Friday, November 11, 2011

Faith? Or Fear?: The "Last Days" Syndrome

So much of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity is wrapped up in an emotional wave. I always find it humorous how people in the Christian community talk about "the Last Days" as if they were communicating a campfire horror story, all fear and dread, all pestilence and famine and blood up to a horse's bridle, and then talk about how anxious they are for "the Lord's return", i.e., the "Rapture of the Saints".

I find it humorous for several reasons. For one, the "Last Days" syndrome makes for a convenient, and hokey, Jesus-juke. After my ex disappeared, and I was still pressing the issue trying to get answers for the masterclass of dysfunction and idiocy I was being trampled by, in the limited communication from people in her family and circle came a common theme - "Let this go! It's the Last Days!!! There's work to be done!", or some variation thereof. That would always leave me thinking, {CLA} "What the hell does that have to do with anything?" First of all, in hindsight, I'm not even sure we were all on the same team. I thoroughly and completely reject their version of God. But the disturbing thing was that their decree of "the Last Days" struck the people in my world as pretty much a concession of the wrong done to me, but represented what one close friend tabbed as a pattern of "deception and diversion." In other words, "The wrong we did to you isn't important, cause it's the Last Days! It's the Last Days, dude! Get your priorities straight!"

If I ever get pulled over for speeding, I think I'll revert to "Last Days" syndrome...

Me, to the police officer as he hands me a ticket: "Are you kidding me?! Come on, man! It's the Last Days!!! There's more important work to be done than enforcing the highway laws and holding me accountable for breaking them! It's the Last Days!!! Geez! Where's your head, dude?!"

Somehow I don't think he'd be impressed, nor would the judge at traffic court.

All of the Last Days syndrome is wrapped up in the idea of "the rapture". Most of you know that the word "rapture", or any original language word from which you can derive "rapture", is nowhere to be found in the biblical canon. The idea of a pre-tribulation rapture was basically unheard of until about 4 centuries ago,  really caught steam in the 1800s, and then again with the rise of fundamentalism about a century ago. An entire theology is now built (and is the dominant end-time belief of mainstream evangelical Christianity) around what's largely a fairy-tale created from doing scriptural gymnastics with a couple of vague proof-texts. Think about it. It's bad enough to draw serious theology from proof-texting. Even worse when the proof-texts are vague. How much worse when scriptural gymnastics are done with the vague proof-texts?

The worst part of it is how most Christians get all energized about the apocalyptic scenario and start in with the "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus" stuff. They say the Last Days are something to be excited about - and then they go to the polls and cast votes that suggest otherwise. They say they want the end to come, but they'd rather elect officials who'll help "restore America as a Christian nation", which would seem, to me at least, to be a deterrent to the apocalypse. I mean, if we're gonna take the account in Revelation literally as the playbook for the "Last Days", the world has to pretty much go to Hell in a handbasket before any of it can start.

Having faith in Jesus Christ, and confidence in my eternity, I'd just as soon all this ish down here go ahead and get wrapped up however it's gonna get wrapped up. It could've wrapped up yesterday, for my part. I see no need to fear an apocalypse that we don't even know for sure will happen. I also have no interest in a selfish, fairy-tale theology which takes ME out before things get bad - and leaves the poor schmucks who don't believe in Christ behind to die in it or suffer through it and then die. Boggles my mind at how much money Tim Lahaye made selling this cheese.

After my experiences with many various Christians, both pastors and lay-people, through my real world experience and through this blog and issues dealing with it, I can see why so much of evangelical Christianity wants to believe they'll be raptured before any bad stuff happens. Much of Christianity folds like the French army at the first sign of difficulty. They'd never survive a "tribulation". I've seen earthworms with more backbone and moral fortitude than a lot of the Christians I've encountered in the last few years. Few people genuinely want to get their hands dirty in living their faith. Lots of people are "sold-out, fired-up, born again believers", and then life demands something of that sold-out, fired-up belief, and their "faith" becomes little more than an emotional planting of the flag, a flag easily toppled by the wind. Saying you have strong faith is pretty cheap. You can find it for a dime a dozen right next to the microwave burritos at 7-11 (and I think some actually do buy it there). Actually living a strong faith - and doing so in such a way as to improve the world and the lives of others (including non-Christians *gasp*) - well, that's a little more pricey.

