One weekend not long ago, I spent watching movies about the end of the world. First was the virus that wiped most of the population out, then there was one on the return of the ice age, and another one followed in which the world was heating up. There were the rapture movies where the chosen ones disappeared and the ones left behind had to figure out how to carry on. It was a great way to spend a weekend.
I am fascinated by these kinds of movies because they show the writer’s view of humanity. Let’s face it, there are a lot of serious things happening on our planet. Climate change. Wars. Jihads. Poverty. Racism. It can be a bit frightening. Will we find a way to save our planet from pollution? Will we learn to respect others and their faiths? Will we learn to get along or will society implode? The writers of these apocalyptic movies present answers, which provides food for our thoughts. Their answers vary: The people with the weapons win. The people who cooperate will survive. Those who worship the right God win. There is no hope. The animals end up with the planet.
As fun as the apocalyptic movies are, I know I can flip channels on my television and end up on a religious channel where some minister is preaching his version of the apocalypse. After growing up in a religion that predicted the end of the world to be coming at any minute, I do not find apocalyptic preaching entertaining. Having gone to seminary where I learned the historical context of books like Daniel, and Matthew, and Revelation, it is infuriating to see these books being used to manipulate people and their insecurities. I can barely listen to what the televangelists are spewing.
When I think about spiritual abuse, I see this kind of preaching being used by the minister to establish power and control over the people who are watching. The preacher instills fears: fear of being left behind, fear of annihilation by God directly, fear of hard times, and fear of invisible enemies. The minister’s underlying message is to stick close and stay tuned in because I know what the rest of the world does not know. If you follow what I say, and if you support my ministry financially, you might just survive.
There are other messages usually built into the underlying message. We are right; they are wrong. Only God can fix this mess; we can do nothing. The only valuable thing to do with your life and money is wait, worship, and try to convert others. Love God’s people. Hate God’s enemies. Never sin. Be perfect.
The overall message is manipulative. The apocalyptic message, when taken to heart, becomes restrictive.
When I was a child my parents were told I would not enter school because the end would occur before I was old enough to start. There was no need to develop my skills and talents because I could do that later, after the end of this system. Don’t go to college. Don’t marry. Don’t have kids. Spend your time praying, going preaching, and attending worship services. Put your money where your mouth is, spend it to advance the ministry. Don’t save for retirement. Use your money to support the mission.
Something happened to me when the year two thousand came around and everyone was afraid of Y2K. Predictions of doom accompanied the onset of the new millennium. I had just finished seminary, and had two surgeries in one month that could have killed me, and I stopped caring. I thought, “I am tired of living under this threat of Armageddon. Bring it on,” I said. “if I die, I die. But I am not living in fear again.”
It was absolutely liberating. The year two thousand came and went, and I started really living. Gone was the fear of destruction. I felt instead that I could use my life to make this world a better place. I worked teaching conflict resolution to children. I rescued a dog from starvation. I walked to raise money for breast cancer research. I donated to operation smile for the sake of kids who need corrective surgery for their cleft palate. I worked with victims of violence, and taught college students to have healthy relationships. I helped people become homeowners. I started teaching about healthy spirituality and helping people recover from abusive spirituality. I took up painting. I developed my talents and made my part of the planet a more loving place.
It feels a whole lot better than when I was hating and waiting.
Yes, I find the apocalyptic movies to be entertaining. But my favorite ones are when the people work together to restore the planet to some form of Eden.
It doesn’t just have to be a fantasy.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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