I read the other day that 22% of Americans are certain that we are living in the end times. That’s one in five people. Even after the Great Disappointment, even after the fizzle of Y2K, even after all the people who have said “the world is ending right this second” and it never does.
I’ve even heard some folks say that we don’t have to worry about, say, global warming or long-term solutions for social problems, because Jesus is coming.
In other words, we can just shit the bed and then roll around in it, because Jesus is coming with new sheets. You can tell by my metaphor that I don’t believe, even if the world ends on Friday, that Jesus is going to want to hug some of us until after we’ve had four or five showers. I also have grave concerns about His happiness with an attitude of “Oh, that world you gave me? Whatever. I broke it. Where’s my new one?”
But I also just don’t believe that the world is going to end in my lifetime. And I have a pretty low opinion of humanity, so believe me, I am sure we can shit the bed in ways so disturbing that it makes the 20th century look quaint. But that isn’t going to end the world. Even if it ends most of our lives. We are so small and fragile and easily dead. And the world is a huge hunk of rock.
But we Americans have an apocalyptic strain. That can’t be denied. I used to think it was because we thought we were special–the New Jerusalem that would usher in some new order that would pave the way for Jesus’ return. So, hubris, really. We are so special that we must be the ones God’s been waiting for.
And then I wondered if it wasn’t unarticulated guilt–our arrival here did mark the end of life as they knew it for everyone who was here before us. Is it the fact that we caused an apocalypse for Native Americans the driving force that leads us to believe that our world should be destroyed? Guilt and judgment?
But, you know, the truth is that I don’t see a lot of Americans who really think they’re so great or who feel social-justice-y levels of guilt. So, I don’t think either of those things are it.
But I do see a lot of people who are miserable, either in their own lives or with the state of the world, or both. And I think the feeling that we must be living in the end of days is actually a direct statement of a loss of faith that things can go on. A statement about a lack of hope in the future so severe that the end-timer doesn’t actually believe there is a future.
And, honestly, to go back to my point at the beginning, I also think it’s a kind of loss of faith in their belief system. I mean, if you thought the world was ending and Jesus was coming back–if you truly thought that–you would not shit the bed, you would put clean sheets on it and put things in order and give the house a good cleaning. You’d make things ready for your house-guest/landlord.
But the fact that our apocalyptic segment of society is indeed taking a shit-the-bed approach rather than a “woo hoo! My old friend is coming!” approach can only mean that they both believe that the world is ending AND that Jesus won’t show.
And that is a bigger crisis for American Christendom–having a core group of faithful people who, at heart, feel that Jesus will not show for them–than all the folks who drift away or find some other religion.