The Weird and Wacky Rise of Fundagelical Preppers.

The Weird and Wacky Rise of Fundagelical Preppers. August 9, 2016

One weird bit of right-wing fundagelical Christianity is their growing obsession with survivalist-style food hoarding. In this new trend, the worlds of apocalyptic fantasizing, awful food, eagerness to gloat, and sheer financial greed collide–and the results aren’t appetizing.

Don't they wish! (Credit: Jaime Kopchinski, CC-ND.)
Don’t they wish! (Credit: Jaime Kopchinski, CC-ND.)

To Hell With Them. You’re Gettin’ Yours.

Just as the stories of people claiming to have been abducted by aliens have a marked similarity to 1950s science-fiction movies, the popular literature and movies written about the Rapture have shaped fundagelicals’ imaginings about just what the end of the world will look like.

Christian Marketing Sucks: Rapture Scare Edition.
Christian Marketing Sucks: Rapture Scare Edition.

For many years, these apocalyptic fantasies have been a mainstay of fundagelical thinking. Even when I was Christian, I noticed that drooling over the end of the world really appeals to a particular kind of Christian: angry, petulant, entitled assholes who feel hard-done-by in the modern world and who ache for revenge against those who are taking away all their toys. Preachers know that making Rapture predictions is a surefire hit with the flocks, who won’t care or even question them when these predicted dates come and go with no Rapturin’.

Fantasies about the end of the world fit the bill perfectly. When you run across a Christian who has diagrams, you know you’re dealing with a conspiracy theorist who hungers for the day when they’ll be on top of the world–the kings of Arizona–the deciders–the ones in charge. Their fantasies certainly do not ever feature themselves as the have-nots in these equations!

And they will gaze down their noses, on that fateful day when the Big One drops/the Rapture comes and goes/the Antichrist finally unveils truly universal healthcare, and they will tell their onetime critics and naysayers “I TOLD YOU SO. Now dance for your supper!” And then, on that happy happy day, they shall sit back with a smug, satisfied smile on their faces and watch as the selfsame people who once criticized them are forced to do whatever they desire in order to survive.

Such Christians know that in those fateful last days, they will need to eat.

Oh, but more importantly, they will need food to withhold from their hungry neighbors and critics–and to share, sparingly, with those who do manage to arouse their capricious sympathy.

Some are far more benign and simply scared about starving in the wake of a total breakdown of society, but the percentage of Christian preppers I’ve seen acting as I describe above should unsettle anybody who still thinks Christianity is, on the balance, a force for good.

Prepping for the End.

My mistress is pooped, the Reds have Oklahoma, and I’m going to bed.
–Hodge-Podge after a survivalist drill, Bloom County

Prepping is shorthand for “preparing for the apocalypse.” Exactly what the apocalypse is varies from person to person; some folks envision it as being a huge natural disaster or epidemic, or a global war, or even a zombie invasion. As soon as people began to think that maybe humans could face extinction, they began thinking of how they could possibly survive their catastrophe-of-choice.

One prepper with Off The Grid News thinks prepping began centuries ago, but the idea got a lot of traction after World War II.

Prepping went from being seen as a bizarre fringe activity in the 70s and 80s to becoming a genuine hobby–and the demographics of those participating shifted as well. My own first exposure to the idea came in my teens with Bloom County, when Steve Dallas gets bitten by the prepper bug and builds a bomb shelter. His dedication attracts one of the local animals, who becomes his deputy in the fight against, well, something or other–even after realizing that some of the animals that Steve plans to hunt for food after “the ‘big one’ drops” might include rabbits like himself. The strip didn’t mention a lot about what they’d eat, but it didn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that it’d probably involve a lot of canned goods (even then, I thought that hunting, which the rabbit in question, Hodge-Podge, indicated would be the primary food source, might be really iffy in a radioactive hellscape).

