MAKATI CITY (3 June) – Exactly eight years ago, while waiting for half a dozen professors constituting the defense panel to finish reading the last draft of my dissertation, I had embarked on the translation into English of a Persian book on the mystical subtleties of supplication (du’a’).
For two straight days, however, I had to set aside the Persian treatise and a couple of Persian-English dictionaries so as to meet the deadline for the submission of full paper for an annual international conference on Mahdism or Messianism.
I wrote a paper on the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem in Islamic Messianism, which I had sent on the last hour via email to the conference secretariat.
As in previous years, this international assembly which was held at OIC Summit Conference Hall in the northern part of Tehran was expectedly flocked by participants of diverse religious affiliations—Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians of various sects and denominations, and of course, Muslims belonging to different madhahib (schools of thought).
Twenty years ago, while we were sitting in front of a college in MSU-Main Campus, a Seventh-Day Adventist friend of mine from Bukidnon told me, “Everything can serve any purpose. You see, if I position this horizontally (referring to a blue ballpen he was holding), it serves as a bridge, but if I put it this way (that is, vertically), it becomes a wall.”
Accordingly, ‘horizontal’ God is He who is viewed as the Creator and Lord of the universe and all mankind. This Supreme Being becomes ‘vertical’ when He is thought to have certain few ‘favorites’ at the expense of a ‘damned’ majority.
Religions also function as a bridge if the common elements among them such as spirituality, moral principles and a notion of Judgment Day are more emphasized. This function was illustrated by la convivencia (‘coexistence’ or ‘living together’) put into practice in Toledo in particular during the Moorish rule of Spain. As a microcosm of the atmosphere of religious tolerance then prevalent in the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims were working together in the city’s libraries, translating books from Arabic into Castilian Spanish and then into Latin.
On the contrary, there is no more need of embellishing this column with accounts of religions in ‘vertical’ position as human history is drenched enough with innocent blood spilled in their name.
Eschatology is no exception to this horizontal-vertical binary.
Etymologically derived from the Latin eschatos (‘last’ or ‘farthest’), eschatology refers to the branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or the ultimate destiny of mankind. One of its important subjects is the idea of a ‘savior’ to come at the end of time. This awaited savior is known by various names and titles—Saoshyant, Messiah, Christ (in his Second Coming), and Mahdi, among many others.
Neither is Filipino folklore devoid of it. Legend tells us that Bernardo Carpio who is confined in a cave in Mt. Tapusi in Montalban Mountains (or Mt. San Mateo in Rizal) or trapped within two clashing mountains for a long time will one day come out to redeem the Philippines. (Apo Ferdie, as I was told by a Marcos loyalist when I was 12 during the 1985 Snap Election, was the personification of Bernardo! Remember the catchphrase, “This nation can be great again!”)
Sociologically, human society in whatever appearance it takes—race, nation, class or religious order—upholds this concept. As argued by Dr. ‘Ali Shari‘ati, a contemporary Iranian sociologist and historian, all known communities, without exception, display two common characteristics. First, every community holds that in the distant past it had a ‘golden age’ during which there was justice, peace, tranquility, and love, and that this golden age came to an end at some point in time and was followed by corruption, darkness and injustice. Secondly, they believe in a great and liberating upheaval in the future and a return to the golden age—the age of victory of justice, equality and brotherhood.
These beliefs obviously serve as a bridge as they give a sense of hope, determination and common universal vision and purpose for all peoples of diverse cultural currents and religious persuasions.
This is the ‘horizontal’ side of the story.
Its ‘vertical’ side is now spectacularly moving toward its catastrophic climax as suggested by the carnage of civilians perpetrated daily by ‘Islamist puritans’ in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, certain messianic extremists in Iraq are reportedly as zealous in resisting foreign occupiers as in engaging in intra- and inter-sectarian frenzy of reprisals, executions and vandalism.
Meanwhile, televangelists and other ‘new armies of God’ are passionate enough in freeing the genie of apocalyptic prophecies (e.g. Daniel 9, Ezekiel 38, Revelation 16:14-16) out of the bottle and wish for their governments to unleash trigger-happy dogs of war in the Middle East, thereby heralding the ‘coming of the Lord’.
An equally smart version of ‘vertical’ eschatology is the espousal of God’s alleged consignment of a piece of land to His selected ‘darlings’ to the detriment of the ‘outcasts’ and ‘bastards’.
In this critical moment when eschatology is extensively fielded via satellite and in the cyberspace as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), a universal campaign to stop its ‘verticalization’ is an indubitable recipe for planetary survival.
The annual worldwide gathering on Messianism/Mahdism is a seminal stride, though a limited one, in a long gradual process of forging a ‘Non-Proliferation Treaty’ specifically covering this more devastating type of WMD.