Postcards from the Apocalypse

March 30, 2008 at 1:17 am 77 comments

Welcome to the End of the World! Er, well, um… maybe not quite yet.

The Paperback ApocalypseFor 2000 years Christians have been expecting the end of history. If you’re reading this and you haven’t been whisked away (and you have had no strange new microchips implanted), then odds are it hasn’t happened yet. In Robert Price’s new book, The Paperback Apocalypse, he gives us a look inside the sausage factory of that belief system – its origins, its theology and, even more, the implied psychology. What we see is as fascinating as it is appalling.

Price is something of a folk hero to former Christians. His Beyond Born Again has been a springboard for many who are struggling to extricate themselves form the Christian faith – serving, as it does, to encapsulate and put to words many of their thoughts, and point them toward a brighter, better way. He manages to avoid the shrillness of many currently popular writers that are also critical of religion, because he understands, I think, what fundamentalist beliefs mean to and do for people. And he graciously made the whole book available for free online.

Christian apocalypticism has become immensely important to modern evangelical Protestants, and in particular came to widespread prominence with Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth which was the number one “nonfiction” bestseller for the 1970’s (and the fact that it predicted the End in 1988, and yet still sells, is emblematic of the whole phenomenon). In its highly popular modern incarnation, the Left Behind series of books novelize the unfolding of this myth.

Apocalypticism, briefly, is the belief in the eschaton – in the direct intervention of God into history to usher in a utopian age. Typically the fundamentalist Protestant version involves the “rapture” (the whisking away of “born again” Christians from the Earth), the ascension of Satan to earthly power, the Tribulation (plagues sent by God), Satan’s eventual defeat at Armageddon, the second coming of Christ (the Parousia), and inauguration of a new millennium. And make no mistake: this will not be for sissies. It will be a gruesome and horrible spectacle, with the great mass of humanity enduring torment under the Antichrist, torment under God (punishing us for following the Antichrist) and then most of us will wake up in Hell. It’s easy to get lost in the phantasmagoric imagery of it all, as well as the comedy of grown adults actually taking this seriously. But at heart it’s a really, really angry, bloodthirsty mythology. It needs to be explained, and Price is an able guide.

Had I more space, I would love to review in more detail Price’s entire history of apocalypticism and the genesis of its main elements, for he is lucid and informative. He traces its emergence as a literary genre’ to 2nd century BCE Judaism, where apocalyptic literature typically involved a series of visions (allegedly) given to a prophet depicting fantastical beasts and often violent imagery. It served as a kind of coded passion play, referring to then-unfolding events, for those Jews suffering under the reign of the Greek tyrant, Antiochus IV. Its malleable symbols were then taken up by later Christians, after Jesus’ death, and combined with their own emerging theology to form the nucleus of a specifically Christian apocalypticism. The rest is a two-millennium-long story of failed prediction.

Price develops these ideas, and traces many of the images and concepts in Christian apocalypticism back to their sources. Price is an effective counter-apologist, applying historical-critical insights to the development of the Bible with keenness and skill. But Price seems to feel, and I entirely agree, that what is really important about the apocalyptic phenomenon within Christianity is its persistence and its psychological appeal. It is bloody, it is not really all that logical, and it is thinly supported by Scripture. So why, then, do people believe this? Why has it become so popular? And why do they cling to it so tenaciously? Price has some answers to these questions.

To that end, after Price surveys the origins of apocalypticism, he moves on to the really good stuff – an extensive literary review of 20th century Christian novels about the Apocalypse. Price is at his best when analyzing the psychology of literature and those to whom it appeals – as any good literary critic must be. And had I to find one quote to summarize Price’s overall view here – and oh my, how I wish I had thought of this phrase first – it would be this:

“….the point [of apocalyptic literature] is to evoke the wished-for apocalypse and to provide the vicarious thrill of living through it….It’s a kind of theological pornography: vicarious make-believe designed to take the edge off otherwise desperate frustration.”

Price then goes on to point up some of the more dangerous, pathological psychodynamics involved in modern apocalypticism: not only a fantasied wish-fulfillment, alluded to in the quote above, but also the deeply angry narcissism implied by teachings about the “Tribulation.” There is a horrendous suffering that fundamentalists believe will be justly endured by those living after the Rapture – after they, themselves, the “true” Christians, have been taken away before it all starts. Price argues, very correctly I think, that this just screams out for explanation – why do they teach this? The answer: it serves a defensive psychological function. This is scary and fascinating. Price writes:

“The Left Behind books reek of the ressentiment, the cowardly revenge fantasy, of the anti-intellectual who would love nothing more than to see the tables turned: to have the intellectuals who look down on him for his simple beliefs proved wrong.” (p. 288)

“Oh, how the narrators relish the shock and confusion they describe stamped on the faces of glib unbelievers, too sophisticated to give a thought to the End Time preaching of the ‘fanatics’ and ‘Holy Rollers’ who, having now been raptured, are proven to have been right all along!” (p.205)

[Evangelicals read these books because] it’s chop-licking entertainment to see all those sinners get what’s coming to them.” (p. 205)

In laying bare the toxic psychology involved here, Price powerfully drives home a point most fundamentalists miss – miss, because their conscience has been hijacked by a virulently narcissistic belief system that teaches all the world deserves to burn, just for disagreeing with fundamentalists, and now they eagerly look forward to that act of cosmic justice. He notes, in a review of the movie The Rapture:

…even if true on its own terms, the apocalyptic wordlview of fundamentalism makes the universe into a madhouse of torture and masochism, where the secret to salvation is to love the deity precisely for tormenting you.” (p. 258, emphasis original)

Finally, Price also has a few fascinating and insightful philosophical asides that provided, for me at least, a perspective on end-times teaching that I, for one, had never noticed. For example, he notes that in the dualism implicit in Christian teaching – i.e., the universe is a battleground between good and evil – it becomes difficult to articulate exactly why, in any larger or more grounded sense, we would choose one side over the other. What makes good, Good? As he says, “The assigning of value labels ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are arbitrary if all you really have in the last analysis are A and not-A.” (p. 263)

If you doubt this, consider the following narrative description of the apocalypse as believed by evangelicals:

In the final days, he came into the world and began to rule. He said he was owed absolute allegiance and obedience. He claimed to be divine. Those who refused to worship him were tormented.

Now here’s the question: who is the “he” in this description? The Antichrist? Or Jesus?

Can’t tell? That’s Price’s point. Jesus, in the End, is as bad or worse a despot as the Antichrist. I can think of no more damning point to make about Christian apocalypticism.

- Richard

p.s. On the back of my edition of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, it says this of the author (quote from Anthony Burgess):

“Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced, for the good man who would like to be a Christian but finds his intellect getting in the way.”

This would perfectly apply to Robert Price. But with the opposite, and much healthier, result. Your intellect — and your conscience — ought to be getting in the way. I highly recommend this book.

Source: The Paperback Apocalypse, Robert Price, Prometheus Books, 2007

Entry filed under: Richard. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Spirituality Without Superstition Should we challenge every theistic argument?

77 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  March 30, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Richard,

    While this article is fairly articulate and well thought out, I am curious why you dont mention the distinction between Dispensationalism and Reformed theologies. They are pretty polar opposites, and the Christian works you have chosen represent the Dispensational view of the Eschaton.

    I realize that the article itself is already quite long, so it very well may be that you wanted to address the differences and simply didnt have room, but it is my experience that while the theology presented in such books as the Left Behind series can “reek of the ressentiment, the cowardly revenge fantasy,” aspects of Reformed theology’s understanding of the Eschaton is very different indeed. I would like to see what Price (or anyone else) has to say regarding these differences and then evaluate the non-Christian’s response to them.

  • 2. Rachel  |  March 30, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Yeah, this stuff is on the fringe of the fringe of Christianity. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and mainline protestant denominations don’t hold to this view at all. We were actually just making fun of Jerry Jenkins in my Modern Theology class the other day. Thanks for the review, Richard…I might check this book out.

    If anybody’s interested, here’s what one Orthodox priest says about the end times: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2008/03/28/the-truth-about-the-end-times/

  • 3. karen  |  March 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    It’s a kind of theological pornography: vicarious make-believe designed to take the edge off otherwise desperate frustration.”

    An excellent insight that rings very true from my formative years, when I spent a LOT of time in a church that was all about End Times theology.

    I can remember being impatient at bible studies and Christian concerts, waiting for the pastor or teacher to get to the “good stuff” – i.e., the prophecy and predictions. The crowd was palpably whipped up when the End Times preaching started.

    It was very much like being in a horror movie – both fascinating and titillating at the same time, with that kind of repulsion/attraction dichotomy going on. And yes, the revenge of the anti-intellectual on the unbelieving sophisticates is one of the large draws of violent apocalypse imagery.

  • 4. Quester  |  March 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Thank-you, Richard. This is very well-written. I know a school not too far away where the Left Behind series are textbooks in the high school English class, and taken very seriously. Even in the mainline churches, while those in the pulpit may not teach this sort of eschatology, I often find myself running into people in the pews who do take it as “the gospel truth”.

    The Paperback Apocalypse sounds like a good book, worth reading.

  • 5. HeIsSailing  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Rachel says:
    “Yeah, this stuff is on the fringe of the fringe of Christianity.”

    I beg to differ. According to most references I could find, the various books in the Left Behind series have racked up sales of 65 million worldwide.

