Today, there are millions of fundamentalist American Christians who believe that the Bible is inerrant — in other words, literally true. In keeping with this faith in Biblical inerrancy is the absolute belief that Jesus Christ will return to conquer a devilish Anti-Christ and his demonic forces, and will, in turn, establish a Christian millennial kingdom on Earth.
These two affirmations lead conservative fundamentalists of the political-right toward apocalyptic visions of the future of our planet. For many of these folks, the Bible’s prophecies concerning the end of human history are being revealed in “sign of times” phenomena such as the spread of AIDS, the increasing development of weapons of mass destruction, rising crime rates, and the outbreak of international wars — especially in the Middle East. Accordingly, “sign of times” is the beginning of a doomsday scenario which includes three additional steps:
1: the Rapture, 2: the Tribulation and 3: the Millennium.
At the on-set of the Rapture, faithful Christians, along with deceased, true followers of Jesus Christ will suddenly vanish from the Earth and “will be gathered up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (First Thessalonians, 4:17). Then a seven-year Tribulation, which is described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, will reflect God’s judgment on the non-believing rebellious people of the world who will be destroyed by pestilence, plagues, fires, and nightmarish monsters which He will let loose on sinners everywhere. Then, following Israel’s total occupation of its “biblical lands”, hundreds of millions of soldiers from all over the world, led by demonic spirits and the Anti-Christ, will attack Israel and trigger a final battle at a place called Armageddon.
Although there are many differing views of the details of the Second Coming of Christ, fundamentalists generally agree that the Tribulation will end as Jesus returns from heaven to earth. According to the Book of Revelation (19:14-21), the Lord Jesus will appear, and the armies of heaven clothed in fine linen will follow him on white horses, and he will slay the Anti-Christ and his forces. In so doing, Christ will forcefully put an end to man’s cruel rule on Earth, and will rule it in a way it should have been ruled if man had obeyed God’s will. Then, the Millennium will commence and will establish one thousand years of paradise on Earth. Thus, given the promise of the Rapture and the Millennium, many of today’s Christian fundamentalists maintain that Armageddon is not really their problem, and any thought to avoid it or to improve the prospects for long term human development is not a vital concern.
The late fundamentalist preacher, Jerry Falwell, believed that nuclear weapons would be widely used in the Battle of Armageddon. In his 1983 statement on “Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ”, he wrote: “The Tribulation will result in such bloodshed and destruction that any war up to that time will seem insignificant.” When asked why a nuclear Armageddon would not bother him, Falwell replied: “You know why I’m not worried? I ain’t gonna be here.”
When Christian fundamentalists adopt Falwell’s view of the world, of history, and the future, they set people aside as helpless victims and passive agents who are totally incapable of shaping and directing human destiny. So, why worry about global warming, nuclear war, or the increase of deadly conflicts throughout the world?
Christian fundamentalists, like all other Americans certainly have the right to their cherished religious beliefs. And because their religious beliefs have considerable influence on U.S. presidential and congressional politics, it is fair and essential that non-fundamentalist Christians, people of other faiths and non-believers alike, pose the following questions in the public dialogue:
1. Is it not inconsistent on the one hand to depict Jesus as a non-violent, loving, forgiving healer of bodies and souls while, on the other, adhering to the notion that he will return to Earth as commander-in-chief of the holy warriors of retribution?
2. Is it reasonable to believe that a God of love and mercy planned from the beginning to purposely destroy His Creation and the creatures He made in His own image?
3. How does the fundamentalist, apocalyptic vision of the future effect human motivation (especially of young people) regarding the education and hard work required to solve our most pressing human-made global problems?
These questions are not just questions of religion. They are also questions which have a direct bearing on politics, education and human survival itself. Thus, they must be openly and fairly dealt with in churches, schools, and political settings throughout the country.
Bill Wickersham is an adjunct professor of Peace Studies at MU, a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of the national steering committee of Global Action to Prevent War.