Modern Christianity and End-Times Conspiracy Theories

What more is there for their Expected One to do when he comes? To call the heathen? But they are called already. To put an end to prophet and king and vision? But this too has already happened. To expose the God-denyingness of idols? It is already exposed and condemned. Or to destroy death? It is already destroyed. What then has not come to pass that the Christ must do?

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Christianity introduced me to a God who’d interacted with humanity throughout history to offer a life greater than one’s self. This made a lot of sense to seventeen-year-old me. It still does. Christianity comes with a lot of baggage, though. Along with the powerful message of the gospel also came a lot of strange ideas that never quite sat well with me. Concepts of a literal seven-day creation, the perfect and immortal biology of Adam and Eve, and especially that of a violent and terrifying supernatural end-of-the-world scenario that would outsell any Hollywood production (or become one itself). Christianity seemed to, at some point, have conflated faith with magic.

Interpretations of end times prophecy have become increasingly more bizarre over the years, to the degree that it’s completely divorced the pattern of a loving, redemptive God throughout history with one of seemingly pointless violence, judgment, and terrifying death. Yet to not have faith in a brutal end times meant that you didn’t have a Christian faith. This left many Christians to either go along with the weirdness, and ignore the obvious oddities of Christian doctrine, or worse, to fully embrace them and make one’s identity as a Christian based on the willingness to blindly accept outrageous ideas. This was a package deal for many young Christians – who are now adults with a literal end times engrained in them.

There are many Christians still stuck here, because it is quite literally the only thing many churches teach today, and while intertwining religion with politics is often unfruitful, it has as of late become outright dangerous. As one example, the past few months, many normal and otherwise nonviolent Christians have interrupted my peaceful post-election schadenfreude with the most outrageous conspiracy theories. I’ve heard that masks are here to usher in Sharia law and that COVID vaccines will usher in the mark of the beast, that Joe Biden is the Antichrist, and that the National Guard is the new world order. Meanwhile, extremist groups are planning – on public message boards – to assassinate the incoming president to usher in a new heaven and earth. The world has gone full sandwich board, and while the more extreme of these beliefs may be relegated to fringe cults, misguided end-times theories about masks, vaccines, and the Antichrist run fairly deep in mainstream Christian churches. As one evangelical pastor put it, “Right now QAnon is still on the fringes of evangelicalism… but we have a pretty big fringe.”

One would be wrong to dismiss Christianity as a whole based on this farcical pattern of thought. It is a hundred years of theological error that has led the church here. It would benefit many average evangelicals who hold these beliefs to know that these end times concepts are not necessarily accurate to historic Christianity, and could be dissociated from Christianity altogether. Without an explanation, many Christians will likely deny COVID vaccines and literally die on the basis of the theological system under which they were taught. It is a flawed and unfalsifiable system of theology – not Christianity itself – that is to blame. This post will attempt to tease those two concepts apart.

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Evangelical Christianity has Become Alien to me

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Isaiah 5:20

It’s very rare for me to have such big feelings about something, but also at the same time to be almost entirely speechless in my ability to articulate them. Here’s a shot. I’ve been a Christian for the vast majority of my life, but what Christianity has become to people in this country is completely alien to me. I don’t recognize the church in the midst of the overt bigotry, racism, hatred, and lies that Christians proliferate in the name of politics. I’m quite frankly ashamed and embarrassed.

While the evangelical church has always had its problems, the past six months has brought out the worst I’ve ever seen in this generation of Christians. I’m not talking about some fringe group either; it’s easy to dismiss groups like Westboro Baptist as an example of what Christianity is not. I’m talking about the mainstream evangelical church – relatives, friends, and people I’ve even grown up with – who were once a much needed example of Christianity to me – have severely disappointed me in the way they’ve conducted themselves, causing me to question if I ever truly understood what they believed for the nearly 30 years I’ve been a Christian.

Christianity celebrates a meek savior who saw the intrinsic value in people regardless of their race, their past, or their status. He called for the lifting up of those who were downcast and mistreated by society. He called for sacrificial love of the disenfranchised. To reflect compassion. Generosity. Selflessness. He thought that we were valuable enough to give his own life for. Christianity should be, by definition, a mirror image of Christ’s love for humanity, and an example of integrity and truth, even to one’s own detriment. I don’t see this character of Jesus Christ in today’s American Christians anymore.

Jesus made no bones about hating evil, and having nothing to do with the wicked. He literally turned tables over on people whose agenda didn’t align with his own. Both the old and new testaments are chock full of lessons about the dangers of aligning one’s self with wicked people, supporting agendas that bear the fruit of the wicked, and condoning values that are contrary to God’s own. Christianity teaches of a savior who repeatedly demonstrated his disinterest in the irrelevance of politics, from the moment he said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” to his markedly uninterested appearance before an irrelevant Pontius Pilate; yet it’s the laziness of Christians to impact society that has led the church to use politics to make up for their complacency. Christians today have become obsessed with installing judges and other political saviors to legislate morality for them, even if that means aligning themselves with white nationalist groups, vigilante groups that condone hate and murder, and expressing blind, cultic loyalty to immoral demagogues in exchange for influence. Christians are in turn proliferating hate, violence, racism, and division through their choice of allies and leaders, and by trafficking in misinformation to lie about it to, if at the very least, themselves. The net effect of this is the very wickedness God hates; the antithesis of the virtues that Christianity teaches. The church cannot condone immorality, lies and hate, yet expect the world to see Christians as the arbiters of morality. This has destroyed the church’s reputation, and rightfully so.

