By LoFi —
(SPOILER ALERT for Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity Wars in this article.)
Let’s say you are sitting down to watch Avengers: Infinity Wars for the first time. Someone comes over and tells you: “Thanos wins in the end. He snaps his fingers and half the universe disappears. When he does, I’ll give you $50.”
So you start the movie with the “knowledge” that he’s going to win, and you have a financial incentive to see him win. When you see Thanos beat down the Hulk in the first ten minutes, you’re upset at the Hulk lost, but you are now closer to that $50. Every time the heroes encounter Thanos, they lose, and your confidence in this payout is further confirmed.
They take heavier and heavier losses, heroes start dying, and you’re already thinking about how you’re going to spend that money. No matter how good it may look for the heroes at a particular moment you hope that it’s going to get worse for them and you are proven right. Eventually Thanos snaps his fingers, the Avengers lose, and you get $50.
You ended up actively cheering for the bad guy to win.
The story I was told in my church, and I know it’s told in many others, was that the world was going to fall apart but in the end Jesus would come back and take us to Heaven. The world would “cry out like a woman in labor” where events like earthquakes and hurricanes would increase in frequency and intensity. There would be wars, rumors of wars, the depravity of man would increase, and ultimately the world would turn and begin murdering and martyring Christians. Eventually, at the end of all this, Jesus would come back and would take his faithful to heaven where they would regather for a final battle of Armageddon. All the unrepentant sinners would be slain and sent to hell, and then we would all go to the new Heaven and Earth and live in paradise forever.
Just like waiting for the Thanos Snap in order to make $50, we watched the world get worse knowing that it was pointing to our eternal payoff in the end. The “Story of the World” was “spoiled” in our minds so when we watched the news and saw stories about how bad things were getting, it was just evidence of Jesus’ imminent return. We believed we were truly in the end times.
Look at the Columbine shootings. Hurricane Katrina. Oklahoma City Bombing. Famines. Rising Seas. Coronavirus. Every day we had it confirmed to us that the end times were happening in front of our very eyes.
So, why? Why were my church and others like it obsessed with this? Why was the Left Behind series so successful? Why would we look at something like global warming and just shrug our shoulders and say: “Well, Jesus is coming back soon anyway, so it doesn’t matter” (that is an actual quote I have heard multiple times).
Climate change, fires, famine, storms, pandemics, and other natural disasters were simply signs that the Earth was “in labor.” Even if we could do something about it, it was pointless because the ending was already written.
We ended up with this pessimistic and fatalistic view of the world where everything around us was going to, and HAD to, get worse. No one could stop it. At some level we didn’t want to stop it and even ended up welcoming it. We ended up in this apathetic state where during a horrific moment like 9/11 we would just find ourselves crying out: “Jesus, come quickly!” Because we knew that every event was just a precursor to worse and more frequent events.
So why did we feel this way? Why do churches embrace and settle into this “End-Times Apathy?”
One obvious answer is it’s an easy response. Combating climate change is difficult and takes many people working hard against organizations that profit off the processes that accelerate it. Wildlife preservation and environmentalism were little more than rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
After years of knowing someone from my church intimately I found that at some level they were welcoming these horrible things happening in the world because it moved us closer to the rapture. For anyone not familiar with the Rapture, the short of it is a belief based on Bible prophecy that Jesus will return at some unexpected moment and take the currently living Christians up to Heaven to leave the world to devour itself for 1000 years.
This Rapture provides a loophole in mortality where lucky Christians would be able to bypass dying. Did this person’s subconscious survival instincts have them secretly celebrating the end of the world because the rapture was their “Get out of Death Free Card”? I believe they did, based on how they viewed and feared death and how they handled death events in what many would consider an unhealthy way.
I can assure you it’s true that people think like this. I know of another group of churches that go even further and tell their members to “stop paying your bills, Jesus is coming back before they will be due.” Granted, those are extreme, but this is a widespread belief.
It’s one thing to abandon caring about global warming or environmental issues, but we even had apathy when it came to the suffering of others. When we would see Israel take land from Palestinians or have battles and wars we would be rooting for Israel to win. We weren’t rooting for the fighting to be over, or for them to come to some arrangement; no, we wanted Israel to win, because until the Jews take back the part of Jerusalem that is currently under Muslim occupation and build their temple, Jesus wouldn’t come back. The prophecy says the Temple has to be built and then we can move closer to the Rapture.
It makes me sad to think about the callousness I had simply because I “knew” who the winning team was going to be, and if they won, then all us Christians would “win” shortly thereafter. We saw Palestinian deaths as little more than sacrifices needed to get to Jesus’ return. Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right?
I’m a huge movie buff. One of my favorite movies about time travel is “12 Monkeys.” In it, Bruce Willis travels from the future to the past to find clues about a virus that wipes out most of humanity. At one time in the past while being interviewed by a psychologist Bruce says: “All I see are dead people.” No one around him mattered as they were all going to die anyway. He was just a passenger, an observer. He didn’t even care about the people trying to help him.
As the movie goes on, you and the character find clues that make you start to doubt the story. Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he’s just crazy and imagining all of it. Maybe the ending where everyone dies isn’t written in stone. If that’s the case, what does that mean about how he interacts with the people trying to help him?
That is how I felt after leaving the church and thinking about end-times. If the ending wasn’t already written then I felt compelled to do everything I possibly could to make the world a better place. Global Warming isn’t just the tool God is going to use to wipe out humanity, it’s something I had to work with others to fight against and try to correct.
So, what kinds of questions would have helped me reflect on my beliefs that were wrapped up with this End Times mindset? A few I can think of are:
- Are there any statistics demonstrating that the world is getting worse?
- Did I think that people during WWI and WWII thought they were in the end times with all the wars rumors of wars? Did I think we had more war and violence now?
- What do I think would happen to a news station if they only showed happy stories? Did I think they have a financial interest in showing stories that shock us?
- If it turned out that the end-times and rapture weren’t true, would I have more interest in environmentalism and concern around global warming?
- What if the rapture wasn’t for another 500 years? What would the next 25 generations think about how I treated the world?
I don’t think these would have changed my mind entirely, and in fact, I know exactly how I would have answered each one. However, I do know they would have made me think a bit more and maybe question some of my assumptions.
Even now, years after having left a lot of this behind, I still have thoughts come out of nowhere when I watch the news. “See, this is according to the prophecy. These are warning signs for you. You need to come back because each day is closer to the end and it’s only going to get worse and then it will be too late.”
It’s taken years to be able to combat these intrusive thoughts and I don’t think I’ll ever truly be rid of them. Hopefully someone out there can relate to this and know that they’re not alone in any mental and emotional damage this End Times conditioning may have caused.