Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Apocalypse, Again

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 24, 2010

It’s fascinating that so many Americans (41%, apparently) believe the Second Coming is imminent. This no doubt reflects two things: First, the importance of various forms of Protestant fundamentalism and Catholic apparitionism in the United States; and, second, a general feeling that all our problems are spiraling beyond our control.

I say this because a certain type of Protestant is very keen on figuring out the exact timing of things from Scripture (which the Church knows is impossible), and because a certain type of Catholic eagerly mines alleged apparitions for signs of the Apocalypse (which the Church knows is impossible), and because Christians in general tend to understand from Scripture that the Second Coming will come after a time in which Christianity is hard-pressed and the anti-Christ, or at least the spirit of anti-Christ, is in the ascendancy. So when things are tough, people tend to think of the End.

This is always true in times of natural disaster, such as the Black Death, major wars, economic depression, and perhaps even global warming (thought faith in global warming seems to be more or less inversely proportionate to faith in God). And it is also true in times during which the reign of moral and spiritual evil seems particularly pervasive. In the late Roman Empire, for example, or…well…right now.

Since the latter part of the 20th century, two trends have been strongly associated with grave evil: Unbridled individual license and secular totalitarianism. Paradoxically, these two trends frequently work together, as modern Western elites are now in the habit of justifying an increasing totalitarianism by claiming to uphold our “rights” to the worst forms of personal moral licentiousness. Thus they use their power to restrict or eliminate those beliefs and counter-institutions which encourage in man a higher level of personal responsibility and self-control.

At the same time, American culture, like all human culture, is remarkably resilient. The extreme spiritual and moral damage done by the reigning ideologies of the past fifty years had once led me to guess that Western culture as a whole would be in a state of total collapse by now, not only spiritual collapse (which is largely true) but a corresponding social, economic and political collapse as well. While serious signs of social, economic and political erosion are all around us, however, our culture has not yet collapsed. In fact, even European culture has not yet completely gone, though it does appear to be in extremis.

Still, a great many Americans rightly see that Western culture has reached a very low point indeed, and so they presume that the end is near. It may be so, of course, but we simply can’t know, and it is useless to speculate. Instead, we do well to remember the extreme shortness of our own perspective, which gives us a largely unreasonable perception of how bad things are (or how good they are) compared with the problems people wrestled with in earlier periods. In any case, “the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Which of us is prepared to say that more souls are being lost today than at any time in history?

All of us, in fact, are deeply disfigured by sin, and that includes our perceptions as well, which are remarkably foggy. So caution is required: When we’re looking at reality through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12), perhaps it’s best not to predict the future.

[In writing this entry, I was reminded of two related pieces written by Peter Mirus back in 2004. They might interest you: The Worst We've Ever Had It. Apocalypse Now? and The Chastisement, Revisited.]

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: lynnvinc7142 - Jul. 14, 2010 8:52 AM ET USA

    While acceptance of climate change science (not talking about the bogus denialist science) might be inversely proportionate to faith in God -- tho one must control for other causes, such as education level, to be sure if there's a causal link -- the faithful followers of Jesus Christ who have heard about climate change are all involved in mitigating it in hopes of saving lives (or reducing their killing to be more accurate). Of course, there aren't many faithful followers of JC...

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Jun. 27, 2010 3:45 PM ET USA

    I submit there is also a form of Catholic Fundamentalism at work in times of trial. Perhaps this is spawned out of a fear of the unknown or conscience being shocked into awareness. Who knows. We all need to pray and not for the "poof" but that we grow in relationship with God and with each other. Sin is real and the sooner we come to grips with how this limits our ability to relate to God - the sooner we can begin to love Him more - especially through demonstrated behavior.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 27, 2010 3:25 PM ET USA

    It seems to me that people misinterpret Jesus's teaching in the Synoptics, re the signs that will indicate the 2nd coming. He says we'll know them in the same way we know that new growth on fruit trees means spring. Even an illiterate country bumpkin can make that call, it doesn't take any special training or education. Putting it as simply as possible, we don't know WHAT the signs will be, WHAT the true indicators will be, but we'll KNOW them when we see them. We HAVE the certainty of knowing.