There is a cohort of Christianity that is almost obsessively eschatological in its focus. A member of this cohort, whose blog I read regularly, just quoted a passage from the writings of talk show host Paul McGuire. Not only is this man quite clearly off his rocker, making all sorts of paranoid predictions about an imminent Nazi-esque persecution of Christians in the United States, but he’s obviously making a decent living pedaling this nonsense to others (see here).
On reflection, it’s not surprising that Christianity should appeal to people who have a tendency toward paranoia. It has a built-in doomsday story of epic scale that leads very naturally to all sorts of scary conspiracy theories. Part of paranoia is the belief that one is being persecuted, and Christianity provides the perfect symbol of persecution: Jesus on the cross. Christianity also has a very real history of persecution, especially in its early years. As a result, some Christians almost seem to relish the idea of being persecuted, as if it’s a necessary part of the Christian identity.
Unfortunately, facts must be regularly ignored in order for these paranoid beliefs to flourish. It does no good to point out that, for instance, the overall level of violence in the world is steadily declining, as Steven Pinker painstakingly demonstrates in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. It also does no good to point out that religion is practiced freely in the western world, including in public schools, universities, churches, homes, and the work place.
Finally, it does no good to point out that for the last 2000 years, every single generation of Christians has included those who have incorrectly thought of the apocalypse as immanent.
None of this has any effect on the Christian who is determined, evidence be dammed, to cast the world as an increasingly dangerous, evil place full of religious persecution, because that’s what one particular manuscript from the ancient Middle East tells them to believe.
Luckily, the practice of Christianity in the United States and elsewhere in the western world is mostly harmless (indeed, a great deal of good is done by Christians). But if ever there were potential for harm, it must surely lie in the Armageddon-obsessed brand of Christianity that has convinced itself that the great battle against Satan is nigh.
My personal hope is that violence continues to decrease, and that we can all live in a more rational, less paranoid state. This is something we should all be actively working toward. What we should not be doing is behaving like so many Chicken Littles, telling everyone that the sky is falling. Not only is this untrue, but it does nothing to further the goals of peace and freedom that most people wish to achieve.
I just noticed that Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism discussed this topic in a post of his three days ago. Take a look.