I'd be curious at the response in the evangelical community if it somehow became known, for certain, what the end times will look like - particularly if it was made clear that things would become apocalyptic, but with no early rapture, and Christians having to suffer right to the end along with everyone else. I mean, they already vote as if that's the way it'll be. Fear is a great motivator of quantity. Terrible motivator of quality, though.

It all reminds me of the old Bluegrass song, "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But Nobody Wants To Die)".

The best way to avoid the Last Days syndrome? Live every day as if it's your last. It might be.


  1. Part of the Last Days disconnect is that a lot of fundamentalist are premillennialists, but the Calvinist types tend to be postmillennialists

  2. This was a very interesting post! I too am aware of those "Left Behind" books although I have never read them. I'm a conservative Christian who doesn't get all that wound up about the "end times." I don't know what parts of Revelation are literal, if any of it. LIke you said, having faith in Jesus is the important part, not fear.

  3. Part of the Last Days disconnect is that a lot of fundamentalist are premillennialists, but the Calvinist types tend to be postmillennialists

    And our brand of Calvinism (which I'm fairly certain VF follows, since we learned it from Sproul, Sr.) is partial-preterist amillenialist ... and despite the unfortunate company we share, I'm still fairly certain it's the clearest of the cloudy eschatological pictures you can get from Scripture.

    But, really ... who cares? What does it change in the long-run? How does eschatology affect our ability to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly? And if it DOES affect that ... there's probably something wrong with it....

  4. To be honest, I never understood why people would wish the Last Days to come if they truly believed that 99.9% of what's important about the last days is the Tribulation. (Which seems to be the case considering how freaking much they talk about the Tribulation in comparison to the amount of time they talk about other things). Wouldn't you rather just die an old man in your sleep than to be like "Hey let's get hell on earth started. I may have to live through it, and even if I don't, everyone else around me who's non-Christian will. YAY!" Sorry, I just don't GET IT.

    My life became a lot less riddled with anxiety when I realized that a lot of beliefs surrounding the "rapture" are not very solid from a Biblical standpoint. The coming of God's judgment is supposed to be seen as a GOOD thing, and I see no reason for mainstream Christianity to try and turn it into a horror movie. I'm just going to trust that it'll be good when it comes, and that there is good work to do here in the meantime.

  5. Oh gosh. This very subject is the #1 reason I won't go back to church. When this subject comes up, I get nauseous, dizzy, shaky, panicky...and it lasts for days. It's a carry-over from all of those end-times videos and hellfire-and-brimstone sermons of my childhood. My husband cringes when he catches me checking the news because he knows sooner or later something will happen that'll trigger one of those spells.

    I used to pray as a child that God would hold off just long enough for me to die because I'd rather face death than the Rapture. When the older folks would try bringing it up, they'd tell us that if we were really saved we had nothing to worry about. No matter how hard I tried, though, I never felt "saved enough". Even now, I pray that even if I'm not "good enough" God will at least take my daughter.

    A lot of the old beliefs I've sorted through and come to my own (more moderate) conclusions on, but this one I can't think about long enough to resolve. I'm not even sure if I buy into the book of Revelation as a whole...

    I do know this though. It never made sense that in one breath the church would talk about how many unsaved people there were out there, and in the next pray for Jesus to come quickly. It just seemed cruel and heartless, and definitely not Christ-like.