Initially, it seems like the main focus for prepping through the 1950s and 1960s was on constructing fallout shelters, which were constructions meant to keep humans safe in case of nuclear war; indeed, such a construction was Steve Dallas’ main concern. The idea was that you’d wait out the worst of the radioactivity and carnage while remaining safe and sound below the ground. One magazine from 1959 included some tips on how to make a fallout shelter more comfortable but included nothing whatsoever about what food people would be eating during their entombment. An earlier 1951 issue of the same magazine specifically warned readers not to hoard food; in its detailed diagrams of how to construct such a shelter, only a small amount of canned food and water are shown at all (if you visit that link, be sure to check out page 140; you’ll know why I suggested it once you get there!).

Fallout shelters are fascinating to us even now; they feature as major elements in movies, music, and even video games. But one doesn’t see new ones being constructed often anymore; we’re just too aware of how destructive radiation and fallout are (and very few of us expect to live in one place for very long, making these shelters look like a lot of work for very little perceived payoff).

But other forms of prepping have surged as interest in fallout shelters themselves has declined. Preppers amass collections of guns, ammunition, hunting and fishing supplies, and of course packaged and prepared foodstuffs in hopes of surviving a possible probable near-certain disaster.

As Christians themselves start focusing inward more and more on themselves and begin fantasizing harder and harder about the end of the world they imagine is coming Any Day Now™, it seems natural that they’d gravitate toward prepping. Indeed, one Christian blogger knows her crowd of fundagelicals like prepping so much that she’s nervous about writing a post criticizing the practice, while anti-gay hate group Focus on the Family refuses to come down on one side or another of the idea.

Of course, some Christian groups have always focused on prepping–notably the Mormons, who are commanded to hoard a certain amount of food. Their religion’s official site has extensive directions for how to store and use this food, as well as how to rotate it regularly so nobody’s eating desiccated ten-year-old black beans. Fundagelicals haven’t gotten anywhere close to that level of sophistication–not yet, anyway.

They’re essentially hedging their bets about exactly how the end of the world will go down. Though many believe that they will be Raptured well before things get really bad (“pre-Tribulation”), many others think that the Rapture will happen midway through the apocalypse (whatever it might be–for a “mid-Tribulation”). A small number even think the Rapture will happen after the worst has come and gone (obviously, “post-Tribulation”). And some doubt in their heart of hearts if they’ll even make the cut to be Raptured at all. Hoarding food provides a certain level of soothing comfort in the face of a stress that non-fundagelicals cannot even understand.

Food, Glorious Food.

Colbert_PopcornAwful food fascinates many people. Tons of humor articles and entire blogs exist to mock (and marvel at) bizarre food. On the last post‘s comments, we entertained ourselves for some time swapping links and stories about awesomely awful food.

One of those links really caught my eye though–it was for some new business venture from once-disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker: bulk dried survivalist food rations. You might have seen Friendly Atheist feature some stuff about it a while ago, but it took me by surprise.

Awful food + a disgraced televangelist + fundagelicals being weird? 

Oh, honey. I’m there.

Fundagelicals with a serious boner for the Apocalypse are buying this stuff and storing it in their homes (and, occasionally, apparently consuming it on purpose). As far back as 2011, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other right-wing Christians were going gaga for these freeze-dried delicacies. It makes sense; Americans who are already prone to imagining “the good ole days” as vastly superior to the modern world, who like the idea of being self-sufficient, and who also have been fed a steady diet of end-of-the-world fever dreams might well gravitate to this kind of hoarding.

Jim Bakker’s website, one of the biggest purveyors of Endtimes grub, is filled with dozens of these products–buckets and envelopes full of dried food meant to be reconstituted with hot water and then eaten. They even feature bundle packages of food, which they say is enough for two people for a solid year if need be, for USD$800 or so.

If going basic bothers you, then you can get the $700 “Around the World Experience” with “870 Total Servings. 80¢ per serving!” of “tempting pizza sauce” and dough ingredients, dried marinara sauce and some kind of cheese, dried fruit (“along with Spiff-E-Whip topping!” because nothing says “around the world” like dried strawberries with off-brand dehydrated Cool Whip that sounds like it came straight out of a WWII bunker). And if you’re particularly worried about the apocalypse, then they also offer a $2800 “Time of Trouble Tasty Food Offer” that says it feeds a single person for 7 years, though their product description has enough info on it to tell consumers that this single person had better be okay with surviving on 556 calories a day because this package is only a “supplemental food source” meant to augment a primary food source (which is left unspecified; I’m guessing it’s Roasted Hodge-Podge).

