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Last-days nonsense: Why Christianity has it wrong, again

Published:Sunday | February 22, 2015 | 2:00 AM
Students watch during the countdown to when many believe the Mayan people predicted the end of the world, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, in Taichung, southern Taiwan.
Ashby
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"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed." (2 Peter 3:10)

 

"The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end." (The Bhagavad Gita Chap.9 Verse 10)

As the fires of war spread and natural disasters destroy lives, property and reconfigure landscapes; as the glaciers melt and climate change becomes an ubiquitous news item; as fire and brimstone preachers cite biblical verses; and as the world economy teeters on uncertainty, one could wager that the end of days is upon us and biblical prophecy of the second coming is nigh at hand.

The words of prominent messianic Rabbi David Secada that, "life began in Megiddo or Armageddon and will end there", portends a disastrous war in the Middle East that will engulf the world; and that the return of the Jews to Israel as occurred in 1948 is definitive sign that the end is near. History is riddled with warring nations, but never has weaponry posed an existential threat to the entire world, many argue.

But is the end really upon us? A cursory look at predictions throughout history tells a different story. Mankind, it seems, has always had an obsessive preoccupation with soteriology amid a world in anguish and turmoil. There was the siren call of churches during the 14th century Black Plague that devoured an estimated 70 to 200 million victims in Europe.

In similar vein, the First and Second World Wars claimed close to 66 million people. Suffering, trepidation, triumph of good over evil, and an unwavering adherence to biblical literalism have always been the crux of religious orthodoxy. Believers have always looked outward for salvation for the alleviation of suffering and death. It is the latter that is most feared and doctrines, such as the Rapture, offer psychological comfort. But every prediction of the end of time, dating back centuries, has never bore fruit. The list is staggering.

For example, the Jehovah Witness predicted the Second Coming in 1874 and 1918. Its church leaders also taught that Armageddon would be unleashed in 1974.

 

Christian prophecies

 

As early as the 17th century, the Presbyterian Church under Thomas Brightman predicted the destruction of the Papacy and the return of Jesus. The Anglican Church under Edwin Sandys in the 16th century was also certain of the Messiah's return; and Baptist preacher, William Miller, had foreseen the Second Coming in April 1844.

But predicting the end of days predated the pronouncements of these mainstream churches. As early 60 CE, the Epistles of Paul of Tarsus implied the return of Jesus and the apocalyptic end of the world in his lifetime. The yearning of Paul for the second coming was near obsessive. (See Philippians 4:5 and Hebrews 1:2.)

But not only Paul. Jesus' apostles believed that their Master would return in their lifetime. This is a revelatory thesis.

There is ample proof that the apostles died or were martyred with that expectation. They, too, were living on a prayer that never materialised

Matthew 10:23 reads: "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

Luke 21:22 states: "For these are the days of vengeance, so that all things written will be revealed."

Peter expressed similar views on the imminence of the end in 1 Peter 1:20 & 4:7

Interestingly, Jesus himself may have promoted this false hope when he said: "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:27)

And the Book of Revelation, supposedly the definitive word on the end of time, has long been considered by some scholars as nothing more than a shamanic experience that reflected the existential struggles of persecuted Christians at the hands of the Romans. Substantive research on this subject supports this view.

Other personages predicting the end include John Wesley, Herbert W. Armstrong, Pat Robertson, Nostradamus and Isaac Newton. Even Christopher Columbus got infected with the end of days bug. In his Book of Prophecies, he claimed that the world would end in 1656. Wars and pandemics have always been a constant throughout history. But the world has stood its ground while Christians have always neatly fitted every calamity into their preordained model of the last days.

That said, the world order admittedly rests on shaky ground.

By living irresponsibly, karmic debt weighs on us. We have invited the dissolution of the world. Overpopulation is a key factor in natural disasters. Nature can no longer sustain the burden it bears. The environment has paid a steep price: deforestation, the increase in greenhouse gases, destruction of the ozone layer, global warming and rising water levels. Conditions for that perfect storm.

Surely, the depletion of natural resources, the exhaustion of nature and internecine conflicts will lead to an inevitable systemic correction, making the end of days a natural phenomenon. It has happened before, part of a never-ending cycle of creation, preservation and destruction; and a process that has nothing to do with faith or the Second Coming.

n Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.