Predictions of the End Times are as old as religion itself. There’s a long line of failed prophecies, and the most recent one by Harold Camping may be the next. America does not have a monopoly on doomsday prophecies, but our culture is fertile ground for them.
One reason is simple: Religion is strong in America. Despite our religious diversity, Christians remain the largest single category—and the Bible includes predictions about the return of Jesus, world wars, and other events associated with the End of Days. Most white evangelical Christians in America believe Christ will or probably will return to earth in the next 40 years, according to a poll taken by Pew last year. And, most Americans expect a world war by 2050.
The expectation of the Second Coming and another world war combines with the idea of America’s moral destiny. It began when the Puritans saw their new settlement as a “city upon a hill”—as Puritan John Winthrop put it in his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” Over time, Americans developed what Reinhold Niebuhr called “a religious version of our national destiny which interpreted the meaning of our nationhood as God’s effort to make a new beginning in the history of mankind.”
Even today, two of three Americans believe our nation has a special responsibility to be the leading nation in world affairs, according to Gallup.
The mix of religious prophecy and a national moral destiny is a potent combination. Camping’s prediction isn’t the first. It won’t be the last.
Do apocalyptic prophecies have an appeal to you?
Do you believe Jesus will come again in the next 40 years?
Do you agree with most Americans that we have a moral destiny?
(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)