Do Apocalyptic End Times Myths Hurt Humanity?12 May, 2008
Christianity is a death cult. Christians are supposed to live their life as if tomorrow (yes, TOMORROW) the end of the world (either personally through death or in the Great Apocalypse) may come and they will be judged. Christians view the world as a place of hopeless sin, with only the very few who have accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal saviour having any chance of avoiding eternal hell. Everyone dies, but only a self-selected few get to go to heaven and spend eternity waving palm branches, singing hoseas and hallalujahs, eating mana (which I suspect is Jello mixed with whipped cream and marshmallows), and bathing in the light of the Lord. Everyone else is screwed. This idea that the world (personal or universal) is about to end (which has been a major part of proto-orthodox, orthodox, and modern Chrisitanity since the beginning) gives a rather frenetic feel to Christianity. I feel safe in saying that a significant proportion of Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) sincerely believe that they are part of the last generation to live on earth.
What effect, though, does this belief have here on earth? In my humble (hell, not so humble (or I wouldn’t have this blog)) opinion, apocalypsism has a deleterious effect on humanity in a couiple of (to me) obvious ways.
The first way apocalypsism harms humanity is through economics. The Republican Party is dominated to an unprecedented extent with true believers. These true believers really do (or most of them, anyway) think that this is the End Time. They view the ‘Left Behind’ books as non-fiction. If the world is going to end soon anyway, why bother dealing with poverty? It’s easier to give money to your friends and their corporations. Why worry about debt? Once Christ returns, money won’t matter. Why worry about health care? Most of ‘them’ will die in the end times anyway, so why spend money to make them healthy now?
The second way that apocalypsism hurts humanity is through the treatment of the environment. There seem to be two different views on the part of right-wing Christianity regarding the environment — either use it up, or ignore it.
I first came across the ‘use it up’ theory when James Watt was Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan. During one of his speeches, he stated that (and this is paraphrasing) “Christ will return soon and He will be unhappy if we have not used all of the natural resources placed here for humanity.” Which explains the continued starvation of federal agencies which preserve (NPS) and the starvation of federal agencies which monitor and regulate the use of America’s land.
I have never heard the ‘ignore it’ theory put so bluntly as Watt did for the ‘use it up’ theory, but it is there. The Republican war on science has focused a great deal of attention on minimizing ‘bad things.’ These bad things include (but are not limited to) the possibility of more powerful hurricanes due to anthropogenic global warming; the dangers of carcinogens in water supplies (or containers); selling the clear-cutting of national forests as ‘fire-prevention.’ All of these, though, will magically cease to matter when the Apocalypse comes.
A third way in which apocalypsism harms people is through opposition to family planning of any kind. This link is a little more tenuous, but I see some evidence for it in the comments (drivel) of the Pope, James Dobson, Falwell, et al. Since the world will end soon, overpopulation does not matter since some significant fraction will die during the end times. But, since the world will end soon, Christians need as many people as possible alive on earth RIGHT NOW to increase the chances of converting and saving some of the souls. Any form of population control (family planning, the pill, condoms, abortion, voluntary sterilization) is reducing the number of souls who might be saved when the end comes. More is better when it comes to saving souls.
The last way that I see apocalypsism harming humanity is through the lessening of the willingness of private or government organizations to aid in the event of a natural disaster. America has the largest economy on earth. We have the largest military budget on earth. Yet when a million and a half Burmese (sounds better than Myanmarese) need aid after a massive tropical cyclone, America offers a paltry $3 million (which given the strength of the dollar, isn’t even that much)? The tsunamis of the Indian Ocean a few years back, a disaster unprecedented in the modern world, was ignored by the President for days. So how is an unwillingness to help related to apocalypsism? The world will end soon. Suffering through wars, natural disasters, starvation, pestilence, plague, even tooth decay, are all signs of the coming apocalypse. Easing the suffering is upsetting God’s plan. Easing the suffering will delay the second coming.
I realize that I have painted Christians with a rather broad brush here. Many Christians (as well as atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Animists, Shintoists, etc.) give generously of time and money during and after disasters. On an individual level, this is great. But on an institutional level, where the greatest good can be accomplished through the pooling of resources, solutions and problem solving are intentionally lacking.
One of the biggest dangers facing America and, in fact, the whole world, is the idea that we are in the End Times and the Apocalypse is coming which will bring the second coming of Christ. The willingness to derail the American economy because is won’t matter after the apocalypse is short-sighted (after all, in the 990s, thousands of Christians gave away all their possessions believing that the end was near and ended up dying in poverty when the end didn’t come (and a couple of guys named de’Cheney de la Bush really cleaned up)). A willingness to destroy the world on which we live through short-sighted profiteering enabled by an end-times mentality is short-sighted. And an unwillingness to help others through the belief that easing suffering will delay the end of the world is short-sighted.
What happens when the end of the world doesn’t come and our economy is run by China (or taken over by the World Bank because we can’t run it)? What happens when the end of the world doesn’t come and the ecology of the world is in ruins because of Global Warming? And what happens when the end doesn’t come and the rest of the world looks at how our short-sighted greed and selfishness, based on a bronze-age superstition, has created suffering and chaos throughout all the lands?
I don’t have the answers, but, to quote a line from Broadway: “Comes the end and it won’t be pretty!” And it won’t be the world that ends, but America’s role in the world.
( I retitled the piece from “Does Apocalypsism Harm?” because, well, it confused me.)