The unquenchable end-times thirst

There’s no better guarantee of a good laugh than the steady stream of batshit crazy quotes from such Christian sites as Rapture Ready and Rapture Forums, which are a mainstay at Fundies Say the Darndest Things.  Here’s one choice example, preserved in all its ungrammatical glory:

When I got saved in 1973 I went to a lot of prophecy meetings listening to Jack van Impe and really thot the rapture was near then,A lot of it was emotions,but now w/what,s going on in the world,IT IS FACT!!!! (24thchance)

I remember as a teenager my fundamentalist Christian step-mother handing me a copy of Hal Lindsey’s extremely popular The Late, Great Planet Earth, one of but a series of books going back centuries predicting the end-times, and her telling me that Mikhail Gorbachev was the anti-Christ. I was pretty convinced by the book’s arguments, and watched developments in the Soviet Union with “rapt” attention.  Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as thought for poor Gorby, nor for “Magog” (as the Soviet Union was known in end-times parlance), as both faded into the dustbin of history.  The same couldn’t be said for Lindsey, who went on to write more end-times novels and make further boat-loads of money, despite a perfect track record of failed prediction.  But even Lindsey’s success can’t compare with the latest and greatest incarnation of end-times hopes, the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which spawned a host of movies, and even video games.

Today, I’m still fascinated by the end-times.  No, not when they’ll occur, but by the seemingly unquenchable thirst for them among a persistent minority of religious believers.  Every failed end-times prediction seems only to serve as fodder for the next.  There’s no better example of the triumph of hope over experience than end-times belief.  Why?

 To understand the history and theology behind Christian eschatology (the fancy name for end-times belief), I picked up Bible scholar Robert Price’s recent work The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind.  Price, too, is interested why end-times belief is the cat of infinite lives, and he arrives at a satisfying – at least for me – answer:

So, as Russell says, we do in fact see a consistent, long-enduring pattern throughout Old and New Testament concerning prophecy, only it is not what he thinks it is.  Instead of Jesus following in the footsteps of the prophets with their use of spectacular symbolism to describe historical developments, what we have is the New Testament writers continuing to do as their Old Testament predecessors did: banking on soon-coming events as heralding the end of the universe in fire and meteor storms.  They were wrong and they kept being wrong.  And that is why today’s fundamentalists, following the same trajectory, keep striking out, too.  Perhaps if they allowed themselves to understand that the biblical writers had so grossly and repeatedly erred, they would learn their lesson.  But that they will not do, for fear of forfeiting scriptural authority.  And this traumatic truth about the Bible they repress, but it is a burden their consciences bear with difficulty, so it manifests itself in neurotic, repeating symptoms, notably the incorrigible desire to calculate the end of a world they are not mature enough to deal with apart from magical fantasies.

I’ll be the first to say, Price is venturing into a field here for which he possesses no particular training; he’s not a psychologist, so take his opinion with a grain of salt.  But his explanation, which he elsewhere attributes to cognitive dissonance, has the ring of truth.  Have you ever noticed that believers most fanatical in their idolotry of  a religious work or of some “prophet” seem the most susceptible to neverending end-times mania?  I also think Price is on to something when he  connects end-times thirst to a lack of personal maturity, though what causes the other is unclear.   Could this immaturity drive another tendency common among end-times enthusiasts: antipathy, even hatred, of the world?  When we’ve made a serious mess of things and just can’t seem to summon the will to correct them, one inclination, most often witnessed among children, is to smash the whole project and start afresh.  I suspect something’s similar at work with these last-days believers.  It also conveniently relieves them of taking any responsibility for partaking in common human endeavors to alleviate the world’s troubles.  The earth sucks and it’s going to be blown away soon by a divine nuke, so why bother?

As I wrote before, this is one of the most worrisome aspects of end-times belief, though such apathy does not compare to the dangerous lunacy to actually effect eschatological doctrines through open conflict.  While such a vile strain is mostly isolated, it’s come too close to having one of it’s own in real power for me to breathe easily any time soon.  History, sadly, is littered with the victims of apocalyptic preaching.  Could it just be a matter of time before the rest of us are victims too?

Edit: Reflecting more on believers’ loathing for the world, I think a better, simpler explanation for it derives from the belief that God will one day blast it to smithereens.  What a terrible place this must be for him to do that!

6 thoughts on “The unquenchable end-times thirst

  1. Hey there, first time poster here. Love your work!

    I agree with your assessment, and would like to push it in the following direction: imagine living with the knowledge that the world will end tomorrow. What would you do today? Certainly something different than if you thought things would continue as normal. This may be one of the motivations behind an obsession with end-times, because although most believers don’t engage in wild revelry on a daily basis under the banner of the impeding apocalypse, they can nonetheless justify a number of things by trumpeting the end of the world. For instance, extreme prejudices can be held without the fear of eventually needing to compromise, because when the world ends, those who hold those radical beliefs will be spirited away forever. Believing the world will end tomorrow means you can get away with more today, basically.

  2. Hi Dale, thanks for for the compliment 🙂

    So you’re saying that end-times belief allows one the luxury of intolerance? I think that’s a keen observation. The question I have though is whether one’s essential intolerance drives one towards end-times belief, or does end-times belief lead one to intolerance?

  3. Robert: I think you may nail it. Right wine authoritarian personalities may be drawn to this strain of fundamentalism because it confirms their innate personality traits???

    I’ve always been leery of “blaming” religion for the evils of humanity…I think religion amplifies and justifies innate and nasty primate behavior but that behavior would still be present-albeit to a lesser extent…without religion.

  4. Brian,

    This seems like a more politically motivated post than anything else, so yeah I think you nailed that.

    Secondly, the 20th century was the most secular century in history and was also the bloodiest by far. 2 world wars (not fueled by religion), hundreds of smaller wars(of which I have found few that could be classified as religious), and genocides(for secular/”scientific” reasons (ex, the Holocaust, the Turkish sluaghter of Armenians) on a scale to surpass anything “Biblical”. So your comment is pretty baseless.

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