Hi and welcome back! Today’s story concerns a Christian refrain many of us encounter with increasing frequency (and intensity): that this world now teeters on the very edge of the Endtimes, and it will soon enter the last phase of its existence. But the Endtimes simply aren’t what they used to be. Today, let me show you previous Endtimes scares. And then, let’s marvel together at what this new scare demonstrates about the person trying to stoke it.
(Some previous related posts: Party Over Oops Out of Time; Missing the Rapture; Prepping for the End; Tribulation Blues; How Christians Use the Endtimes to Disobey Jesus. Also, in this post I’m not even gonna touch that whole “from hurting another” crack in today’s OP, but whooboy, that could be a whole series of posts by itself.)
Quick Christianese 101: The Endtimes.
In Christianese, the Endtimes refers to the last part of Earth’s — and humanity’s — existence. Christians call the study of this period eschatology, or the study of the end of the world.
Mostly, we find evangelicals hanging out in Endtimes speculation. And most of what these Christians think they know about the Endtimes comes from the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
As a result of both factors, perhaps, their
theories guesses vary wildly about exactly what event will kickstart the Endtimes, how long each sub-phase will run, exactly who’ll be involved and how, and exactly how it will end. But generally, Endtimes fantasists think this period will last seven years, contain three major sub-phases (the Tribulation, Rapture, and Armageddon/Judgment Day), and also feature the United States in a starring role.
During these seven years, the “Antichrist” — a misunderstanding of 1 John 2:18 — will rise to power. He will institute a “One-World Government” (OWG), usually through the United Nations, and then set about eradicating TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Endtimes fantasists also think that all these festivities will begin at the very nadir of human degeneracy. That’s extremely important to remember. The Antichrist’s dizzyingly-quick rise to absolute power hinges on that ultimate level of degeneracy. Once he achieves that power, the Antichrist’s ability to solve humanity’s pressing problems without Jesus Power ushers in the final battle itself.
(See also: The Christianese to Know for the Endtimes Apocalypse.)
Previously, in Endtimes Fantasies… the First Apocalypse.
Endtimes fantasies run a lot like a popular TV series. Without the context provided by watching the show’s previous episodes, casual viewers can miss a whole bunch of details.
The first and OG Endtimes scare might well have taken place in the early 1st century in Jerusalem. Right when those first anonymous men were setting the earliest books of the New Testament to paper for the first time, quite a few Christians thought that the world was already in the throes of the Endtimes. They thought it’d all already begun.
That’s likely why three gospels have Jesus telling his followers that he’d return within their lifetimes: Luke 9:27, Matthew 16:28, and Mark 9:1. These are, of course, the so-called synoptic gospels, called that because they duplicate so much information between them. In fact, they’re so close that theories abound about exactly how they came to be so identical.
These gospels were also written fairly close to the end of Jesus’ supposed lifetime, from the 60s to the late 80s. The Gospel of John, written decades later, does not include the promise. By then, Christians had realized that Jesus was not, in fact, returning within the lifetimes of his earliest converts. (And Christians have been trying unsuccessfully to hand-wave away their godling’s hilariously failed prophecy ever since.)
And I can easily understand why those earliest Christians — who were mainly converted Jews — believed the world was ending. They had a lot going on right then, between big shifts in religious thinking and Romans sacking their town, occupying it, and destroying its big temple.
But no apocalypse came. By the time John wrote his Gospel, though, Christians had already adjusted for this huge disappointment.
More Apocalypses Than We Can Count.
Of course, Christianity came honestly by its apocalypticism. Judaism featured a rich history of it — including the Book of Daniel itself that modern-day Christian eschatologists love so much.
This PBS article outlines those earlier Jewish apocalypse guesses as well as the earliest Christian Endtimes fantasies. The Essenes of the mid-first century; whatever school of thought went into the Book of Revelation (written around 90 CE); the mid-second-century Montanists who were positive Revelation’s prophecies were coming true soon; the late-second-century Gnostic book First Apocalypse of James, and more: they all contributed to the early Christian obsession with the Endtimes.
In the next few centuries, more apocalypse predictions came and went. You can see a good list of ’em here. It seems like every century or so, someone has been utterly sure the Endtimes are just about to start. Around the year 1000, as is detailed in the excellent book The Last Apocalypse, these fantasies ramped up considerably. But that was hardly the end of them.
