Without discounting any of the possibilities you mention, my own preferred interpretation of what “the end of the world” means in Christian tradition is a little different. I think it refers to the end of “the world” as they knew it, which is to say, a world of political and economic oppression (“the whole world groans in agony and travail,” in the words of St. Paul. There was no free speech in the days of Rome, especially when it came to questioning the secular order of things, so everything had to be couched obliquely and ambiguously, in terms of “original sin,” “the world,”hope for “a new heaven and a new earth,””the whore of Babylon,” etc.. Occasionally the language is more explicit, as when Paul says we are up against “powers and principalities,” but that is the exception rather than the rule.
Furthermore, we should note that in the West at least — which used to be called Christendom — that old world has already been overthrown and replaced by a new one in which ordinary people enjoy liberty, leisure and basic human rights to a degree unimaginable in any other civilization.
Does this mean, in the samzidat, underground language of Christianity, Christ has already returned? Maybe. The evidence is all around, only we are too blind to see it.
In any case, for my taste World Wars I and II plus the Holocaust were more than enough in the way of an Apocalypse. A terrible human price was paid to make the modern world. We should work together to save what we have.
That final sentence above should be appended to read, “We should work together to save what we have and extend its benefits to the rest of humanity.” Sorry for the omission.
Rather than capitalizing on doomsday theories, why not look more towards the opportunities to be had. Rather than working to save what we have, why not build upon what we have. There are ways to make the world a better place, and it will mean significant change (some not for the better), but we have to be willing to adapt as the world continues turning.
We are living in Historical times. Never in history have there been more signs than now, never in history have there been more Christians pursecuted than now. . .more in the 20th century than all other 19 combined. What this means is time is running out on the church. Those that know Jesus and what he did on the Cross are excited. At the same time, it is time to get God’s Army ready.
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Walter Mead appears to accept the possibility of some sort of apocalyptic ending, just not certainty about when. His tone throughout appears to accommodate the viewpoint of apocalyptic and in so doing he does little to alleviate fear of the future. He later affirms global nuclear destruction as the most probable scenario for an apocalyptic outcome. But all of the longest term trends of reality and life reveal the opposite probability to an apocalyptic outcome- things will only get better; much better.
And let me add that the long term trends of reality and life (where we have come from and what has actually happened so far- stubborn factual evidence) are our best predictors of the most probable future outcomes.
Note, for instance, climate. Over the long history of climate on earth CO2 levels have been as high as 7000 ppm (2000 ppm plus as recently as during the Jurassic/Cretaceous Periods) and no runaway greenhouse effect occurred. In fact, higher levels of CO2 benefitted plant growth and life flourished, especially during much warmer periods than today (warm periods do not always coincide with higher atmospheric CO2 levels). In all the long history of endless climate change, and much more rapid and severe past climate changes, there was never any apocalyptic outcome for life.
Let me take issue with his most probable apocalyptic outcome: nuclear war. He says, “The technological explosion through which we are living makes the end of the world increasingly probable from an intellectual point of view (nuclear proliferation, for example, makes nuclear war more likely)…Global destruction by nuclear weapons is the most probable Faustian scenario…”.
While the use of nuclear weapons by rogue states or terrorist groups is still probable and horrific to envision, this will not result in “global destruction” or “the end of the world”. There is a powerful opposing trend to violence and it involves the emergence and maturing of human (humane) consciousness. The result has been a significant decrease in violence over human history, with war becoming an ever-lessening threat to life. Note for instance, Stephen Pinker’s research on this in The Better Angels Of Our Nature, or James Payne’s History of Force.
Luke Mitchell (A Run On Terror http://harpers.org/archive/2004/03/0079957d ) also noted that a nuclear attack on a US city by terrorists could kill up to 250,000 people and be a singular horror. But, he adds, the country would go on as it did after the influenza epidemic of 1918 (600,000 deaths) or during the AIDs epidemic (500,000 deaths and counting) or after 9/11. It would not be the end of the US, just as nuclear war would not be the end of life.
We don’t ever want to diminish the horror of the catastrophes throughout history that devastate millions of lives. But the trend of violence and war to lessen over time nonetheless continues. And remarkably so. The evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that there will be no global destruction or end of the world. Not even from nuclear war.
To understand the highest probabilities of where life is headed one needs to consider the three longest and most prominent trends of reality and life. I refer to the three great emergences of (1) material reality (the universe, its history and development), (2) the history and development of biological life, and (3) the history and progress of human civilization. All three have shown endless improvement, advance, development, or progress toward something better and more humane. Not even the worst natural catastrophes, accidents, setbacks, downturns, or intentional violence along the way have halted this endless trajectory of progress.
This toothless monster of apocalyptic has been a darkening curse on human consciousness for far too long. It absolutely distorts the true state of life and hinders human progress. The resulting alarmist hysteria and panic produced by apocalyptic mythology has far too much impact on public policy and thereby hinders human progress (note, for example, the GM foods ban, and general environmental obstructionism). Apocalyptic terrorizes public consciousness and hinders the human spirit from experiencing the liberation of an unlimited future.
I would challenge anyone to put up any clear evidence that the progress of the three basic trends of reality and life show any evidence of some apocalyptic outcome. The history of apocalyptic has been correctly summarized in the aphorism- “Apocalyptic has a 100% failure rate”.
The long term evidence points clearly in the opposite direction to apocalyptic outcomes.