  6. Fascinating you know. Outside of America, most of the rest of the Protestant world doesn't believe in the rapture or premil eschatology. Here in Australia the vast majority of evangelicals would be amil and don't pay much attention to the last days apart from saying that Jesus will return and it will all be a surprise, just like it was the first time. Only Baptists (a small denomination here) and some charismatics and others believe in that scenario which seems to so obsess Americans. I once heard someone say that it would be useless to preach the Rapture in many third world countries where christians are already suffering tribulation. Only the affluent west can imagine a suffering free christianity

  7. Hi. I found your blog yesterday and have read through a bit of the archives, and I think I've found a new Awesome Christian Blogger to put next to the Slacktivist. :) I will definitely recommend your blog to others.

  8. I am currently reading a book about the culture of modern Iran, and guess what? They also believe in an Apocalypse, and the second coming of Christ (right next the Twelfth Imam and as his humble servant, but hey, they're not Christians).

    This is why they have voted for and submitted to totalitarian theocracy: this is the end times. They too believe that if they just hold on a few more years, this will all be over and they will be honored and vindicated for their faith by a Second Coming. This is why they, too, have no problem with promoting (and probably using) weapons of mass destruction. It's inevitable to them, mass destruction on a worldwide scale, that is.

    That is exactly what fundamentalist Christianity teaches. I grew up in church, hearing the battle of Armageddon explained as a massive nuclear battlefield, with all the distressing elements "proven" to be the results of nuclear holocaust. Cold war fear-mongering at its best, and I saw nothing wrong with it then and considered it proof of their theology.

    That is exactly the sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that scares the hell out of me now. If fundamentalist believers on both sides of the spectrum elect true believers with their hands on the nuclear detonation buttons, we all have much to fear! I know there are Christians who believe they can force the return of Christ by their actions: the good ones focus on making sure their brand of the "good news" gets preached to every language group in existence. By fulfilling scripture, they will force God's hand.

    If that idea-that we can force the return of Christ by our actions- gets applied to Armageddon scenarios, AND WE ELECT SOMEONE WHO BUYS INTO IT, it would be soooooo much easier to push that button.

    We can see it in other people's culture. Who among us isn't terrified that a people so emotionally manipulated by fundamentalist religion, who believe that a worldwide Armageddon melt-down is the inevitable will of God, have the power to nuke their imagined enemies? Anybody here not freaked out by the thought that North Korea or Iran has nuclear capabilities? Hell, we invaded Iraq based on that fear in the first place, and (unknown to most Americans) Iraq was pretty secular for such a religious part of the world.

    Rapture theology was not anyone's business but the congregants duped by it, in the past. But it has become BIG business here in America! Tim LaHaye got filthy rich of it, and many many other pastors have made bank of the fear it produces in people. Why solve any of the problems if YOU KNOW the end is near? That goes for local problems, as in your pastor's sins or your wealthiest deacon's domestic violence, and global problems, like nuclear winter. The only thing that matters is obedience to God (including tithing to your local church) and getting out the message that the end is near.

    I wish it was not big business here in America, Lynne, but it is. I vividly remember the books, movies and songs of my youth. Anyone up for an emotional chorus of "I Wish We'd All Been Ready?" or another terrifyingly titillating viewing of "A Thief in the Night"? For younger readers, we could listen to Toby Mac's "In The Air" and watch "Left Behind".

    None of this bothered me with my live-and-let-live attitude, unless a "true believer" gets elected president. THAT is scary, though! It should scare the whole world. If the USA elects a true believer like Iran has done, then there will be:

    TWO nuclear powers headed by religious fundamentalists who hate each other and believe a nuclear holocaust is the inevitable will of God.


  9. Of course, no one's immune. I'm having flashbacks to the Y2K scare days. The more preterist and postmillennial-leaning Christians (usually Reformed/Calvinist) have done there share of doomsday prophesying for the last 50 years or so: The world's going to hell in a handbasket, and only the elect (i.e., those who bother to hide in the hills to homeschool and live off of canned goods) will be saved and brought into the earthly kingdom as God's rulers over the inferiors.