All through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, long into the Reformation and Enlightenment, even into the colonization of the New World and beyond, apocalypse predictions trailed along behind TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like badges of wackadoodlery. They continued into the modern day.
I mean heck, Pentecostals ensnared me as a teen with an Endtimes scare called “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988.” (Shorthand: “88 Reasons.”) Not one Christian at the time told me that this was far from the first such predicted date for the end of the world. Nor did anybody even remember its failure as they rushed to fret and wring their hands over its inevitable successor.
Stuff Toxic Christians Love: Endtimes Scares as a Marketing Strategy.
This topic is on my mind because of a recent Religion News opinion post by a Jesuit priest, Thomas Reese (archive link). He titled it, “Think we’re living through the Apocalypse? So did first-century Christians.”
At first blush, you’d think that title means he’s aware of the many, many failed predictions made by his brethren through the centuries. You’d think, as well, that he’d be speaking against using apocalyptic predictions and threats as marketing.
But you would be half wrong. He’s all for using threats like these, just he wants Christians to avoid attaching specific dates to them. He writes:
In some circles, these scare tactics have gone out of favor. Rather than scaring people away from sin, the new strategy is to attract them to virtue by the love and example of Christ and his people.
I prefer the attraction strategy, but if I need to stop someone from hurting another, I am not above scaring the hell out of them. [Source]
I’m sure he thought this was a very clever-bunny play on words:
Yawl, he’s totally “scaring the hell” out of his marks! HAW HAW! SCARING the HELL right out of ’em! See? SEE? HAW HAW!
That said, Reese thinks that all that apocalyptic blahblah in the Bible is there for a purpose.
And that purpose is marketing.
Citation Needed: Why the Bible Talks About the Endtimes, According to Thomas Reese.
The sheer hand-waving involved here blows my mind. It’s absolute nonsense that could only be spewed by someone who lacks a moral compass. Thomas Reese tells us why he thinks the Bible contains so much apocalyptic blahblah:
If the apocalyptic writers were alive today, they would no doubt draw from the imagery of nuclear war, global warming, melting ice caps, falling asteroids and pandemics.
What, to craft threats with failed predictions about such disasters? To use those threats to stoke terror? Because that’s what those Christians were doing — and have done ever since.
These writers remind us God works not just in our hearts but in history. He cares not just about our own personal pain but also about geo-political crises.  He will be present at our death and at the death of our world, whether the latter happens soon by our own hands or millions of years from now when the Sun goes nova. [Source, and um, it’s “billions“]
His writing is downright disturbing.
If this god does “work” in “history,” then he’s got an odd way of showing it, which is to say: absolute non-involvement. And if he’s “present” but this completely useless in helping even his own followers in tangible ways, then he can go sit-n-spin on his thumb for all anyone should care about him or what he wants.
Ignoring Reality: Jesuit Edition.
Toward the end of the post, Thomas Reese completely dismisses the fact that literally every Endtimes prediction ever made has turned out to be dead wrong:
Apocalyptic writers speak words of warning to the comfortable and words of consolation to the distressed. To the comfortable, they say, “Wake up, he is coming!” To the desolate they say, “Have hope, your salvation is at hand!”
But we have no guarantee that this is the time Christ will come to save us. We cannot sit back and wait for him to save us. That is the sin of presumption.
And if we ourselves bring about something close to the end times because of our sinful destruction of the earth, then we will be subject to the judgment of Christ.
Yes, I hope I’m scaring the hell out of you. [Source]
Grossest. Mic drop. Ever.
What does it say to those buying into these Endtimes scare tactics when the predictions come and go without fulfillment?
Speaking as someone who did buy into one such scare, I can sure tell you what its failure said to me. It shakes your confidence in every other single claim Christians make. Indeed, every single prediction that fails speaks to the overall truth value and validity of every other thing Christians claim. Even if someone actually is a Christian, it’s very easy for them to disregard other threats and claims after living through countless disappointments.
And that twee, preposterously-irrational ending — making a threat out of not naming a specific date — just takes the cake. No, he does not “scare the hell” out of those who understand how Christians have always used threats in their history.
Marketing With Fear.
