Enough about Christmas, let’s talk about death and destruction. Excited? Well, it seems a lot of people are. I know folks who just can’t pass up an opportunity to point out that we are in the last days—the great end of times. Usually the reference comes up in relation to some grave concern expressed about the fate of our country—a nation in the hands of the conspiratorial communists currently in the White House plotting the destruction of everything our Found Fathers held so dear. Yes, the Constitution is hanging by a thread, (but a pretty resilient thread, it turns out, since the same thread has apparently been sustaining said document since McCarthy’s and Skousen’s 1950’s). I remember when Clinton won office in 1992 and 1996; the right heralded both events as the downfall of America. Then Bush’s double election signaled the decline of Western civilization to the left. Now Obama—no, this one’s for real this time—stands with scissors and thread firmly in hand. Fifty gallon water storage containers are on sale…quick!
I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to the apocalypse. I have a hard time getting into the spirit of the season. There is something utterly pessimistic and unChrist-like about seeing Christ in every earthquake, hurricane, famine, flu outbreak, war, and election-that-didn’t-go-my-way. I realize that the world will experience such travails in the last days, but isn’t there something perverse about delighting in headlines that represent the suffering of millions simply because it makes me think the Second Coming is getting that much closer? I know doomsdayers would never admit to finding happiness in such things. No, such is there difficult job to point out hard reality to a head-in-the-sand world. But I’m skeptical. There is just too much energy and excitement behind their predictions to be the reluctant conclusions of those who actually pine for world peace.
Perhaps other things are at stake here. After all, the daily grind can be a grind, and the prospect of worldwide upheaval may offer hope that in 10 years from now something much more interesting will be happening in one’s life than ordering more toner for the copy machine.
I can’t think of anything more wonderful than Christ reigning upon the earth, but what I’m really wondering is this. Is there any way we can get to the millennium with a smaller body count? Do the scriptures allow for a kinder and gentler interpretation regarding the extent of the calamities of the last days? (If they don’t, does that imply a doctrine of predestination?) Hasn’t the world already experienced enough bloodshed in the form of two devastating world wars to fulfill the death and destruction requirement? Am I denying the faith if I look to the future with hope and optimism? I don’t mean the kind of hope that says, “At least Christ will come after life on earth has been made into a living hell.” I mean a hope that believes my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will marry and eat three meals a day and take hot showers and vote. Or, on the other hand, should I start developing a taste for canned wheat?
18 Replies to “Against Doomsday”
Heard a recent ad for a book that apparently counters the apocalyptic, doomsday mentality. I think the book is by David Ridges.
I have no idea what the book is like, but I thought the ad was interesting…basically validates your point of view. But the ad was not your typical LDS products ad.
Excellent question. I remember when Israel was bombing Lebanon and the Rapturists were having a field day. It was heaven for them to see Lebanese Muslims and Christians get ripped apart by Jewish bombs. Rather odd, I think. Here’s one I captured from a Rapturist blog back in the summer of 2006:
It’s rather ironic because Muslims have their own doomsday prophecy (the Caliphate), but I rarely hear them use the coming of Christ for Christians to scare Muslims to war against Christianity like we use the coming of the Caliphate to scare Christians into wars against Muslims.
From my understanding of our scriptures, it seems fairly clear that God does not want His followers to be participants in the violence that supposedly precedes the coming of His Son in the last days. Zion is supposed to be a place of refuge from the ills of the world. If Zion, however, participates in the violence, how can it be a place of refuge?
“I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to the apocalypse.”
That describes me as well. I just do not get excited about it. The idea the the end is near seems to be a theme with religious groups through out time.
“Perhaps other things are at stake here. After all, the daily grind can be a grind, and the prospect of worldwide upheaval may offer hope that in 10 years from now something much more interesting will be happening in one’s life than ordering more toner for the copy machine.”
So, alienation from our daily life leads us to hope for the destruction of that very humdrum existence. Our alienation also leads us to feel that there is little we can do about it and therefore divinely origanized destruction is the only hope. Either you are channelling Uncle Karl or I am reading him into this statement. Either way, I like.
First, let me warmly welcome you to FPR and ask your forgiveness for not doing so earlier. I’ve just been swamped lately (and still am!).