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Christianity and the Cult Phenomenon

Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, recently renounced his faith and apologized for his awful book. I remember when it came out in the late 90’s, and still see the lasting damage it inflicted on two generations of young men and women. Harris ended up creating a toxic culture inside the mainstream church that would take two generations of Christian men back into the dark ages of devaluing women based on their level of sexual indiscretion, and helped fan the flames of homophobia and exclusion. His “sexual prosperity gospel”, as it’s been called, led to a life of guilt and shame for many, and created lasting scars that caused some to abandon their faith or their marriages later on in life.

Christianity teaches that a person’s worth has nothing to do with their sexual history (or orientation), but from Jesus, who was willing to die to reconcile humanity to God. We’re not defined by our sins, and we’re not defined by our past; we are defined by Christ. This is a far cry from the cultish fundamentalist legalism that Harris’s church taught for decades; the purity movement amounted to nothing more than a way for Christians to measure themselves and others up. It’s no surprise that Harris renounced his faith; if the faith he was practicing was grounded in such a flawed understanding of grace and intrinsic human worth, then by any measurement it was not Christianity. The truly sad part is that he convinced millions of Christians to adopt this same world view for more than 20 years, allowing it to hurt a lot of people before it became popular for leaders to finally speak out against it. Sorry, Josh, but an apology doesn’t let you off the hook.

But this failure wasn’t just of Harris’s own making: It was the complete failure of church leaders everywhere in elevating Harris’s status to a Christian leader. Harris was a mere 21 years old, and hadn’t even been to seminary yet when he wrote the book. Rather than rightfully dismissing his book as yet more of the trash writing of that era, the inexperienced youth leaders of that time (many of whom also lacked formal training) saw a way to get kids to act responsibly, without considering the consequences of his legalism. From piecing together accounts online, Harris’s own church reeked of a world of deep-seated problems, including sexual abuse coverup, leadership abuses of power, control and manipulation of their congregation, and overt legalism running rampant. The church had become so damaging, much of his congregation ended up leaving, and there’s an entire blog dedicated to victims trying to recover from Harris and the rest of his church’s leaders. Indeed, it’s very telling to see the kind of culture his book came out of, and the horrifying fruits of it. When you read that Josh Harris has departed Christianity, this appears by all accounts to be a very good thing for Christianity.

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On Christianity

I’ve often been asked why an intellectual type guy such as myself would believe in God – a figure most Americans equate to a good bedtime story, or a religious symbol for people who need that sort of thing. Quite the contrary, what I’ve discovered in my years of being a Christian is that it is highly intellectually stimulating to strive to understand God, and that my faith has been a thought-provoking and captivating journey.  I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, nor did I have any real preconceived notions about concepts such as church or the Bible. Like most, I didn’t really understand Christianity with anything other than an outside perception for the first part of my life – all I had surmised was that he was a religious symbol for religious people.

Today’s perception of Christianity is that of a hate-filled, bigoted group of racists, a title that many so-called Christians have rightfully earned for themselves. This doesn’t represent Christianity any more than the other stereotypes do, and even atheists know enough about the Bible to know that such a position is hypocritical. Since 1993, I’ve been walking in the conviction that God is more than just a story, that he’s nothing like the stereotypes, and that it takes looking outside of typical American culture to really get an idea of what God is about. In this country, I’ve seen all of the different notions of what a church should be; I think most people already know in their heart who God is, and that’s why they’re so averse to the church.

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The Fallacy of the Prosperity Sermon

Countless sermons have been preached instructing people to give, and God will let you have the car you want, the house you want, and the life you want. Amusingly, my web logs indicate that this essay is found frequently by pastors Googling for prosperity sermons to preach on Sunday. It seems strange, though, that a people who profess to follow Christ are so anxious to convince the church that God wants them to be rich, when the Bible teaches no such thing – God has promised us no such prosperity, but only trials, tribulation, and possibly martyrdom. James teaches us that there’s something profoundly wrong with a miser, treating the notion of being rich as a sign of poor character in their lack of generosity. So are pastors just in error, wanting to see their congregation blessed in this consumer driven American culture, or are they preaching up promises of breakthroughs and finances because they know they’ll reap some of the benefits? In either case, Christians shouldn’t be so naive, given the role model we have in Jesus’ life.

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Hijacking God

Since the beginning of the early church, men have fought hard against the simplistic and servant-oriented church blueprint installed by the apostles. From the earliest days of the church, she has been plagued by power plays and factions, all attempting to use the church as a means of political, social, or economic power. Over a short period of about a century, Biblical church government had been abused, challenged, and eventually deposed.

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Restoring the Beauty of the Didache

I’ve spent many late evenings over the past month translating and researching an intriguing early Christian manuscript called the Didache. Greek for teaching, this first century Greek manuscript reveals the life and heart of the early Church. It has been the center of much academic interest and controversy since its rediscovery in 1883. Prior to this, it was once thought lost to history, although many early church fathers including Athanasius, Rufinus, and John of Damascas cited the book as inspired scripture. It was also accepted into the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85 and the 81-book Ethiopic Canon. Many early church fathers including Barnabas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen either quote or reference the Didache.

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