    65 Million. Think about how many library shelves of books that is. And guess who is buying them? I garauntee it is not a small group of extreme fringe Christians. This is mainstream stuff in nearly every Baptist, Pentacostal, and Charismatic church, not to mention many non-denominational evangelic churches like Calvary Chapel.

    ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’, by Hal Lindsey was not the #1 non-fiction book of the 1970’s, as Richard says in the article. It was the # 1 book of the 1970’s. Period. Fiction or non-fiction. What fringe group was it that made this book and its scads of sequels such successes? Who made Hal Lindsey a household name even among non-Christians?

    I was immersed in this end-times culture growing up, as was everyone I knew. The world was just too complicated and scary, and everyone was convinced that Jesus was coming at any moment to pluck us up in the rapture. There were scores of novels (The Left Behind series is hardly a new idea. I still have Salem Kirban’s dreadful novel ‘666’ on my bookshelf behind me). We even had cartoon comic books that depicted the rapture. I had friends whos parents kept them out of school for weeks at a time, holed up in their house in prayer, to wait for the return of Jesus.

    If you think it is surprising that Catholics do not hold to dispensationalist theology, then just consider that most of the people who do are extremely anti-Catholic. People like John Hagee and John MacArthur are anti-Catholiic, hold to the pre-millenial view of eschatology, and are hardly ‘fringe of the fringe’.

  • 6. HeIsSailing  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Karen waxes nostaligic:

    “I can remember being impatient at bible studies and Christian concerts, waiting for the pastor or teacher to get to the “good stuff” – i.e., the prophecy and predictions. ”

    Yeah, Bible prophecy was always great fun to study. Speculating how the nations were lining up in order to fulfill Ezekiel 38 and 39 was always great fun. ‘The Good Stuff’. heh. I remember when John MacArthur came to speak at our church and he said the topic of his sermon would be on ‘Spiritual Warfare’. I will never forget when he said that, there were enthusiastic and joyful cries of ‘Alright!’ and ‘Awesome!!’

    I must admit guilt. I loved that stuff too. I suspect it was exciting to be on the inside scoop of something I felt was bigger than all of us – being behind the scenes of some giant cosmic unfolding plan of God – it did have it’s thrill, I have to admit.

  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Richard says:
    “Now here’s the question: who is the “he” in this description? The Antichrist? Or Jesus? Can’t tell? That’s Price’s point.”

    This seems absurd to me on first reading it, but after pondering this point a bit further, I have to admit that it is chilling.

    Jesus good. Anti-Christ bad. right?

    I mean, you won’t be able to buy or sell without the Mark of the Beast, right? AntiChrist bad.

    But you won’t be able to enter Heaven unless your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, right? Jesus good. So, somehow, what makes the anti-christ bad, makes Jesus good. hmmmm..

    I am not taking a hard line, just typing out loud as I think about it. I must confess, this is a chilling point to be made. I will have to think about this some more…

  • 8. Rachel  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I beg to differ. According to most references I could find, the various books in the Left Behind series have racked up sales of 65 million worldwide.

    Well, that’s still a small percentage of Christians, my friend. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, 300 million Orthodox and 800 million Protestants. Maybe everybody you knew was eating up Hal Lindsey, but you don’t speak for worldwide Christianity! The whole apocalypse fascination is an American fundamentalist evangelical thing.

  • 9. HeIsSailing  |  March 30, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Richard:
    “….the point [of apocalyptic literature] is to evoke the wished-for apocalypse and to provide the vicarious thrill of living through it….It’s a kind of theological pornography: vicarious make-believe designed to take the edge off otherwise desperate frustration.”

    hmmm……. I dunno. I confessed to Karen just a few comments ago how there was a certain thrill to be involved or behind the scenes in a giant cosmic battle or plan. But I don’t know if I really lived vicariously through my own frustrated life. If anything, this stuff was interesting and exciting, but it also scared me silly.

    I admit, I was a geek and a nerd when I was younger, and was often an easy target for the school bullies. I got my frustrations out by reading pulp science fiction fantasies and Fantastic Four comics. This whimpy nerd lived vicariously through these fictitious badasses, and I kicked butt right along with them. If there was a candidate for being a frustrated Christian seeking revenge it was me. But I found another avenue for that, and really tried my best not to wish the Tribulation on my enemies. The Biblical end-times really concerned and scared me.

    Just thinking about that from my own life, I think that opinion from Richard is a bit of an over-statement. But I would love to read other opinions – anybody else have experience with this?

  • 10. Brent  |  March 30, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Another oldie-but-not-so-goodie: Pat Robertson’s The End of the Age. I had the misfortune of being introduced to that about a dozen years ago, and, even as the semirabid evangelical I was back then, I found it disturbing that someone would actually dwell on that topic long enough to write a novel about it. I think the fact that I read that probably ensured that I didn’t even pick up any of the Left Behind series. Of course, I got dragged to the first movie…but that’s another story.

  • 11. Mike  |  March 30, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I realize that Richard has not yet had a chance to respond to my initial question (#1), which I think is at the heart of some of HIS and Rachel’s discussion. I just want to make sure that it doesnt get lost in the fray because it really is germane to the topic at hand.

  • 12. lostgirlfound  |  March 30, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    It’s amazing to me how many Christians hold to this … even though they are not unloving people, they seem to be OK with the whole “left behind” theology. And with very little “biblical” backing at all! I’m not sure if it branches back to spiritual superiority, or fear (afraid of the wrath of God). A good book for anyone — especially Christians — to read is McClaren’s “The Last Word and the Word after that…” It deals with hell, damnation, and a much different perspective than the “left behind” rubbish.

    BTW, I was “scared” into early belief with the “Thief in the Night” series … beheading the believers, children and all. What a terrible way to have a child of 12 encounter the God of all creation …

  • 13. Rachel  |  March 31, 2008 at 12:05 am

    Hey Mike,

    Good idea. This apocalyptic straw man is a little ridiculous. Maybe you could sketch an outline of a Refomed eschatology so they have something to respond to…? I would, but all I know about eschatology is, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

  • 14. LeoPardus  |  March 31, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Rachel:

    You’re aware the the EOC exists, AND you read from a blog by an EOC priest. You’re definitely an odd cat. Any particular reason why you’re aware of the O’s?

  • 15. The Apostate  |  March 31, 2008 at 1:25 am

    The Apocalyptic Straw Man? Sorry, but this is one that American Christians have done to themselves. But trust me, we are, one by one, knocking down and debunking every aspect of supernatural pipedreams, whether fantastical or sophisticated.

  • 16. The Apostate  |  March 31, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Rachel,

    Well, that’s still a small percentage of Christians, my friend. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, 300 million Orthodox and 800 million Protestants. Maybe everybody you knew was eating up Hal Lindsey, but you don’t speak for worldwide Christianity! The whole apocalypse fascination is an American fundamentalist evangelical thing.

    How is 65 million a small percentage? Obviously analyzing book sales probably isn’t your forte, nor is it my area of expertise but have you visited the United States recently? Have you gone into a “Christian” bookstore? Did you know that people actually line up likes kids looking for a Wii to get a Left Behind book?
    What is being discussed in this post is obviously the American evangelical position of apocalypticism. You want to talk about the history of Catholic apocalypticism? Lets do it. Lets talk about how apocalypticism was at the root of almost every Crusade and each witch burning. Sure, this version of apocalypticism found in the Left Behind series is a relatively new twist (about one hundred years or so), but Christianity’s apocalypticism is about two thousand years old, so don’t fool yourself. Christians of different denominations, cultures and centuries will change how they think it’ll all play out, including your own, but its part and parcel to the core of Christian scripture whether you like it or not. Maybe you don’t care about it as much as the evangelical fundamentalist – or maybe your just simply don’t feel like believing in the ugly side of Christianity.

  • 17. Mike  |  March 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

    TA (2.0?),

    “The Apocalyptic Straw Man? Sorry, but this is one that American Christians have done to themselves.”

    The straw-man is the representation that this is the whole of Christian thought on the issue. Simply because the media grabs hold of it (due to the sensationalist nature) doesnt mean that there is even good scholarship involved in the beliefs. Of course we can compare this type of politic/tactic to the Jesus Seminar (although the heart and motivation behind it is altogether different).

    Rachel,

    I would love to tackle this topic in depth, but as yet I would not consider myself an expert on the issue. I dont have my class on eschatology until my last year (no pun intended). All that to say, at this point, I know enough on the topic to know I need to know more.

    But if Richard had researched this area of Christian thought more than I had, I wanted to offer him the place to speak on it since it directly relates to his article.

  • 18. Richard  |  March 31, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Thanks to everyone for their spirited remarks! I dont think I can do justice to everyones comments, but I will try to hit the highlights.

    Mike, Price’s point was to address dispensationalist theology as manifested in american evangelical literature. He didnt address Reformed or other views and I confess I myself know little about them. My own expereince was much like Price’s own: dispensationalism. My church was constantly specuating about who Gog and Magog would be (the Soviets was the going theory). And in addressing that particular phenomenon I think Price is amazingly insightful esp. with regards to the psychology involved; thats why I like this book.

    What is neat about the bookk is that he doesnt just analyse Left Behind, he analyses a large number of eschatological novels throughout the 20th century, culminating in Left Behind. “666” was one, Pat Robertsons was another. Anyone exposed to these other books may find it looked at in TPA.

    karen, I think (along with Price) that the “good stuff” you mentioned was the just-around-the-corner vindication of the entire Christian view that the end times will supposedly bring. And I like your suggestion of the attraction/repulsion dynamic — I agree. Many evangelicals do not look at these stories with *just* horror — there is, I think, an triumphalist “I-told-ya-so” waiting to be occasioned, and thats why this mythology is so persistent. And again, I do think there is some very thiny veiled anger, resulting from an intense theological narcissism, that drives much of this as well. Remember, evangelicals think all of this stuff is **justified**. Sinners will only be getting what they deserve., Praise God.

