“Armageddon pretty fed up with all the talk of Armageddon.”
In a recent Newsweek poll, 55% of Americans believe that Christ’s followers will be swept up into Heaven at the rapture. 17% believe this will happen in their lifetimes. That’s 1 in every 6 people who believe they will see the end of the world. Given that “only” 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, that’s 1 in 5 Christians who are actively expecting the rapture.
On the one hand, this may seem harmless. Excluding the occasional suicide cult, people have been harmlessly proclaiming the end is near since Darby started the dispensationalism craze in the early 19th century. But I believe the prevalence of the dispensationalist sub-culture in America is beginning to have an impact on the rest of us in terms of our political strategies and priorities. 17% is a significant bloc of votes. In this case, this is 17% of the population who are arguably unconcerned with the future. National debt, trade imbalance, social security, environmental conservation… these are clearly not concerns of those awaiting imminent rapture. Let’s face it, if the doctor told you yesterday you had 6 months to live, would you have come in to work today? Many of the policies of the current government fit nicely into the “don’t worry about the future” mentality. Is this simple shortsightedness? In part, yes. But I think this vector also dovetails into the evangelical message.
I also think that the literal belief in biblical mythology is in part responsible for the rise of anti-intellectualism in this country. 63% of Americans believe the bible is literally true. This means that despite all the centuries of scientific discoveries to the contrary, a solid majority of Americans prefer the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark as historical fact. Is it any wonder that the U.S. is trailing much of the industrialized world in science and math scores? Those disciplines require objective and rational minds. Minds willing to always ask, Why? This is completely antithetical to the “bible as fact” dogma. There is irony in that the literalists certainly enjoy the fruits of the science and technology developed over the last few hundred years. Yet none of it would exist without the passion of those individuals who question the world.
Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying all scientists have to be atheists. But I am saying that bible literalism and intellectualism do not mix. The closed mind that is willing to blindly accept fantastical stories of water walking, fish multiplying, and sea dividing is unable to formulate the questions necessary to even aspire to being an intellectual in any capacity. Further, these same people who would argue to the death that Lot’s wife became an actual pillar of salt will generally dismiss as silly the stories of Prometheus, White Buffalo Woman, or the 50 virgins awaiting Muslim martyrs in Heaven. Are those stories that much more unbelievable? Certainly not from a rational point of view.
What’s more interesting is these same people are desperately ignorant of their own faiths. Only 40% of Americans can name more than 4 of the 10 Commandments. Only half can identify any of the 4 authors of the Gospels. 12% think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. If that wasn’t bad enough, 75% believe the bible teaches, “God helps those who help themselves.” Sorry, Ben Franklin gets the credit for that one. Ironically, Ben was not a bible literalist and was arguably only a Christian by the most liberal of definitions.
A final thought for the bible literalists. Since everything in the bible is true and is the direct word of God, I assume you are comfortable with all the implications of that. This should include Deuteronomy 22:20 where the bible commands that if a man finds his wife is not a virgin on their wedding night, that he should take her to her father’s doorstep and stone her to death. I somehow suspect that even the most evangelical parents would take exception to finding their daughter stoned to death on their doorstep. But there it is, the word of God. And should you find you can’t quite stomach that gory vision, I would ask you to explain how you come to decide which parts of the bible are to be taken literally, and which are subject to interpretation. After all, Deuteronomy is a pretty straight forward rule book. While you can argue that the story of healing lepers is apocryphal, Deuteronomy is pretty in-your-face. By the way, it also commands that you should make tassels for the four corners of the clothing you wear and also construct a guard rail around the edge of your home’s roof so that you are not culpable for anyone falling off. Feeling guilty yet?
So I contend that even the most fervent of bible literalists do not actually live their lives strictly by the Book. Should they begin to do that, or worse yet, should the literalist trend spread even further, that would be a sign of Armageddon.