What are the effects of apocalyptic thinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Ehrman beings this chapter talking about the Great Disappointment. This was when William Miller formed the Millerites because he was convinced that Jesus was going to return and he gave a date. Again, he was wrong, and yet from his movement came about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
From here, he talks about Leon Festinger and cognitive dissonance based on the book When Prophecy Fails. (The majority of internet atheists who treat cognitive dissonance like a magic word have no clue about Festinger or the book.) There is a footnote about cognitive dissonance and Christianity, but to his credit, Ehrman doesn’t make the argument himself. It’s as if there seems to be some personal tone in Ehrman’s most recent books.
In more recent times, the off-shoots eventually led to Waco. I can still remember being in middle school in a class and the teacher next door coming in and telling us to turn on the TV and watch the news. That was when the compound was burning. David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians was also someone who was caught up in apocalyptic thinking.
Fortunately, most cases don’t get that extreme, but they do happen and we need to take them into account. A far more recent case is that of Harold Camping and his predictions on a date. Real people sell all they have and stop going to college and don’t get married based on these claims.
Ehrman also talks about our policies on Israel. There are many people who are quick to defend Israel in any case because these are supposedly the people of God. There is an irony on how this is done. The following is from page 95:
This has long been the irony of Christian Zionism . Many evangelicals love Israel but believe most of its inhabitants will be sent to the fires of hell . That certainly is the view of the minister chosen to conclude the embassy dedication ceremony in prayer : televangelist and vocal Christian Zionist John Hagee , who has written books with such titles as The Beginning of the End : The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist , in which he argues that the assassination “ fits into events prophesied centuries ago that are recorded in the Bible . ” That is Hagee’s real concern : prophecy . Hagee has claimed that even the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to restore the Jewish people to Israel . Apparently not alert to the implications of the idea , he later apologized should anyone have found his comment offensive.
Hagee, of course, had his books about the blood moons and something is about to change. Nothing happened. Has Hagee got up and repented for what he did? Not at all. Churches rightly hold pastors to account for huge moral failures such as having an affair. When are they going to hold pastors to account for making public statements like this that shame Christianity and are proven as totally false?
A lot of evangelicals seem eager to get the Jews in Israel and the temple built, when this will really in their system result in a bloodbath where these Jews will be mercilessly killed. Could it be sometimes we care more about the prophecy than the salvation of the Jewish people? That’s just something to think about.
This doesn’t mean that one cannot support Israel, but when I do, it’s not because of something to do with prophecy. It’s because they’re on our side politically and because I think they are a buffer against Islam in the area. I also do not have a side on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
I was somewhat surprised when it came to talking about the rebuilding of the temple and how the Dome of the Rock would have to go for that (Good luck), that Ehrman never mentioned Julian the Apostate. He was an emperor who wanted to invalidate prophecy actually by rebuilding the temple. Strangely enough, he died before this ever came about.
Finally, we get to talk about environmentalism, mainly with Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior James Watt who said he wants to make sure we have enough resources to last until Jesus returns. This seemed like a shocking statement at the time to some. It was consistent for Watt as that was his faith tradition.
This leads to Ehrman’s talk about environmentalism and of course, climate change. I happen to be skeptical. I remember being in school and hearing the next great fear was the coming ice age. Every doomsday disaster about the environment has not come to pass. Unfortunately, Ehrman never references the evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.
That being said, while I am skeptical of this and don’t care for the environmental movement, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of the Earth and our resources. We should. As Ehrman rightly indicates, while Genesis 1 has been used to say we can plunder the planet as we have dominion over it, it can just as easily mean the opposite. We should take care of the planet. I don’t buy into doom and gloom ideas,
Next time, we’ll start looking at least at how Ehrman tells us to read Revelation.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)