    Rachel, this may represent a numerically minority view, but it is an extraordinarily influential view in America. There are 70 million evangelicals in America — thats about 1 in 4 Americans. And influential phenomena in America tend to be influential in the world, because AMerican policy is itself so influential. What worldview do you think has characterized the current administration? Bush is an evangelical. He looks forward to the return of Jesus to fix it all. So, addressing a phenomenon this important is not really a straw man. It may not represent your view, but that doesnt make it insignificant.

    HIS- I agree it is quite chilling the way it is hard to distinguish the behavior of Jesus and the AC. I could only sketch this idea; Price has a whole section on it. You might be interested in checking it out.

    Thanks again to everyone,

  • 19. The Apostate  |  March 31, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Mike,
    Could you then differentiate the apocalypse from Christianity? You speak as if from point of view that Christians have not been expecting the end of times for the last two thousand years (I believe this is the over generalization you speak of). How do you, Mike, as a believer in New Testament scripture, as I believe most Christians are, deny the apocalyptic aspects of your faith?

    Perhaps you do not believe in the silliness of the fanaticism of the current evangelical mood, but that is only one version of the obsession with eschatology. Nothing different is being represented by Richard, the book’s author, or myself. Perhaps your brand of end times is not so horrific, and you may different interpretation of the Book of Revelation, but you must still explain the apocalyptic aspects of Matthew’s gospel, among others.

  • 20. Ryan  |  March 31, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    For any interested in this topic, Robert Price was recently a guest on the excellent podcast show “Point of Inquiry.” Listen here.

  • 21. Rachel  |  March 31, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Leo,

    Any particular reason why you’re aware of the O’s?

    One of my philosophy professors is Orthodox and he teaches a class on it that I took to find out more about church history. And now I’m intrigued, of course. They’re sort of a happy medium in the Christian world. They’re not off their rockers like some evangelicals and they’ve resisted the militant Islamization of Christianity by the Catholic church a la Constantine at every turn. In fact I’m pretty sure that Eastern Christians were themselves attacked during one of the crusades. The liturgy’s pretty great and I like the Trinitarian theology.

    TA,
    or maybe your just simply don’t feel like believing in the ugly side of Christianity.

    That’s right, because that’s not the heart of Christianity. Besides, you probably don’t feel like believing the ugly side of atheism. The Soviet Union executing some 20 million Christians in the gulags comes to mind…

  • 22. HeIsSailing  |  March 31, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    The Apostate:
    “How do you, Mike, as a believer in New Testament scripture, as I believe most Christians are, deny the apocalyptic aspects of your faith?”

    Preterism, perhaps?

  • 23. Rachel  |  March 31, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Rachel, this may represent a numerically minority view, but it is an extraordinarily influential view in America. There are 70 million evangelicals in America — thats about 1 in 4 Americans. And influential phenomena in America tend to be influential in the world, because AMerican policy is itself so influential. What worldview do you think has characterized the current administration? Bush is an evangelical. He looks forward to the return of Jesus to fix it all. So, addressing a phenomenon this important is not really a straw man. It may not represent your view, but that doesnt make it insignificant.

    Fair enough. It’s definitely a problem in America.

  • 24. mewho  |  March 31, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    lostgirlfound,

    I saw the “AThief in the Night” series as a kid, too, and remember the balloon floating away as the guillotine came down. They were great action movies and pretty well-made for Christian movies of the time.

    What I find amazing about the Bible, is that it doesn’t matter how events develop, believers can easily re-interpret them, finding ways to make prophecy fit current world events. Biblical prophecies are so flexible they don’t care if it’s 2008. A believer will only reply “We’re one day closer!”

    The Bible’s strange last book envisions things that just make one’s imagination race. Here’s just one juicy morsel that has excited the Christian theologian for centuries:
    <blockquote cite=”In appearance the locusts were like horses arrayed for battle; on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.” (Revelation 9:1-11 RSV)

    I was brought up to believe that this was John’s description of a helicopter. Could it be helicopers? Could the mark of the Beast be the Barcode? How could the whole world watch the two witnesses be slane without TV? The invention of the TV is PROOF that the END TIMES are NEAR! This speculation NEVER ENDS, and it is a frustration to most Atheists how oily slick Scriptures can be. The Bible is able to morph itself in part by its sheer vagueness. It is truly remarkable.

    I will concede to the Christian that Bible prophecies do seem to survive quite well in modern society with it’s advances, technological weapons, peace treaties, global communications, the apparent need to cooperate with other countries, “wars and rumors of wars”, etc. It could easily appear to a believer as if the prophecies are coming true.

    With every generation, these advances appear to be moving us forward. The telegraph was an improvement over the Pony Express, and may have been interpreted as “prophecy fulfilled”. The colonization of the New World. The “Black Death” that killed an estimated 75 million people. The invention of the internet. Any of these could (and have) been seen as a fulfillment of End Time prophecy. The problem is that there have been so many misinterpreted events of history, what persuasive argument can ANY Christian bring to the table that would cause me to think that the time is now? How many groups have to falsely predict the Second Coming before people become aware that they have believed a myth?

    The one persuasive argument for the Apocalypse is that it could be caused by religious fanaticism. I do believe that.

  • 25. Paul S  |  March 31, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    lostgirlfound said:

    BTW, I was “scared” into early belief with the “Thief in the Night” series … beheading the believers, children and all. What a terrible way to have a child of 12 encounter the God of all creation …

    While I was reading this review, I was harkening back to my Baptist church days and remembered a series of films about the rapture. I don’t remember a lot about these films, but I do remember the bloody guillotine used to behead those who still had the “courage” to stand up and say they were believers. I remember being around 11-12 (probably around 1980) yrs old and being absolutely frightened out of my wits by this image.

    I would consider this type of indoctrination a lower-level form of psychological child-abuse.

  • 26. karen  |  March 31, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    karen, I think (along with Price) that the “good stuff” you mentioned was the just-around-the-corner vindication of the entire Christian view that the end times will supposedly bring. And I like your suggestion of the attraction/repulsion dynamic — I agree. Many evangelicals do not look at these stories with *just* horror — there is, I think, an triumphalist “I-told-ya-so” waiting to be occasioned, and thats why this mythology is so persistent. And again, I do think there is some very thiny veiled anger, resulting from an intense theological narcissism, that drives much of this as well. Remember, evangelicals think all of this stuff is **justified**. Sinners will only be getting what they deserve., Praise God.

    Yes. Like HIS, I was horrified by the idea of the destruction of the world and the torment of those “left behind,” but I can say that there was some schaudenfreude in the preaching on the topic that was supposed to be rather delightful to contemplate – though, as I said, it scared and worried me. We see it all the time in the more aggressive drive-by preachers who stop in here, with their threatening tone. (“We’ll see who was right before long – too bad it’ll be too late for you. I’ll be praying for you! :-) )

    Yeah, Bible prophecy was always great fun to study. Speculating how the nations were lining up in order to fulfill Ezekiel 38 and 39 was always great fun. ‘The Good Stuff’. heh. I remember when John MacArthur came to speak at our church and he said the topic of his sermon would be on ‘Spiritual Warfare’. I will never forget when he said that, there were enthusiastic and joyful cries of ‘Alright!’ and ‘Awesome!!’

    I must admit guilt. I loved that stuff too. I suspect it was exciting to be on the inside scoop of something I felt was bigger than all of us – being behind the scenes of some giant cosmic unfolding plan of God – it did have it’s thrill, I have to admit.

    Oh sure. It made going to those churches fun, compared to the dull Presbyterianism and Methodism of my childhood. Nothing anywhere near so exciting was discussed in those places. ;-) I’ll never forget one evening at Big Calvary when Greg Laurie or one of his compadres was really waxing eloquent on the topic and he motioned to a couple guys standing just offstage. They came up carrying a big bag of lawn fertilizer emblazoned with a huge 6-6-6 on its side, and the whole congregation gasped. I think a few women screamed.

    It was just an inventory number, obviously, but that’s how suggestible we had become. Kind of like kids playing a Ouija board at a party.

    And yes, there was horror and fear involved for me as well. And a kind of desperation about my unsaved loved ones. The only way to cope was to put the negative aspects out of my mind as much as possible and compartmentalize – which of course I had become quite expert at doing long before.

    . I don’t remember a lot about these films, but I do remember the bloody guillotine used to behead those who still had the “courage” to stand up and say they were believers. I remember being around 11-12 (probably around 1980) yrs old and being absolutely frightened out of my wits by this image.

    HIS and I have discussed this one before, I’m pretty sure. There were a whole series of these apocalyptic films but A Thief in the NIght was the original and best-known. I think every evangelical and fundy Jr High and High School group must have showed them because I seldom meet an ex-fundy who wasn’t scared out of his/her wits because of them.

  • 27. Richard  |  March 31, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    karen and HIS-

    Your remarks are interesting. I cant help but wonder if theres perhaps some predictive difference between those who leave fundamentalism and those who dont, depending on how they respond emotionally to these End Times issues.