The one thing in common that these rations share is that they all, uniformly, suck harder than the vacuum of space. Even on Jim Bakker’s own shopfront page, I could only find a few things that were rated; nobody seems all that enthusiastic about any of this stuff–or else isn’t really eating much of it.

On a video, Jim Bakker advises his flocks that this food will be “more valuable than gold” when the world ends; one commenter at Food Storage Review notes that he’s also advised Christians to use his food as bartering chips because one of the standard operational ideas of the Religious Right is that after the world ends, money won’t have value anymore and we’ll be back to a barter economy. (No word on what these preppers should eat after trading their buckets of glop for a ’96 Olds fuel pump.)

Unfortunately, complaints against the site can be easily found (bonus: in the comments there, you can find oodles Christians talking exactly like I’ve described, if you were concerned that I was strawmanning). The website itself is laughably amateur for the amount of money they’re asking. At the bottom of each product description one can find this notation:

The Bottom Line.
I’m just mystified that nothing profane appeared there.

Each product description brags about its 20-to-25-year shelf life, while also including a disclaimer that once opened, that shelf life shortens dramatically. Notably absent from product writeups are ingredients lists or nutritional information.

Magical Thinking.

The writer of Off The Grid News (linked above) thinks that when non-preppers look side-eyed at preppers, “they are saying in essence that they think that humankind has evolved to the point where we have overcome nature, overcome disasters and overcome problems.” And he gloats about how very, very, very wrong those naysayers are, implying that they will be sorry one day about their lack of forethought.

But I don’t know anybody who really thinks like his imaginary critics do.

We’ve evolved to the point where we could very well bring about our own extinction–or even an end to life on the planet as it’s known today. I think most folks understand that point all too well and yet here we are not hoarding food.

No, people make fun of preppers for the same reason that they make fun of fundagelicals generally: because these folks’ actions indicate a certain amount of magical thinking going on regarding their own abilities to survive in a post-apok environment. (One episode of Penn & Teller’s long-running Showtime series, Bullshit!, focused exactly on these folks–and showed that they really had no idea in the world how to survive in the environments they imagined would exist after global catastrophe.)

Psychologists who study preppers think that their actions are a form of self-medication meant to soothe the stress they feel at living in a culture that is filled with uncertainties and threats. Preppers may feel more fearful about uncertain future threats than non-preppers do–and less able to push past that fear to a more rational response. Their general mindset may be more fatalistic and pessimistic, and they may find comfort both in preparing to overcome the subject of their fears and in piecing together the intricate conspiracy theories that often underlay preppers’ thinking.

In short, preppers are seeing threats that nobody individually can control–the end of the world itself, the movement of governments and global powers, large-scale weather changes and disease epidemics–and trying to get those threats more under their control.

It sounds like these preppers share some characteristics in common with food hoarders, who often stockpile years’ worth of food as a response to anxieties around food insecurity. I’ve known a few of those–including my own mother, who had two refrigerators and a huge deep-freezer filled with decaying food. Some of it she and my dad had been shlepping around from house to house since I was in college. Almost all of it got thrown away after her death. My mother could no more have stopped hoarding food than she could have flown; her whole life seems now like a long session of trying her best to prepare for the worst.

I see a lot of that same anxiety in the faces of today’s Christian preppers. Is it funny as hell that Christians are buying these horrifically awful rations in hopes of cashing in once the end of the world finally arrives? Yes, very. But that laughter is tinged with sadness for me. The Christian preppers buying this stuff are being preyed upon by hucksters who have figured out what the next big income stream is in fundagelicalism–a steady state of anxiety that they created due to their own irresponsible fearmongering and are now curating to their own profit.

I can only hope that eventually the flocks realize that they are being taken for a ride by greedy conjobs who do not have their best interests at heart. But if they ever realize that, then what else might they realize?

What else, indeed…

Join us next time for a rousing deciphering of Christianese. See you then!

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