The End Times

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This habit often led to a rejection of any programme or policy that would contradict the end-times narrative. There was no need to slow climate change, protect against scarcity or pursue global peace — because wars, famines and natural disasters are foretold and therefore unavoidable. In casual conversation, people counted the signs, growing breathless as the list grew: the gulf war, Hurricane Andrew, the Kobe earthquake, monsoons in Pakistan, torrential floods in China, tornadoes in Oklahoma, blizzards in Boston.

Though we yearned for otherworldly love and beauty, and to be removed from an ugly world, we were soon lost in a voyeuristic fascination with its fate. I began to notice that all the anticipation was focused on what would happen to the Earth, to the unbelieving hordes left behind, and not on what awaited the righteous in heaven.

Perhaps, too, it was a contempt for the unbelieving, who lived as if they had every option. Our rapturous longings had morphed from rescue to reckoning, our image of the future from a better Earth to a scorched one. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. As I grew older, I began to fear that I would be left behind. Privately I loved all the worldly things we were supposed to reject. I wanted to go to Harvard. I wanted to stomp grapes in a vineyard and swim with exotic fish and have sex with more than one person.

I wanted the world to continue existing so I could conquer it. But I was afraid of losing my mother to the Rapture in the same way that I had almost lost her in Iran when she was arrested again and again. Every time I came home to an empty house, I took out the church directory and sat by the phone, ready to start dialling. If my mother failed to arrive after 30 minutes, I would turn on the television and search for news.

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I would look outside for wayward cats and dogs, the empty prams, the discarded clothes. Then I would begin dialling — starting not with the pastor, whom I found sinister, but with one of the grandmothers, someone kind and pious I believed would be raptured. I always hoped to hear a baby in the background — the cry of a baby an innocent who would be raptured always halted a tumble into my nightmares of divine judgment, all that inexplicable famine and disease and drought. Calculus and physics books helped, too, as did the rose bushes and milkweed in our yard.

Perhaps these things reminded me of the resilience of the Earth, its age and complicated logic, and all that anchors us to physical, verifiable truths. Or maybe, secretly, I longed to remain. I had already been snatched away from one home. I n my mids, after years of grappling with my identity as a refugee and my place in the world, I stopped believing in the Rapture.

Yearning for the end of the world | News | The Guardian

By then I had embraced all the secular, corporeal things I had secretly desired: a rigorous education, travel, great food, the admission that I do believe in science and that the Bible is at most a metaphor to me. I watched that old movie, A Thief in the Night, on my laptop and was fumed at the heavy-handed messages that had colonised my adolescent brain.

The Christian characters benefit from the goodwill and love of their secular friends, then dismiss human love as insufficient.

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Ever blase, their lives never progress; they only wait. They live in the next life. This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees and people newly in love can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection.

Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse. When I said this to my mother recently, she balked. No way back and no way forward. And that is everything — skipping that in-between space, the country of purgatory where the refugee lingers.

They are designed to assuage a universal fear: the fate of the refugee. To set off as an asylum seeker is to endure a carousel of embassy visits and interviews and application papers without any idea of what comes next.

I knew what it was like to be taken away, never to smell the yellow roses or taste the celery stew again. In the Christian world, every century seems to bring a new wave of calculations. The Black Death brought rapture fever, as did every comet. Cotton Mather, the influential American preacher, had three guesses between and As for this century, a Pew Research Center study found that nearly half of American Christians — not just evangelicals — believe Christ will return in their lifetime. Many were excited, frothing, ready with all that they knew about the Beast of Revelation: he would be Jewish, he would be a charismatic politician on the rise, someone capable and hopeful, bringing peace to the Middle East.

He would be represented by the number Blogs and forums advancing this theory count the evidence: he purchased Fifth Avenue for more than anyone had ever paid for an office building. He is Jewish. He is handsome, and under all that eerie silence could be charisma. He has money and the ear of the president and dead eyes. He has done business with George Soros atheist, liberal and is friends with Netanyahu. Trump proclaimed that Kushner could bring peace to the Middle East.

