Monday, 2 March 2015

Lions, lambs and the Big Rock Candy Mountain

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the panther lie down with the kid,
calf, lion and fat-stock beast together,
with a little boy to lead them.
Isaiah 11:6 NJB

The wolf and the young lamb will feed together,
the lion will eat hay like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent's food.
No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
Yahweh says.
Isaiah 65: 25 NJB

Peaceable Kingdom with Two Olives, by Will Bullas
Once upon a time I believed history was heading toward an omega point. Nothing sophisticated in the Teilhard de Chardin sense, but a very literal understanding of the utopian passages in scripture. In the particular community I was drawn into it was commonly referred to as "the world tomorrow".

Lots of Bible-believing folk believe in just such a literal millennium, a thousand years of peace following on from a time of "great tribulation" in which civilisation collapses and Christ the pantocrator (almighty ruler) rides in at the head of the heavenly cavalry to smash a few kneecaps (for "every knee shall bow") and rescue us from ourselves. Following a near touchdown on the Mount of Olives all the bad guys get zapped and the good guys (that'll be the true believers) take over and establish a kind of worldwide version of North Korea - an Islamic State without the Islam - to set things right. The Puritans called it the Peaceable Kingdom.

And after the thousand years? Well, there's a variety of interpretations available. In my one-time faith community there was a touch of universalism. Almost everybody eventually turns away from the dark side, and only a very few incorrigible types end up in a non-everlasting lake of fire. It's only fair to say that most scenarios are a lot less pleasant than that one.

But it was the poetic imagery that really appealed to my younger self. The lion dwelling with the lamb, carnivores morphed into herbivores, every man (sorry ladies) chilling out under his own vine and fig tree, every tear wiped away. Sweet!

It's a theology that shares a lot in common with the Big Rock Candy Mountain ("the land of milk and honey"). Minus the cigarette trees of course (the updated twee kiddie version has changed that to "peppermint trees".) No lions and lambs but...

The bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

We all recognise the lyrics for what they are. Even the most wooden-minded Southern Baptist. 

But the biblical images - at least some of them - are just as shallow. The mountains are all levelled and the sea disappears (Rev. 21:1). Imagine Planet Earth without majestic snow-topped mountains and vast oceans. This would be an improvement?

[Y]ou will thresh and beat the mountains to dust
and reduce the hills to straw.
You will winnow them and the wind will carry them off...
Isaiah 41:15-16 NJB

You can't be serious about anyone taking that literally you say?
"But God has the solution [to population pressure], and how simple it is. Simply make most of the earth cultivatable... Make level the awesome Pamir Knot, the huge giants of the Himalayas, the Atlas, Taurus, Pyrenees, Rockies, Sierras and Hindu Kush - level the immense sweep of the Andes, and all the other forbidding, towering, virtually uninhabitable mountains of earth." 
What kind of total moron would suggest such a thing? I can only note that the quotation comes from something called The Wonderful World Tomorrow: What It Will Be Like, 1982 edition.

But there's no such thing as cigarette trees.
Or lemonade springs.
The mountains won't be pulverised.
And without the oceans there'd be no life.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain is an entertaining bit of fun.
The World Tomorrow is a poetic mirage. At times it conveys great beauty while at others it's downright trite.

The virtue of any poetic vision is it's ability to inspire, not to program into the reader a deadening dogma. Truly, don't we all yearn for the lion to lay down with the lamb?

The omega point burns ahead of us on the far horizon. But as we all should know, horizons recede, and you can never reach the end of the rainbow to find that pot of gold.


  1. As Woody Allen said, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep.

  2. Gavin, your comments pertaining to the literal interpretation of prophecies relative to "The World Tomorrow" are thoughtful and skillfully presented. When one considers the implications of applying a literal understanding of these passages, it does present one with a rather glaring set of contradictions doesn't it? If everything that YHWH created was very good (supposedly including everything in the world as we now know it), then it doesn't make much sense to radically change/alter the nature of those things. Your quote from HWA's writings is employed with devastating effect.

  3. I agree; especially with " And without the oceans there'd be no life." This is true in more ways than what I think was intended.
    Really like your photo of the lion and the lamb.

    Always enjoy reading your blog, Gavin!


  4. Benjamin Franklin said, "If we but bestir ourselves, we can make even the times we live in better".

    And then someone had to ruin it all with crime statistics, which cults then seized upon to promise a glorious future, bound to come, if only we would give enough of our money to spread the word....

    Even if we were to have felines that no longer needed taurine in their diet through some mystical transformation and all the earth was a safe garden, it couldn't last (and if we believe Revelation 20:5, the millennium will end and Satan will be loosed to promote mischief all through the time of the Second Resurrection), because if we look to the stars we find there is a great and glorious universe with wonders to behold, but it's not safe and not for the faint of heart -- black holes and neutron stars are not conducive to life as we know it. And anyway, in a few billion years Andromeda will be colliding with the Milky Way and that's going to be awkward.

    The good news is though that the universe may have existed forever and we might go on from here for an eternity, if only we push ourselves out into the rest of the universe.

    Are there any volunteers here to pioneer settling Mars?

    I'd be surprised if there were, since those of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia have grandma as their demographic.

    And I can't imagine that lemonade springs would be good for grandma's diabetes....

  5. Some observations:

    1. Hank Hanegraaff wrote a book to counter the "Left Behind" series and stated that the reference to 1,000 years did not necessarily refer to a Millennium but just meant a long, long time to people then.