    Of course, many or even most Christians care and worry about those they love who are unsaved. Those close to us as, in effect, people to us, not abstractions,. We have an “I-Thou” relationship to them.

    But its awfully easy to demonize and vilify those who are outside our circle — all those licentious, orgiastic sinners, the godless liberals, the gays and lesbians, the Hindus and Muslims and (God-help-us) the Mormons. They are not real people, they are abstractions to fundamentalists, who dont “yoke” themselves with them. It thus invokes that black- and-white or us-vs-them thinking that I believe is so basic to the fundamentalist mindset. Thus its easy to think they get what they deserve. Their torment is outside the empathy of fundamentalism.

    Of course, any good shrink or psychotherapist is going to tell you that the symbols/imagery involved in a dream or a poem or a novel — or, perhaps, and end-times narrative — will be a more honest and faithful representation of the underlying emotions present than what the person actually says (which, in psychanalytic theory, is likely to be a heavily-defended, socially-appropriate rationalization). After all, the symbols in Revelation are *symbols* — what we put into them is pretty clearly a kind of Rorshach.

    So what is the emotional tone of this violent, horrifyingly bloody ent-times narrative with venomous locusts and rivers of blood?…. well, it sounds pretty angry to me.

    Please understand Im not trying to tell you or anyone else what you “really” felt. Im just saying the imagery is violent and destructive, and that comes from *somewhere*.

  • 28. Michelle  |  March 31, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    I’ve done some study in this area out of my own desire to understand the various views. One book I’ve found helpful is C. Marvin Pate’s book, The Four Views of the Book of Revelation. He didn’t actually write it, only edited. Each view is presented by a proponent of that particular view.

    If anyone is interested I’ll quote from the introduction to explain a bit, if you’re not interested, just skip to the next comment:

    “Traditionally, four major interpretations have been put forth in attempting to unravel the mysteries of the Apocalypse: preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist. The names encapsulate the essence of the respective approaches.

    The preterist (past) interpretation understands the events of Revelations in large part to have been fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era – either at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or at both the falls of Jerusalem in the first century and of Rome in the fifth century. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from both the imperial cult and Judaism.

    The historicist school views the events of Revelation as unfolding in the course of history. This perspective was especially compatible with the thinking of the Protestant Reformers, who equated the papel system of their day with the Antichrist.

    The futurist scheme argues that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, holding that chapters 4-22 await the end times for their realization. If the preterist interpretation has dominated among biblical scholars, then it may be said that the futurist reading is the preference of choice for the masses.

    The idealist viewpoint, by way of contrast to the previous three theological constructs, is reticent to pinpoint the symbolism of Revelation historically. For this school of thought, Revelation sets forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age….

    …while the historist approach once was widespread, today, for all practical purposes, it has passed from the scene…the other three interpretive approaches merit careful attention. The preterist view, always the favorite among scholars, has enjoyed a revival of interest at the popular level, thanks to the rise of Christian Reconstructionism…The futurist view, especially classical dispensationalism, will undoubtedly continue to hold the interest of many. Progressive dispensationalism, the ‘newest kid on the block,’ is beginning to capture the imagination of those who have grown weary over a senationalist treatment of prophecy. Finally, the idalist approach continues to hold considerable appeal because of the power of application to daily life that its system encourages. Those who are ‘burned out’ by prophecy in general find in its schema a refreshing alternative for grasping the ever-present significance of Revelation…”

  • 29. Mike  |  March 31, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Wow. This conversation took off.

    Richard,

    I appreciate the clarification, and as I confessed I am only partially familiar with the material and the different views taken regarding it.

    HIS,

    Preterism. I would consider myself a “partial preterist.”

    TA,

    I am not separating the apocalyptic literature from Christianity at all. I am saying that the brand of apocalyptic interpretation represented here by Richard is that of Dispensationalism. This is not the predominant view in Christianity, it is simply the most sensational and publicized. Reformed theology has been around at least as long as dispensationalism.

    A good book on all of this stuff from a Reformed perspective is The Last Days According To Jesus by R.C. Sproul. Sproul is a better lecturer than a writer (in my opinion) so if you can, I would recommend getting your hands on the tapes instead of the paperback. But Sproul is a Partial-Preterist, and his description of why in relation to all of the apocalyptic literature and its historical context really clarifies a lot.

  • 30. LeoPardus  |  March 31, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Rachel:

    One of my philosophy professors is Orthodox and he teaches a class on it that I took to find out more about church history.

    Good. If you want to know church history, you must go to the O’s. I dare say that any O who pays attention to his Church knows more about ancient church history than almost any Protestant professor of church history. I was absolutely astounded at what the O’s knew (and regarded as ordinary knowledge) when I got into the EOC.

    And now I’m intrigued, of course.

    There is no question at all that the EOC is the closest thing you can find today to what the Church was like in the first few centuries (and even the first millenium or so).

    I’m pretty sure that Eastern Christians were themselves attacked during one of the crusades.

    Yep. They sure were.

    The liturgy’s pretty great and I like the Trinitarian theology.

    The Divine Liturgy is still one of the more peace-inducing things I know. Have you begun to learn the meaning behind all that goes on in the services? Amazing depth.

  • 31. Rachel  |  March 31, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Leo:

    The Divine Liturgy is still one of the more peace-inducing things I know.

    It’s nice to see that you still have some affection for your former tradition. Refreshing, especially on this website. I’m assuming that you’re still going to liturgy and not taking communion…does your priest know you’re no longer Christian? ( I’m just asking out of curiosity…this universalist isn’t too concerned about the fate of your soul. ;)) I was also wondering if you have ever read The Brothers Karamazov. I know it’s like the “book to read” if you’re Orthodox, and that Dostoevsky deals pretty in depth with the problem of evil through the character of Ivan.

    It’s interesting that you should mention peace, because I’m really interested in the contrast between the Orthodox Trinitarian focus of worship in the East and their relative nonviolence, and what evolved as political (Constantine) and clerical monotheism (the papacy), resulting in stuff like the crusades. It seems like the Orthodox, with their focus on worshiping the Holy Trinity, have never been folks out for revenge or conquests. I watched a documentary about this gulag in Romania and a priest talking about how he forgave his torturers. Just beautiful. I think that if God is real, the Orthodox preserved the spirit of Christianity best.

    Have you begun to learn the meaning behind all that goes on in the services? Amazing depth.

    Little by little. :) I’ve been going to church with my professor (and a friend who converted last year), and singing with the choir. The music is beautiful. I’ve begun to learn a few of the icons, too.

  • 32. LeoPardus  |  April 1, 2008 at 12:53 am

    Rachel:

    Yes, I still go to service. There is much good in the EOC tradition, and the people at my church are pretty darn good folk. You’ll find, if you read around, that I’m one of the few who stands up for the Church. I think my O perspective makes a big difference in how I look back at the Faith.

    I don’t take communion as you said. I figured that it means much to O’s, and they’d be quite upset if I took it under pretense. So even though none of them knew, I passed on it.

    The priest does know now (’cause somehow my wife figured she had to confess it to him). But no one else at church knows. (‘Tis none of their business.)

    I haven’t read Dostoevsky, but my wife has and has talked with me about all the Orthodox stuff in it. One thing’s for sure; no Protestant could ever hope to understand Dostoevsky’s writings. Someday I will read “The Brothers Karamazov” myself.

    I think a big part of the O’s relative nonviolence stems from their being under constant persecution for most of the last 1300 years. When you’re a minority trying to survive, you tend to be less belligerent and work on the “getting along” skills.

    Don’t know what you’ve read, but if you want “the books to read” for someone who’s still just getting her feet wet in the EOC, permit me to suggest:
    “For the Life of the World” by Fr. Schmemann (at this time of the year you could read his “Great Lent” too)
    “Becoming Orthodox” by Fr. Gilquist

    What jurisdiction is the EOC you’re going to?

  • 33. LeoPardus  |  April 1, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Rachel:

    PS- Peeked at your blog and saw you mention Easter. As I’m sure you’re aware Pascha is a few weeks ahead. You MUST go to that service. There is nothing else on earth quite like the Orthodox Easter. A tad over three hours and when it ends you think, “We’re done already?”

    Then the feast starts.

  • 34. The Apostate  |  April 1, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Rachel (#21)

    That’s right, because that’s not the heart of Christianity. Besides, you probably don’t feel like believing the ugly side of atheism. The Soviet Union executing some 20 million Christians in the gulags comes to mind…

    I am not an atheist, nor am I am apologist for atheism. I “believe” in common sense. My common sense tells me things like the heart of Christianity should be the ideas and words spoken by its founder, Jesus. Yet I find that Christians are much more fascinated by Paul and tend to ignore Jesus’ teachings, for better or worse, altogether. As you may know, Jesus, according to the gospels, was an apocalypticist who believed that the kingdom of god was nigh. Of course, he didn’t know the exact time this was going to happen – that information was saved for for the Father (or the other “person” of the Trinity).
    My common sense also tells me that 20 million Christians were not executed. People were executed regardless of creed or colour, including my own ancestors. Whether Christian or atheist, Muslim or Hindu, we have seen what political power does, and how empires treat their subjects.
    Rachel, I know you won’t bother trying to understand the difference between “believing” in Christianity and “believing” in atheism, so I’m not even going to go there. But know this, the belief that there is no god simply means that an individual does not believe in god. This means that we can become atheist totalitarians, like Joseph Stalin, or we can become atheist philanthropists such as Bill Gates or Robert Wilson, just as a Christian can either chose to be a totalitarian, such as almost every single Holy Roman emperor and pope, or the kings of every western nation, or one of the many Christian philanthropists. As I have stated before, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between what a believer actually does and what a nonbeliever actually does. The options for right and wrong are there for both – they only attribute or blame the deliverance of their nature to different entities.

