisterhood among all of the races and peoples of the world. Together we are going to build a new civilization based on the principle of love."

Something cracked inside. I began sobbing uncontrollably. The hard inner shell born of years of frustration and despair seemed to dissolve, melting away in the warm summer evening. I knew, without any doubt, that the man speaking these words inside my own soul was the holiest of men. Awestruck, I stood there for what seemed like an eternity.

Then the voice became quiet and the scene on the television changed. CNN started showing images from around the world—hundreds of thousands of joyous people celebrating, singing, and dancing in the streets; crowds praying in mosques, churches, and temples. Everywhere, it seemed, people had heard His message. The entire world, from the tip of Africa to the coast of California to the edge of Siberia, had heard this new Christ, this divine messenger, and everywhere you could feel the ecstatic release. As for myself, standing there with thousands of stunned New Yorkers on a summer night in one of the great bastions of our modern material civilization, I knew that humankind was finally unified as one—one world civilization, changed forever. He has come—and from now until eternity, nothing will ever be the same.

The scenario described above might sound implausible, even ridiculous, to the modern ear, and who would argue otherwise? The Second Coming? The Messiah? Isn't that strictly the arena of late-night televangelists and New Agers who have spent too much time in the California sun? After all, now that we have passed the millennium with our computers still functioning, our oceans still within their relative boundaries, our nuclear weapons still in their silos, all rogue asteroids still keeping a safe distance, and the prophesied Four Horsemen still absent from yonder sky, you might think that those voices telling us that the end of the world is near, that a new age is dawning, that an apocalypse is brewing, or, in this case, that a messiah is coming would be muted. But you would be decidedly wrong. In fact, as we enter a new millennium, the sheer number of individuals insisting, warning, hoping, and even praying that the trajectory of human destiny is about to undergo some serious alterations is unprecedented. And before you dismiss these cultural Jeremiahs and go back to the morning paper, it might be good to take a closer look . . . at the morning paper. Iraq, Israel, SARS, genetics, India/Pakistan, 9/11, nanotechnology, nuclear missiles, North Korea, global warming, cloning, famine, AIDS. The list of radical breakthroughs, dangerous flash points, and volatile issues on the human horizon is long, and getting longer. Indeed, it seems safe to say—and many of the individuals interviewed in this issue would concur—that we are living in a unique time in our species' development, a time of transition, a time of convergence, a time of culmination. But just how unique is it? After all, transition is one thing, but apocalypse? A new age? The Second Coming? Who would go that far? Well, millions and millions of Americans for a start. Indeed, if you ask the average American where human history is ultimately headed, forty percent are going to tell you that we are destined, sooner or later, for Armageddon, the final Biblical battle between good and evil, often seen as a prelude to the Second Coming of Christ. If you don't believe that statistic, keep in mind that the Left Behind series, which novelize the events foretold in Biblical prophecy with a cheerfully apocalyptic perspective, have sold over fifty-five million copies to date. And it's good to remember that this isn't just an American phenomenon. For that matter, it's not even a Christian phenomenon. Almost every major religion has some version of events that signal the coming of a great messianic figure who will rescue the world from darkness and usher in a new age of light and peace. Hindus speak of the next great avatar, the Kalki Avatar; Muslims foretell the coming of the Imam Mahdi; Christians, the Second Coming of Christ; Jews, the coming of the Messiah; and Buddhists, the future Buddha, Maitreya. Each does have its own particular emphasis, its own version of the events that will herald the coming world teacher, but the similarities among them are nevertheless quite striking, especially given that these traditions weren't exactly developed in a time of global internet collaboration. And that's not to mention the similar notions in Zoroastrianism, countless references in New Age literature, centuries of esoteric and occult traditions prophesying a world teacher—the list goes on and on. And let's be clear—these myths, these prophecies, are much more than superficial stories sprinkled on top of religious theology, a little sugar and spice to go with the main course. They are fundamental components of their respective traditions.

So what really is going on here? Is there a messianic figure waiting in the wings of the new millennium? Should we give any credence at all to this often dismissed yet near universal theme in the great religious traditions? Is this how God plans to handle the challenge of the twenty-first century? With a personal messenger who can set right the troubled ship of our global state? A divine proxy battling for the salvation of the world? If so, then when and where might this messianic savior arrive on our planet? And the most intriguing question of all may be: What if he or she were already here? For this issue of What Is Enlightenment? we were curious to look a little deeper into the messianic myths of humanity and discover what, if anything, they might have to do with spirituality in the twenty-first century. Given the volatile nature of this moment in history, it seems important—indeed, absolutely essential—to stand back and take a look at our spiritual legacy, just in case, in our collective rush toward the future, we might be missing the fact that God has already stacked the deck.

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This article is from
Our Future Issue