Second, thanks for these excellent posts. I think that what this one highlights for me is that our apocalyptic texts need not be read and understood in only one way. What interests me is the sociology of apocalypticism. A common theory is that groups who feel disempowered turn to apocalyptic thinking as a way of 1) making sense out of the “bad” things happening around them (whether legitimately bad or perceived bad) and 2) gaining a sense of control and destiny over an uncertain future by writing God into the script as the author and the end.
I am not sure that these theories can adequately account for the nature and power of apocalyptic thinking, but I think that they might point to some reason why this is particularly attractive in certain historical moments.
I totally agree with you. In my opinion, living everyday like the end of the world is at your doorstep is just plain foolish. That’s not to say we can’t be prepared – nothing wrong with that.
It’s one of the things that bugs me about our faith. I would much rather focus on the now. If God is returning to Earth at some point in the future I’m sure he’s got a pretty detailed plan for what he is going to do. No sense in me trying to figure out what or when that is.
In the mean time, I’ll keep on living and focus on enjoying life as much as possible. That way when I do die – whatever the circumstances – I can look back on life with no regrets.
Thanks for the book reference. I’ll have to look that up.
Thanks for that clip. That exactly illustrates my point, but I was short on concrete examples at the moment. Also, good point that Zion ought to be a refuge from, rather than a participant in, the violence of the last days–including, I believe, the intellectual violence of constant attack and counterattack in the culture wars.
Ha, for a split second I was wondering who your Uncle Karl was and why you were acting like I knew him! Yes, I think the idea of alienation is quite fitting here. Also, is it a mere coincidence that the rise of millenarianism parallels the rise of industrial capitalism in the West? I know there have been apocalyptic groups throughout history, but the past two or three hundred years has seen a surge in interest (Which might have more to do with the rise of Protestantism generally, but one could still get a nice paper out of a Marxist interpretation of modern Christian eschatology. Well, for all I know whole books have already been written on it.)
Thanks for the welcome; it’s good to be here. I appreciate your and Chris’s attempts to explain possible causes since my post was lacking in that regard. Those two ideas are interest, but like you indicated, I don’t think they fully explain the phenomenon. A sense of disgruntlement with the current state of affairs–whatever and whenever that is–seems to be a common factor. Perhaps that is why the rhetoric increases during and after major elections–the losing party enjoys imagining a supernatural vengeance upon their enemies.
“It’s one of the things that bugs me about our faith. I would much rather focus on the now.” I agree this tendency is strong in the Church; after all, the name of the Church has last days thinking written into it. However, I think there is room to emphasize a less globally chaotic transition into the millennium within LDS scripture and doctrine. Also, with our vision of Zion as a refuge and place of peace in the last days, we can focus on a bright future with plenty of good work to do in the here and now.
Is there any way we can get to the millennium with a smaller body count?
Let me suggest that if we read the apocalyptic texts as describing human inevitability instead of divine necessity that we can perhaps see them in a different light. I believe the apocalypse is almost entirely of our own doing. Whether it be war, famine, and arguably even anthropomorphic causes for environmental woes. It seems to me that Jesus announced the kingdom of God as well as the ethics upon which it is founded and we, humanity as a whole, have been given a choice. I tend to agree with the french philosopher Rene Girard that the millennium could come if we would just repent and follow Christ. Unfortunately, its seems that humanity is hell bent on having an apocalypse. Its almost as if we will either reach the millennium through a conscious decision to live as disciples or humanity will mess things up so badly that either God will have to come down again to clean things up or those left behind will finally give up the natural man.
Great post. There is a greater purpose in the dire scriptural predictions of the destruction of the wicked prior to his coming, which is to convince us not to be wicked! It’s unfortunate that the Lord has to sometimes use the stick a little more than the carrot, but it makes sense. He said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In other words, he’s not going to waste too many words pinching the rosy cheeks of the elect and telling them what a great future they have ahead; he’s going to warn the wicked because he wants them to look to God and live. He must meet them at their level, and few unpenitent sinners are going to be initially swayed by carrots. Laman and Lemuel unbound Nephi only when they saw their absolute obliteration standing in the foyer. So, if the scriptural prophecies of destruction are what it takes to prompt repentance, then it’s well worth including them in canonized scripture. I think the Lord sorely hopes that the destruction will not be as dire as scriptures hint at; that’s the very reason that those chapters and verses exist.
