Are there any other ex-fundamentalists out there? Say amen!
In 1972 I was a miserable teenager spending hours every week slouched down on the hard wooden pews of Apponaug Pentecostal Church. Self-absorbed as I was, the news was only background static, but I still remember this. The congregationâ€™s response to the terrorist murder of eleven Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics was — â€œPraise the Lord.â€?
The rest of America might have been mourning the deaths of innocent men, and the violation of the tenuous peace they were supporting. People who followed events in the Middle East might have been afraid. People who hoped that Israelis and Palestinians would someday find a way to live together might despair at this vicious act, knowing that many others would die as a consequence. But in the world of the saved, this was a sign from God. The End Times were upon us.
That worldview regards nuclear war as Godâ€™s plan for humanity. The last book of the Bible, the psychedelic Book of Revelations, predicts a fiery end before the Final Judgement. The popularity of the â€˜Left Behindâ€™ series of books, films and video games is testimony to the appeal of this belief. The books regularly make the New York Times best-seller list.
Itâ€™s a paradox of human nature that the kindly church lady, who does nothing but good to those close to her, can enjoy fantasies of mass destruction and the annihilation of the wicked. Not her nephew, of course, who still might be saved; but the faceless abstract millions who must perish as part of Godâ€™s plan.
And knowing that you, unlike the foolish, worldly ones prospering around you, can see the future clearly gives some balance to life. Knowing we are in the End Times gives these days an awful grandeur. You wonâ€™t have to work at that donut place until you drop dead behind the counter. You are going to be Raptured. Theyâ€™ll be sorry.
In 1972 we were still entangled in the Vietnam War, still facing the Soviet Union with a strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), suffering an economic recession, beginning to see signs of environmental damage. I was moving away from fundamentalist Christianity, but the sense of living in the End Times, conflated with real world events, stayed with me for a long time. It was not until I was well into my thirties that I was willing to plan for the future, commit to education. I had unknowingly absorbed a sense of temporariness, â€œthis old world can never hold me, for very long, Iâ€™ll be goneâ€? went the hymn.
Today, as a Pagan, as a Unitarian, I am committed to a reality-based worldview. I am committed to a code of ethics that says every human being has innate worth and dignity. I am committed to leaving something better for future generations. But my time in a Pentecostal church was a valuable education in the power of the irrational. Much more important than the flashy manifestations, like speaking in tongues and falling down on the floor is the belief system. And that belief system permeates our society, especially politics more and more as the Christian right continues to gain power. Just as the smell of incense can instantly bring me back to my early childhood in the Catholic Church, I can smell the whiff of apocalyptic faith. And I recognize the code words. They are to be found in political speeches as well as sermons in church.
The people who praised the Lord on hearing of the Munich Massacre were not any different from you and I. They just put their hope in another place. And if millions have to die in a final war it is only Godâ€™s will. You have the choice to submit; you can yet be saved.