The end of days

For some (mainly evangelical) Christians, a key aspect of their belief is based in eschatology: that after various horrific events (which they believe are predicted in the Bible) there will follow ‘the Rapture‘, when Christ will appear in the skies and ‘born again’ Christians – both dead and alive – will meet him there, while others will be consigned to hell and eternal damnation.

I wouldn’t wish to comment on this particular set of beliefs; I am a practising Christian myself, and am of the view that we need to be tolerant of other people’s faith and theology. However, I was also made aware of the potential dimensions of such beliefs when, earlier in the past week, I heard a radio interview with an evangelical woman from Alabama who identified the recent US election as a prelude to the Rapture, and who if I understood her inferences correctly seemed to be viewing Barack Obama as the antichrist.

There is undoubtedly (or there must be, I cannot speak from experience) something uniquely comforting in knowing that we have possession of all truth and are certain as to its meaning. But it also places us in a position where we may either gloss over, or misunderstand, or seriously compound the complexities and anxieties of the world. For me, faith is about mystery and discovery, and about trying to understand what we can never quite know. It is also about compassion and tolerance.

There has, over recent years, been a lively debate about whether religion is a force for good or evil in the world. I doubt, notwithstanding the strong views of participants in this debate such as Richard Dawkins, whether that is really a very interesting question, because religion like most things is as good or as bad as we humans make it. But I am inclined to accept that where religion has been used in explicit terms to guide political decision-making it has easily become something dangerous – though to be balanced, the same can be said of atheism.

I genuinely feel for all those who cannot, on the basis of their religious beliefs, be happy about the outcome of the recent US elections. But on the other hand, I cannot help being relieved that this is not how the majority in America assessed matters. Even as a practising Christian (in my case, an Anglican), I feel much more comfortable with the idea that politics must be secular, and that the Kingship of Christ (which Catholic and Anglican Christians celebrate today) is not of this world.

So should our religious principles – where we have them – be private only? I would say, yes and no. I don’t think any of us should be expecting our particular outlook on faith to be reflected in law or government action. But we should live by it ourselves, and apply it to our dealings with others, in tolerance and friendship.

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3 Comments on “The end of days”

  1. Wendymr Says:

    The case of the United States has convinced me absolutely that religion and politics should not mix. School prayer, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, ‘intelligent design’ in schools, appointing only anti-abortion judges… these principles are not universal as far as those with religious beliefs are concerned. They’re not even universal for Christians. Is it reasonable, therefore, that one group’s beliefs should become the code by which the entire population must live by?

    (Of course, that was the state of affairs in Ireland post-1937, a situation that has been remedied in recent years and will be remedied further in the future.)

    I find it ironic that many of the same Americans who criticise Middle Eastern countries as being theocracies appear to be the ones who would like to turn their own country into a theocracy also – but then that’s all right, because it’s their theocracy.

  2. Ultan Says:

    Undoubtedly, the lady in Alabama needs the help of a professional. But, before we mock, we should remember the zealots in the north of Ireland who were quick to throw about the anti-Christ remarks too for their own purposes (and found that their sectarian hate would even be afforded a platform by an Oxbridge debating union, btw), and where this can lead to.

    Well, I don’t see anything the previous commenter mentions being in the Bill of Rights, or being Federal Law. So to claim an “entire population” is impacted just because of the way some states or counties act, incidentally as a reflection of the will of local voters or taxpayers, just isn’t so. Judges, members of the school districts, etc., are elected in the USA, and I am regularly asked to vote on such matters (sometimes for bureaucratic county-level positions that I couldn’t even feign interest in – though because of Sarah Palin, I’ll pay more attention to the election for local librarian in future). Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall seeing election results published for the Ayatollah elections in Teheran South Central recently.

    However, the comment raises an interesting point about double standards and credibility. Should we, for example, take seriously the letters than periodically appear in the Irish Times calling for an end to the broadcasting of the Angelus on RTE on the grounds of universal secularism, given the Irish Times has two weekly columns called “Church of Ireland Notes” and “Presbyterian Notes”?

  3. Richard Cronin Says:

    Interesting post. As an evangelical myself i usually read these posts where a non-evangelical comments on something related to “Born Againers” with a little bit of dread, particularly when they start off with some reference to an evangelical who does or says something to indicate that they are at best uninformed…. but thankfully you seem to have given us the benefit of the doubt and not labelled us all as the same as the lady from alabama. So thank you.

    Second thing i would like to point out is your comment on the kingship of Jesus only being of the other world. Surely as NT wright has said the new testament screams that the Gospel is Jesus is Lord …and ceasar is not. ? am i misunderstanding you? because you seem to imply that Jesus’s kingship has little to do with day to day running of ones life.

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