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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Waiting for the Apocalypse

As you may know, tomorrow is the day the End Times are supposed to begin, according to an odd but pervasive California-based “radio ministry” led by one Edward Camping. Perhaps you’ve even seen the group’s billboards or warning-emblazoned vans.
Now there’s nothing new about what theology wonks call “dispensationalist premillenialism,” which is basically the believe that it is possible to calculate the date of the Apocalypse as described in the New Testament Book of Revelation (which is taken quite literally) with clues from other parts of scripture. Camping himself earlier proclaimed the Apocalypse would begin on September 6, 1994, and then admitted to some calculation errors, since corrected.
There is certainly a ready audience for such predictions. According to the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will “definitely” (23%) or “probably” (18%) return to Earth by 2050. The total number rises to 58 percent among white evangelicals. Indeed, as is well known, the belief that the State of Israel will play a particular role in touching off the Apocalypse has strong currency in conservative evangelical circles, and is often associated with Christian Right support for an aggressive posture on expansion of Jewish settlement into areas long controlled by Arabs (e.g., Mike Huckabee’s recent claim there is no such thing as “Palestinians” and thus no reason for a two-state solution in the biblical Land of Israel).
Beyond the ranks of believers, doomsday predictions can disturb people prone to anxiety. Salon‘s Steve Kornacki has a post up today about his own vulnerability as a teenager to Camping’s earlier prediction, even though he was neither an evangelical or from a particularly religious background.
Catholic and mainline Protestant sources typically view dispensationalist premillenialism as misguided, beginning with its literal interpretation of Revelation, which is more conventionally interpreted as a warning of coming Roman persecution of Christians utilizing a common ancient literary form. Abuse of Revelation led Martin Luther, early in his career, to propose deletion of the book from the Canon of the Bible.
But even without specific religious sanction, fear of–or longing for–Doomsday are too deeply planted in our culture to go away just because one prophecy or another proves wrong. It takes an awful lot of false alarms to eliminate the human fear of “the fire.”

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