My latest column is now up on AlterNet, Apocalypse Soon: Why Are Christians So Obsessed With the End Times? In it, I trace the long and ignoble history of failed apocalypse predictions in Christianity: from Harold Camping's infamous pratfall last year all the way back to prominent colonial and medieval preachers, and even the New Testament authors themselves, all of whom were equally sure that Armageddon lay just around the corner. I write about why apocalyptic expectation seems to be a more common theme in Christianity than in other major world religions, and discuss the real harm that eschatological delusions do, both to the individual theists who pursue them as well as to society as a whole. Read the excerpt below, then click through to see the rest:
Two thousand years later, life continues as it always has, and the authors of these fearful predictions have long since turned to dust. What's remarkable is that, as each generation of Christians passes away, the apocalyptic torch is eagerly picked up by the next generation, which echoes their predecessors' warnings without a trace of awareness that they're recycling claims that have failed many times already.
Given their unbroken track record of failure, it's easy to make fun of apocalypse believers, to mock them for being so gullible and foolish. But these ideas have very real human costs. Millennial fever often flourishes during times of great social upheaval and uncertainty, among people whose lives are so impoverished that they want to escape this world and live in a better one. And it inevitably happens that some of those people squander what little they do have in chasing this mirage.
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