Tuesday, 1 June 2010

End Times and Armageddon

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. A spirit of fearfulness and timidity does not come from God. - 2 Timothy 1:7

For those who missed it 'The battle of Armageddon - heaven versus earth, was fought last Sunday at 10:00 am. The event took place at the local Baptist church just around the corner from where we live. Fortunately no collateral damage was reported by the local news media and the building still stands as before. Several weeks earlier this same billboard offered this opportunity: 'God's Last Judgment - how to avoid it! Today their billboard reads 'After Armageddon, then what? My tongue-in-cheek response to these warnings is merely intended to highlight the sudden fascination we seem to have with end times.

Wikipedia describes Armageddon as an event in which the "Lamb", Jesus Christ, will return to earth and defeat the Antichrist (the "beast") in the battle of Armageddon. Then Satan will be put into the bottomless pit or abyss for 1,000 years, known as the millennial age. After being released from the abyss, Satan will gather Gog and Magog from the four corners of the earth. They will encamp surrounding the holy ones and the "beloved city". Fire will come down from God, out of heaven and devour Gog and Magog after the Millennium, and the Devil who deceived them is thrown into Gehenna (the lake of fire and brimstone) where the Beast and the False Prophet have been since just before the 1,000 years.

The print media are no exception to this sudden interest. Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages is the 11th novel in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It was first published in 2002 and covers the final year of the Tribulation leading up to the Glorious Appearing of Jesus Christ. It was on The New York Times Best Seller List for 20 weeks. This series apparently details the resistance of those "left behind" by the Christian Rapture and the rise of the Antichrist's forces during the Tribulation period.

Most major religions, including Christianity and Islam, have theories on how and when the world will end. When times get bad, a stock market crashes, tsunamis and earthquakes abound, suicide bombers kill new human targets each day, we will quickly find right-wing Christian Evangelicals and the entertainment business ready to capitalize on even more fantastic messages of fear and doom. Entertainment about violence, disaster and terror sells-but offering false hopes probably sells even more.

Apocalyptic themes are being exploited on television by the History Channel offering a variety of end time views such as:

  • Armageddon: Are we headed for apocalypse? Explore ancient beliefs and new theories surrounding Armageddon.

  • Life After People: What would a world without people be like? Life After People checks out what would happen to all we'd leave behind.

  • Nostradamus Effect: a chilling series that investigates mysteriously similar end-of-day scenarios from across the globe.

As this hype escalated it is not surprising that fear inducing religion and entertainment is turning many people to drugs and other mind numbing solutions. The year 2012 is supposed to result in a slew of natural disasters culminating in the end of the world. We know this prediction is true because a bunch of savage, child sacrificing, jungle-dwelling Mayans prophesied it hundreds of years ago through their amazingly accurate calendar. Never mind that the date for Armageddon was originally set as December 24, 2011. We now know that these events will occur at exactly 11:11 GMT on December 21 2012, even though some Mayan predictions go all the way to 4772 A.D.

Chris Hedges author of 'American Fascists –The Christian Right and the War on America', notes that the religious right-wings' infatuation with apocalyptic violence and military force make it easy for them to call for violence as a form of self-defence. It turns all outside movement into enemies, even those who appear benign. These visions of a holy war, writes Hedges, at once terrify and delight is followers. So convinced are these individuals that a recent poll indicated that more than half of the right-wing movement in the US believe that a final battle between 'good' and 'evil' will take place in their lifetime.

Fundamentalist preachers seem to take a particular delight in connecting biblical passages and tragic world events to unavoidable and predictable apocalyptic events in the future. More than any other part of the New Testament, the book of Revelation evokes greatly varying reactions among its readers. Those fearful about the future view the book as an illustrated timeline that will help them better prepare for the events of the end of the world. No one, it appears, has told them that the book of Revelation must be read in context of the entire New Testament or the Old Testament for that matter, to be properly understood.

This approach is certainly understood by author, Dr. Catherine Cory, chair of theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. She asks "is there more to the book of Revelation? Does Revelation have anything to say to believers who are not fixated on determining the date of the end time and instead want to read the Scriptures to hear God's voice in the present time, to inspire faith, and challenge themselves and their faith communities to right behaviour, now, in the midst of the activities of their everyday lives?" The answer to this tantalizing question is an emphatic 'yes', but first the reader will have to approach it as 'a call to conversion and a message of consolation'. Unlike other biblical text its 'Apocalyptic style, meaning Revelation, is completely different from other books in the Bible.

Finally, Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us "the battles we see going on around us do not matter in the end, for the victory is already won. It was won in Jesus, the Alpha and Omega of God's salvation. It is being won in Christ, wherever his body is empowered by his Spirit. And it will be won in the Lord, as all history becomes salvation history. Such is the graciousness of God. So all biblical apocalyptic writings can be read with optimism and need not arouse fears if we believe that Jesus will be with us to the end of time.

Note: readers are also encouraged to visit the following website: http://articles.pointshop.com/religion/28753.php for a most surprising view on the same subject.

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