James Hughes on Apocalypticism and Millennialism
14 April 2008 (updated 10 December 2023)
I just came across an excellent article written by James Hughes, who is a director of the World Transhumanist Association. The article is entitled “Millennial Tendencies in Responses to Apocalyptic Threats”. Here is the abstract:
Popular discussion of utopian possibilities and apocalyptic risks from new technologies is sometimes dismissed as ungrounded millennial hysteria. In this essay I reflect on the various types of historic, pancultural millennialism. I then suggest how contemporary forms of secular techno-utopian and techno-apocalyptic discourse reflect these millennialist types and their characteristic biases to over- or under-estimate catastrophic risks, and adopt fatalistic or inappropriate stances toward risk reduction. Then I suggest that awareness of these characteristic millennialist cognitive biases help us separate grounded assessments of catastrophic risks from their attendant psycho-cultural baggage. By carefully parsing our hopes and fears about the future from the characteristic dysfunctions of millennialism we can tap millennialism’s energy without being led astray by it.
In the end, Hughes concludes that there is motivational value in our millennial traditions, so long as we conscientiously work to avoid some common risks: utopian optimism, apocalyptic pessimism, fatalist passivity, and exclusive messianism. I’ll put these into Mormon terms.
Some of us anticipate a millennium of wondrous opportunity without adequate consideration of risks. We should remember scriptural warnings that the millennium will not be the end of evil, nor will it be the end of the work of God.
Although this perspective is not common among Mormons, there are some who have been influenced by mainstream Christian perspectives and do not associate heaven with Earth. We should remember prophetic teachings that Earth should become heaven.
Too many of us are tempted to think that the negative prophecies associated with the advent or closing of the millennium are inevitable. There is scriptural precedent for considering such prophecies to be warnings, intended to encourage us to work against negative futures.
When we think of the factors that will bring about a millennial world, we should not forget that we (both Mormons and beyond) are called to take on the identity of Christ and act, according to the scriptures, as saviours on Mount Zion toward our mutual salvation.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “Messianic Postures Toward Artificial Intelligence.”