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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The End of the World?

It appears that one of the hallmarks of Fundamentalist Christianity is a belief that the end is right around the corner (this was/is certainly the case with the Armstrong Churches of God). Their attitudes about Scripture don't just color their views about religion. They also color the way they look at science, politics, history and world events. Let's face it, for most of these groups, there is a preoccupation (one could almost call it an obsession) with prophecy.

Moreover, it should be clear by now to anyone with an ounce of objectivity, that this preoccupation/obsession is/has not (been) healthy. It leads people to do all kinds of foolish things. It causes them to fail to adequately plan and provide for their futures. It causes them to send their money to folks who are supposed to be warning the rest of the world about what's coming down the pike in the not too distant future. It perverts the way that they parent their children, and it twists the way that they look at government, politics and world events. It also causes unnecessary anxiety, fear and depression and robs many of these folks of their peace of mind.

Where does this conviction that the end of the world is near come from? Not the Bible! It stems from an ignorance of Scripture, history, science, politics, theology and philosophy. How? A literal interpretation of Scripture that does not consider things like context and the complexities of the symbolism used there leads to erroneous conclusions/interpretations. Without a good understanding of human history, much of the wars, political turmoil, famines and disease that folks observe in the world has no context - commonplace events become extraordinary and seem to have appeared suddenly on the world stage. Likewise, without a good understanding of science, things like earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes appear to take on supernatural or magical qualities (they become manifestations of God's wrath). In short, most of these folks (Fundamentalists) are susceptible to the notion that the end is near because they have no frame of reference for what happened before they arrived on the scene. They see bombings, hurricanes, rapes and murders on the nightly news and conclude that the apocalypse is at our door.

The Huffington Post just published an excellent piece entitled "The Second Coming, Prophecy and Politics in America." I encourage everyone to read it. You can view the entire post at this address:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57f63296e4b0568704999eb7  Dr. Steve McSwain applies this phenomenon to the current election cycle in the United States. He writes:
"As the Pew Center recently pointed out, it is largely evangelical Christians who are rallying around a political candidate whom they mistakenly predict will disrupt, or “interfere” with the status quo in government, politics, and in America’s morality. As a consequence, they foretell that this will result in a spiritual revival, restore their version of an “ideal” and “spiritual” America (which is obviously not inside the real prophetic tradition of the Bible). Nor does it square up with what is the nature of historic prophetic preaching. It is as if, however, they regard this “election” year as the “final” attempt by God to return America to its favored and Divinely elected status (what some non-evangelical Republicans would describe as “American exceptionalism”) or else? And, the “or else” means the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture of the Church, and the end of the world.
None of this is remotely true, however. Nor is it Biblical."

He continues:  "And, it is only those who know very little of scripture or quote passages of the Bible that are not in any way predictive of the future who engage in this madness. It’s as if they want you to believe that the Bible is some kind of secret code book containing secret ingredients like a recipe to a special dish and only those who are especially endowed by God to interpret the code are capable of doing so." He completes his article by calling these folks exactly what they are:  FALSE prophets.

Are we saying that folks in the Fundamentalist fold are ignorant? Are we saying that they're intellectually lazy? No, but we are suggesting that digging just a little deeper, doing just a little more research/homework might dramatically improve their outlook on the world and their understanding of biblical prophecy in the context of past and current events.

Is the end of the world at our doorstep? I don't think so. What do you think?


  1. In an e-mail response to this post, Gordon Feil wrote: "The rich value of the prophetic books of the Bible lies in their moral implications: they teach repentance and reliance upon God. They remind us of who he is and what he can do. And they point us towards the Messiah and the hope in him. If that is all we get out of them, we are greatly enriched.
    The failure of the churches of God as a brand lies in the irrelevance of an endtime focus. People are hurting and they need help with their relationships and their handling of their lives: in short, the need is to learn wisdom and to receive comfort, not visions of an unknown future (other than the hope that the Messiah will set things right)."

  2. What do I think? I think it's possible to blame fundamentalists for the Bible's problems. Not that fundamentalists don't see in Scripture what they want to see, but maybe they wouldn't see it if the Bible was written like a normal book; that is, if it actually meant what a reasonable person could understand it to say. The Second Coming, the rapture, the end of the world are not remotely true? Fine. But they sure are biblical, are they not? They are not biblical only when seen through the lens of someone's preferred interpretation that doesn't doesn't attempt to take the Bible at face value. I'm not sure I understand the need to let the Bible off the hook while holding politically conservative Christians' feet to the fire. I understand the problem of taking the Bible literally. Yet, complicating the matter, the Bible can be taken literally many different ways. "False" prophets? That phrase implies there are such things as prophets. I'm not at all sure about that. Do I think the end of the world is at our doorstep? No. That's a big prediction the Bible gets wrong. Yet it's understandable that Bible believers believe that. What's the solution? Probably more than one exists, but one solution is not to take the Bible seriously. Do we want to take the Bible seriously, or do we want people like the Huffingtons not to hold us in contempt? --Dixon C.

  3. Dixon, thanks for the public comments. You and I agree that the Bible has problems (factual inaccuracies, internal contradictions). I'm not blaming Fundamentalists for those, but I do think that they would benefit from knowing more about those and acknowledging them. Moreover, I didn't say that concepts like the tribulation, end of the world, second coming, etc. are not biblical or necessarily false. Indeed, I personally believe that Jesus Christ will return to this earth someday and that a time of great distress and upheaval will immediately precede that event. I take the Bible seriously, and I have enormous respect for other folks who do. Nevertheless, I think that these comments sting because they convict. Context (biblical, historical & scientific) is important, and I believe the phenomenon of prophecy is dangerous without it.

  4. A lot of interesting points have been made. I apreciate Dixon's comments also.

    We must not fail to see the interpretation of the bible within its social context.
    Armstrongism existed largely in a time when the world was "ending" or "about to end". All scientists agreed in moving the "doomsday clock" forward at the time. Club of Rome etc all legitimate bodies of world government pointed to an imminent end of the world.

    UNLESS there was to be a change of heart. The millenials seem to have this change of heart and the current political mischief in America is caused by "the old order" wanting to restore things "in the mythological peace and order of the fifties" as they had known it.

    Exemplary is a comment I made on "banned". I said something about the children's drill "duck and cover". Immediately one of the prolific commenters of estimated 65 years old responded that "if it hadnt been for Armstrongism his youth would have been peaceful". This is exactly the kind of distortion of memory that causes the angry white male to give Trump a chance and "restore order".

    Now why am I making this point on the SOCIAL CONTEXT of interpretation of biblical books.

    Was it not exactly that that caused "Jesus" to appear. Some 60 years before his birth the sect of the Essenes started to write about the imminent deliverance of the people by "a man of light".

    This was of course a reaction to the banishment by the Hellenistic temple Priests and central command from Jerusalem with their Hellenistic oppressor king family the Herodians. Later this opression was even magnified by the Roman occupation. A time of oppression, chaos, war and rumors of war. And a deliverer or messiah was deemed necessary.

    It is only fair to compare times where the need for a Messiah is grossly exagerated through the lense of biblical interpretation and extrapolation of the texts. The ministry of Herbert W Armstrong fits exactly into such time period "The Cold War". Savanarola preached against the banker of Florence and impending collapse of the world system. The Essenes preached in favor of a "man of light" coming to deliver the jews.