The End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)

 

This is it: the day the Mayan Calendar “runs out,” and the “age ends.” Some people say it’s the end of the world. Of course, some people said the world was going to end last year (link). Others said [Late Great Planet Earth’s prediction]. Of course, a lot of people thought the wheels would come off one New Year’s Day, 2000, including Prince:

Some survivalists have been holding onto the belief that TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) is “just around the corner” since the Carter Administration. I know, I actually have a couple of late 70’s survivalist manuals. They’re entertaining reading, if dated and a little bit creepy.

Okay, a lot creepy.

But the real question is why? Why are we so quick to jump on every apocalyptic bandwagon? Why did we love Mad Max, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Waterworld, and Left Behind so much? Okay, “love” may be a little strong for the last two, but still. Why are we so fascinated by the end of it all?

Why do we spend so much time poring over The Revelation to the Apostle John, mostly ignoring the pertinent letters to the seven churches and instead trying to suss out every scrap of meaning about horned dragons, the mark of the beast, and who might be the antichrist (pretty sure it’s not Barrack Obama. He’s just a garden-variety militaristic corporate puppet, though admittedly one with a penchant for bombing civilians).

I’ve read a lot of “prepper” materials, and a common thread I detected was a deep dissatisfaction with the current world, and a desperate hope that a rebuild world might turn out better. If that sounds paranoid or even insane, just think about what goes on every day.

The poor of the world still struggle with starvation, disease, and water so contaminated it can kill. Predator Drones still sweep the sky in Pakistan and Yemen, killing men women and children in our name. Children die by the thousands, too far away for us to care.

Here in the first world, an entire generation struggles with massive college debt, delaying marriage, home ownership, and starting their adult lives.

The Internet brings easy access to knowledge and far-flung friends, but also puts sexual predators and hardcore pornography within easy reach of our children and ourselves.

Factory farming exhausts the soil and treats living animals with cruelty and contempt.

The rich get richer.

The middle class sees no real gains from increased productivity.

Life is hard.

 

We should all want something better. It is a godly part of us that calls out for something better. And I believe that, in time, Jesus will return and bring a new Earth, a new creation where evil has no place. But I don’t pretend I can know the day or the time. And I can’t cover my eyes and wait for it to come.

So push aside this talk of Armageddon. Hug your family. Call your friends. Give your time and money to someone in need. Extend the hand of friendship to someone who’s lonely. You’ll be glad you did, whether the world ends tonight or not.

And just in case it does, I’ll leave you with one last thing. It may be my last chance to do this.

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Saint Max, The Mad (Ethics of Disaster Preparedness, Part 2)

American MRE's, picture by Christopher Lin, Creative Commons

American MRE’s distributed after Hurricane Katrina, picture by Christopher Lin, Creative Commons

As Christians, our philosophy if disaster preparedness should align with our philosophy of life: living out the kingdom of God “on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” [Matthew 6:9-13]  Needless to say, this means we can’t just ‘take care of our own,’ even in a disaster.  This contrasts markedly with both the extreme survivalist mindset and with the prevailing, semi-mainstream “prepper” mindset.

“Okay,” you may be thinking, “what is he talking about?  Survivalist?  Prepper?  Come on, now, throw me a bone.  Don’t just toss out these terms without defining them.”

[[I realize that some of you may not care about this topic, but it’s one that I feel strongly about addressing, partly because of my own interests, and partly because of my experiences, and those of my family, immediately following Hurricane Katrina.  Everybody faces the possibility of natural disasters of some sort, and everybody needs to take responsibility for being prepared.  And since one of my goals is to be as honest as possible, I’m going to have to write about this.]]

The survivalist expects (and often focuses on) the PAW, or Post-Apocalyptic World (sometimes called TEOTWAWKI: The End Of The World As We Know It).  They fear and prepare for a semi-permanent interruption of common services (like electricity, government, and law itself) and a breakdown of social order and morality.

What will cause the PAW?  The list of possible causes is as varied as the survivalists are: economic depression, pandemic, sunspots causing a massive EMP (it happened in 1859), government corruption leading to totalitarianism, or even, in the most extreme cases, violent racial conflict.  Unfortunately, white supremacists are often attracted to the survivalist mindset.

To survive in the PAW, the survivalist often prepares elaborate and remote “bug out locations” (BOL), complete with stored food and supplies, methods of long-term food production, significant caches of ammunition, and back-up copies of his preferred firearms (a phrase that preppers and survivalists alike use is “two is one, and one is none,” which is supposedly borrowed from the U.S. Special Forces). You can see the survivalist  mindset in interviews and reality shows as well as discussion forums.

The main problem with the survivalist mindset is that they sacrifice so much of the present life for the sake of the apocalyptic world to come that some of them even hope for the chaos, thinking they’ll come out on top in the coming world, that their place in the social order will be overturned, that their vigilance and sacrifice will finally be vindicated.  It’s a lot like Left Behind that way…

Preppers, on the other hand, focus on realistic, likely disasters.  They tend to be more level-headed, often with practical backgrounds or occupations: current or former military, farmers, mechanics, gunsmiths, etc.  While they often share the survivalists’ lack of faith in the government, they keep it within functional bounds.

They focus on preparing (“prepping”) for things like economic hard times, relevant natural disasters, extended losses of public services (like losing power and water for 3-4 weeks following Hurricane Katrina), and even limited civil unrest (like the violence that happened in New Orleans following Katrina).

Obviously, preppers are easier to relate to than full-on survivalists.  They don’t want any of these things to happen.  They talk about how their “preps” help them in everyday life.  For example, one got laid off and used emergency food stores to cut down his grocery bill and emergency savings to cover his other bills until he got a new job.  Nothing apocalyptic about that.

The prepper mindset can be a little harder to find in the media, but there is one discussion forum that exemplifies it:  despite its frivolous name, Zombie Squad keeps its focus by banning political discussion, religious debates, and any kind of racism.  You’ll find a few survivalists there, but they’re the sane type, so to speak.  Nobody there talks about race wars or rants about how Bush is Hitler and Obama the Antichrist.

The problem that often underlies both outlooks is, to some degree, the problem I addressed when I wrote about Atlas Shrugged.  It’s akin to the spiritual problems so many Pharisees in Jesus’s day and Christians today suffer from.

It’s the self-righteous sense than since I did the right thing, and you didn’t, so you don’t deserve much sympathy or any help.  In other cases, it’s Christians saying on Sunday “oh, everything I own belongs to God,” and on Monday saying “I can’t stand that the government’s taking MY money to pay a bunch of welfare queens and drug addicts!”  In this case, it’s the sense that “my preps will take care of me and mine, and anyone who comes to my door had better step off!”

This isn’t a sentiment that we, as Christians, should be getting behind.  Partly because it’s very possessive and antithetical to the commands Jesus gave us when he was here among us.  Partly because it’s NOT how people actually survive and thrive during natural disasters.

I’m out of space for now, but I’ll talk about that later.  In my next post on this topic, I will tell the story of how my hometown dealt with the aftermath of Katrina.  It didn’t involve massive rioting and gunfights with police, so it didn’t get on the national news, but it is a more important story than what happened in New Orleans.