  • 35. The Apostate  |  April 1, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Re: Apocalypticism and Calvinism, et al.

    I gave a challenge and I have been given one word answers and excuses. It really isn’t hard to sum something up in a paragraph or two if you actually believe it. I am well aware of denominations and views on apocalypticism that are not dispentionalist, as I have stated several times. Some of these are Biblical, but then make excuses for the scriptures, and others are simply in the vivid imaginations of Swiss theologians.

    So please, if you want to defend a view, do it and stop whining about what is being represented here. “It’s not fair” is not a rebuttal.

  • 36. Michelle  |  April 1, 2008 at 10:47 am

    TA:

    I know your challenge was to Mike, but if I may join in… we’ve shared our views a bit on my site – I’m not sure if you ever read my response to your last comment…

    The teaching of the Apocalypse is very hard to understand without a good grasp on the OT Prophets. Much of the imagery (I know you know this, just for those who are not aware) comes from previous descriptions given from Zechariah, Isaiah, Ezekial, Jeremiah, Joel, Daniel…not sure about the others. The four horses are found in Zechariah – Joel speaks of the army that will come in “the Day” – Daniel gives the statue of kingdoms with the picture of the final kingdom being crushed by the rock (Christ) – the interesting symbols of the various beasts all come together in Revelation as the ultimate beast – it’s fascinating to study for those of us who believe the Word of God is spoken from Genesis to Revelation.

    When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God and the second coming – recorded best in Matthew – I believe He was speaking of a here/later reality. I can understand the Kingdom in my heart, through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, and a desire for truth and righteousness to reign – and the ultimate coming of a Messianic reign on earth, literally fulfilled at some point in time.

    Can an interpretation be summed up into one? Not when we’re speaking of prophecy. I believe prophecy has a “now/later” fulfillment…it is relevant for this time and has a future unfolding.

    The more I’ve studied Revelation (and the Prophets) the more I realize one interpretation does not contain all the elements of God’s revealing…He has given us enough to recognize when the time is coming near so we will not be disillusioned with the destruction. I’m not a “pretrib-er” – I think just as Noah went through the destruction, yet was covered, it will be the same and those who persevere to the end will be the overcomers. Not that many of us won’t be martyred – I think we will and we will not give up our testimony even to the death…

    If I believe in a cosmic realm – a battle between good and evil being worked out in the heavenlies and in our hearts – then I don’t know how to edit the Scripture that informs me of this battle. I don’t cherrypick – I just don’t understand it all. I don’t relish the judgment – I just see it as reality, truth to be revealed when the Father has determined.

    That’s my undestanding (at this point in time)…

  • 37. The Apostate  |  April 1, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Michelle,

    e’ve shared our views a bit on my site – I’m not sure if you ever read my response to your last comment…

    I must apologize, I have been busy at work and only sparsely and quickly replied on this blog.

    The teaching of the Apocalypse is very hard to understand without a good grasp on the OT Prophets.

    I emphatically agree. Each gospel was completely based on the liturgical writings of the Torah and with writings from the prophets thrown in for prophetic measure.

    When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God and the second coming – recorded best in Matthew – I believe He was speaking of a here/later reality.

    You can believe this, but it cannot be substantiated by scripture – only the passing of time and theological developments.

    I don’t cherrypick – I just don’t understand it all.

    That is the best place to start. The problem that we all have is that we start with certain assumptions in which we must place our growing theological developments (i.e. I believe in the Reformed doctrines, so now I will agree with Reformed apocalypticism). It is only until a break down of theology happens and a true concern for the truth found in scriptures that one can escape explaining away the blatant inconsistencies of scripture. For myself it came through the study of philosophy (ironically enough, started through the text of R.C. Sproul), and the realization that theology and doctrine isn’t enough. I wanted to know who the real Jesus was, whether I liked it or not.

  • 38. Michelle  |  April 1, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    “I wanted to know who the real Jesus was, whether I liked it or not.”

    Me too. This brings to mind Lewis’s depiction of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Lucy asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan was safe and he responded, “Safe? No…but He’s good.”

    It’s interesting how Sproul has influenced us both – I heard him recently on the radio say that he is rethinking his eschatology based on current events in the Middle East…

    I was referring to my post, “Atheism is on the Rise” when you asked if I understood what my longing for Jesus’ return would mean – I responded as best I could and hopefully with compassion.

  • 39. orDover  |  April 1, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I feel like I’m joining in on the fray a little late here, but I wanted to give my own reaction to the apocalyptic teachings which were crammed down my throat by my family and my teachers at the non-denominational Christian school I attended for the majority of my life.

    In 6th grade our Bible teacher read us out loud a few of the Left Behind books. She would then bring in newspaper clippings about events in the Middle East which conformed with End Times prophecy to show us how everything was coming true and we would be raptured any minute. She said things like “The End is near” with an excited tone of voice and a smile. In our weekly school chapel that same year we watched a video that showed the fate that would befall the rest of the world, and especially the torture of those who became Christians after the rapture. I remember a scene where a Christian family was taken into prison. They children were separated from the parents and they were all shot in the head. This is a video that was being shown to 1st-6th graders.

    As a result of these books and videos, I lived in constant fear that I wasn’t a “true Christian” and I would be tortured for my lack of belief. I prayed for Jesus to come into my heart over and over again, always sure that I hadn’t done it right the first time. But more often than that, I prayed that he would hold off on the rapture for just a little longer.

    More than wanting to be in heaven, I wanted the chance to live my life on earth. I would cry in my bed at night because I was so sure that the End Times would come before I fell in love, before I got married, before I had sex, before I went to college, before I had children. I used to have this dream over and over again that the Apocalypse had come and my entire family were gathered in my grandparents’ garage waiting for Jesus to come and get us. When Jesus finally came I was in hysterics, begging that I be “left behind” so that I could have the chance to live out my earthly life. I didn’t want to go.

    My family, teachers, and friends talked about the End Times with joyfully expectancy while the prospect completely terrified me.

  • 40. Michelle  |  April 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    orDover – your experience sounds way too familiar.

  • 41. Richard  |  April 1, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    orDover-

    I feel for you, my friend. That is exactly the sort of thing that I think is so significant about this stuff. That joyful expectancy is, I think, much much more common than we would care to imagine. And this is exactly what I think is scary about it all, and what we need to understand about this phenomenon. What makes someone excited and smiling about the impending torture and damnation of billions of human beings? Something very emotionally primitive, and very, very angry.

  • 42. Mike  |  April 1, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    (#35) “So please, if you want to defend a view, do it and stop whining about what is being represented here. “It’s not fair” is not a rebuttal.”

    It is more of a “your statement is wrong, let me gently correct it without causing you undue embarrasment.”

    (#37) “You can believe this, but it cannot be substantiated by scripture – only the passing of time and theological developments.”

    Besides, it seems as though you are doing the very thing you accuse us of.

    Now before I receive a flurry of angry responses to this, let me say that we can both be indicted by this comment. The problem is that we are trying to communicate deep theological topics that have tons of history to them in a few short paragraphs. In my opinion, to do so is a disservice to the complexities they represent. So my aim when I comment on a thread or even write a post is to make it about one thing and keep it focused to that one thing. This is why I initially asked Richard about the distinction between the theological views regarding apocalyptic literature.

    Once he made the distinction, it was quite clear that he knew what he was talking about and in fact had raised some rather poignant issues. I was content with that.

    Now I have already indicated that I know enough to know what I dont know on the subject, and so to put my views out there based on that so that you can poke holes in them (not because the view is filled with holes but because my representation of it would be) is an utterly pointless exercise. If you are genuinely interested in learning about a Reformed perspective on apocalyptic literature, I have already indicated an authoritative source in the book by R.C. Sproul. I hope you find it as informative as I have.

  • 43. Michelle  |  April 1, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Richard, It’s not the torture or damnation that causes some of us to look forward to His coming. We truly are not cruel sadists who can’t wait to see unbelievers damned. That is not at all my heart – and I do wonder if all the fire and brimstone is a metaphor for the comparison of life without God.

    When I speak of wanting to see Jesus come, I am talking about having a Ruler who is Just and True – One who is capable of ruling with all the goodness of God. I desire to see Him face to face. The tension is terrible – the desire to see Him and yet the knowledge of what it will mean for the unbeliever is terrible…no one in their right mind would relish such a thing, in my opinion.

    I believe He waits out of love – desiring for all to come to Him who will.

  • 44. Rachel  |  April 1, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Richard, It’s not the torture or damnation that causes some of us to look forward to His coming. We truly are not cruel sadists who can’t wait to see unbelievers damned.

    Amen! I’m a universalist, personally. We’re a minority, but we’re there, darn it!

  • 45. Richard  |  April 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Michelle and Rachel – I can appreciate that you look forward to meeting the one you believe in and worship. As a former believer myself, I get that. I really do.

    However, remember the context of my remarks. I was responding to orDover who had many experiences with those what describe not “terrible tension” but (his phrase) joyful expectation to the Parousia — **and** the Tribulation and all that it entails. And these are folks who do not understand this as metaphor for life without God. There is no allegory for symbol, for these dispensationalists; they understand (as the Left Behind series does) all this stuff as a pretty direct description of what is going to happen. When they say nonChristians will be tortured mercilessly for being nonChristians, they mean it. And they *still* look forward to it.

