News / USA

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

Harold Camping speaks during a taping of his show
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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs