Love your neighbor as yourself. Give till it hurts. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked and comfort the sick, imprisoned, and mourning. As you treat the least, you treat Jesus himself. Never fight back against persecution or resist the predations of those who mean you harm. If you’re hit in the face, turn the other cheek to your attacker’s hand. If you’re told to carry heavy stuff for a mile, carry it for two without complaint. If someone compels you to give them your coat, give them your shirt as well. Sell everything you own, if you’re convinced you’ve done everything else to keep the laws, and give the proceeds to the poor. Your King is a beggar, a stranger in his own land, who died the most humiliating death imaginable at the time, and a Prince of Peace rather than a Warlord, so following him all but guarantees that you will be led to the slaughter. When, not if, that happens, accept it with a smile. Don’t judge anybody. Oh, and all that stuff you think you know about the proper roles of men and women, slaves and free people, and Jews and Gentiles? That’s all wrong too.
–Stuff Modern Christians Have Decided Is Totally Boring
Interesting list, isn’t it? It’s unlikely that Christianity came up with all these ideas by itself–quite a bit of the stuff people think of as uniquely Christian was plagiarized from other sources at the time, like the writings of Philo of Alexandria that seem to undergird quite a bit of the religion’s earliest writings–but even so we can certainly appreciate how early Jews would have been simply scandalized that this man who growing numbers of people claimed was their Messiah was, rather than being a powerful war-chief who’d lead Israel to independence from the Roman Empire as they expected, in actuality a lowly pacifist who did not fulfill any of their requirements of a Messiah. Still, as religions go it was likely quite startling at the time to both Jews and Gentiles.
I don’t think it took long at all for Christianity to move away from those early ideals. In the modern time there’s almost nothing in the religion that actually looks like the Bible. Did you notice that “almost” I slipped into that previous sentence? There’s a reason for my use of that qualifier. You see, one thing that looks very much like the Bible’s depiction of the earliest form of the religion is its focus on the apocalypse that the religion’s earliest leaders and writers were convinced was coming Any Day Now™.
From the very beginning, Christianity was about the end of the world. In one of Jesus’ failed predictions, in Mark 9:1, Jesus tells his followers, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mostly it’s just roleplaying games that take advantage of that verse to create undying wanderers of various sorts, while Christians–if they come face to face with the verse at all–have evolved a number of apologetics contortions to explain why the end of the world hasn’t come yet. These rationalizations range from the simplistic, as in that CARM answer, to the impressively convoluted.
The earliest Christians valued asceticism, eschewing sex, marriage, parenthood, and any other luxury because the end of the world was coming and Christians needed to be ready. But as time went on and the end of the world failed to occur, one must imagine that these early Christians got exhausted with being eternally on their guard. Nobody can be like that all the time. There’s only so long someone can be terrified–I can tell you that from my own personal experience. Eventually, if people brace themselves enough times for an explosion, they’re going to realize that nothing seems to be exploding.
If you’re wondering, this exact logic is in a nutshell why I think many Christians are so shamelessly, blatantly hypocritical. They’re like spoiled children who keep getting threatened with penalties for a misdeed, but when their parents don’t follow through, these brats start behaving worse and worse. They didn’t get punished last time, did they? Well, they probably won’t this time either–or the next, or the next. I find this idea quite a compelling one when I think about the sheer, outrageous hypocrisy we encounter in so many Christians. A pity no god magically makes them better or more moral people than anybody else! But unlike the bratty children, Christians keep insisting that the threatened penalty is still something to fear.
And still, through it all, generations march past and through time, each one dying and being replaced by the next, over and over again, and strangely the world does not seem to be going anywhere–at least not through supernatural means. But that doesn’t matter to Christians in the face of such huge threats. Just because it hasn’t happened up till now doesn’t mean it absolutely won’t ever.
I can easily see how a threat of looming, impending doom makes people more apt to pay attention to someone’s claims. But whatever gains those first doomsayers made were achieved at the expense of long-term loss. Here’s a good read about how that apocalyptic thinking is starting to negatively impact American society. Not that such apocalyptic thinking hasn’t always negatively impacted humanity, but lately this kind of thinking is becoming an increasing drag on human progress.