    Rachel, I am curious how you can be a universalist and yet at the same time assert Christian eschatology at the same time. If you believe all will be saved, does that make much of the soteriology implicit in prophesy kind of moot?

  • 46. karen  |  April 1, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    orDover – your experience sounds way too familiar.

    Ditto.

    The thing that really made me angry about being duped by the rapture-any-minute teaching I got is that I totally rushed into marriage as a young woman (21) because I thought I had very little time left on this earth. I had some excellent opportunities to pursue a graduate degree, do some internships in my profession and travel – but I rejected those.

    Like orDover, I desperately wanted to experience life and I was truly persuaded that I had only a few years (if that) to do so. I made my choices, and I’m willing to live with them, but I made them under the influence of a bunch of b.s. and that pissed me off when I realized it.

  • 47. OneSmallStep  |  April 1, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    all this stuff as a pretty direct description of what is going to happen. When they say nonChristians will be tortured mercilessly for being nonChristians, they mean it. And they *still* look forward to it.

    I’ve never understood how the two can be balanced. Part of that idea of the Second Coming is that all the “wrong” people are going to be tormented for an eternity. For me, that’s like anticipating the Holocaust or something. You’d have people screaming at God, begging for comfort, begging other believers for comforts, begging for help before getting thrown in hell. You’d have children begging parents to do something, to help them, and the parents just … blissful in the presence of God? Friends blissful?

    I just don’t see how the End Times can ever be joyfully anticipated without a lot of tension.

  • 48. Rachel  |  April 1, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I am curious how you can be a universalist and yet at the same time assert Christian eschatology at the same time. If you believe all will be saved, does that make much of the soteriology implicit in prophesy kind of moot?

    Yes and no, depending on what you mean by hell and what you think of as salvation. It’s not that I don’t think there’s such thing as hell, I just don’t think that people will be there forever. God will never withdraw his offer of salvation to people, but some people might just be miserable for a while. And I don’t think of hell as a place so much as a state. God’s presence will be everywhere, but people who don’t love God are going to find that presence painful. Just like if I went to the beach with my mom (who hates the sun)–there’s one sun, but the two of us will have totally different experiences. So i guess I just don’t understand when people say, “why tell people about God if all are saved anyway?” I wouldn’t let my friend walk around with a broken arm if I could get her to a doctor sooner, and I would love to see everyone come to love God sooner rather than later if I can help it. Does that answer your question? It’s definitely not a typical view of eschatology, but it goes as far back as church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa.

  • 49. Slapdash  |  April 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    I was scared silly as a kid with all the end-times talk. It was treated very literally by everyone at church and by my mom. And I believed it all the way through college, which I was surprised I even got through because I was *so* *sure* that Jesus was coming back before I grew up. I didn’t really bother dreaming about a career, family, kids because it seemed so obvious that the rapture was about to occur. I remember being afraid of barcodes because they were going to be the mark of the beast. And Thief in the Night? Holy terror. It gave me nightmares for months, or even years.

    The sheer silliness of trying to understand Revelation literally was one of the early chinks in my theological armor, and I have a hard time understanding how my mom still believes it all.

  • 50. Richard  |  April 1, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Rachel-
    No, thats fair. I have never had any quarrel with universalism — I occupied that position myself for a while — and I still regard it as an honorable belief system. My favorite modern universalist is John Hick, though he actually describes himself as a pluralist, which to my mind functionally amounts to something pretty similar.

    From my own fundy background I am used to salvation meaning salvation from eternal literal torture, no more no less. It is thus hard for me to think about seven headed beasts and whores of babylon and whatnot without thinking about the (dispensationalist) end result: everyone whos not in the 700 Club gets rotisseried for all time.

  • 51. The Apostate  |  April 2, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Mike,

    It is more of a “your statement is wrong, let me gently correct it without causing you undue embarrasment.”

    Could you elaborate?

    (#37) “You can believe this, but it cannot be substantiated by scripture – only the passing of time and theological developments.”

    Besides, it seems as though you are doing the very thing you accuse us of.

    How so? Although I have insinuated claims I have not yet made them. The comment to which the above quote was referring to is a very new understanding of the kingdom of god – just one of the many re-workings of scripture to explain away the obvious assertions that the original gospel author was trying to portray. But I am not the one creating theology out of thin air and wishful thinking.

    The problem is that we are trying to communicate deep theological topics that have tons of history to them in a few short paragraphs. In my opinion, to do so is a disservice to the complexities they represent.

    So you chose to, once again, dismiss it without elaboration. There is no such thing as a “deep theological topic” – only mental gymnastics concerning the things to which we have no clue, a great philosophical abyss for those who care not for philosophy, but for finding some imaginary fairy tale where the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Theology is only complex because humans are complex.

    So my aim when I comment on a thread or even write a post is to make it about one thing and keep it focused to that one thing.

    I may be mistaken, and I apologize if I am, but weren’t you the one who diverted the entire discussion away from a post on American evangelical eschatology to get a rebuttal on Reformed theology, to which you were not able yourself to elaborate?

    Now I have already indicated that I know enough to know what I dont know on the subject, and so to put my views out there based on that so that you can poke holes in them (not because the view is filled with holes but because my representation of it would be) is an utterly pointless exercise.

    This is your fear? I am here to win an argument? Is this why we debate such ideas on this blog or anywhere else? Mike, lets give each other a little bit of credit. You brought up a subject that you yourself were not comfortable discussing – that has been my only frustration in all of this! I am here to discuss and debate, not to win arguments that don’t matter to anyone else, but to learn ideas and to understand as many sides of the story as possible. Now imagine my frustration with this conversation! I admire your honesty, but why even bother bringing it up? You are basically telling me I am wrong and you are right, but you don’t even know why. How am I suppose to respond to this?

    If you are genuinely interested in learning about a Reformed perspective on apocalyptic literature, I have already indicated an authoritative source in the book by R.C. Sproul. I hope you find it as informative as I have.

    I have not been given any reason yet to look into it. I select what I read very carefully because of my lack of free time and I certainly would not be wasting it on R.C. Sproul – I think you even agreed that his writing leaves much to be desired. I have a hard time believing that his logic suddenly gets better on the lecturing post. I have read several of his works and find is butchering struggles at philosophy extremely shallow and seriously lacking in basic logic – every first year philosophy student can poke so many holes in his books it isn’t even funny (but like I said, he was the reason I came to enjoy philosophy so much).

  • 52. The Apostate  |  April 2, 2008 at 2:49 am

    Michelle,

    Me too. This brings to mind Lewis’s depiction of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Lucy asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan was safe and he responded, “Safe? No…but He’s good.”

    Yes, in fantasy where black and white reigns, this is great. The reality, however, is that “Aslan” is not only not safe (unless he is on your side), but he is also not good on anyone’s moral compass. What this, however, has to do with finding the real historical Jesus and his teachings, I am at a lost. I don’t care to psychoanalyze Jesus, I just want to know what he taught and preached without trying to explain for the gentile perversions that have been tacked on for the last two thousands years to this poor Jewish rabbi.

  • 53. HeIsSailing  |  April 2, 2008 at 7:22 am

    Thinking Ape (Apostate):
    ” Now imagine my frustration with this conversation! I admire your honesty, but why even bother bringing it up? You are basically telling me I am wrong and you are right, but you don’t even know why. How am I suppose to respond to this?”

    honestly, this is why so many of these conversations frustrate me. Mike, I like you, believe me I do – you remind me of a young HeIsSailing in a lot of ways. But a lot of times it is frustrating to discuss certain things because you seem to know that we are wrong, but cannot tell us why.

    Consider this from Rachel, comment #13

    Rachel:
    “Hey Mike, Good idea. This apocalyptic straw man is a little ridiculous. Maybe you could sketch an outline of a Refomed eschatology so they have something to respond to…? I would, but all I know about eschatology is, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.””

    First, Rachel claims that the dispensationalist viewpoint presented in Richard’s article is ‘fringe of the fringe’ stuff, basically shrugging off what so many of us de-converts have struggled with – and have had to live with at a very high price.

    In calling it a ‘strong man’, she indicates that she has an argument (as if Richard was presenting an argument – I don’t think he was ) that is much stronger. But no – she admits the very next sentence that she knows next to nothing about Christian eschatology except hope for the world to come.

    But we *must* be wrong.

    Then, she appeals to Mike to present an outline of “Refomed eschatology”, which she again admits to know nothing about, but assumes that it must be a stronger argument because … well… because!!

    Why? I don’t know. I guess because we *must* be wrong.

    Yes, sometimes reading and interacting on these internet boards is a little frustrating.

  • 54. HeIsSailing  |  April 2, 2008 at 7:23 am

    By the way, I do know what preterism is, and don’t mind discussing it, but I have never believed it. I was not raised with it. I can only talk with any conviction about what I used to believe and what I knew and what affected my life deeply. That is apocalyptic dispensationalism. It is not a ‘straw man’ argument – because I am not arguing anything. Is it ok if we de-converts just talk about (vent if you will) what we used to believe and how we are dealing with it now? How it scrambled our young, fervent, religious minds? How it dashed our hope and expectations to the ground? How we marvel that people still believe this stuff – including family and friends? Even if it is ‘fringe of the fringe’ kookiness?

