Fun With the End of the World

Why is predicting the end of the world so popular?

I had this question asked of me by a young Christian who was a new convert. He’s a very intelligent fellow, and it didn’t take him long to see that there was a top-heavy focus on the “end of the world” concerns out there, as any trip down the aisle of your local Family Bookstore will also suggest, both in the fiction and the non-fiction section.

As he also noted, though, it’s not just Christians sucking up all this end of the world hype. The Mayan calendar phenomenon had its own run for a while, and as part of my studies on that subject I found plenty of apocalyptic scenarios presented by people who wouldn’t know the book of Revelation from a Julia Child recipe book.

So back to the question: Why is predicting the end of the world so popular?

To be sure, some make a big deal out of it because it’s a cash cow for them. John Hagee seems to me the classic example of this: Every year or two he hauls out some new scenario for the end of the world, shifting out one scenario for another with the same basic end-times message at the core. Years ago it was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin that was at the center of Hagee’s end times model. Then it was the Y2K bug. Later it was the 2008 recession. The world has ended so many times under Hagee’s inspiration that he’s given new life to the steady state model for the origins of the universe.

But for most people, I think the fascination is more basic. End of the world scenarios are their version of the emergency exit, the ultimate airlift out of Dodge and away from the humdrum. Easier to look forward to than that sink of dirty dishes, you might say. And of course a much more pleasant prospect for tomorrow than many things that are truly horrible in life.

Christians of course believe in some sort of eschatological endgame, no matter whether you’re a preterist like me, or whether you put the millennial reign somewhere else along the chronological highway. But it seems to be more comforting to be able to appeal to a fixed deadline where the end might be found; it enables better planning, and tells you exactly when might be a good time to sell your house (answer: two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, 1988! – get it?). Put it on your calendar: Jesus comes back May 21, 2011 (so don’t make that June root canal appointment)!

The appeal of end times prediction is the appeal of avoiding our scheduled and expected unpleasantries. I’d say that’s a bad recipe for discipleship.


Jason Pratt said…
Lol'd at the steady state joke! {g}

Back when I was 5 or 6 and started reading the Bible more directly, RevJohn was my favorite book to study; and at that time Lindsey's original Late Great Planet Earth was still popular -- although I didn't get around to reading him until a little later in the 80s. Being a critical little cuss even back then, I naturally went back to read and compare his prior book, to see what had changed and what had stayed the same and how far he had properly criticized his own mistakes in what had changed. I don't recall any specifics -- the material was fun and dramatically interesting either way -- but I know ever since then I've been somewhat amusedly suspicious about subsequent attempts, which I read rather like fan-fiction. I was even reading a series of lectures from the Revolutionary Era Baptist evangelist Winchester recently, where I ran across a number of interesting things I hadn't seen before; but of course his strong conviction that Napoleon, currently marching around taking over continental Europe, was the ultimate anti-Christ, was... well... distractedly amusing, let's say!

Not that I keep up with such things as much as some people do (like our local ex-postmaster who has made a bit of a retirement cottage industry writing and speaking on end-time prophecy), but I've been at it a long time; long enough that I also wryly enjoy the blank looks I get from advocates when I ask them how their current impressive author compares and contrasts his current theories with prior obviously-incorrect ones, to show why his are clearly better!

(Which I know sounds harsh, so I'll add as a qualifier that I do actually go with some version of the popular 7 year final trib + millennium reign + general res theory, with or without a pre-trib rapture, although I lean slightly in favor of pre-trib. I'm just agnostic about the specific specifics.)

Jason Pratt said…
(Addedum; actually I think LGPE was in 1977, so he came out a little after I started reading RevJohn. But I didn't know to look for books like that in the library until the early 80s, so I missed the initial fun.)

Jason Pratt said…
(Okay, Wiki says the original book was 1970, but there must have been a re-issue in 76 or 77 in expectation of the movie narrated by Orson Welles, and that's what I eventually read. Can't tell yet if the movie was released at that time or later in 1979 or both. This is how historical harmonization studies work, whether in secular or Biblical topics, of course. Thanks internet! {g})
hey JP (James Patrick Holding) good post man, thanks for posting.
Anonymous said…
Good stuff.
Thanks for all the help Mr Holding. Keep trucking.
PS. Annals of hearthstone rocks
Anonymous said…
Not only was the Mayan Calendar stuff popular, but there is this hoax about Nibiru, or Planet X:

Brussell Sprout: Gigantic Wrecking Ball Headed Toward Earth

This guy keeps pushing back the date, as people of his ilk tend to do.

Don McIntosh said…
I do actually go with some version of the popular 7 year final trib + millennium reign + general res theory, with or without a pre-trib rapture, although I lean slightly in favor of pre-trib. I'm just agnostic about the specific specifics.)

Thanks for adding that bit JRP. I am pretty much with you there. Eschatological calendars and end times prophets will pass away (just as JP has made so clear) but the promise of everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven will not.

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