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From the Nov/Dec, 2011 issue of Touchstone


Dead End Times by Patrick Henry Reardon

Dead End Times

Patrick Henry Reardon on the Apocalyptic Fears of the Secularists

Basing my attitude on the assumption that “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority” (Acts 1:7), I steadfastly avoid calculations about the end time. I just don’t run in those circles.

Consequently, it seems I missed a deadline not long ago. Either the Rapture was supposed to occur, or the world was going to end, or something equally catastrophic was supposed to befall us, and I missed the whole thing. At least, I think I missed it, in the sense that I was one of two men standing in a field that day, and neither of us was taken (Matt. 24:40). Anyway, I did not become aware of the deadline until it had passed.

It is significant that I learned of it from a TV comedian, who used the occasion to joke about the gullibility of religious people.

If I did not think his joke especially funny, it is because of an impression that religion has nothing to do with most contemporary speculation about impending disasters. Leave religion out of it. Most of the present world’s preoccupation with apocalyptic signs has nothing to do with the Book of Daniel.

Readings from Daniel have been replaced by a stream of reports from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which spell out exactly what we mortals must expect to befall us—very soon—from Avian Flu, Mad Cow Disease, Belgian Dioxins, leaded gasoline, insufficient fiber, grilled cheeseburgers, second-hand smoke, and mercury traces in our corn flakes.

Whereas in former times apocalyptic fear was bolstered by the authority of prophecy, in the contemporary world it is enforced by the authority of science.

The old arrangement was better, I think, in its provision that the prophet, if his prophecy turned out to be bogus, was supposed to be stoned to death. Maybe the Food and Drug Administration will want to brush up on certain verses in Deuteronomy.

A Stream of Scares

Is it my imagination, or is it true that secular apocalyptic expectations have increased since we entered a new century a little over a decade ago? I especially recall the widespread scare that all our computers would crash at midnight as we moved into January 1, 2000. This was supposed to be really bad: Our bank accounts would disappear into the stratosphere; street lights would suddenly malfunction; hundreds of planes would plunge from the sky; and babies would get diaper rash. When none of this happened, fear was renewed by the consideration that the new millennium would not, in fact, begin until a year later—on January 1, 2001.

In 2005 the World Health Organization proclaimed that the “the deadly H5N1 strain” of bird flu virus would be “the single greatest health challenge” to the human race. Its lethal attack on the masses of mankind, according to Britain’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, was “a biological inevitability.”

I am sorry to report that some selfish individuals in Chicago survived that calamity by taking the easy way out: They got rid of their canaries and kept their windows closed. They are still alive, I suppose, if you can call it life.

These and other instances of modern apocalyptic morbidity are explored by Christopher Booker and Richard North in their fascinating book Scared to Death, published two years ago.

A Serious Symptom

Of all the contemporary manifestations of apocalyptic morbidity, however, none seems to stir more fascination than the Global Warming Scare. Indeed, Al Gore may be thought of as our new Peter: “the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

The hour of judgment, we are warned, is soon upon us. We must repent and bring forth the fruits of righteousness. For lo, the ice cap melteth, the rain forest is dried up, the ozone hath nearly disappeared, and dead polar bears are daily washed ashore on the sands of Tarshish. And all because of our dastardly carbon footprint.

I have not the foggiest idea, of course, how much scientific substance there is to any of this. At the very least, I suspect a lot of contrary evidence is being ignored. I am far more interested in what appears to be a deep morbidity that gives so quick a positive response to every hint of impending disaster, no matter how thin the supporting testimony. As a symptom of our spiritual health, this gloomy spirit—this prior near-certainty that something terribly bad is about to happen—strikes me as more curious that any of the catastrophes being prophesied. Whatever the other scares may amount to, this symptom strikes me as truly serious. •

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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