Beware The Ides of March! A look at prognostications and predictions

March 13, 2012 - 4:12 pm 9 Comments

Beware The Ides!

Looking at Predictions, Prognostications and Warnings!

March 15, 2012

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Beware! Beware! Watch Out! Be Very Afraid!

OK… Everybody, get ready, get set, now panic!  Fill yourself with endless sources of  apprehension, fear, dread, angst, and desperation! Doesn’t feel good to be anxious over so much in our lives? If not, Why worry?

Today is the Ides of March… The one day in the historical calendar considered to be even more fearsome, ominous, and nefarious than Halloween! Or January 2nd, or even tax day, April 15th!

Just when you were getting over your tristedecaphobia, along comes a fearful and loathsome day to be sure- with its only remedy known to the ancients were to cast spells of deliverance, or for the reversal of bad fortune, hexes, and other such dastardly sentences that foretold doom…

But back to the Ides… Why is it considered such a fearful day, one provoking dread, despair and danger? According to Plutarch, the great ancient Roman historian, Julius Caesar was assassinated on this day in 44 BCE.  It was the Roman New Year’s Day,  a time for holding public celebrations since calendar year began in March, with the Spring…

The Ides, in Latin, has a simple definition; It was the day that divided the month in half… And in the irregular calendar of Roman times, that dividing day could be anytime between the 13th to the 15th of any given month. This day of dubious significance was a simple way marker, and a well known passage of time that endured into and past the Renaissance, so we can be safely assured that Shakespeare knew this custom.

In his well known history, Juilus Caesar, often taught to us in high school without much comprehension or understanding, he takes the historical records of Plutarch, and adds his particular brand of genius, and dramatic imagery to the famous lines of prediction and prognostication of the sooth or truth sayer: “Beware the Ides of March!”

Caesar, on his way to the Senate, and then on to public festivals, listened to the insistent cry, but refused to heed this ominous advice. According to Plutarch, however, Caesar originally did take caution, but a friend named Decimus convinced him that he was “above” such nonsense… When out in the streets on that day, Caesar and the soothsayer meet again, and Caesar declares, ” See, the Ides have come!” And the soothsayer replies, ” yes, but they have not past! Then, according to Shakespeare’s rendition, we are horrified by the fact that one of his best and trusted friends becomes the first assassin, and Caesar cries out, ” Et Tu, Brute?” So the Ides are a day of betrayal, revolt, and social upheaval!

When looking sociologically, and politically over the centuries, we can look back in amazement to the importance of mistaken predictions and dire warnings, and how they have been taken seriously- so much so, that they could alter the course of possibilities and outcomes.

As time permits, I would like to hear about your reactions to predictions made by politicians, financial experts, etc.,and how our media will use these oftern sensational conclusions, often out of context, to rile and worry us, creating headlines that highlight the scare of the week!

Then in either a few days or a few years, they completely reverse themselves! It seems abundantly clear, that these warnings are like a casino game… They come true just enough times, usually much less as little as 5% of the time, yet people can react in an uproar about them… You know, like the hurricane prediction center, where the weather experts and climatologists will deliver us ominous warnings every Spring! And even if an earthquake or a hurricane has not happened for thirty, or one hundred and thirty years… You know… We are due! So you had better be fearful, and watch out!

I would like to relate two of the many times I have been asked to “deal with” dire predictions, warnings, and apprehensions that became public knowledge and that have served to increase cultural fears, worries, and anxieties… The first was the “scientific and computer scare of 2000, and the second was all the Biblical predictions of 2000 about how the earth will end and the Rapture and the Second coming will soon arrive! Beware!

Concerning the computer changeovers that were to happen… I can remember the cultural panic where everyone was anxiously told about the

possible computer glitch that could wipe out one’s hard drive or create social havoc with tons of lost information! What to do? Will the scientists and the geeks rescue us in time? You all can remember this one!

With all this concern about whether or not our computers would be YTK compliant, I have to readily admitting to be YTK complacent…

Maybe I trusted in technology too much, maybe since I am so unlike a an knowledgeable engineer in these fields, that I did not know better, but when we approached January 2000, I did not do anything… And when there was this collective sigh of relief over a problem that, in all likelihood, was never all that dramatic, there is a lesson, when confronted by something unsettling- out of your control- do nothing.. Listen! Sit with it, do not react! Gather information reliably… Then decide what you will do!

The second, was in my professional bailiwick… It was all the stress and fuss over the Biblical predictions of the End times… When Revelations comes true… The earth will end, and the pious dead will rise from their graves, and the Rapture will take the faithful to heaven! Beware! Be afraid!

Watch out! Jesus is Coming!

While I was at Penn State, as the interim minister at State College,

I was asked to participate in an interfaith panel that had, as its goal, how

best to respond to the nightmarish, even ghoulish expectations of Revelations, and how to answer questions about the Endtimes that seem to be now upon us! Some faculty and a few of the local clergy gathered for this large public forum on these disturbing questions- questions and anxieties made dramatic and forceful by all the media coverage that poorly trained conservative preachers received and whose stock and trade is alarm, fear, and repentance, all during the last, fateful year of 1999…

Without going into a Biblical exegesis, let me say that there are no dangerous books, only dangerous interpretations… And those who lack a metaphorical understanding of Scripture, those who take a modern literal  approach, seeking a direct answer are the one most prone to alarm, and are the people most likely to proclaim it or spread it to others…

As each of the Christian representatives offered their explanations, even their apologies for mistaken translations, erroneous doctrines, and the like, I found myself looking for a common ground that would give people there more of a sense of rationality, responsibility, and hope.

When it came to my turn, I thank the various clergy and scholars who held forth on complex Biblical and elaborate theological themes, and then I presented how I believe that an informed, responsible Humanism is the best benchmark or the most effective way to address all the unnecessary panic and concern.

Applying our best sources of critical thinking, understanding and insights from physical sciences, sociology, and psychology that emphasize our personal responsibilities for the world we have made, was for me, my best answer, and the one that will provide any degree of worldly rescue or ethical salvation we seek.

And what of today’s spinning theories, predictions, excuses, and dire warnings? From the ominous Mayan calendar coming to its end, to resurrecting the obtuse Nostradamus predictions of famines and wars, to the financial blunders of CNBC, to the ever changing rules about health and nutrition, stress and wellness, what is there that one can safely or securely believe? Is our whole culture immersed in political spin? Or preoccupied in the reading of  economic entrails?

It seems to me that our 24 hour news cycle capitalizes on either outrage or disaster, crisis or fear mongering… And for relief, they give us tabloid morality, while quickly reporting every conflicting story, and feeding us with a steady diet of stress and alarm… In fact, I feel that it can be said that our elevated level of national fear from the events of 9/11 and the constant harping on these devastating pictures and dire warmnings is what made the Iraq fiasco possible!  To me, its no wonder that among the leading prescriptions for Americans, are anti-anxiety drugs…

While I do take the threat of nuclear proliferation seriously, and I do give great credence to global warming, I am finding myself refraining from watching the media, keeping up with headlines, and actively abstaining from too many politcal and economic discussions…

Where I would prefer to place my thoughts and direct my actions are towards some collective or shared actions that support both realism and idealism, truth and hope which I would call a Compassionate Humanism.

While guarding against any Pollyanna escapism, no matter how enticing it might be, and without realistically dismissing the difficulties our culture faces or the challenges inherent in economic renewal, I do find myself constantly asking myself how does the mass media help or harm my awareness or contribute to my personal knowledge and responsible actions? How does the scandalous headlines contribute to any creativity, motivation, hope, or sense of renewal? Maybe we all should fast from the Media , or skip the news for Lent!

What are some of the predictions you have heard about our world, and by listening and believing in them, how has your life changed?

In way ways does doom and gloom affect you? In my book on spirituality and time, Spirit, Time and The Future  by Outskirts press, I take on the Mayan and other predictions about the end of the world, and I emphasize how to live a spirit centered life with courage and hope. Whether you read this or stay infromed from other sources, it is imperative to us not to lose eoither our objective and compassionate perspective or our wiollingness to work for personal change and social transformation. Since we are connected to one another by cultuire and climate, by breath and business, it only makes sense to work of overcoming our fears and work together for a sustaining sanse of hope and living in a sacred world.

Pastoral Reflection: “Prepare for the worst, and expect the best”

One of my favorite end times story relates to a small but devout group called the Millerites. Their belief that the world was going to end when we reached the year 1834; so they gathered up all their members, and climbed a high peak in New York (presumably so they would be closer to God and therefore among the first to be taken in the rapture) and there they waited…

The first day and into the night was filled with anticipation… Wow we are all going to be saved: Glory Halleluia! However, when the dawn of the next day came… and nothing happened… They were increasingly distraught, disillusioned and amazed that their predictions could be wrong! Many people left muttering to themselves… What gives here?  Others, the remaining faithful decided to recalculate, and keep believing… Spinning out another theory, and then another to make sense of what they had said, and to make what they are now saying more plausible and believable…

One of the best pieces of advice, is ultimately a pragmatic one, one that is often recommended, but generally speaking, falls short of common practice: Prepare for the worst, and expect the best!

The practical people in our society really get that first part, and we are thankful for their stability, reserve, and ability to build a secure future. The Idealists among us really get the second part- to keep oneself open, willing, and expectant of all the possibilities our lives can hold… The trick as they say, is to be practical and open to change, to be spiritual and realistic, to be relaxed and responsible… The healthy prescription of balance seems to be the necessary strategy to keep fears at bay, and responsible potentials more available to us all!

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