  10. I grew up in reformed (calvinist) churches and really remember very little talk about end times and Revelation in my churches or from my parents. It just didn't seem important. I went to a Baptist school in jr high/highschool and started hearing crazy stuff about end times and the rapture (not so much from the school but from other students). Then I met my husband who came from a baptist-type background and was amazed and mildly amused at the view of the end times he was raised with (he didn't buy into it). His parents lent us the first book of the left behind series on cd. We couldn't even make it through the whole thing. It wasn't even the ridiculous content that forced us to stop listening it was the absolutely horrific, abyssmal, pathetic writing. We were literally gasping at how poor the writing was. What an embarrassment!! What passes for contemporary "Christian" art/literature is a whole nother topic, though...

  11. Refreshing to read...coming from someone (and her family) who never swallowed the "rapture theory". It is simply not in the Bible.
    As far as Christians living in the difficult end times. I'd say things are pretty crummy and messed up right now in the world.

  12. [Thanks, Lewis. Saw this on the web. Shelly]


    How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He is now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. Since Jesus must personally participate in the rapture, and since He can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends, the rapture therefore cannot take place before the end of the trib! Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who would be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which is Israel's posttrib resurrection!) If anyone wonders how long pretrib rapturism has been taught, he or she can Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards.” Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this "rapture" was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!). Other Google articles throwing light on long-covered-up facts about the 180-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “X-Raying Margaret,” "Edward Irving is Unnerving," “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” "Walvoord Melts Ice," “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which is available at Armageddon Books online. Just my two cents’ worth.

  13. Lewis and all,

    In my state, you CANNOT get a driver's license if you are prone to seizures or blackouts, or if you have a license it will be revoked if you have a seizure or blackout.

    What kind of cold-hearted moron would knowingly drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or, *GASP*, pilot a plane knowing that at any minute they might disappear into the clouds leaving their car, machine or plane to veer off and crash, causing severe property damage and loss of life? Love thy neighbor as thyself? There ought to be a law against rapture-ready people driving, flying or operating heavy machinery. And yet, there are untold thousands of bumper stickers and license plate rings out there BOASTING about disappearing and having their car veer off the road and crashing. Geez Louise.

  14. Anonymous 2:12, are you saying you believe in a rapture, just arguing about the timing? The whole doctrine is a recent invention of the dispensationalists.

    Theologians using the same word--premillennialism--meant something very different in the rest of the world. Dispensationalism rapture, with its designations of Pre- or Post- tribualtions, are distinctly modern American doctrines. They do not represent the views of the disciples, apostles or early church theologians. They do not represent the beliefs of the majority of the worldwide church today.

    Nope, only Americans and those they influenced with their fundamentalist missionaries in the last century believe in the rapture, or the necessity of worldwide disaster before the return of Christ.

    So, Pre-Trib or Post-Trib are just two sides of the same heretical coin. There is a second coming of Christ expected by all the writers of the New Testament, but only one of them was even aware of the book of Revelations (its author) and the church at the time was well aware that it was describing current events allegorically, not laying out a script by which God plans to end the world.

  15. Very good post. You hit the nail on the head. I'm not a Christian, used to be. Used to be one of those "last days" people. Now I know better. Good to know there are sane christians around.

  16. I find it curious that it tends to only be the end of the world/tribulation when American Christians suffer.

    Onward Christian Cream puffs. o.O

  17. I'm sorry to post here but I'm not sure where else to ask. I am looking for a particular post of yours, one where you were talking about performances and how the music sets you were asked to perform followed certain patterns. I'd like to pass it along to a friend but have been unable to find it. Would you happen to recall the title?

  18. @Victoria...I think this is the one you're looking for...

