News / USA

Belief in End Times in America Attributed to Economy, Natural Disasters

Harold Camping speaks during a taping of his show "Open Forum" during which he said his prophecy that the world would end was off by five months because Judgment Day actually will come on October 21, in Oakland, California, May 23, 2011
Harold Camping speaks during a taping of his show "Open Forum" during which he said his prophecy that the world would end was off by five months because Judgment Day actually will come on October 21, in Oakland, California, May 23, 2011

A silver-haired gentlemen has just stepped out of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. With its collection of pioneering airplanes, telescopes and rockets, the museum is a temple to the triumph of science.

Billy Johnson said that's all fine and good, but he puts scripture above science. The gentleman from Mississippi, which recently has been hit by floods and tornadoes, believes what the Bible calls 'the end times' could begin at any moment.

He said that when it does, "the believers in Christ are going to be called up, and they'll go to heaven to be with Christ. Then," he adds, "oh, it gets complicated - then you've got a thousand-year reign, Satan will be turned loose."

Johnson is describing what is known as the Rapture - an apocalyptic scenario that experts say a fifth of American Christians believe.

Many people have been mocking followers of U.S. radio preacher Harold Camping, who wrongly predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21.

Johnson is not a Camping follower, but he is one of many Americans who believe the Rapture could occur at any moment. And experts say such beliefs are fueled by the current mix of natural disasters and economic insecurity.

Historians say there have always been people who thought they were living in the end times. But surveys suggest that apocalyptic sentiment is strong in America today.

According to a March poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, 44 percent of respondents said the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence the end times are happening now.

Richard Fenn, a professor of Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary, said such beliefs are rooted in the American middle and lower classes' economic insecurity and sense of institutional failure.

"Schools don't educate, hospitals don't heal, insurance companies don't insure, pensions don't materialize, banks don't lend money." And that, he says, contributes to "this whole sense that something is out of whack, fundamentally not working."

He said there's also something else going on.

"I think you have to take into account that America has a safety net that is far thinner, far weaker, has more holes in it, than comparably industrialized nations, say, in Western Europe," said Fenn, suggesting that the prospect of facing a job loss or health catastrophe without support can intensify existential fears.

Fenn has written a book called Dreams of Glory, in which he blames the apocalyptic thinking in monotheistic faiths in part for global terrorism. He accuses the Christian fundamentalists of having a Manichean view of the world. He added that they are trying to foment conflict in the Middle East in the hope it will be Armaggedon, an end times battle prophesied in the New Testament.  

"There is in the Christian right a real belief that in the end there are only two kinds of people. And the others, whoever they are - homosexuals, ACLU, Muslims, feminists - they're going to go down," he said.

But another school of thought sees apocalyptic belief as having a mostly benevolent effect, helping people cope with their immediate problems.

"People have financial panic, they have political turmoil, they have uncertainty in their personal lives and you can use a negative word here but this is kind of an escape theology," says Doug Weaver, a professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "You can escape all the problems of the past because Jesus will come back and take you out of it."

And, he argues it can even encourage moral behavior. Many believers say the possibility of an imminent end to it all makes them focus on what's important. They say they try to live every day as righteously as possible, in the hope that when it does happen, they will be among those saved.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid