Ignorance is bliss

My future’s as foggy as San Francisco and I like it that way. But as I rush across campus to my classes every day, I am reminded by the ever-present “Yoshua” that we are mere days away from Judgement Day on Oct. 21. He doesn’t scream or yell — usually — but just stands there peaceably all day to warn passersby to mark this event in our calendars along with assignments and term papers. It seems that the time has passed for sinners to repent, and so we must merely await our fate at the hands of the mightiest of all Sorting Hats: God.

But I am not here to make fun of Yoshua and his select group of believers in the Rapture, however easily it could be done.

When I first arrived in Berkeley, I viewed Yoshua as an oddity, a Sproul Plaza local touting the craziest cause of all. But I’ve grown almost fond of his presence on campus now and am regularly astounded by how willingly he accepts what is, to him, certain knowledge of his future. Though it may be founded on a ridiculous and impossible concept, I marvel daily at his unfaltering conviction in a single belief. How can he have such absolute faith in a concept that seems to most of us to be totally implausible?

I was raised an Irish Catholic by parents who are not fanatics, but who use their religion to enrich and enhance their lives and wanted their children to do the same. Coerced into going to mass every Sunday until I moved out of home, I stopped going to church as soon as I got my independence. I like to think I’m “taking a stand” by rejecting a religion I was born into and with which I have never really connected. But am I just lazy? When arguing with my parents about my mandatory attendance at mass as a teenager, I would insist that there were more constructive things I could do with that wasted 45 minutes sitting in a church. I could visit our elderly neighbors, or do charity work, or do something “actually useful,” I would rant.

But now that I don’t go to mass, I just sleep in on Sundays. I find meaning in books and music, art and life instead, I tell myself. I don’t need to be a follower of any religion. I am totally happy to be an agnostic, puzzling out the whole faith conundrum. But would I be happier if I was Yoshua? Is he happy to not have to make daily choices in his life, blindly safe in the supposed knowledge though his life is on a ticking clock, he is heading towards an afterlife for which he is prepared? Having a limiting perspective like that immediately narrows your choices. The details in your life cease to matter. All you see is the bigger picture.

If I was Yoshua, I think I’d want to spend my last days on this beautiful planet doing something other than handing out flyers to extremely skeptical college students. But suddenly I can see why he does it. If he genuinely believes that the next life will be better than this one, as most did in the medieval era, then it makes perfect sense that he would try and prepare himself to meet his maker. We’re students, we’re young and invincible, but I often wonder if I will turn to faith when I’m older and the end of my life doesn’t seem so far away. Faith makes what comes after the end, the unknown future now looming for Yoshua, more manageable, less frightening.

Right now, life is great — peachy — but each time I see Yoshua’s countdown I am reminded of its brevity. We can still make plans for Oct. 21 in the relatively certain knowledge that we won’t wake up to a dramatic confrontation with either heaven or hell. But Yoshua reminds me every time I see him that each and every plan we make is “a tiny prayer to Father Time” (thank you Death Cab for Cutie). It makes me realize how glad I am that there is no known countdown on my life, that I can live in blissful ignorance of the future without crossing off every new day on a chalk board. The future is resolutely unknown and unknowable. Time is precious. I’m all for having an Un-Rapture party on Oct. 21.

Image source: TheRealMichaelMoore under Creative Commons.

Margaret Perry is a blogger for The Soapbox. Follow her on Twitter @mapperry.