    2. There is no reason why God would not terra-form the earth if he decides to re-purpose the planet. This is a ridiculous notion only if you don't believe in God. But if you don't believe in God, why should you care?

    3. Some theistic evolutions believe the lion-lamb imagery does not reflect biology but only reflects ideology. They believe that "competiton/survival of the fittest/natural selection" is god-ordained and lions should eat lambs. One had the audacity to suggest to me that lambs do not really feel any pain if eaten by a lion. That regarding the violence of natural selection with repugnance is just a projection of human feeling on the animal kingdom where it is not relevant. I believe in evolution but I believe this particular interpretation is malarkey.

    4. Without a doubt, the Kingdom of God will be a theocratic dictatorship. But like Woody Allen said, any system of government will work if it is based on love.

    5. The Big Rock Candy Mountain shares little with the concept of the Kingdom of God. Burl Ives is singing about secular hedonism. Most secular hedonists would be absolutely against the concept of the Kingdom of God. You might call the Big Rock Candy Mountain the atheist's country-and-western answer to the Peaceable Kingdom.

    -- Neotherm

  6. What is a cigarette tree? When is March Journal published? (looking forward to next History of Big Sandy series).

  7. The original song was written from the perspective of a depression era hobo. By the time I heard the song, it had been cleaned up, references to alcohol and cigarettes removed, and it appeared on the record album, "The Best of Burl's for Boys and Girls". The powerful imagery of the song certainly stimulated a pre-teen's imagination. As popular as the song was, it is possible that it influenced the later Hippie communal lifestyle. The Guess Who's "Share the Land." expressed similar sentiments but from an adult vantagepoint.


  8. When I first heard this song, the Coen Brothers used the Harry McClintock version in the opening credit sequence for "O Brother Where Art Thou." So, this is based on that one...

    One sab-bath as the sun went down
    While Ambas-sador was burning,
    Along came a Zombie Herbert—with
    Glazed eyes—said, "I'm not turning!"
    "I'm headed for a land that's far away
    Beside the Living Fountain.
    I've Peter's Key,
    That's a guarantee!
    So come with me
    And we'll go and see
    The Big God's Holy Mountain.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    The lions don't eat lambs.
    You can play with your asp hole all day
    No medical exams!
    The leopard, wolf and bear eat grass
    With the ox, the cow, and goat,
    And Teddy Boy
    Will lead with joy,
    He's the real McCoy!
    None shall destroy
    In the Big God's Holy Mountain.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    There'll be no bi's or gays,
    No Plan B® or abortion rights
    So there'll be no cloudy days!
    All buttholes will have "One-Way" signs,
    No donkeys will be raped.
    Oh I'm bound to go
    Where we're in the know
    So there is no snow
    And the wind won't blow
    In the Wonderful World Tomorrow.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    The jails are made of tin.
    Pedophiles can walk right out again
    As soon as they are in.
    Strike any rock and alcohol
    Comes gushing by the pint.
    There's a lake of brew
    And of whiskey too
    You can paddle all around 'em
    In a big canoe
    In the Wonderful World Tomorrow.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    Cush will be our slave.
    They'll never rule whites again
    So long as we behave
    The ministers will be on top
    Just like they are today.
    But at least there'll be
    Millions under me
    I can beat with glee
    For eternity
    In the Wonderful World Tomorrow.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    He'll bring the scattered Jews
    From America and the British Isles—
    Once again the Germans lose!
    A Branch will come from Jesse
    And kill all Judah's foes
    It's our worldview
    So we know it's true!
    He's overdue,
    But we follow through
    'Til the Wonderful World Tomorrow.

    In the Big God's Holy Mountain,
    There's a land that's fair and calm,
    Where the fruit trees give eternal life
    And we'll sleep in booths of palm.
    Where the fields are white for harvest
    And the sun shines every day
    And the birds and the bees
    Cuban cigar trees
    By the Cognac spring
    Where the white doves sing—
    And I'll see you all
    This coming fall
    At the Feast of Booze
    —Or if we get the news—
    In the Wonderful World Tomorrow!

  9. That's the problem with fantasy.

    Some people can't discriminate between the fantasy and reality.

    But worse, Armstrongists won't even try.

  10. Music and the people making it change so much over time. In the '90s, as an example, in going to a Buddy Guy concert, one would see and appreciate the young survivor of an era that was rapidly passing. Most of the Chicago Blues legends were dead or dying, but here was Buddy, vital, and energetic, in his Jeri-curls, dancing around and playing his polka-dotted Stratocaster, still keeping the flame. His latest CD demonstrates that he's still "got" it, but the man is now in his 70s. Bob Dylan still has it as well, but he is also in his 70s. It reminds me of how I just didn't get it when my parents were still into Sinatra when there was obviously more exciting music on the youth scene.

    Music is a highly personalized commodity, a form of individuality that speaks to the soul. That some "teachers" would have tried to regulate and repress this, and that some actually let them get away with it certainly belies the totalitarianism that lurks in the souls of some.


  11. Well, the Chosen Vessel was inspired to write, and I paraphrase: If there is nor resurrection to a better life, let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

    HWA may not have had a perfect understanding of the world tommorow, and how it will become a reality. But according to the Apostle Peter, there is new world coming, wherein dwells righteousness.

  12. You mean the forged book called the epistle of Peter?

    Wonder who actually wrote it (and doesn't that just give you waves of positive confidence to know it was forged?).