End Times Preaching and Love

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m struggling lately as reports of economic failure and mob violence fill the news with the knowledge of how a portion of the Christian community is going to interpret these events.  I grew up in a theology I think all too common that these are the “end times”  and involved predictions of apocalyptic chaos and meltdown just on the horizon.  Such fear-mongering talk was generally used as an incentive to combat “sexual immorality,” by which I mean sex , particularly sex outside of marriage and non-heteronormative sex, and to see economic collapse and chaos as God punishing our society.  To ease our terror, preachers who frequently gave this sort of “doomsday” preaching would invite people to repent and feel protected in drawing closer within a conservative religious view.  I’ve actually read very specific plans for hording food in small urban apartments, though to be fair, the stress was put on sharing resources when possible and dependence on God in this book.

I am distressed by the combination of clarity and confusion represented in such preaching.  The awareness of something amiss, of a society on a track that leads to disaster coupled with a vague moral analysis that creates a sense of dependence and also separateness and moral superiority to a collective of sinful others, usually the same scapegoats repeated in history especially sexual “deviants”, seems to first draw increased consciousness to the surface then provide a ready escape from self-awareness and the taking of personal responsibility.  This sort of paternalistic guidance towards awareness and resulting fear then into the relief of a comfortable compartmentalization even more heavily defended by the authority of religious rhetoric seems to be part of a massive tendency towards denial in our society.  So much work and feeling goes into maintaining a willed ignorance and inaction , while the problems underlying so much suffering in our culture continue to be veiled and unmet with creative solutions.

To my mind, it does not take a prophet to look at American society or the global economy and say disaster is coming.  The meltdown of capitalist consumerism has been predicted since it was invented, not so very long ago.  Anyone maintaining some rational or intuitive awareness in this culture can see and feel for themselves how much untended suffering and rage, bitterness and despair there is permeating our society and see the devastation to life caused by our practices of gathering materials, manufacturing and consumption. Consumerism fosters an ethic that is essentially the antithesis to a love ethic, cultivating ever-increasing dependence and strategically intensifying dissatisfaction as a method of making us vulnerable to manipulative marketing.  The goal is to increase our consumption without alleviating our desire to consume, to keep us empty and unfulfilled.

It does not take a prophet to recognize a distressing reality, but to see within it a vision of what could be instead and how to get us there.  I believe what we really need, especially in our spiritual leaders, are people who are aware of the reality of our culture and name it for what it is, see its genuine roots, and who can urge others towards the pain of self-awareness and taking responsibility, and yet keep them from resulting despair by offering also a vision of alternatives.  We need to see our current culture for what it is, yet also to envision a society truly founded on a love ethic, in which spiritual growth and autonomy are valued and supported and human needs both basic and spiritual are consistently and abundantly met to replace the exploitative ethic of consumerism we have now.

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