Pew Research and Thoughts on End Times Expectations

To reprise of my prior observations about Harold Camping’s decease and legacy, Pew Research conducted a poll earlier this year that proves relevant. This was originally brought to my attention by John Zande; thanks John.

PF_13_03_22_JesusReturn-02Today a staggering 41% of US citizens (130,000,000 adults) believe that their Middle Eastern god will commence its mass extinction of all creatures in their lifetime. It’s a ghastly figure but it is a number reflected in the multi-billion dollar Christian apocalypse industry that has in just the last twenty years produced 29 End Times films (with such grand titles as “Tribulation” and “Judgement”), 60 documentaries (like “Racing to the End Times”), and some 1,120+ grotesquely warped End Times books, of which the Left Behind series has alone sold over 40 million copies.

~ JZ

For my own commentary, I will simply observe that I have been in two kinds of Christian groups… (1) those that fixate on in-my-lifetime eschatological anticipations and (2) those that refrain and remind that no one knows the hour of Jesus’ return. I can attest personally to the mental chains that accompany the first category of thinking. There is a morbidity to the desire of the end, if one believes it will come in a general conflagration. Some take Christmas as an opportunity to remember Jesus’ coming, and also to look for his second coming. Yet others look quite askance at such premonitions and prognostications, murmuring a general wish that their fundamentalist brothers would not embarrass “the rest of us” yet again with ill-informed soothsaying. As time went by, I found myself very much in the second group.

But there is a vacuum of Biblical support for those that wish to denounce such thinking. At least, I found it to be the case. The New Testament is filled with admonishments of living with the immanent end in mind. If Jesus and Paul and Peter and John are to be taken seriously in their (purported) statements, the Fundamentalist leanings are difficult to categorically refute.

Christians like myself tried, at the time – and quite in vain, to cite the astonishing list of false starts in the church’s history when people got it wrong. Of course, this is to point at the data. That doesn’t work well with believers. It didn’t work well when I was among them, and it doesn’t work now that I have left.

At bottom, there is a desire in Christian believers that it should be true. I had seen enough in my own life of faith from brothers and sisters to know that there was no refutation that could be given to Hitchens’ claim, when at last I read him:

One of the very many connections between religious belief and the sinister, spoiled, selfish childhood of our species is the repressed desire to see everything smashed up and ruined and brought to naught. This tantrum-need is coupled with two other sorts of “guilty joy,” or, as the Germans say, schadenfreude. First, one’s own death is canceled—or perhaps repaid or compensated—by the obliteration of all others. Second, it can always be egotistically hoped that one will be personally spared, gathered contentedly to the bosom of the mass exterminator, and from a safe place observe the sufferings of those less fortunate.

~ Hitchens, Christopher (2007-05-01). God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (p. 98). Twelve Books. Kindle Edition.

As Christians, we do not want to find out that the Bible was wrong about this. We do not want to find out that it was wrong about the Great Flood. We will defend the notion that God did, in fact, destroy all of humanity in the waters. And we will defend the notion that He is going to do it again. We want and need him to be a destroyer, and for many of us, we will not hear of even alternate translations. We embrace the darkness because it promises us immortality. We’ll buy the package:

I get to live forever. Its a shame that so many will perish to an eternity of suffering. But I want the package to be true, because I get to live forever. So it’s true. And don’t tell me it isn’t. Daggers out if you do.


  1. Mariah Windrider says:

    I find it somewhat strange that while I have not been a Christian for many years now, I still have an expectation that there will be a major upheaval for humanity in my lifetime. I no longer see this as the return of Jesus, but something else. Not particularly violent or horrible like the apocalyptic predictions that made the Left Behind series so dramatic, but dramatic none the less. It may come slowly like the gradual change in opinions and attitudes that we have seen over the last 50 years regarding same sex relationships, the role and place of women in the world, the place of physical differences among humans in society, and such questions, or perhaps it will be a physical global disaster like a comet or meteor strike, solar flare, or other natural disaster. I’m leaving out global warming because in itself it is not the disaster, but rather how we deal with it and adapt to it.

    Whatever it is, I have felt this since I was a child. When I was a Christian, I did not belong to one of the “end times” promoting churches, so I don’t think that was it. I do predate the first Atomic Bombs, and actually have a faint memory of the surrender of Japan after Nagasaki was bombed. And yes, we did the duck and cover exercises in school, and I remember the heightened fear after the Rosenbergs passed the bomb secrets to the Soviets. Then the start of the Korean war and wondering if the bombs that fell would have Chinese writing on them or Russian. The old joke of the times, the difference between an optimist and a pessimist was the optimist was learning Russian.

    But like all those people waiting for Jesus to come back, I’ve been waiting for a world altering event as well. I definitely understand why so many look forward to it, there are way too many of us on the planet, times just keep getting harder and harder, society(-ies) are disintegrating, everything is getting too complicated, on and on. Backspace delete. Poof, fix it all with one mile wide meteor.

    Well, the longer I live here, the more I like this old Earth. And as for all those supernumerary folks, well, we’ll find room for them. Those disintegrating societies are our own doing, we’re the ones who can put them back together again. But still….


    • Mariah,

      That’s a remarkable and amazing comment. Thanks so much.

      That quiet sense of foreboding is hard explain and hard to shake. My grandfather used to say the same thing, even though not really a religious person. He used to say that there was something wrong with the world, and that he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

      I also enjoyed your last paragraph, which strikes me more where I present am at. I like it too. 🙂


      • I agree that was a very insightful post. Perhaps it is because I did not have to go through the duck and cover that I have the opposite expectation. I am an optimist. Fewer and fewer people are going through the religious indoctrination process. We are moral because we are empathetic – not because of some ancient priestly hierarchy.


  2. Good points. Reminds me of how people share stories about distant disasters that happen to OTHERS. “Did you hear about the earthquake in China killing thousands!”, she said with a half-smile and a politically-correct half-sad face thus gifting her listening partner a moment of shared schadenfreude.


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