TEOTWAWKI… again

After 2000/2001 a flurry of TEOTWAWKI (“The End Of The World As We Know It”) predictions and prophesies failed to come true. Many of these predictions were based in religious superstition, while a few (Y2K) were based on technological speculation. You would think that people would learn some lessons from these mass failures of prophesy.

But no.

Recently a friend informed me that she had seen a DVD by these people, and had decided to put stock in their prediction that Jesus will return in the fall of 2016. I discovered that this group’s prediction hadn’t made it to my favorite list of failed and soon-to-be-failed TEOTWAWKI prophesies, so I informed them, and was pleased that they added it right away.

When I shared my enduring skepticism with my friend, she pointed out that the environment is dying and that this is in line with prophesy. And that people are killing each other more efficiently and in greater numbers than ever. And that virulent diseases are multiplying. And that natural disasters (such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) are increasing in deadliness. All of these things are important, but whether they add up to TEOTWAWKI is quite disputable. And if they do add up to TEOTWAWKI, then the question becomes, how do we know that this is the Second Coming, and not just mankind’s natural stupidity multiplied by our level of technology? Here’s how I summarized my feelings in an e-mail to my friend:

With regard to the environment, I sometimes wonder whether we’ve already gone past the point-of-no-return. The main difference I see between us is that I think the only hope lies in encouraging people to make things better now, while your only hope lies in a “system reset” by God in 2016-17. The main objection I have to your hope is that it encourages (or at least fails to discourage) a sense of apathy among the religious that only contributes to the problems that humanity faces– “Why bother trying to fix things? We already know from prophesy that everything’s going to hell and that God has promised to step in and clean up our mess.” What the world needs is exactly the opposite of this kind of fatalism. Taking a lesson from the Parable of the Talents, you would think that devout Christians would be among the greatest environmental crusaders, as they would feel deeply charged with protecting what God has left in their care. Or for the same reasons they would be ardent supporters of organizations such as Amnesty International, which struggles to bring basic human rights to people all over the world. Alas, I don’t see that this is usually the case– most Christians (American ones, at least) barricade themselves in their churches and huddle behind their Bibles waiting for the End, while the outspoken ones are moralistic busybodies striving for Great Achievements such as tearing down the wall of separation between church and state, the co-mingling of superstition with science in schools, and the institution of all manner of modern Prohibition.

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