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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