Why Antichrist Fever waxes and wanes

Recently, the online zine "The Appendix" did a nice, short form essay about the function of the "End Times" in American Culture, and why certain kinds of conservative Protestant religiosity tend to be obsessed with predicting the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.

Many of the commenters a linked website (io9.com) were amazed at why these Christians would keep on trying to predict the end times after the Millerite "Great Disappointment" of 1844, and all the lesser disappointments that have followed, from the 1970's and 80's "Late Great Planet Earth", to Harold Camping's abortive and costly attempt to predict divine history in 2011. Why keep on betting if the odds are literally 100% that you will be wrong? And I use the word literally in a literal way here: 100% of the attempts to predict the end of the universe, at all times, in all cultures, across the whole world, have been completely wrong.

But what the commenters, in my estimation, got wrong was the motive for WHY certain kinds of religious people become convinced they are living in the "end times". So I wrote this:

Let me comment as a post-evangelical who in earlier years was committed to a "premillennial" understanding of Christ's second coming (I.e. Tribulation, Second Coming, Rapture of saints to be with Jesus, defeat of Anti-Christ, 1000 year rule of Christ, in that order).

The psychology of the evangelical is not so much about "being right" about the exact return date of Jesus, but rather expressing fear and anxiety about the state of society. When society changes fast, social norms are overturning, and the status quo is being unpredictably rearranged, it is then that you get predictions of the end times. It is a conservative barometer of unease over their changing place in society.

In other words, social change scares the hell out of conservative religious folks (not only in Christianity, but you can see the same in Islam and even Hinduism). And when they get the hell scared out of them, they predict that hell is coming to earth, and redemption is right around the corner. It's a cosmic coping device really.

When I was an evangelical during the Clinton years (and pre-Y2K) then end times fever was at a boiling point. Anyone remember the "Left Behind" Series? But what happened when George W Bush took over, and arguably allowed the largest increase in surveillance technology that any single president has allowed? Crickets chirped among most of the evangelical prophecy folks. Why? Because W was "one of us" and leading the country "back to God", despite huge intrusions on privacy and lots of "antichrist technology" at his disposal.

Anyway, end times fever is picking back up again. Why? A non-white "liberal" is in the Oval Office and "conservative" values are under attack (gay marriage, pot legalization, etc.). Yes, the NSA was finally caught for doing things that were well under way under W. And yes, Obama has not done much if anything substantive to curb the surveillance state implemented under W. But nevertheless, it is Obama that is the harbinger of the antichrist for Evangelicals, and not W.

So why do religious conservatives keep on trying to predict the "end times" even after "the" great disappointment and countless other disappointments? It's not because they are trying to finally "get it right". It is because end times fever is a predictable social reaction to fear and anxiety about place in society.
Post a Comment
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.