“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it…”

Check out this article about the resurgence of the survivalist movement.

Survivalists have been with us for a long time now — I suppose the impulse to hoard, fortify, and defend is as old as humankind — and certainly it is no surprise that our rapidly rising energy and food costs would inspire a new generation of folks with bunkers filled with freeze dried foods. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about the survivalist mentality in years, not since I lived in rural Tennessee (it seems that the backwoods is the survivalist’s natural habitat). Reading this article, I was impressed at how (on the surface, at least) “green” the new survivalists seem to be: eschewing credit cards and television sets in favor of family farming, herbal medicine, solar power and other forms of off-the-grid energy consumption. So, far, it all sounds good.

But then there are the guns.

Consider this illuminating quotation from the article linked to above…

These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that…

…and this…

[Survivalists] envision a future in which the nation’s cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water … Some believe the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedoms. Others simply don’t trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.

… and this:

“I was panic-stricken,” [one survivalist] recalled [after hearing an expert speak on the bleak future of the world's oil supply], her voice shaking. “Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible.”

Frankly, I don’t blame her. Aside from a few tomato and herb plants, Fran and I do not grow any of our own food. We both drive to work (I have a typical long-Atlanta commute), and there’s no food supply near us other than convenience stores and fast food joints. In the apocalyptic world envisioned by the survivalists, we likely would end up among the marauding refugees. A breakdown in the medical infrastructure would basically be a death sentence to Rhiannon.

So the temptation to yield to the fear is pretty strong. And I don’t think the solution is to just blow off the doomsday scenarios as just more Y2K-style hysteria. Eventually we will run out of fossil fuels, whether it’s 2012 or 2112. And the fact that it might be after the end of your and my natural lives does not justify us choosing to ignore the problem.

So I think learning to consume less, to save rather than spend, to live as lightly on the planet as possible, are all good and holy things to do. For those of us who are Christian, I would even go so far as to say it’s a sin not to be moving in the direction of ever-greater environmental responsibility.

But if you’re motivated by fear, panic, depression and devastation to move in such a direction, you’re going to end up putting your faith in Smith & Wesson rather than in the Holy Trinity. I know people will always do this, but I think it’s sad. And it’s certainly not Christian.

We’re all going to die, and we will all suffer terribly before we do (and that’s not just a Christian perspective: check out the Buddha’s four noble truths). So the real question facing us is this: what do we do in the meantime? How do we prepare for a future that will, inevitably, involve suffering and eventual death? Do we grasp and hoard — or do we think communally and integrally and inter-responsibly, seeing our efforts at saving, preparing, and conserving as one part of a larger movement toward alleviating suffering when it arises?

If I hoard food and then the apocalypse comes, as a Christian I will be called, sacrificially, to share that food with anyone who needs it. And if a marauding band of hungry refugees come and kill me for it, then I will have died. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I’m not the kind of Christian who thinks we should make a fetish of death and suffering — death and suffering exist aplenty, and we don’t have to go courting it. But I also believe that discipleship in Christ demands us to embrace our own mortality, our own capacity to suffer, and in that embracing to remain present to love others and to serve them, even when it hurts, because something bigger is always at stake than just one’s own self-protection or self-preservation. And I’m not saying Christians should be reckless; only that when we protect against suffering and death, we do so not out of some sort of fearful impulse for self-preservation, but simply as a faithful response to God’s call, since we can love and serve our wounded and suffering neighbors more easily when we are alive and healthy, than when we’re not.

I don’t always live at this level of consciousness: it’s all too easy for me to get wrapped up in fear and self-protection. But by the grace of God, it is possible for me, or you, or any person of faith, to live grounded in faithful, fearless love. I believe that the gift Christ gives us is the opportunity to live so deeply in his love and faith, that we can truly obey his commands to live fearlessly: no longer fearing death, no longer fearing suffering, but rather living in faith and courage. I believe it is this gratuitous gift of courage that enables Christians to serve those anyone we encounter who might remain trapped in their own psychic hells.

Even if they are coming after our food.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Jon Boatwright

    Very well put. I agree with you. Since so many Americans call themselves Christian we have varying opinions on what our role is in this Democracy we’ve inherited and many beliefs as to how to act in the coming trials that are bound to come. But surely if we hoard food or anything, when the trials come, we will be held accountable to then take care of the least of these. Naturally to provide for family is good but beware that some will be faced with the gut wrenching decision to provide for others you didn’t plan on. Is surviving really surviving in that scenario? Personally I don’t know if I believe all the doomsday theories. But I do know that it is ultimatly the trust in the Lord that we will all be faced with at whatever point If we act otherwise we are simply setting ourselves up for something worse.


  • judith collier

    All of this reminds me of when I was a child and people were digging bomb shelters. As a child I couldn’t figure out what we were going to do as we did not have a bomb shelter. There was Russia, the big Evil, and hiding under our desks in school in preparation for the bomb. We never had much money to stockpile during other threats and so I decided rather young to forget it and trust God for our keeping. I hate fear motivation and now purposely WILL not succomb to it.

  • http://maritzia.consecrated-life.org Maritzia

    It’s funny. I used to hang out at this pagan homesteading forum. I really enjoyed it for a while. I could overlook all of the conspiracy theories rolling around because I liked most of the people and I strongly believe in simplifying life and living sustainably.

    But then they started in on the guns, and that was pretty much it for me. When they started about needing to protect themselves from the hordes of hungry that would overtake them….*shakes her head*. I just don’t get people like that.