Sunday, October 03, 2010

Growing Up in Fear of Armageddon

I grew up in a Christian family. Mom made my siblings and me attend church on a regular basis. I didn’t much care for it and often went to great links to avoid it, such as turning the clock hand ahead to make her think we were already late. It didn’t work.

She eventually stopped attending church regularly herself, but when I was 10 or 11 I started going to church on my own because all the other kids in my new neighborhood were there. It was a kid-friendly church. We sang lots of cool songs accompanied by hand gestures; we made nice things in Sunday school class, and we even put on a Christmas pageant.

I went to the altar for the first time when I was 12. I remember a lady from the church kneeling down by me and a couple of friends of mine who also made the trip. She shed a tear as she prayed over us. It made me uncomfortable, which is the only emotion I actually remember feeling.

What I remember most about my life as a kid Christian was thinking that my life on Earth would be over soon. I would be alive when the Rapture came. The end of the world was no more than a few years away, and certainly within my lifetime. And I was none too happy about it either. Why should the world end on my watch? I wanted to have a full life, but apparently, I wasn’t going to.

When I matriculated I had to complete a questionnaire. One of the questions was, “Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?” The college was affiliated with the Baptist Church, although it was a liberal arts school with no Christian curriculum per se. I left the question blank, because I just didn’t want to face that question anymore. I kind of did believe it, but I wanted to live what was left of my life as though it would not happen.

My childhood was filled with deadlines for the end of the world. I remember being horrified by predictions that the world would come to an end on this date or that. Most of the predictions of doom were from those who were expecting Jesus’ return. My mom tried to assuage my fears by telling me that nobody knows when Jesus will return, but the harm was done.

When I was about 13, my best friend was telling me about his belief that Jesus was ready to come. He said it would happen when the bible is fulfilled. I asked him when that would be and he told me it was fulfilled already. His father dabbled in ministry, as a hobby I think.

Even as a young adult I was continually exposed to people claiming that the bible was fulfilled or nearly so and that the end times were upon us. Even TV preachers in suits, whom I supposed were intelligent because they spoke in a seemingly intellectual manner, were telling me to be ready because Christ would be coming any day, and certainly prior to the year 2000.

I remember thinking, “Ok, so that might give me another 20 years or so.” So that must have been in the late 1970s, shortly after I graduated college.

But, and yes it took me until I was an adult, I eventually caught on to the fact that none of the early predictions about the end of time had come true. Maybe, I thought, people are simply wrong all the time when they predict the Second Coming. I knew the bible said that no one would know the day or hour, but it didn’t say anything about being able to narrow it down to the month or year. So I was still apprehensive about predictions of the end that didn’t zero in on a certain date.

But even those kinds of predictions never came to pass. I was beginning to think that prophets of doom were merely wishful thinkers who, for whatever personal reason they had, wanted to be here at the end. So I started looking to history. Had people been predicting the end of time long before my time? As it turns out, the answer is a resounding yes.

The very first prediction of the Second Coming of Christ was made by Christ himself. In a number of places in Matthew and in Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that some of them would still be alive when God’s Kingdom came into being on Earth, (See Matthew 23:34). And in 1 Thessalonians Paul writes about the imminent return of Jesus.

Of course, these early predictions didn’t come true, so later Christians had to start interpreting them symbolically if they were to hold on to their cherished belief that the bible is the infallible word of God. But very early Christians were all pretty convinced that their generation would be the last.

Every generation of Christians since Jesus has had its share of prophets of doom. Saint Clement I predicted the Second Coming in 90 CE. In the second century, prophets of the Montanist movement predicted that Jesus would return sometime during their lifetime. In the fourth century, Hilary of Poitiers and his protégés predicted various dates for the end sometime before 400 CE.

The year 1000 was a favorite target of end-time predictions by Christians in Europe back then. In fact, they went so far as to dig up the body of Charlemagne because, according to legend, an emperor was to rise from slumber to fight the antichrist. The year 1033 was also rife with end-time predictions because it was supposedly the 1000th anniversary of the Crucifixion.

The 1800s were full of predictions by Christians who thought the end was near. Joseph Smith and William Miller were two well-known prophets of doom who went on to be the founders of modern day churches after their predictions failed. The gullible apparently would rather watch and wait for decades or centuries rather than admit that they had been taken in by charlatans.

Throughout my adult life, the more I read of all the failed prophecies of the end of the world, the more convinced I became that it’s all just gibberish. It’s bizarre and absurd that even in the 21st century people are still very serious about their belief in the end times or the rapture.

The end of the world probably will happen one day. A comet or asteroid could strike and kill us all. A supervolcano could erupt and send humanity back to the Stone Age. Nuclear war could wipe us all out. But I don’t see it happening soon. And a belief in the Rapture or a second return of Jesus is simply unpardonable. It’s just not going to happen, folks. And I can predict that with 100-percent assuredness. That’s right, instead of predicting a date for the Second Coming, I’m going to predict that the Second Coming will never happen simply because the first coming involved just a mortal human like everyone else.

I just hope that fundamentalist parents are not scaring the bejesus out of their offspring by bringing them up in an environment that elicits fear that they may never grow up. But I know that is, indeed, happening. And it’s a shame. It’s a form of child abuse and it shouldn’t be tolerated by a civilized society.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Jerry, it takes courage to be genuine this days and you are. You are logic and genuine, two qualities that more people should have. Unfortunately, the majority of people is afraid ... not of death ... they are afraid of living. Thanks for your postings.