Dan Foster writes about “Rapture Anxiety: The Real-Life Effects of End-Times Fear.”
I’ve read a lot of articles about this subject, which is a real thing. Most of those articles dwell on the relatively minor aspects of what Foster calls “Rapture Anxiety” — like the momentary panic many Rapture-raised people later have when encountering an unexpectedly empty setting. (“Where is everybody? Wait … could it be?“)
This piece, like most, avoids what I think is the most potentially damaging aspect of End Times Christianities — teaching children that they have no possible future. Foster gets into that a little bit, but only at the initial level of how that sounds to Christian kids when they’re first told they’ll likely never grow to be adults.
Credit him for candor here, because this is another very common aspect of “Rapture Anxiety” that most writers neglect to mention:
As a 13-year-old, I had mixed feelings about the idea that Christ might return at any moment. In a way, I was rather hoping that he’d be delayed long enough that I could… you know… enjoy some of life’s more guilty pleasures.
“What will he find you doing when he arrives?” Bellowed the preacher man. “Will you be found out, or will he find you faithful?”
So much for guilty pleasures.
Sex. He’s talking about sex. And while I cannot speak for everyone, this was also the first thing that occurred to me and to almost everyone else in my church youth group and private Christian school classes whenever we were assured that the imminent return of Christ, Rapture, and destruction of the universe was sure to occur within, at the most, the next decade. We thought about how this meant that none of us would ever get to have sex.
I grew up before the big wave of “True Love Waits” and purity vows and the like transformed the Sex Is The Very Worst Sin lectures that preceded them in evangelical youth ministry, but I imagine that message — with its central theme of waiting — made this aspect of Rapture anxiety even more acute for kids raised on that.
Part of this is just biology — hormone-fueled adolescents tend to think about sex a lot, so when you tell them they’re going to miss out on any kind of future and the rest of their lives, they’re naturally going to think about sex as part of that.
But mainly this Rapture-anxious hope that the Lord will tarry until after they finally get a chance to … you know … is the product of their discipleship. The same church that’s telling them the Rapture is imminent has also been teaching them, for as long as they can remember, that there’s nothing else for them to do except to wait for that to happen. They’ve been taught that the Christian life consists of abstinence — of abstaining not just from sex and from sexual temptation, but from everything.
The future they’re being told they’re never going to have was already a life of futility and meaninglessness. So when they’re told that future won’t be there for them, they’re not going to think about all the things they’re never going to get to learn or to teach, to create, to build, to share, to discover, or to enjoy. They’re not going to think about how they’ll never get to break every chain, or to let justice roll down like waters. The main thing they’ll think about missing out on will be the main thing they’ve heard about in youth group from day one: sex.
On a semi-related note, Doug Muder of the Weekly Sift shares a post from Jennifer Sheridan who makes an astute observation about the current wave of Comstockian book-banning spreading across America. It usually seems like the would-be book banners and book burners haven’t read the books they’re crusading against, but as Sheridan says, their actions also show that these censorious adults never spent much time reading even when they were in school:
When I was a kid in school, I was a book nerd, and my friends were book nerds, and we all knew which books had “dirty parts.” We would read them, probably giggle a bit, and then get on with our lives. No one ever made a big deal about it, it was nothing.
And I realize looking back, that if you weren’t a book nerd in school, you probably don’t know there have ALWAYS been library books that had dirty parts.
If you are a grown person now, and are hearing “filthy” passages from some books that are popular today, you might find it shocking that books with those kinds of passages can be found in public school libraries.
But because you didn’t read as a kid, you think this is all something new. It isn’t new; you’ve just shown you never cared about books.
One more item that relates to white evangelical youth groups and their obsession with sex: Only Sky’s Dale McGowan recalls that one time when spanking-enthusiast James Dobson actually offered some wise, kind, and practical advice to parents:
Dobson, an influential religious conservative who is reliably and grotesquely wrong about almost every aspect of parenting, once (astonishingly and briefly) voiced support for a more accepting, naturalistic parenting approach to masturbation. The following passage from a 2006 post refers to a conversation Dobson had as a boy with his minister father:
We were riding in the car, and my dad said, “Jim, when I was a boy, I worried so much about masturbation. It really became a scary thing for me because I thought God was condemning me for what I couldn’t help. So I’m telling you now that I hope you don’t feel the need to engage in this act when you reach the teen years, but if you do, you shouldn’t be too concerned about it. I don’t believe it has much to do with your relationship with God.” What a compassionate thing my father did for me that night in the car.
… Although Dobson was excoriated by his fellow religious conservatives, and the post was quickly killed with fire, he gradually drifted back to that message over time. His organization’s current page on masturbation is surprisingly not terrible.