J Madsen, thanks for the comments. I like the “choice” aspect to it and not the “inevitability.” If enough people believe worldwide calamity is inevitable, then at best it results in perennial pessimism and at worst it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ethan, Interesting idea that apocalyptic scripture is catered to the more wicked. The only problem, it seems, is that it’s the devoutly religious, and not the wicked masses, who tend to get into the last days warnings stuff. In the end, I do believe such scripture has it’s place and purpose, but I prefer to see it as warnings of what is possible rather than fixed pronouncements of what must be. Maybe the purpose you are indicating was more of a factor in the 19th century millenarianism reached fever pitch. Back then people were intensely interested in this stuff and it likely had a stronger motivating factor back in terms of calling the wicked to repentance.
Focusing on the Second Coming as the result of inevitable trials and tribulations has some problematic effects, in my observation.
One anecdote on this point: When my wife was getting her master’s at BYU, one of her professors had the opinion that it really didn’t matter what we did to the Earth as far as pollution and such, and it might even be good to hasten the process, ’cause Jesus would return once we got ourselves into too deep of a mess to get ourselves out of.
The kicker? This was an environmental engineering professor—someone whose entire career is focused onfiguring out how to clean up the pollution we produce.
Frighteningly, i’ve since learned that this sort of attitude is, while not something i’d call frequent among Mormons, certainly not uncommon enough that i’d call it rare.
I believe that God gave us brains in the expectation that we’d use them, not in the expectation we’d leave it all up to deity. That’s not a universal point of view within our faith community, though, i’m afraid.
David, I’m glad you shared that. Your story illustrates how serious a problem we have when this kind of world view prevails.
You’re absolutely right that the devoutly religious are into the last days stuff. But the reason that those scriptures exist are still for the benefit of people bound by sin and unbelief. It is the duty of the righteous to read and understand the warnings in the last days and then to warn their neighbors. That is, to me, the terrible error of those who turn the last days drama into a kind of spectator sport. Those scriptures aren’t there for entertainment; they are there so that the devoutly religious who study them will feel a sense of urgency that will prompt them to call upon their brothers to repent. If we truly love our neighbors, then studying Matthew 24 and other last days scripture should kindle in us a desperate desire to share the gospel and prompt change in those around us so that they won’t suffer the wrath of God that will be poured out at the time of his coming.
Good point Ethan, that kind of attitude has serious spiritual consequences as well.
That is a big problem associated with apocalyptic thinking. I think the attitude of “who cares about the environment if the earth is going to burn anyway” is more common than we think. I believe it’s a major reason the religious right is often indifferent to environmental concerns.
Ethan, nicely put.
I think your scrooginess is understandable, but remember, it was Scrooge, himself that wished for a decrease in surplus population. The entire purpose of any last day calamity is for the Lord to show His power to nations after they reject the gospel. It’s purpose is to cause people to repent. On the other hand, we have been socialized into a Darbyian vision of the last days, through evangelical America, and I’m not certain it will be as destructive as we may think. If the purpose of calamity is to cause folks to repent, and not just to cause death, it maybe more merciful than expected. We should keep 3 Nephi in mind. The calamities were strong, but short.
All of the comments on high brow sociology are correct, but also miss the mark. Will the apocalypse happen or not? If using psychobabble is anyone’s excuse to say that it is not true, then yes, there is a denying of the faith going on. Are there nutjobs and zealots that wish for destruction and have some sort of issue going on? Perhaps. But lets not interpret what is promised in scripture through some evangelical rapturist’s political behavior.
As well, let’s take out the religious context of apocalypse altogether. I think it equally naive that we are headed toward some magical progressive one world Star Trek universe. It’s just as likely that we’ll fall apart into a new dark age, or at least deconstruct into small cultural units. I think our lifestyle of America is unsustainable, and if we don’t understand this, we have our heads in the sand. I think we should all be prepared to adapt to this new reality instead of burying our heads in the sand thinking that some Democratic policy or other is going to rescue us. We may even be happier as families and groups and become more cohesive as our pioneer ancestors once were as we have to band together. This may be seen as a good thing even as the world burns.
High brow sociology would be sociobabble and not “psychobabble.”
I think the intensity of destruction is probably pretty sent in stone. It’s the length of destruction that may vary according to the number and righteousness of the elect. The days will be shortened according to the righteousness found on the earth. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matt. 24:21-22) That’s my interpretation of this passage, anyway. Considering the extent of destruction described in scripture in the past, if this is to be the worst then I believe we can accurately expect some very serious mayhem.