Armageddon Within Our Lifetime?

Armageddon Within Our Lifetime? September 7, 2016

Armageddon BibleWe live in strange times. 41 percent of Americans say that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050, and 38 percent believe that natural disasters are signs from God. For white evangelicals, those fractions are 58 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

What accounts for this fascination with the end times? Dr. Robert Price commented on one element of popular culture, the Left Behind novels that wallow in the horror of a post-rapture world. Price sees this as Christian porn. Fans of the series can read in those novels what they’d like to read in the newspaper. They’re eager for Armageddon, and they see themselves as the good guy in the book.

Crying wolf

A larger factor that fuels this anxiety is Christian personalities who point to every bit of bad news as evidence that things are going to hell and that Armageddon is around the corner. These guys never met a natural disaster they didn’t like. Jerry Falwell wondered “whether the crisis in the Middle East is actually a prelude to the end of the world.” Glenn Beck said that the recent story of a Syrian rebel eating a human heart is a sign of the end times. Pat Robertson said that the 5.8 magnitude Virginia earthquake of 2011 was another sign. Oh, and security cameras, too.

Jesus gave this advice about the end times:

When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places. (Luke 21:9–11)

The gospel of Mark adds that these signs are “the beginning of birth pains.”

The Pat Robertsons of the world will ask, Do you hear about wars and earthquakes in the news? Well there you go—that matches what the Bible predicted. What more evidence do you need? And if you say that there have always been wars and earthquakes, they quote 2 Peter 3:3, “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” John Hagee interpreted this immunity to the facts: “The very fact that you don’t believe [Jesus] is coming is proof positive he’s on the way!”

But let’s return to reason. For this prophecy to stand out, it can’t be referring simply to disasters, because there’s always a baseline amount of war and natural disasters. It’s about a substantial increase of those things, and we’re not seeing that today.

War, earthquake, famine, and pestilence, oh my!

First, let’s put to rest worries about increasing pestilence. Science has made gains against disease that would have been inconceivable just a few centuries ago. Sewer and clean water systems, vaccines, and antibiotics have altered life dramatically in much of the world, no thanks to God. Smallpox, killer of half a billion people in the 20th century alone, is only a memory, and polio and guinea worm may soon be gone as well. While cancer and influenza still exist, we’ve made great progress against them. The trend is positive here.

Famines in India and China killed millions of people a century ago. Food distribution isn’t perfect today, but modern technology has increased crop yields so that widespread famine is almost impossible. (More on the relative value of magic vs. technology here.)

As for natural disasters like earthquakes, we can’t control them, but for many, we have advanced warning. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which caught the city off guard and killed perhaps 10,000 people, could not happen today. We also have warnings for tornadoes and tsunamis.

Famously wrong end-times prophet Hal Lindsey said, “To the skeptic who says that Christ is not coming soon, I would ask him to put the book of Revelation in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other, and then sincerely ask God to show him where we are on His prophetic time-clock.” Like Harold Camping, or John Hagee, some people just won’t look at the facts and realize that they predict the future no better than a palm reader.

 (What about war? I discuss Steven Pinker’s surprising conclusions about violence in Part 2.)

If you listen closely 
you can hear the footstep of Messiah 
shuffling through the clouds of heaven.
— John Hagee

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/10/13.)

Photo credit: Amazon

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  • Sastra

    Price calling End Times storytelling “Christian porn” is funny, but rather apt. I read his book The Reason-Driven Life and was impressed by one of the common apocalyptic themes he mentions: all the people who laughed at you are REALLY SORRY NOW. Scene after scene showed some former nonbeliever apologizing, crying, lamenting, and regretting how wrong they were and how the Christians were right, right, right.

    I sometimes suspect the almost lascivious enjoyment of End Times theology has less to do with excitement over Jesus’ return, and more to do with getting even with Cousin Phil for snickering at you that time when you tried to witness to him.

    • busterggi

      Sublimated vengence, its like justice without the just part.

    • MNb

      “some….. and how the Christians were right, right, right.”
      If you’re active enough on this blog sooner or later you’ll run into some christian bigot who threatens you with “wait until after you die, then you’ll regret you never listened to me.” It’s exactly the same.

      • epeeist

        you’ll run into some christian bigot who threatens you with “wait until after you die, then you’ll regret you never listened to me.”

        Just point out that only non-theists go to heaven.

        • Sastra

          Heh — an extended argument for the virtue of being wrong for the right reason.

      • busterggi

        And you don’t need patience because it won’t take too long for that meeting.

      • Matthew46

        What if he believed in the wrong god? There have been hundreds of them and his odds of having chosen the right god are less than one in several hundred.

        • al kimeea

          Can’t be believing in the worng doG, because they just know it in their heart

      • Aegis

        It’s revenge fantasy writ large, really.

  • Dannorth

    “If you listen closely
    you can hear the footstep of Messiah
    shuffling through the clouds of heaven.”

    Mr Hagee is waxing poetic isn’t he?

    Reminds me of a Peanuts strip where Snoopy is typing a novel on top of his doghouse.

    “He owned a 1935 Eloquent, every Saturday morning he was waxing Eloquent.”

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

  • epeeist

    Sewer and clean water systems

    Joseph Bazalgette, someone who did more good for Londoners than all the churches put together.

  • epicurus

    Thanks to the pre tribulation rapture, Christians get to miss Armageddon, so they won’t even have to suffer through it. No wonder they can’t wait for it. They can just sit in the clouds with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the show.

    • al kimeea

      iirc, only 144,000 are to be raptured sorry for the embed

  • Greg G.

    Hal Lindsey said, “To the skeptic who says that Christ is not coming soon, I would ask him to put the book of Revelation in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other, and then sincerely ask God to show him where we are on His prophetic time-clock.”

