The world didn’t end this weekend, but 89 people are dead in Joplin, Missouri from a tornado. So far this year tornadoes have killed nearly 400 people in the U.S. Haven’t we had more tornado disasters this year than in recent memory? Last year 45 people died in tornadoes. The year before that 21 people died.
Jesus listed “famines and earthquakes in various places” as one of the signs of the end of the end of the age and his return. So for some Christians, their certainty or suspicion that the end of the world is near is bolstered by recent weather events. But as we saw the past weekend, it can be risky to try to predict the time for an event that even Jesus said he didn’t know when it would happen.
Anticipating the end of the world allows conservative Christians to put the weather disasters of the past decade into a familiar narrative. It permits them not to worry about whether these events are trying to tell us that something is wrong with our planet. It also allows them not to worry too much about the long-term effects we’re having on our planet because they believe that the world isn’t going to be around much longer anyway.
Severe weather events is one of the consequences predicted by those raising the alarm over global warming. Somehow these events no longer generate much discussion about global warming. It’s as if we have a stalemate now. Gallup reports “48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.” Rasmussen reports that 59% of Americans believe that there is significant disagreement about global warming within the scientific community. These opinions stand in the face of the fact that no scientific body of national or international standing denies global warming or that human activity contributes to it.
It is instructive to consider the final scientific body to cave and agree with everybody else about global warming. That body was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. It reminds me of the notion (not mine) that it is very difficult to convince a man of something if his livelihood depends on it not being true. The entire question of global warming has been corrupted by commercial interests. Industries who do not want their activities to be restricted based on the external costs they cause our society will spend lots of money to try to convince the decision makers that they are not causing such a problem.
Unfortunately many Christians have been co-opted politically by business interests in America. This has been done in many ways. One strategy has been to use social issues as wedge issues. Many Christians use questions such as abortion and gay marriage as litmus tests. They trust people who agree with their orthodoxy on these two issues. Political conservatives have learned that adopting the “right” positions on certain social issues give them carte blanche with these people on the economic issues that these conservatives care about.
The world didn’t end this weekend. We don’t know when the world will end. Maybe these signs of the end times are not a result of God fulfilling prophecies about the end of the world. Perhaps they are the result of what we are doing to our planet. Perhaps it is time for Christians to focus less on the end of the bible and more on the beginning when God gave us responsibility to care for God’s creation.