When someone is convinced that the end of the world is coming, that person isn’t exactly going to care what his or her credit rating looks like, so to speak. I personally knew people who didn’t want to take care of their own bodies because they were so sure that they’d just be Raptured before they got old or sick. I’ve met other ex-Christians who told me that their parents didn’t want to teach them to drive or take sex education because they were so sure that the end of the world would happen well before the kids became teens. I’ve seen “Rapture ready” type websites that actually advised readers to take out as much credit card debt as they possibly could in advance of apocalyptic predictions. And we’ve heard countless Republicans in the Jesus Party claim that the reason they fight against legislation meant to reverse climate change is that Jesus is coming back anyway, so why bother with it all when he’s just going to destroy the planet in the last battle?
One of the saddest things I can remember is all the very old folks in my various churches who were convinced that they would be Raptured long before they had to deal with their own inevitable decrepitude–and their own mortality. I wonder what went through their minds as they slipped away from this world–what their last thoughts were. I wonder if even to the very end of their own conscious awareness they thought for sure it’d happen now… and then fell to oblivion. Let me make clear: these old folks I’m talking about here were 100% convinced that they would never die and that the end of the world would happen within their lifetimes. And one by one, they died anyway.
I’d call it a cruel joke to play on someone vulnerable if I didn’t know how often it leads so many Christians to abuse others even harder in the name of the end of the world.
I’m not sure just how better one could illustrate the sheer narcissism of American Christianity than by this Pew Forum survey that found that about half of the country’s Christians think Jesus will “definitely” or “probably” return in the next 40 years–in other words, within their lifetimes. About 15% said they didn’t know either way; a third said they thought he “probably” wouldn’t be returning in the next 40 years, and only 10% correctly said he definitely wouldn’t.
This belief gives the Christians who hold it a sense of urgency that otherwise they simply wouldn’t have. In general, Christians believe that the main time limit people have is the moment of their deaths, at which point they find out if they’ve done all the right things, said all the right magic spells, and backed the right horses in the right races. But we generally know kind of when we’re going to die. Hopefully, anyway, we’ll die when we’re really old. If we’re not lucky, we might die of a disease whose progression we understand. Only very seldom is a life cut short in a totally unexpected way.
That’s just not urgent enough for some people. They’ve got to have an extra helping of urgency. So they cling to this other idea of the Rapture and the end of the world, because literally nobody knows when that will happen. Not even Jesus was willing to say exactly. When someone’s got no idea at all when something that big is going to happen, it can induce a certain amount of panic–and that’s the state that toxic Christians want people to be in.
Add to this urgency the fact that the threat in question is monstrous and huge, like the end of the entire world, and sprinkle in a pinch of false assurances that Christians can, if they just make the world into a theocracy and force everybody to behave according to their draconian rules, forestall that awful end somehow, and you’ve got the potent brew that is modern fundagelical Christianity.
That’s why they have to stop anything that even halfway looks like human progress or the dreaded specter of “liberalism.” They’re absolutely terrified of this thing they think of as a “one-world government” because it figures so prominently into their childish misinterpretations of the Book of Revelation. Even the Left Behind series’ writers are convinced that the United Nations is some kind of powerful Illuminati-type secret government. As Slacktivist hilariously puts it,
Carpathia [the Anti-Christ] is a rising star at the United Nations and, as every good John Birch Society member knows, the U.N. outranks all mere national governments. Why, the only thing keeping the U.N. at bay and preventing their day-to-day micromanagement of the lives of Americans is a strong American president who stands against the tide of globalist NWO/OWG tyranny. Take that president out of the picture and America would topple, becoming one more subservient fiefdom loyal to the global throne of the U.N. You know, just like Europe is now.
When I was a fundamentalist, I don’t think I even knew what the John Birch Society was, but I definitely thought the UN was nefarious somehow–because in my worldview, it was a precursor to the dreaded One World Government. And yes, a lot of folks in my church were terrified of bar codes when those began to be used, a conspiracy theory that hasn’t fallen out of fashion at all in the wingnut-o-sphere.
