Last summer I was in Washington at a Mormon EFY summer camp. On a hot afternoon I sat under a tree talking to a co-worker who was asking me about my views on issues. As a liberal in a Mormon group, I was the odd man out, a curiosity among the pious elite. Somehow the topic of global warming came up and I expressed my fears that our government was not doing enough to combat this growing danger.
My co-worker looked at me and said: “The world is getting hotter, but as we read in the scriptures, the Earth will burn at the last days anyways, so this is just a fulfillment of prophesy.”
I was dumbfounded. This was a nice guy, not ignorant in many other ways. But his comments made me realize a profound truth. Religious focus on apocalyptic theology is one of the most damaging ideologies in our world.
In 2012 it was reported that 22% of Americans believe that the end of the world will happen in their lifetime. This was the result of a survey across multiple demographics and religious beliefs. The results are not terribly surprising. Nearly every major Western religion has an apocalyptic belief built into their theology. Christian belief is the strongest one in America. Spread among multiple sects of Christianity, this belief usually involves the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and some sort of teaching about the mystical Rapture.
Mormons have an extremely strong apocalyptic belief built into their theology. From the start of the religion, Mormon leaders and prophets have prophesied about the end of the world. Joseph Smith produced a variety of teachings about the closeness of the Second Coming, with many of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants focusing on the end of the world. A prophesy of Smith seemed to imply that the Second Coming would occur within 50-60 years. Since then, Mormon prophets have often made reference to the coming of Jesus Christ.
Without criticizing the main Christian theology, I find the focus on the end of the world an extremely destructive ideology.
For example, climate change is an increasing problem in the world, and many climatologists believe that we are quickly entering the era where we can not reverse the warmth of the Earth. Our survival relies on drastic measures, yet we are not taking the necessary measures.
Of course, much of this is tied into conservative fears of government overreach, but there is something deeper at play. When you have 22% of the United States population believing that the end of the world is imminent, is there really any incentive to make the necessary changes to save our planet? There is not reason to make drastic changes if you believe that God is going to come and magically fix all of our problems.
But what if he isn’t? There have been apocalyptic prophets since the beginning of organized religion and so far the Earth has survived the supposed destruction. Even in newer religions like Mormonism, the end of the world has not come despite nearly two centuries of prophesying about the closeness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
There is something to be said about the increasing prevalence of doomsday beliefs. Perhaps it is because of the communication abilities provided by the internet. Maybe it is a response to rapid social changes that have occurred in the past few decades. Who knows.
What is certain is that this is the only planet that we know that we have. Nobody knows when the end of the world will come, even mainstream theologians will recognize this fact. So why should we be stuck believing that there is not actions that we should take?
Think about it. Maybe Jesus comes back in the course of the next thirty years. Perfect, he saved the world. But what if he doesn’t? What if it is another 100 years before he comes back? Now we are in trouble. We squandered away the beginning of the century focusing on the end of the world and refused to make any significant changes to our lifestyle. And if Jesus does come sooner than theologians expect than are we really worse off because we made efforts to make our world a better place?
At this point we need to ask ourselves the question: Are we willing to risk our children’s and grandchildren’s life on a religious prophesy without a set time frame?
I would hope the answer is no.