  19. I was taught both to "fear the Lord" yet anticipate His coming for us, the "true" believers. I do remember being terrified that Jesus would return before I got married...had sex for the first time. I chuckle about :)

  20. Lewis, i have a question that's related to this topic.

    "Hell" is mentioned 3 times in the Bible. first time, the rich man who ignored the homeless beggar who was dying on his property [at his gate? my Bible is missing and i haven't read it since before the 1st surgery 4 years ago] who was, i think, Lazarus - he has a dream that he's in a "bad place", looking up at Lazarus in Heaven. Lazarus is either w/ Jesus or an Angel, don't remember which. rich man asks if Lazarus can bring him water to drink, and the rich man is told "no, you had no care for Lazarus when HE was in need"
    and was a parable teaching everyone to care about everyone, even the homeless/lepers/etc

    the second time it's mentioned is in the "As you have done unto the least of these, so you have done unto Me" speech, where Jesus seperates the goats from the sheep, and throws the [goats? whichever one was negative] into the "lake of fire". from everything i've read, this WAS NOT "Hell" - the was considered, at the time, to be a second death, one's soul was destroyed, not trapped eternally in "Hell"

    the third mention of something Hell-like is in Revelation, where we're told the Beast will be [was? is now?] chained in "Hell" where he was banished when he rebelled against God, and that when the Beast is overcome, he will be cast into that same "lake of fire".

    NOWHERE in the Bible is a literal Hell mentioned. the closest is that "lake of fire", which was understood in the first couple centuries after Christ as a place of "true death" - it destroys your soul, you have no further existence.
    or, "Hell", being "cut off from God", which seems to be an extension of the Jewish/Hebrew "Sheol" - the dwelling place of the dead, until the day they are able to enter Heaven [which is, i believe, where Catholics came up with Purgatory.]

    in a way, THIS is "Hell" - this is where there is suffering and pain. [life, i mean]

    anyway, all of that was the lead-up to my question, of, which do you believe?
    if you believe in Hell, i'm not going to be mad or go away or start writing nasty things or even argue. i'm just curious, and this post seemed a good place to ask. i'm curious because in real life, i know Christians who are all OVER the place w/r/t "Hell" - some who believe in it exactly and every single non-Christian will go there [which includes Christians who became Saved, but then committed a sin, on purpose or thru accident, then died before being able to Repent again], those who believe only the "non-Good" will go to Hell [and anyone "Good", of any religion or none, WILL go to Heaven], those who believe Hell is temporary, that one will be in Hell until one repents, those who believe only the VERY worst will go to Hell, those who don't believe in Hell at all - etc etc etc.

    the only other Christian BLOGGER i follow [by which i mean "Christian who blogs about Christianity"] is the Slacktivist, and he's of the "There is not really a Hell" stripe. or he actually may be of a "Hell is temporary" or "every non-evil person no matter their belief will end up in Heaven", but it comes *across* as a non-belief in Hell.

    like i said - i'm just curious. you don't have to answer [or defend your answer if you do] or even approve this comment/question from the queue. although if it's the sort of thing you think is too personal or too touchy, i request that you let me know so that i know to avoid this sort of question in the future. i don't *think* it's a question that will upset/offend you, but that's based solely off of what you write here on the blog, and i've been known to be wrong, and i really prefer to know when i've stepped in it so i can avoid repeating that. and i hope that sentence makes sense.

  21. @denelian...I kinda sorta addressed the "hell" issue a while back in a post (the title of which escapes me at the moment). Probably not a definitive answer to your question, but in the ballpark. I'm out of town with work right now, so if you'll give me a day or two, I'll go back and find it and post it here in this thread. Thanks.

  22. not a post i've come across, but them i'm still catching up on your whole blog. maybe i'll run across it soon.
    and no, of COURSE i don't mind waiting, for either the name of the post or a reply here or whatever. Real Life Wins when it comes into conflict with something online.

    and i'm glad i didn't upset/offend! i was a bit worried, enough that i almost didn't post it at all. i waited 24 hours TO post it, even, and then added that last bit.

    i hope the job is going well - recording or touring? again, curious :)

  23. denelian...Here it is...

