25 June 2010

End Times? Second Coming?

Here's an interesting article by Dr. Jeff Mirus, over on Catholic Culture:

Apocalypse, Again

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.