Was this not enough proof? Behind the many websites and social media posts claiming that Kushner is the antichrist, I see a common bafflement: many conservative Christians realise now that Trump has lied to them, that his loyalty is to the wealthy, and that he has no understanding of macroeconomics, foreign policy, diplomacy or the Bible. How can the faithful have been manipulated, if not for a mighty evil at work? This is, of course, cause for excitement.

The arrival of the antichrist means that the faithful are closer to their deliverance. He will only harm the unbelieving. After I gave up my own apocalyptic obsessions, I began to notice evidence of rapturous thinking elsewhere — and not only among evangelical Christians. Sometimes I saw the signs in those wishing for a return to the past: the elderly, social conservatives. The more the rest of society seemed to reject their identity, the more they craved a reckoning, something decisive and game-changing to stop the creep into the unfamiliar.

Every natural disaster the most epic.

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Every generation thinks the world is ending. And for the oldest among us, it is true — their world is ending. Suddenly home looks like a foreign place. At one time or another we all stop recognising the landscape around us. It feels like a long con: to build a way of life, a legacy, only to have the next generation reject it. It seems apocalyptic: the end of goodness, of comfort, of peace.

And what is to be done when it seems that history has no direction but the grave? All you can hope for is a sudden removal from the narrative, a sharp left turn, a deus ex machina. What you desire most is a violent disruption. Eight in 10 white, born-again Christians voted for Trump. Should this have come as a surprise? Because here was the chance to do something to reject the present — to usher in something rapturous and revolutionary.

But revolution without a stake in the future is apocalyptic, and revolution for the sake of the past is anathema to life — because progress is the business of the young. In Iran, that same attempt to stop time, as much as the executions and the bombs, filled our days under the Islamic Republic with an aura of death. But I suspect that, consciously or not, end-times believers crave apocalypse. They want a leader who will return them to the past, or barring that, hurry it along to its end. Someone who will fulfil a narrative in which they play a role.

To my ears, their impatient groans are a prayer for the fall of civilisation. There was no net loss of forest in the s to reverse. He concluded that they were growing faster and healthier than ever and had been improving throughout the s. Ironically, one of the chief ingredients of acid rain—nitrogen oxide—breaks down naturally to become nitrate, a fertilizer for trees.

As for lakes, it turned out that their rising acidity was likely caused more by reforestation than by acid rain; one study suggested that the correlation between acidity in rainwater and the pH in the lakes was very low. The story of acid rain is not of catastrophe averted but of a minor environmental nuisance somewhat abated. The threat to the ozone layer came next.


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In the s scientists discovered a decline in the concentration of ozone over Antarctica during several springs, and the Armageddon megaphone was dusted off yet again. The blame was pinned on chlorofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators and aerosol cans, reacting with sunlight. The disappearance of frogs and an alleged rise of melanoma in people were both attributed to ozone depletion.

So too was a supposed rash of blindness in animals: Al Gore wrote in about blind salmon and rabbits, while The New York Times reported "an increase in Twilight Zone-type reports of sheep and rabbits with cataracts" in Patagonia. But all these accounts proved incorrect. The frogs were dying of a fungal disease spread by people; the sheep had viral pinkeye; the mortality rate from melanoma actually leveled off during the growth of the ozone hole; and as for the blind salmon and rabbits, they were never heard of again.

There was an international agreement to cease using CFCs by But the predicted recovery of the ozone layer never happened: The hole stopped growing before the ban took effect, then failed to shrink afterward. The ozone hole still grows every Antarctic spring, to roughly the same extent each year. Nobody quite knows why.

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Some scientists think it is simply taking longer than expected for the chemicals to disintegrate; a few believe that the cause of the hole was misdiagnosed in the first place. Either way, the ozone hole cannot yet be claimed as a looming catastrophe, let alone one averted by political action. Repeatedly throughout the past five decades, the imminent advent of a new pandemic has been foretold.

The swine flu panic was an early case.