    Hey, Hal. Make that daily newspaper one from the early 1900’s and sincerely ask God why Jesus didn’t come a century ago.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I tell fundies that Christ is an eternal form. He kept returning again and again, but the Church kept burning him at the stake.

  • MNb

    The irony is that those end time predictors usually also deny the real apocalypse that is happening right now: climate change, decreasing biodiversity etc.

  • eric

    We live in strange times. 41 percent of Americans say that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050

    The cynic in me says this is probably not so strange. My guess is that some hefty portion of Christians who study the bible have thought Jesus would return in their lifetime in every generation since 30 AD.

    • Rudy R

      Jesus himself prophesised that the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth would happen in his generation. That is THE epic prophesy failure in the NT.

      • Mister Two

        In my church that was spun to mean that the Kingdom was the Church. We couldn’t understand why all of those false Christians believed the false doctrine of a future earthly kingdom. Hey, Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world!” What more evidence did they need?

        • eric

          Well first, the Church is clearly ‘of this world.’ Its composed of people, buildings, etc.

          Second, spiritual kingdom /= invisible undetectable unnoticed spiritual kingdom. Jesus promised the former, and he also promised people would see it. So the ‘why isn’t it evident’ is still a legitimate criticism.

    • You can excuse the uneducated in the 1100s. But today? Christians should be a little more adult.

  • pec

    Well there’s one potential disaster shaping up that’s new & getting worse: Climate change. Strangely, that’s one they don’t want to hear or talk about.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      They *want* it…people only embrace religion when real life sucks.

    • OhNotAnotherOne

      When it becomes so obvious that even THEY can’t deny it, they’ll say the Bible predicts such things as a sign of the end times, and ask how much longer we unbelievers will be blind to it. -.-

    • Aegis

      There’s money in pretending it’s not real, so that’s that, I guess.

  • Dys

    Ever since Jesus missed his first stated deadline for returning in the Bible, the death cultists among Christianity have been hoping and praying that Armageddon would show up any day now….

  • Mick

    John Hagee interpreted this immunity to the facts: “The very fact that you don’t believe [Jesus] is coming is proof positive he’s on the way!”

    Christians have been using that ploy for 2,000 years. Here’s Tertullian in De Carne Christi (c 203AD): “And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      It’s just sad to think people do think that horseshit is profound :**( *

  • Mister Two

    This is why I’m a little bit more afraid of Ted Cruz than Donald Trump. (Notice, I said “a little bit.”) I’m fairly certain that Cruz thinks his god has appointed him to lead the world to Armageddon. The fact that he wasn’t nominated in 2016 just means his god isn’t quite ready yet, but 2020 may be the year. Cruz is trying to be patient. Can you imagine a president who thinks that war is supposed to start between Israel and their neighbors? The person in the world most able to facilitate the beginning of a world war, who believes that the U.S. and Israel are going to be fighting against much of the world because he reads that prediction into his holy book… it’s almost a guarantee of WWIII.

    • Sastra

      Yes, there’s always the possibility that if there’s not money in it Trump’s not interested — and if the entire world blows up that will cut down considerably on opportunities to make a profit.

      On the other hand, if he survives by huddling down in the presidential bunker, Trump could then crown himself LORD GOD EMPEROR OF THE ENTIRE PLANET!!!! How are the 7 or 8 other people going to stop him? He doesn’t even have to come out of the bunker.

      So it’s a draw.

      • Michael Neville

        I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. –Albert Einstein

        • Sastra

          And Trump will have all the best sticks and stones.

        • Thought2Much

          They’ll be YUUUUUGE!

        • Aegis

          Course they would be, they’d be the foundations America was built on. He’d get some real good work crews in and rip ’em right outta there, and then not pay those crews.

        • Sam

          Mexico would pay them.

        • busterggi

          Einstein was nuts, cockroaches don’t use sticks or stones.

        • Michael Neville

          That’s what the roaches want you to believe.

    • eric

      I agree Cruz is more ideologically terrible (while Trump is more irrational). One mitigating factor for Cruz is that his fellow GOP Senators and Representatives hate him. That means a President Cruz would’ve had far less than usual impact on legislation, budget, and might reasonably be expected to not win reelection, because basically the entire legislature would’ve wanted him gone in four years. And with Cruz’s penchant for (attempting to) not passing budgets if he doesn’t get his way, he would’ve become very unpopular very quickly.

      • busterggi

        Yes, Cruz’s fellow GOPpers hate him but not becuase of his positions, just because of his grandstanding. If he played nice and didn’t try to hog the spotlight they’d all love him.

  • Jerry Lynch

    You need to do more research about the End Times voices. And their ridiculous recent claims, all by now proven false. “The four blood moons” is a doosey. Hagee et al. Read Johnathan Kahn. Bakker will be a real treat of cotton candy. I work at a Christian TV station: those there and every Christian I know in town believes the end is near. But the solid basis for this, Israel becoming a nation and that generation seeing the Second Coming, is getting really thin. Perhaps some prophetic televangelist will discover in Bible code that last generation is as the time of Noah, living to 900 and change.

    • I’ve written a lot here about John Hagee and Harold Camping and others.

      If you have any insights into what makes this thinking so attractive, feel free to speculate/share.

    • It’s going to happen in 1988, right? Wait..

    • Odd Jørgensen

      Cracks me up when they start with the code stuff, and numerology and whatnot. The zinger is that they think that edited and translated verses can be used in such a manner to find hidden messages from authors that used vastly different languages.

  • Myna A.

    It’s always Armageddon for living things on this earth somewhere, and likewise paradise. While enjoying a picnic in some sunny park in Ohio, there are bombs blowing up some neighborhood in Syria.