In his opinion post, Thomas Reese declares that he is all for scaring people — if it means they join his absolute moral failure of a religion. He’s okay with terror as a marketing strategy — as long as it’s his own particular bunch of child rapists, cover-up artists, and fraudsters benefiting from it. Indeed, he repeats this point several times.
It’s nice that he accepts the science around climate change — and about humans having brought our planet to the brink of utter ecological disaster. That’s definitely nice to see in a Christian. But he’s trying to use that potential future as a way to terrorize people into accepting his claims about his magical invisible friend. Here’s the thinking:
- Humans might just cause the end of the world through climate change.
- If that happens, then something like the Endtimes will happen.
- Jesus will not lift a finger to stop the disasters that climate change causes, any more than he’s ever helped us out with any of our other previous problems.
- But if we end the world in reality, then these completely-unverified imaginary events, the Second Coming and Judgment Day, will absolutely happen afterward.
- You should fear this threat, even though I can offer you not one single shred of objective evidence that it’s real.
- The only way to escape this threat is to obey my merry band of evil degenerates.
- And just to be clear, let me end by stating unequivocally that I’m fully aware that I’m using threats to induce terror in you so that you’ll give my proposed escape route more consideration.
So much for perfect love casting out fear.
Christians and Their Endtimes Pretendy Games.
I see Christianity as divided into High Christianity and Low Christianity camps, then further delineated by their groups’ need to control everyone in sight.
In the above diagram, Jesuits would be somewhere up around the ceiling to the right. They’re a very structured, praxis-driven, dogmatic bunch of Catholics who also feel a great need to control others. Sure, they’re also traditionally the best-educated and most intellectual of Catholics, but that just seems to make their Dunning-Kruger victims all the more oblivious to their own mistakes.
In this case, we’ve got a Jesuit priest, Thomas Reese, who outright sneers at and faux-pities all those sad widdle fundies who keep predicting the end of the world — and failing. See, it’s sinful to assign dates and assume Jesus cares about saving anyone’s hide! In fact, it’s the “sin of presumption!” I’ve never even heard of this before, but it’s a thing and it’s something else for him to use as a threat!
Instead, he tells us, people should just generally fear Judgment Day and work hard to prevent it. Just don’t assign an actual date to it, though. That way, the marks feel all the same terror. But their leaders don’t have to worry about a date failing. Whew!
He’s so much better than those fundies, cuz he threatens people without specific dates invoked.
Threats: The End of the Marketing Line.
When we see threats deployed by any salesperson, we need to know that this person has literally no better reasons (or even any good reasons) to buy their product. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking otherwise. Threats represent the very end of the marketing line. Past that, there’s nothing left: a wasteland of ad-copy tumbleweeds flitting past.
Once someone invokes terror as a reason to buy into anything, every other reason fades away. And the salesperson can never again go back to any of those reasons. That’s what Thomas Reese admits in his post, too. Oh sure, he’ll happily fling a sales pitch using the lovey-dovey stuff. But if that stuff doesn’t make a sale, then he’ll yank out the threats — as he does here.
It also indicates the utter helplessness of Thomas Reese to gain control over others in any other way. He can’t convince his readers to behave in more ecologically-sensible ways, and he clearly knows that. So now, he’s resorting to threats of Judgment Day and Endtimes horror.
It comes down to this:
Fear and love are simply incompatible at their core. Once we fear something, we can never again love it. If we loved it before, the love fades. Once fear comes into the picture, only fear will ever be found there from then on. And it’s interesting to see a Christian demonstrating this point in such a blatant way.
NEXT UP: It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Christian churches, crowdsourced encyclopedias, or online games. Really, any Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game’s biggest problem might just be its volunteer (and often self-appointed) moderators. We’ll see how they keep wrecking game owners’ hopes everywhere. See you soon!
Please Support What I Do!
Publishing schedule: M/LSP, W, F, Su. If Disqus comments hit about 450 and there’s a full day to go before the next post, I’ll do my best to get us an overflow off-topic post written and up so we can move our discussions there.
Also please check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview!
If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips.
You can also support this blog at no extra cost to yourself by beginning your Amazon shopping trips with my affiliate link — and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media!
This blog exists because of readers’ support, and I appreciate every single bit of it.