  • 55. Zoe  |  April 2, 2008 at 8:42 am

    HeIsSailing: “By the way, I do know what preterism is, and don’t mind discussing it, but I have never believed it. I was not raised with it. I can only talk with any conviction about what I used to believe and what I knew and what affected my life deeply. That is apocalyptic dispensationalism. It is not a ’straw man’ argument – because I am not arguing anything. Is it ok if we de-converts just talk about (vent if you will) what we used to believe and how we are dealing with it now? How it scrambled our young, fervent, religious minds? How it dashed our hope and expectations to the ground? How we marvel that people still believe this stuff – including family and friends? Even if it is ‘fringe of the fringe’ kookiness?”

    Amen HeIsSailing! And it’s only a “frnge of the fringe” to those outside the “fringe.” To those of us who have been on the inside, there is nothing “fringe-like” about it. We were engulfed in it.

  • 56. Rachel  |  April 2, 2008 at 10:08 am

    HIS and Zoe,

    I didn’t mean to upset you guys, I just wanted everyone to be aware that these crazy books only represent a fraction of Christianity and have only appeared recently. I know it’s different when you’re inside the fringe (I was there myself for a while, in fact), and I don’t want to keep you from venting, if that’s what you want to do. But sometimes I get confused on this board about whether people want to vent about their experiences or use them to prove that Christianity is crazy, hence the “straw man” comment. That would be when someone attacks the weakest part of an opponent’s argument. So something like, “‘Left Behind theology is crazy, all its proponents are Christians, therefore Christianity is crazy.” I only wanted to point out that lots of Christians see this stuff as suspect. Sorry I’m not able to articulate a different view–I can’t know everything about everything– but I’ve sat through enough Theology to know that at least Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye need to get lost.

  • 57. Michelle  |  April 2, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    TA: Using Lewis’s depiction was merely an example to describe Jesus is not always what we imagine – nothing more – nothing less – just a thought that came to mind…sheesh! ;)

  • 58. LeoPardus  |  April 2, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Rachel:

    Re post 48 by you. That is very much the view of hell that the EOC holds. Have you talked with your prof about that?

    BTW, the EOC officially denies universalism, but I was very surprised to find that Bishop Kallistos Ware discussed it in his book “The Orthodox Way” as a possibility. Apparently no one has censured him for it.

  • 59. The Apostate  |  April 2, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Michelle,

    Using Lewis’s depiction was merely an example to describe Jesus is not always what we imagine – nothing more – nothing less – just a thought that came to mind…sheesh!

    I apologize if I read you wrong, but in the context of our discussion, I believed your point was made in the last phrase of Lewis’ quote (i.e. God is not safe, but he is good). It would be a literary leap for me to decipher that you were trying to say God (or Jesus) is not what we imagine. The problem is God, for people who do not care for Biblical scholarship (or even “sound theology”?), is exactly what you imagine. You mold God into what you want him to be on a continual basis which is exactly why, as I argued on your blog, God keeps on changing with the times.

  • 60. Michelle  |  April 2, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    TA,

    Actually, the point was, Lucy hoped to hear he was safe – but did not get that assurance – yet in his unsafe ways, at least the decisions he made were based upon his goodness.

    That’s my literary anlaysis of Lewis’s analogy.

  • 61. Mike  |  April 2, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    TA and HIS,

    I like you guys too, so it is good to hear that affirmed. A while back I extended an invitation for a beer anytime you guys pass through STL, and that is still on the table.

    So, to the nitty gritty.

    (#51) “I may be mistaken, and I apologize if I am, but weren’t you the one who diverted the entire discussion away from a post on American evangelical eschatology to get a rebuttal on Reformed theology”

    You are mistaken. My intent was to identify that Richards post was merely regarding one form of American evangelical eschatology. It is not representative of all American evangelical views. That was all. I in no way intended to put my own views out there or “divert” the thread to a discussion of Reformed eschatology, only to point out that this was not it. So rather, I was actually focusing the discussion.

    (#51 and #53) “Now imagine my frustration with this conversation!”

    I too share in this frustration when you say something like “every first year philosophy student can poke so many holes in his books it isn’t even funny (#51)” immediately after chiding me for assuming you would do the same thing to my argument. If you would somehow give greater creedance to the argument if I was the one to articulate it, I am honored, but I would prefer you state that at the beginning instead of rhetorically asking for a more thorough description of Reformed Eschatology and being offended/uninterested when I offer a resource that could respond better than I.

    The last time I personally investigated this stuff was nine years ago when I had just become a Christian. I have not looked at it in depth since. I am every bit as busy as you all are, and I am unable to dive back into that stuff to the degree where I feel I could responsibly represent it. I am sorry if that is inadequate for you.

    I could say more, but again, I dont want to distract from the issues that Richard raised, which are valid and should be discussed.

  • 62. karen  |  April 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    My intent was to identify that Richards post was merely regarding one form of American evangelical eschatology. It is not representative of all American evangelical views.

    Yes. We Get That.

    I think there are venues where it’s important to point this out, because there are atheists who were never religious who don’t understand that the fundamentalist viewpoint does not represent the entire breadth and scope of Christian belief. There are also former fundamentalists, like many of us here, who were so immersed in their own boxes that they didn’t consider other Christian viewpoints to be “true Christians.”

    However, I also get frustrated when we have to point the obvious out here every time one of us wants to discuss some aspect of our former belief. I think most of us are now aware that our own experiences aren’t the be all and end all of Christianity. Yet if you look at surveys of Christian belief in the U.S., neither are they “fringe fanatical” beliefs – they represent a substantial portion of the populace, particularly when you look at creationism and belief in the supernatural and in the rapture.

  • 63. The Apostate  |  April 2, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Mike,

    You are mistaken. My intent was to identify that Richards post was merely regarding one form of American evangelical eschatology.

    My apologize then. I did not realize that it was a clarifying comment, as I read it as a challenge – perhaps it is my competitive streak shining through.

    I too share in this frustration when you say something like “every first year philosophy student can poke so many holes in his books it isn’t even funny

    I read R.C. Sproul as a Christian and found him frustratingly simple-minded. It was like giving a casual narrative to Josh McDowell’s one paragraph answers to complex historical and philosophical problems.

    My problem, as both HIS and I agreed on, was not that you cannot represent your views. It is that you tell us we are wrong and then you divert us to some other authority. If I did this with every single concept we speak about I could be wasting a lot of time. I think maybe you owe us a little bit of a sypnosis if it something you obviously agree with and can apparently “defeat” our eschalogical troubles.

    but I would prefer you state that at the beginning instead of rhetorically asking for a more thorough description of Reformed Eschatology and being offended/uninterested when I offer a resource that could respond better than I.

    Mike, we love to here other’s views and we love to debate – a discussion of one’s ideas should not be taken personally. Again, you brought up Reformed theology and left it hanging. Perhaps if the source of authority you left me with was some theologian I was not familiar with or one that I had academic respect for than my interest would be piqued. But because it was who it was, I would much rather you explain yourself why you believe what you do rather than anything else.

    This matters to Richard’s topic because we are talking about different apocalyptic views. You say that this new evangelical eschatology is fringe material (most of us beg to differ), and you offer a more… moderate account? I just want to know whether it is compatible with historical Christianity or if it is the creation of later Reform imaginations.

  • 64. Mike  |  April 2, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    TA,

    I appreciate the clarifying comments and feel like we are slightly more on the same page now. So let me clarify a few more points:

    “You say that this new evangelical eschatology is fringe material (most of us beg to differ),”

    I never said any such thing. There is a large collection of men and women who hold to a dispensational view. My point was that this is not the only interpretation in mainstream Christianity. I did indicate that the Reformed perspective has been around at least as long and also has many American followers, but I never said Dispensationalism was “fringe.”

    “you brought up Reformed theology and left it hanging.”

    Again, I dont think I left it hanging. To be held accountable to describe everything that this article does not discuss would be a fruitless endeavor. Are they related? Certainly. Must they be discussed together? No. So ultimately I did not leave Reformed theology hanging.

    If you must require me to describe my own views (thereby changing Richards topic from Dispensational to Reformed eschatology) I will articulate them the best that I can, not to “defeat your eschatological troubles,” but merely to satisfy the inquisition.

    I am a partial-preterist, who sees the eschatological material in scripture as having been partially fulfilled with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., but also having a completed future fulfillment as yet to happen. This is tied into the concept known as the “already/not yet” mentioned earlier. The phase itself is not in the bible, yet the concept certainly is. Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of the New Covenant that God will institute where He will put His law in His people’s hearts and they will all know the Lord. Jesus says in Luke at the Last Supper that the New Covenant is inaugurated by His blood, but His people still disobey God’s law. This is because the time between Jesus resurrection and His return is the period of time by which God will take His people and make this true of them. Paul speaks of this when he describes Jesus’ resurrection as the first-fruits of the resurrection of all His people (1 Corinthians 15).

    So there you go. A very very very brief synopsis of a portion of Reformed theology’s explanation for the eschatological material.

  • 65. Rachel  |  April 3, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Leo:

    Re post 48 by you. That is very much the view of hell that the EOC holds. Have you talked with your prof about that?

    BTW, the EOC officially denies universalism, but I was very surprised to find that Bishop Kallistos Ware discussed it in his book “The Orthodox Way” as a possibility. Apparently no one has censured him for it.

    Yes, I have talked to my prof. about it…he’s the one that encouraged me to look at it more, actually. He thinks that universalism is the best position philosophically, but the only reason he holds back from it is because of the church’s resistance. So, I think that he hopes for it, but he doesn’t go around telling people he’s a universalist.

