Enraptured with the rapture

Daily News Tribune, Aug. 1, 2003
By Chad Konecky

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to diagnose people’s fascination with the concept of the apocalypse, from popular culture to comet-worshiping cults. The biblical language attached to the earthly world’s end – most notable in the Book of Matthew predicts, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” The Book of Luke tells us, “There will be great earthquakes” and additionally promises, “In one place after another pestilences.”

With war in the Gulf, earthquakes off Cape Ann and with West Nile Virus, Mad Cow disease and SARS jockeying for superiority, it’s no wonder folks are wondering if, well, this is it.

That’s nothing new. Churches in Boston were holding prophecy conferences 50 years ago, which emphasized eschatology, which means, theorization about the final events of mankind.

“Apocalyptic teachings aren’t some fringe emphasis of the scripture,” says Marvin Wilson, a professor of biblical and theological studies at Gordon College in Wenham. “It’s the climax of the scripture. And it’s rooted in theology that existed in Judaism several centuries before Christianity. The vast majority of American Christians believe in Revelations, a return of Christ.

“We do have a small segment of the church that suffers from ‘doomsday syndrome,’ ‘apocalyptic fever’ or eschatological mania,” he adds, noting there is only a single reference to “Armageddon” in the New Testament. “Those are people who see meteor showers, earthquakes or Saddam Hussein as signs.”

Global warming may soon earn a spot on the checklist.

According to the EPA, droughts, higher flood tides, fiercer storms and higher temperatures likely associated with the Greenhouse effect will lead to an increase in heat-related deaths (as much as 50 percent in Boston by 2050) and a greater prevalence of insect-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

The agency also notes that increased salinity of surface and groundwater associated with higher sea levels has been cited as a cause of declining shellfish harvests and wetland loss.

Pestilence, indeed.

“People pick up on themes and use them in a sensationalistic way to read between the lines and link, say, an earthquake off Beverly with the Second Coming being near,” says Professor Wilson. “People should pay less attention to the signs, which are beyond the ability of humans to correctly intuit, and pay more attention to how we live.

“The correct emphasis of scripture is an ethical emphasis,” he adds. “When we get too focused on the other world, we become so heavenly minded, we’re of no earthly good.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday August 2, 2003.
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