And that terror of the Mark of the Beast and the One World Government–and oh especially of a charismatic leader who isn’t specifically a fundamentalist, like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton–informs modern Christianity. It’s not about love. It’s not even about dominance at that level.
It’s about fear.
The simple fact that this particular fear is based on old, outdated ideas, shockingly juvenile junk theology, right-wing pandering, debunked false “facts,” and outright pseudoscience doesn’t change much about its impact on gullible minds that aren’t trained (or really actually even encouraged) to evaluate claims or threats with a critical eye. The extremely convoluted nature of Endtimes theology works to make it sound even more impressive and convincing to such minds, and it makes the Christians convinced of it that much more wary of anything that even vaguely kind of sounds like it’s so much as glancing toward those hated, feared ideas.
That’s why they meddle in others’ lives like they do. That’s why they resist the government doing any of the stuff they think churches and individuals should be doing, even though those churches and individuals are categorically nowhere near addressing the vast need in both our country and our world. That’s why they keep trying to control women’s bodies and lives and why they refuse to concede that LGBTQ people deserve equal rights and protections under the law. That’s why they try to sneak their religious indoctrination into schools and keep trying to control our government at all levels. It’s all about stopping the Antichrist from taking over and destroying the world.
I think the author of this American Apocalypse book, Matthew Avery Sutton, is spot-on when he says that really, fundagelicals never really stopped trying to meddle in politics and in people’s private lives. Ever since they began linking progress to “Communism,” those strains have been present to be heard by those with ears to hear. Heck, in 1960 the Undersecretary of Labor in the US, James O’Connel, declared:
When a woman comes to be viewed first as a source of manpower, second as a mother, then I think we are losing much that supposedly separates us from the Communist world.
And as the book Something from the Oven points out, he said this at a time when 1/3 of all married women worked outside the home, and 2/3 of those working wives had kids. He wasn’t thinking about those women, because in the dominant-majority view of the time, most of the wives who worked did so because they “had” to out of economic necessity. Even then we saw this mindset where certain forces–like feminism–had to be opposed and demolished for one and only one reason: because they were associated with godless Communism.
In the same exact way, we see Christians today opposing certain ideas purely because they think those ideas are too cozy with that One World Order they fear so much. That’s why, even as the idea of a one-world government sounds more laughable by the day, a big-name pastor insisted just a few days ago at a large
circlejerk sermon that this one-world order is on its way to reality. And because America is just so sinful, Greg Laurie goes on to say with breathtaking arrogance, it will either completely merge with whatever government the Antichrist is cooking up or be defeated somehow. Because a major world superpower can just vanish that way in just a few short years. But the fairy-tale demise he “prefers the most,” he says, is that “we would have the rapture and so many Americans would be taken to heaven that that would be the explanation for our demise as a nation.”
While he’s at it, he’d also like a pony and a plastic rocket.
I’ve got no words for how ludicrous any of that twaddle is, but it’s taken totally for granted by the gullible Christians who buy into this Rapture nonsense, who use the invoked threat of the one-world government as a springboard from which to launch opposition to socialized healthcare, marriage equality, women’s rights, and a host of other progressive ideas.
And despite all their efforts, our generation will pass away and the next will replace us, and so on and so forth, and Christians will scramble yet again to explain why it is that their prophecies simply did not come to pass. But the damage done by frantic, panicked Christian zealots who are absolutely convinced that the world will end will have to be answered for one of these days.
Isn’t it a pity we can’t tally up the damage they’re doing and send them a bill?
I really don’t know if Christianity actually enacted its own ideals for very long when the religion first got rolling. I don’t think it did based on the squabbles I’ve learned sprouted almost immediately among those first adherents. I’m not even sure the stuff I listed at this post’s beginning is really good stuff for people to do all the time. But I do know that what I see today as I survey the wreckage that is Christianity looks absolutely, positively nothing like those ideals, ever. The religion’s zealots have gotten so blindsided by their terror and panic that they’ve forgotten to do the stuff that their Savior apparently told them specifically to do.
But that stuff is boring and doesn’t make anybody feel important enough, and it certainly doesn’t allow someone a good justification for controlling and hurting others. And that very clearly is the priority here.