I saw a bumper sticker once here in town that read:
“I bet Jesus would use his turn signal.”
That’s one I would stick on my car, next to “Knit Happens” and “Make Gloves, Not War.”
The “In the event of Rapture, this car will be unmanned” ones piss me off*.
In case you’re not familiar with this particular ideology, there are a (large number) of Protestants who believe that, at the end of the world, the faithful will be “raptured” from the earth — poof! huge numbers of Christians will disappear! — and that this event will be followed by seven years that will really suck (they’re called “The Tribulation”). This is where you get into the whole “Mark of the Beast” stuff (everyone will have to get 666 tattooed on their foreheads to engage in commerce), and the triumph of the New World Order, led by the Anti-Christ (who will probably have ties to Rome). As illustrated in novels on the subject, there will still be some people who knew, but “weren’t really” believers, who will lead the neo-Christian resistance to the Anti-Christ, and will be the new martyrs.
It’s all really cheery.
In the 70s, there was a novel called 666 by Salem Kirban, a set of movies called A Thief in the Night, and Jack Chick had (has) the rapture as repeating story line. In present day, you’ve probably seen the Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Left Behind No. 1) (books, with Kirk Cameron in the movies) on those tables in the warehouse stores. I could only take the one Left Behind movie my mother forced me to sit though. Ugh. (“Left behind” is what you are if you haven’t be “raptured”). There’s songs about it, too. I even know these songs. (Is it just me, or was the video maker a little gender-confused at minute 1:14? And does minute 2:32 make you a little nostalgic?)
Um, okay, this theology is just too weird to type.
The thing is this: there are a lot of well-meaning, caring, sincere people who hold this world view, and this is a very serious issue for those same people . . . I’m not even sure what’s to be said about that, except that beliefs are very powerful for the people who hold them. Here’s a case in point:
A number of years ago (in the spring of 2000, to be exact), I helped a student of mine find his birthmother in Germany (there’s a juicer story about that, but it’s kind of long). Anyway, in addition to reconnecting with his birth mother, my student found out he was the first of seven children, connected with an Aunt in the US, and found his full-blood sister living outside Chicago, who I had the joy of meeting when she came to meet him in North Carolina. Some time passed after that first meeting, and my student called and said, “Jen, we have a problem.”
Since he wasn’t actually my student anymore, I wasn’t sure how we had a problem, but he continued. His sister had had a hard life, both she and her sons had had substance abuse problems, poverty, time in jail . . . . She was clean, sober, and working when we’d met, but she’d called him just before he called me, and was panicked. She’d always known that he existed, and had been looking for him for the better part of 40 years. At some moment in her life, during one of the low points, she had made a pact with the Devil for her soul, in exchange for finding her brother, my student. And now she was really concerned about this, and had called him, crying and upset about the state of her soul for eternity.
This is kind of above and beyond the call of duty for a community college professor, but I was pretty beyond that back when I found his mom.
My mil will tell you it’s a Holy Spirit thing, but I’m not the kind of person who gets profound revelations, interactions with the supernatural world, or prophetic visions. Two weeks ago, I passed a burning bush (actually a set of burning bushes), but the only thing that seemed to be saying to me was, “Call 911.” (Also, the bush was being consumed by the flames, so, for the folks I know who said I likely doused a sign from God, I repeat: pretty sure the only message was “Call 911.”)
Anyway, I was trying to think fast, and think logically (my general inclination when faced with a problem), and here’s what I came up with:
“Hold on a sec, ” I said to my student, “She didn’t find us.”
“She didn’t find us. We found her.”
“Oh . . . kaaaay . . .” he wasn’t buying it.
“She didn’t find us. We found her. Um. And we’re Christian. So, uh, call her back and tell her that the deal is off, because she didn’t find us. We found her. And, and — and we’re Christian, so the Devil definitely can’t have her. Yeah. Um. We found her.”
It seemed to work.
My point here is that the beliefs that people hold work powerfully on their view of the world. It doesn’t matter that I don’t really believe in the Devil (shit, I think people do plenty of evil without any help at all), but it matters that she believed in the Devil, that she’d made a bargain, that he’d delivered, and that he was coming for her. That’s some scary powerful stuff to believe.
The same goes for holding an apocalyptic-end-times-tribulation view of the end of the world — that can happen at any point, and is likely to be soon. It’s not surprising, with this view, to see vast numbers of protestants engaging in the hedonistic, consumer-driven, junk-collecting, earth-debasing maw that is our culture — this world is not their home, they’re just a’passing through.
*I also don’t really care for the fish, or the whole family (school) of fish [Two big ones for the parents, followed by as many little ones as symbolize the children in the family] — especially when it includes the halo-sporting little fish, that indicate the children the family has lost, though I suppose it’s better than a fish with an x-eye). What do they do if one of the children decides to become an atheist? Would they put a Darwin fish on to symbolize that child? What if the kid became a satanist?