    But does the EOC really condemn it? Because they called Gregory of Nyssa the “father of fathers” at the 7th ecumenical council, and you don’t get much more universalist than him. And there’s the whole harrowing of hell and praying for the dead stuff, so it seems like there’s room even though it’s not an official position. Frederica M-G thinks it’s a heresy, but I don’t listen to her so much. ;)

    My professor gave me the Ware chapter on universalism to read–it’s actually from Inner Kingdom. Ware’s one of the most well-known and respected Orthodox theologians in the world, so I would hope it’s not heretical!

    Thanks for the book recommendations–I’ve read “For the Life of the World” and “Great Lent” so far…haven’t gotten to Fr. Peter yet. Have you ever read “Mountain of Silence?” It’s about a guy who visits Mt. Athos…it’s crazy stuff. I’m definitely planning on Pascha too. (sweet-I can celebrate Easter twice this year!) Can I just say that I love that you’re a de-con and recommending books and church services! Peace.

  • 66. Satan: The Greatest Bible Myth « de-conversion  |  April 3, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    [...] of Babel, and the origins of languages. I wrote an entry on the Exodus. Richard recently wrote on the Apocalypse. However, I believe one of the greatest myths of the Bible is the existence of the creature we call [...]

  • 67. bipolar2  |  April 8, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    ** Ignorance is no excuse **

    This thread reads like geeks parsing “Batman” at a fanatical fan convention. Stop operating on a narrow intellectual bandwidth. Only the ignorant are “left behind.”

    Lack of perspective in both time and space harms everyone who remains ignorant about history of religion, sociology of religion, psychology of religion, and philosophy of religion.

    Take note atheists and theists alike — not polemic, but honest study of worldwide cultural phenomena known as “religions” cannot be ignored.

    At the root of Western religiosity do lie the disgusting near-eastern doctrines of return, revenge, punishment — but “the” apocalypse?

    There are *apocalypses*, plural. The ecpyrosis of Stoic philosophy is a fiery end-of-time when time begins again to unroll itself exactly as before. Norse myth tells of a very different end by fire, Ragnarok — the Twilight of the Gods. Hinduism proclaims vast cycles of cosmic death and rebirth, without revenge motifs.

    Of course, religions more local in time or space dominate your cramped thinking. Xianity looks important because it’s too close. So, step back for a better look.

    Among near-eastern religions, zoroastrianism invents apocalyptic. The World Savior comes to renew his creation, raise the dead, punish the wicked, and dwell with his “children of light” forever in a blessed realm.

    The revenge filled doctrine of a terrible judgment to be visited upon the unrighteous gets taken up into judaism, appearing in the book ascribed to Daniel. Thereafter, judaism produces two important apocalypses: Jubilees and 1Enoch. Xianity draws inspiration from these hellenistic jewish documents to produce the vendetta inspired “Apocalypse” of John of Patmos.

    They key to understanding all apocalypses within the Near Eastern group of religions lies in realizing that each gets created during a time of foreign invasion, occupation, and sectarian violence. Each is a product of a desire for revenge which cannot be expressed except in words, words veiled in obscure symbols and arcane references.

    Norman Cohn’s excellent starting place for understanding when, how, and why apocalypses appear in the West is “Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come” Yale Univ. Press.

    bipolar2
    c. 2008

  • 68. Richard  |  April 8, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    bipolar2-

    In regards to your views espoused here, all I can say is that if I were an de-conv from being a Viking, I suppose then I would be interested in constructing our little Genealogy of Apocalypses for Ragnarok. (Though, of course, the results might be different, as I think theory of courage implicit in that myth is arguably salutary). Alas, as it is, I am but a poor ex-Christian, so my interests run southward, to Megiddo. Polemic? Maybe – but this *is* a de-conversion site and, well, to everything there is a season.

    More generally, though, I cant help but get the feeling, with everything you write, that I am being lectured to, not engaged *with*. I mean, do you really imagine to copyright every post you make? You’re obviously a bright person. Care to come off the soapbox and join the discussion?

  • 69. The myth of the virgin birth of Jesus « de-conversion  |  November 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    [...] November 1, 2009 We have spent a considerable time on this blog, addressing Biblical myths. HeIsSailing wrote on several myths of the Bible including the Leviathan, the creation story, the tower of Babel, the origins of languages, and the Crucifixion story. I compiled an entry on the Exodus and wrote a short blog on the myth of the devil.  Richard most recently wrote on the Apocalypse. [...]

  • 70. Tidus  |  January 10, 2010 at 5:01 am

    I recall a Christian, once remarking that the “End-Times” will be ‘ a very exciting time’

  • 71. CheezChoc  |  January 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Well, it is sure to be exciting and profitable for the people who invented this service:

    http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com/

    Now, why couldn’t I have come up with a money-making idea like that??

  • 72. Tidus  |  January 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    @CheezChoc
    What makes it worse/better depending on whether you’re Christian or Atheist is that for me as a Christian, such a comment makes me doubt, to a point of having to examine my beliefs. (Incidently, this is how I landed up on this site on the 1st place). How can it be an exciting thing? If an apocalypse does occur (whether due to divine, human,or natural causes) people are going to not only die, but suffer.

  • 73. Ubi Dubium  |  January 11, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    If an apocalypse does occur (whether due to divine, human,or natural causes) people are going to not only die, but suffer.

    And if the apocalypse is just a made-up story, and is never going to occur, how much suffering is going to be caused by those people who refuse to take any concern for the future of humanity? How much suffering is caused by indoctrinating children with the idea that their friends and family will suffer forever if they are not converted, and it will be all their fault? How many opportunities for improving this world will be missed because someone was sure it was about to end, and so didn’t bother?

    Glad to hear you are examining your beliefs. Every believer should do that, at some point in their lives. Any belief system worth following should be able to stand up to the kind of intense scrutiny that you will find here. We ask really hard questions. Be sure that your belief system can answer those questions to your satisfaction, and if it can’t, then it’s time to look for something else.

  • 74. CheezChoc  |  January 11, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    I agree that it’s troubling to see so many people who are downright ecstatic about such an upheaval. And then there are those who are apathetic about things going on right now because they figure they won’t be around much longer, so what does it matter.

    I’m agnostic these days but still a searcher.

  • 75. Tidus  |  January 12, 2010 at 6:28 am

    @Ubi Dubium
    Thanks for your encouragements.

    And if the apocalypse is just a made-up story, and is never going to occur, how much suffering is going to be caused by those people who refuse to take any concern for the future of humanity? How much suffering is caused by indoctrinating children with the idea that their friends and family will suffer forever if they are not converted, and it will be all their fault? How many opportunities for improving this world will be missed because someone was sure it was about to end, and so didn’t bother?

    I suppose I was ‘insulated’ from such thoughts as I was brought up in a ‘moderate Christian’ home. As a result something similar to Stephen J Gould’s magesteria (sp?) exists in my mind. There’s a ‘religious’ compartment and a ‘secular’ compartment and they never intersect. However, meeting a group of evangelists/missionaries and a de-converted Christian at around the same time has made me question the validity of such thinking.

    @CheezChoc
    Yes, I believe that what I like about this site: we are searching together. :-)

  • 76. Eve's Apple  |  January 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Back in the 70’s I was involved in a “home church” that believed that the Rapture/Tribulation/End Times was imminent, so imminent that one of the leaders repeatedly stated that Jesus would return before his newborn son was old enough to enter kindergarten. Well, we all know that didn’t happen.

    I am ashamed to say now that I fell for that kind of talk, and looking back, I think one of the reasons why it was so attractive is that it was a way of not facing my problems. Why worry about money for school or the fact I had no real job skills when there wasn’t going to be a future? Pretty soon we would all be living forever with the Lord, Hallelujah, and all these worldly cares would be in the past. I suspect, based on conversations I have had, that there are quite a few desperate people who latch on to any kind of sign that the end is nigh, because then they do not have to deal with the hopelessness of this life. And that is so sad.

    One thing I could never understand about this “mark of the Beast” talk, is if these people believed it so strongly, then why weren’t they setting up a system to circumvent it? I would ask them, suppose your child is ill and needs medicine, but–oops–you can’t get any because you don’t have the mark. Or you are out of food,? Why wait until the crisis comes, if you know it is coming? Is there a system being set up? Not one person I asked could answer those questions. At least with Peak Oil, there are groups who are working on how to survive the transition to the post-petroleum era. They may be wrong, but at least they do have some kind of plan.

    As far as the end of the world is concerned, I will believe it the day I walk into the store and all the tabloids say, this is absolutely our last issue because the world is ending next week.

  • 77. Richard  |  January 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I suspect there are a lot of reasons people are drawn to apocalypticism. For some, as Eve pointed out, its a way of coping (or rather, not coping) with difficulties today. A kind if escapism, as it were. For some, I suspect its just a kind of wierd, quasi-morbid curiosity, like rubbernecking a car wreck. And I bet for a lot of people, its interesting precisely because its so *un*-real, like the way the rest of us can watch movies about world war 2. Most of us have never seen combat, and WW2 seems a long time ago, so its tolerable to watch in in the screen. Its safely cinematic, in a way we would never, ever want to experience directly.

    The ones that really scare me, though, are the ones Price alludes to: those who eagerly anticipate the coming destruction, in a very thinly veiled anger towards all the nonbelievers — e.g., think about what Pat Robertson would like to see happen to all the gays.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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