  24. THANK YOU! for the link. i had read the linked articles, but not that one.

    and, i'll be honest - i think you answered the question pretty well. i mean, yes, there's no specific "yes/no" - but it's NOT a simple "yes/no" QUESTION, so that's entirely appropriate.

    and i mostly agree with you - i'm sure there's SOMETHING that will be done to anyone who deserves punishment [which is probably everyone, but i'm A) not the One in charge and B) not on that One's mailing list for future plans]. i DON'T believe it's eternal, but other than that - i fall into the "i don't know" category. and "it's not eternal" is a matter of faith, for me, not dogma.

    thanks for, um, pandering? to my curiosity [or my laziness? i've been slowly reading all the posts you made before i found your blog, but obviously it's taking a while :)

  25. "I also have no interest in a selfish, fairy-tale theology which takes ME out before things get bad - and leaves the poor schmucks who don't believe in Christ behind to die in it or suffer through it and then die."


    I could never get behind the mentality of "Psh, sucks for you" that encapsulates end-time thinking. People who look forward to massive scale pain and suffering and death, only because said people have no part in it. They're more concerned about themselves than others, and that very mentality angers me to no end.

  26. I know this is an old post, and I hope it's not annoying that I keep leaving random comments on old posts, but...

    Look, no offense, but this is the third time on your blog that I've run across a very uncomplimentary reference to the French army... and... well, it's just a peeve of mine. Always makes me want to get out my history books and show the person exactly how and why it was entirely a failure of strategy, *not* nerve. Unless one thinks courage means one division should be able to fight off ten in an indefensible position while the rest of the army is in the wrong place too far away to help.

    OK, end of peeve.

    I very much agree with you about the end-timey stuff. Heck, even back when I theoretically believed in it it kind of seemed like crap to me. All those charts like they knew exactly what was going to happen. I mean seriously, timelines, diagrams.... and like you said, it's complete gymnastics. The Rapture? Jesus says two men will be in a field and "one will be taken and the other left." How weird does it have to be inside your head to assume he's talking about teleportation rather than death? The Tribulation is supposed to last seven years, and why? Because of a phrase in Daniel that goes "A time, times, and half a time." A time is (clearly!) a year, "times" is (with great certainty!) two years, etc... oh and this gets doubled somehow, resulting in seven years. I wonder if any of these people have ever reflected that if God had wanted us to have charts of this stuff he'd have given us CHARTS.

    Actually a lot of it seems like control-freak-ness to me. Like it's not OK not to know. Even though "you can't know when it will be" was Jesus' main contribution to our knowledge on this point.

    Meanwhile they're ignoring much clearer things Jesus said. Like "turn the other cheek" and "give to those who ask of you"...

    1. "Even though "you can't know when it will be" was Jesus' main contribution to our knowledge on this point."

      Even beyond that, Jesus said that even HE doesn't know, only God knows - a statement that would seem to turn both trinitarian and apostolic doctrines on their heads, but that's a whole other can of worms.

    2. What an interesting can of worms.

      I suppose Open Theism would be another option...

      Although I have to say, I always assumed that Jesus, though God, wasn't omniscient during his tenure on earth, because really, that would take a LOT away from the experience of being truly human.

      word verification: ingoothy. What a great name for a comic fantasy character.

  27. *loves Open View of the Future as explained by Greg Boyd (some call it Open Theism, but only derisively so not sure if its the same thing Paula refers to in her post)*

  28. It seems to me that they actively worship the End of the World, and get off on the very idea that all their enemies are going to burn in hell, and they get to watch. Kind of sick, if you think about it rationally. Ever hear of "Fundies Say The Darndest Things"? One of the largest sources of their quotes is from a rather cultic bulletin board called "Rapture Ready".