Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review: Have a Nice Doomsday

I just finished reading an interesting book. Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World, by Nicholas Guyatt (2007, Harper Perennial). In it Guyatt, a Brit who now lives and teaches in Canada, takes a look at the state of apocalypse thinking in the United States.

He spoke to a number of preachers and writers who spend their time thinking about the End Times and following what they believe are the signs of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Some of the individuals he writes about are well known: Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series of novels; Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth, and televangelist John Hagee. Others spend their days toiling in the field of apocalyptic thinking from a rather lower profile, although most of them have either written books on the subject, broadcast less well-known programs about it, or have a presence on the internet.

To a man (there are apparently no women active in the field, or else Guyatt couldn’t find any), they all deny that they are violating the Biblical injunction against focusing too much on the time of the Second Coming. They all also protest that they are not advocating actions that might hasten the End Times and that, anyway, they don’t really have any influence in Washington. Never mind the fact that some of them hold summit meetings on the millennium in Washington; that some of them actively ask their congregations or readers or viewers to write letters to their Congressmen urging them to support policies that, if followed, could cause the kind of instability that could trigger wars and rumors of war; that some of them are in demand as speakers for groups from various departments in the government. Never mind that some of them appear with fair regularity on cable news networks, billed as experts on the Middle East. The most worrisome thing about those TV appearances is that they are rarely identified as being Christians who are devout believers in the End Times, and they even more rarely volunteer that information.

Guyatt also provides a bit of the history of Christian apocalyptic thinking in Europe and America, and points out that Christians are not the only apocalyptic thinkers. He points out, in fact, that some of America’s Christian apocalyptic thinkers have been very busy in the past few years point their fingers at certain Islamic leaders (Iran’s president’s name comes up) and accusing them of being dangerous crazies who are trying to bring about the End Times by fomenting trouble in the Middle East. That strikes me as a kind of a “pot and kettle” situation, or perhaps a bit of projection, but it illustrates vividly part of the problem with this sort of thinking.

The fact that Guyatt is not a US citizen or resident puts him in a unique position to look at what is, presently, a mostly American preoccupation with the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Millennium, the Battle of Armageddon, and the Second Coming. He injects himself into the book as he talks people involved in spreading the message of the End Times, and as individuals he seems to find most of them personable and open to explaining their thinking. But he concludes that, for all their protests that they really have no power and that they don’t have an agenda that includes helping biblical prophecies about the End Times reach fulfillment, there is a danger that the political activism that some of them engage in is influencing Washington to some extent, pushing events in directions that could be worrisome to those of us who don’t believe in their message and don’t appreciate that they are “looking forward to the end of the world” and want to take the rest of us with them.

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