In case you hadn’t noticed, December 21, 2012, is just around the corner. That’s the day when the “world as we know it” is supposed to come to an end.
At least that’s what some people tell us that the ancient Maya predicted. Modern Maya, millions of whom live in southern Mexico and Guatemala, believe no such thing; but what do they know?
Even if December 22 winds up being pretty much the same as December 20, there will still be plenty of people getting ready for the end of the “world as we know it.”
These people are the subjects of a recent New York Times article entitled “How to Survive Societal Collapse in Suburbia.” The article profiles a business outside of Denver calling itself “Red Shed Media Group.”
Red Shed’s products include the kind of things people are supposed to need in case our worst fears come to pass. Their book, “Making the Best of Basics,” is a “popular survivalist handbook.” It includes recipes for wild pig–described as “easy to prepare”–and dove pie, which requires that you simmer the birds for one hour or until they are tender.
The company’s owners insist that they’re not about “doomsday” but instead about providing folks in their minivans with “peace of mind.”
I don’t know about you, but contemplating a future where I have to simmer pigeons and their avian relatives for an hour isn’t exactly my idea of “peace of mind.”
Reading the article or seeing ads for cable TV shows like “Doomsday Preppers,” I can’t help but feel pity for people whose lives are so defined by fear. I suspect that they, not to mention the people at Red Shed, would reject such pity and find it condescending.
But a cursory glance at history, especially American history, shows that cashing in on the apocalypse has been a regular feature of American life. Just thirteen years ago, millions of Americans were getting ready for the Y2K apocalypse: stocking canned goods and Slim Jims, buying gold and other precious metals, and even building bunkers in anticipation of a societal collapse.
Chief among the cheerleaders for the apocalypse were many Christians. Listeners to Christian radio programs were asked to imagine what they would do if, two weeks into the “Y2K crisis,” a hungry family showed up on their doorstep.
Even when we aren’t forecasting societal collapse or other major disruptions, our default mode is often “doom and gloom.”
Yes, if we read the “signs of the times,” we can project where our worst ideas might lead. And, please don’t get me wrong: There is much wisdom in emergency preparedness. As the Times article pointed out, the aftermath of super storm Sandy “has shown just how unprepared most of us are to do without the staples of modern life: food, fuel, transportation and electric power.”
But when it comes to living in chaotic times, what is the Christian message? Love, peace and hope--these are at the heart of the Gospel. They are what people should think of when they hear the word “Christian.” That they don’t should grieve us.
I can’t help but wonder if the absence of hope these days isn’t at least partly attributable to our failure as Christians to model such hope. That we often come off as fearful should prompt us to ask where we’ve gone wrong.
Because if simmering pigeons is what passes for “peace of mind,” then we have failed at being the “light of the world.”