-or- What ever happened to the good ol’ last days? -or- Where have all the millennialists gone?
Is it just me, or has the Church become markedly less millennialist in the past years, or at least markedly less strident in its millennialism?
You can hardly read a nineteenth-century Mormon source, including much of the Doctrine & Covenants, without being reminded that the world is coming to an end, and that we must urgently repent, gather ourselves and the elect to Zion, and prepare the world for the imminent return of Christ. The twentieth-century Church was pretty heavy on millennial themes too, particularly during the Cold War. Of course, we never got quite so specific as the Millerites (and many others) who predicted the actual day of Jesusâ€™ return, nor have we typically charted it out in quite so much detail as the Protestant dispensational premillennialists (i.e. the â€œLeft Behindâ€? crowd, with roots back to a late nineteenth-century chap named Darby). But weâ€™ve always been pretty active on the â€œthe end is nearâ€? front, if not quite so weird about it as the street preacher and placard-carrying types.
My sense is that in the last, oh, 15 or 20 years, there has been a steep decline in millenarian rhetoric in the Church, in virtually all forums â€“ General Conference, Sunday School lessons, seminary classes, private conversations.
If Iâ€™m rightâ€”and Iâ€™m willing to admit thatâ€™s a big â€œifâ€?â€”I wonder why this is. A few random ideas:
- There are certainly still plenty of â€œsigns and wondersâ€? which suggest â€œthe end is near.â€? Catastrophes, natural and man-made, are never in short supply, and people are always willing to say â€œitâ€™s getting worse.â€? The Cold War is over, but we can still find the Antichrist in various places, whether in the U.N. or Osama bin Laden or whatever. Iâ€™m suggesting that there is no decrease of external factors for our millennialism.
- You can only say â€œthe end is nearâ€? for so long before it starts to look a little ridiculous. Letâ€™s face it, weâ€™ve been doing it for 170-odd years. The early Christians did a lot of doomsaying, but after a few centuries the church sort of settled in. (Although millennialism obviously never disappeared completely, it has had almost no role in mainstream Catholic theology for centuries.) Maybe weâ€™re suffering from â€œlast days fatigue.â€?
- Perhaps we are now victims of our own success. Millennialism works great for persecuted minorities. When they start to acquire a little more traction in societyâ€”politically, economically, sociallyâ€”they look around and say, â€œWell, maybe this world isnâ€™t so bad.â€? At that point they go from â€œworld-renouncersâ€? to â€œworld-transformers,â€? in which they simply want to refashion the world, not destroy it. When you live in a nice suburb, drive two nice cars, earn a nice paycheck, and have four nice children with nice teeth who go to nice schools, maybe this world doesnâ€™t seem so terrible after all. Giving it all up and walking to Missouri sounds better when you live in a crappy desert than in a gated community.