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About the chemistry of the nerve gas attack in Japan

About 20 years ago when I was a PhD student, Stuart the medical student (He is now an anaesthetist) emailed me to tell me of a scary case in Japan. I then looked at the news and discovered what had happened.

To remind you what happened was that a series of cult members split open plastic bags containing sarin inside subway trains in Tokyo. The fumes of this substance then seriously injured a large number of people and killed more than ten people.

Now as well as having a chemists point of view on this matter, I have a little knowledge of the type of religion which the cult can be classified within. Now some religions maintain that some religious figure is going to appear or return, then right a series of wrongs and punish the ungodly. Some others maintain that some dramatic event will occur which will change the world as we know it, a common theme is that the members of the faith will survive and thrive while those outside the cult are absymally corrupt and evil people who are destined for suffering and destruction.

One example would be Elizabeth Clare Prophet and the Church Universal and Triumphant they were getting ready for nuclear war and expecting an end to society as we know it. Their leader and prophet predicted the date of a nuclear war, this day came and went without incident.

Now do not get me wrong, some faiths which are morally perfectly OK have this feature, for example the “Open Brethren”, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church hold the view that one day there will be the day of judgement when Christ will appear on earth. They hold the view that he will come to “judge the living and the dead”, those who are believers will assend into heaven (where everything will be fine and rosey for ever and ever) while those ungodly people will be seporated from God for the rest of eternity.

There are some faiths which seem to lack this feature (millenarianism). One thing which I think is important about millenarianism is the degree to which is infulances the thoughts and actions of the faithful. Others have written about this topic.

In conventional christainity while it is a matter of belief that “Christ will come again”. I have taken the text of the Nicene creed and I have marked in bold the parts which relate to millenarianism.

I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made man,
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come.

While the typcial or average christain might believe in the second coming, they do not spend all their time and energy expecting the second coming to come in the next hour or day. As a boy it was explained to me by a presbitarian preacher that the christain lives their life in battlefield between God (and that which is right and proper) and the devil (and that which is morally wrong). The clergyman explained that the christain should believe in God and with the help of God live a good life (as free from sin as possible). The preacher was not concentrating on telling me to make sure that I am ready at a moment’s notice to greet Jesus as he returns to earth in the second comming.

Some parts of the church do appear to have a higher tendency towards millenarianism, what is more scary in some ways by far are some of the “Cargo Cults” and similar groups who hold the view that they by their actions can change the timescale of when the great event will occur. In the case of the Aum cult they appear to have believed that they could by their actions on earth accelerate the coming of the end time.

The cargo cults in the pacific thought that if they imitiated the actions of the american military (doing things like building their own air strip) that all manner of wounderful things would appear from the air. I think that the Aum cult of the 1990s should be classified as a religious movement with a very tendancy towards millenarianism. The Aum cult believed that there would be a war between the cult and the outside world, they held the view that with the aid of a serious of super weapons that they would win this war and usher in a wounderous “new age”. While we are here it is interesting to note that the neo-pagans and mystics who were known in the 1990s as the “New Agers” are also  millenarian. They thought that a wounderful new thing would come to pass and that humans would evolve into something new and glorious as a result of their mystic activities.

In terms of social harm I think we can ignore the effects of people praying to God for him to hurry up with the second comming, but in some cases some people may attempt to speed up the arrival of the end time. It is noteworthy that some non religious people have a tendancy towards millenarianism such as Charles Manson who wanted to incite some form of war. In the case of Manson he wanted to trigger a race war between blacks and whites. While Manson was not a “relgious” figure, he was attempting to create a “goldern age” in which he thought that in the post-race war world he would be able to dominate the black people and be some form of lord and master of many.

I suspect that the Aum cult thought that they could trigger a change on earth which would usher in their new transformed world in which they would be doing much better than others.


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