Did you know that 41% of Americans believe Jesus is going to return to Earth by 2050? This kind of scares me. Not because I’m afraid of being left behind. I really doubt Jesus is going to return in any literal sense and if he does, I agree with Brenda Peterson – I want to be left behind, thank you. What scares me is that we are not particularly good stewards of the earth and a large number of us don’t really seem to care what horrible stewards we are.
If you seriously believe Jesus is going to return and whisk you away from Earth by 2050, what reason do you have to take care of the earth for your children and grandchildren? Why not just leave the Earth in horrible shape for the sinners who get left behind? It’s their fault for not believing, right?
This view concerns Brenda Peterson who wrote a memoir entitled I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth. She quotes Bishop Wright who asks in “Farewell to the Rapture”: “Is not the ‘Left Behind’ mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?”
But she also recognizes that there are those who believe in Rapture who continue to care for the earth. Her memoir begins in Seattle. She and her neighbor are sharing seal pup sitting duty. He catches her off guard by informing her, “With 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun.”
Despite having grown up in a family that is absolutely giddy about the “end of times”, Peterson explains that she is far more drawn to the wonders and rapture of the earth than the otherworldly place her family is so excited about going. Her family has long since quit trying to get her to share in their excitement about the rapture which is why her neighbor catches her off guard. And while it may be true that 41% of Americans agree with Peterson’s neighbor that the countdown to the rapture is on, not all who believe this are necessarily poor stewards of the earth. Take the seal pup sitting neighbor for instance. Or the fact that despite their gleeful anticipation of the rapture, Peterson’s large Southern Baptist family are all involved in caring for the world in some way.
Peterson claims that Fundamentalists and Environmentalists share far more similar philosophies than either side realizes. She offers this quick comparison between the two:
- both are enraptured by doom
- Fundamentalists – Apocalypse Now/Environmentalists – Apocalypse Near
- both share a fear of future consequences
- both express righteous anger
- both are into “Thou shalt not”
- both think themselves “Holier than Thou”
- both are humorless
- both are into blame, shame and judgment
- both are Evangelical
Peterson points to something Biologist Olivia Judson wrote about a study by D.R. Oxley. (Oxley, D. R. et al. 2008. “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits.” Science 321: 1667-1670.)
People who support warrantless searches, wiretapping, military spending and so on were also likely to startle at sudden noises and threatening images. Those who support foreign aid, immigration, gun control, and the like tended to have much milder responses to the stimuli.
Peterson wonders if maybe the reason she is not as concerned about leaving this earth is because she was simply hardwired to respond more mildly than the rest of her family? Maybe the stronger startle response in her family is what makes them believe in such things as Satan and the Rapture. It follows that religion, for those with a strong startle response, becomes a safety net to assuage fears. Peterson feels this is very important for liberals to understand – many people seriously believe that danger and persecution are ever-present, even when they are in power. We aren’t going to create any bridges by making those with a strong startle response even more fearful than they already are.
Peterson has also noticed that more recent generations of Southern Baptists are not as enraptured by End Time Theology as their parents or grandparents. Like Peterson, my parents survived two world wars and I grew up under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps Peterson is correct in thinking this may be why so many people in both our generation and our parent’s generation have spent so much time plotting an escape from this world. The current generation, on the other hand, has been through 9-11 but they don’t seem as intent on escaping, and that gives Peterson hope.