September 2006

This time it's all over - really!

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Let’s not mince words. When faith, fear and manipulation are combined, the result is poison. Jonestown, Guyana (literally). September 11 (what do you suppose compelled those men to fly planes into our buildings?). The Crusades (still being fought, at least figuratively, today). And, lately, endless prognostications about an impending apocalypse, as indicated by the situation in the Middle East.

“There’s genuine excitement among some people that Jesus’ return might be near,” Patton Dodd of Belief.net said in a recent Newsweek piece. (He was not expressing his own views).

According to biblical prophecy, Christ’s return will take place only after the Jews have regained their homeland, fought several wars and rebuilt Solomon’s temple where the Dome of the Rock mosque is now inconsiderately located. The present situation in the Mideast is being taken by some Christians as a sign: The End Is Near. It must be — the theory got airtime on CNN!

But this is not breaking news. It’s dejá vu. All these Johnny-come-lately millennialists need to cast aside their scrying bowls and look, not to the future, but the past.

We can start with 2000 — the dreaded “Y2K.” In part, this hysteria was generated by mathematical, not religious theories. But it was still hysteria – remember those neighbors and friends of yours who adopted a “run for the hills” mentality, cramming their house with survival gear and swearing to shoot anyone who came seeking help? I do. If the mindset hadn’t been so disturbing, it would’ve been hilarious. After all, when the world ends, a few extra cans of condensed milk aren’t going to be of much help.

We can keep flashing back, this time, to 1988, when a little pamphlet created quite a stir in churches. “88 Reasons the Rapture Could Be in 1988,” written by “Edgar Whisenant,” laid it all out for the faithful — and many of his “signs” were quite close to the signs some evangelicals now cite.

The title, one supposes, gives Whisenant the benefit of the doubt: He said could, not will. And he did come freakishly close to a day now forever linked with catastrophe when he set the (first) date range as between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13, 1988.

You see, while the Bible clearly states no man knows the day nor the hour, old Edgar said that doesn’t preclude us from knowing the general time frame, within, say, a couple of weeks.

Many churches, including my own, discussed “88 Reasons” only as evidence of false prophecy, but thousands of devout Christians believed Whisenant, filling pews, quitting their jobs, even — to our horror — putting their pets to sleep so they wouldn’t “suffer.” The September dates came, and went, as did Whisenant’s second prediction, Oct. 3.

It is beyond unfortunate the faithful were duped by this man; that they failed to recognize the difference between a prophet and a fraud; that they couldn’t learn from history, or even the contemporary examples afforded by suicide cults. (The mindset is similar).

And now, 18 years later, we see a failure to take away a valuable lesson from the Whisenant fiasco. More disturbingly, there’s a level of glee.

People seem to want the world to end, just so they can be right. “Apocalypse. Now,” is their battle cry.

That’s not to say they’re alone. We can go waaay back, to the so-called Dark Ages, when the monk Gildas railed against the ungodliness of Britain and its leaders. He didn’t advance the theory that they were all one step away from Armageddon, but he did push an idea that goes hand-inglove with it, the “God is punishing our wickedness” lament.

Rather than reaching the conclusion, “We have been destabilized militarily, economically and culturally by the withdrawal of a 300-year occupation and now other destabilized peoples are roaring in to take advantage,” Gildas blamed the Saxon incursions on the fecklessness of British Christians. But at least Gildas didn’t give British leaders a pass; their sins are also catalogued (if not inflated) in his polemical, “Of the Ruin and Conquest of Britain.” By contrast, and perhaps not coincidentally, some modern Christian extremists fervently praise those leaders whose arrogance has brought the world to its present state.

It’s not helpful to dismiss any person’s beliefs, but it’s positively deadly when extremists of any kind dismiss reality. Whenever God decides to wipe out this sphere, you and I are going to be powerless to stop — or aid — it.

At present, we are in far more danger from our government’s bad fiscal and political policies; from those who hate us because of the damage those policies have inflicted on them; from murderers who exploit that hatred; and from the general ill will of our fellow man. The latter includes those socalled Christians who “can’t wait” for the world to end so all the nasty unbelievers will get theirs.

These folks aren’t going to listen to the railings of a lefty. But I hope they listen to the Rev. Kevin Bean, who told CNN that correlations between biblical prophecy and the present are “an arrogant identification with these presentday events. ...they are our destructive action, and you can't correlate our destructive action with some sort of plan of God.” At the least, they could heed Tim LaHaye of “Left Behind” fame, who said in Newsweek: “I’m praying that this whole thing will die down and that as many lives as possible will be saved.”

Amen, brothers.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose.