Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s 2 late

Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s 2 late October 4, 2022

CNN on how “For some Christians, ‘rapture anxiety’ can take a lifetime to heal.”

AJ Willingham does a good job describing the most obvious form of this panic-inducing side-effect of Rapture Christianity — the sudden horror when finding yourself unexpectedly alone that “Oh no! The Rapture happened and I’ve been left behind!

That’s a thing those of us raised in Rapture Christianity joke about because it’s a thing for just about everyone raised in Rapture Christianity. And it really can be traumatic, especially when you’re younger and struggling with what you’ve been taught is your duty to “really believe” something that you’ve also been taught you’ll be severely punished for failing to “really believe.”

But the article doesn’t address the subtler, longer-term, and potentially more traumatizing form of “Rapture anxiety” that “can take a lifetime to heal.” This is the dark, cruel implication of having all of the adults in your life tell you as a child, repeatedly, that the universe will no longer exist by the time you’re their age — that you literally have no possibility of a future. And they tell you this — over and over — while smiling.

Those pious adults were not deliberately trying to instill nihilistic despair, but what else are you supposed to make of it as a kid when you’re constantly being told that you’ll probably never live to see 30, and that 40 is utterly out of the question?

That’s a god-awful thing to tell a kid. And it’s made even more cruel by the requirement that they receive this as good news. Not every kid raised to believe in an “imminent Rapture” explores the You Have No Future implications of that in a way they’re able to articulate, even to themselves, but it sinks in, lingers, and shapes their hopes, dreams, and ambitions in ways it may take them years to overcome.

I grew up in the ’80s, saturated at church and school with Hal Lindsey and A Thief in the Night* and annual “prophecy conferences,” all of which taught that the 1980s were very likely the very last decade for humankind, the Earth, and the universe. We were 16 years old and our pastor, youth pastor, and the Bible teacher at our Christian school were all assuring us that we’d never be 26.

None of the adults cheerfully teaching us this seem to have thought much about the implications of what they were saying, but that didn’t lessen its effect on the children hearing it. No future, we heard, again and again. There will be no future for you.

This also made it jarring and strange and impossible to reconcile when these very same adults abruptly changed the subject and began telling us to make plans for the future they’d just insisted we’d never have.

Study and save for college (or, better yet, Bible college) they told us. Save yourself for marriage. Consider “full-time Christian service.” Pray that God will show you God’s Very Specific and Very Special Plan For Your Life.

They said all of that with the same bland confidence with which they’d just told us, moments before, that we already knew God’s Plan For Our Lives, which was that they would end in the twinkling of an eye and that the only thing either we or God needed to plan for was the imminent Rapture that might occur even before the end of this sentence or, if the Lord tarries, at most 10 or maybe 15 years from now. Ten and nine, eight and seven, six and five and four … the countdown’s getting lower ev’ry day.

The whiplash of that implicitly teaches those kids something else that they absorb and are forced to contend with whether or not they realize, in the moment, what it is they’re learning. It teaches them that these adults cannot be wholly trusted — that they themselves don’t “really believe” the things they’re saying.

In an odd way, this contradiction is comforting and a source of the hope otherwise denied kids indoctrinated in the folklore of an “imminent Rapture.” It’s a hint that the No Future these adults have prophesied for you might not be true after all. This, too, is at best a mixed lesson: Perhaps it’s not true that you have no future, but if that’s true then it’s only because all of the adults in your life have been lying to you. And those adults are the same ones who also told you that life has meaning, and that God loves you, and that you’re a good kid and that they’re proud of you. What if none of that’s true either?

All of that can and will, as Prince said, “mess with your mind.”

On the bright side, though, we’re all going to die.

What I mean is that we’re all going to have to, at some point, come to grips with the unavoidable fact that we’re all going to die. And that means that everyone — even those blessed to have been raised in a family or church or school that never taught the despairing futurelessness of an imminent Rapture — is at some point going to have to deal with something akin to “Rapture anxiety.” So I suppose, in a sense, those of us who were raised to believe we had no future may have benefitted from a kind of practice run for muddling through the existential crisis that awaits us all.

It’s maybe not the easiest way to learn to find hope in the face of hopelessness, but then there’s really no easy way to learn that.

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