Of course the current pandemic has brought out the wild eyed conspiracy theorists and apocalyptic prophets of doom. Forgive me if I yawn.
But I was brought up in the fundamentalist world of dispensationalism, and for those of you who wonder what on earth that mouthful of jargon means, dispensationalism is a wacky system of Biblical interpretation cooked up first by an Englishman named John Nelson Darby in the nineteenth century, then made popular by the fundamentalist preacher C.I. Scofield. Dispensationalism provides a time-line kind of filter on the Bible which purports to discern God’s providential hand throughout history. That could be relatively harmless as one strand within the context of wider church tradition and theology, but of course without a broader context it became a narrow denominational perspective. Furthermore, dispensationalists not only tried to understand God’s working in the past eons, but really got excited about reading the Biblical prophecies in an attempt to see the future.
So as kids we’d have passionate preachers appear who would preach with the Book of Daniel or Revelation in one hand and a clutch of newspaper clippings in the other. They were reading the “signs of the times” and it was always bad, bad, bad and getting worse. We were living in the end times. The Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon in league with the European Community and the anti-Christ was waiting in the wings. Jesus would soon rapture everyone (get the lowdown on this lunacy from Paul Thigpen’s excellent The Rapture Trap) and the world would enter the time of Tribulation when only the bad people would remain so you better get saved quick because you don’t want to get left behind with the bad people.
Even as a kid I was dubious. Now at my age I’m even more dubious of the apocalyptic scare mongers and conspiracy theorists. On the other hand, I’m intrigued by our fascination with such things. I’ve written about this tendency in the human race here. I’m dubious not only because I grew up with apocalyptic preachers and lived long enough to realize none of their prophecies came true, but also because I’ve read some history and come to realize that the obsession with the apocalypse and conspiracy theories is (like the poor) always with us. In every age and in every culture times of crisis produced apocalyptic fear. People need to make sense of what’s happening and they impose on events beyond their control some greater plan and some more nefarious agents who are at work behind the scenes. We all do this. It’s natural. It’s natural, but it is also immature and irrational….
…and Catholics are not immune to it. The Evangelicals have their dispensationalists. We have our more rabid devotees of the Fatima prophecies, LaSalette, Medjugorje, Akita and a range of visionaries, mystics and receivers of inner locutions of various authenticity.
David Mills has opined on this in a Facebook post:
The coronavirus has brought out the apocalyptists, both the restrained and the full-bore…
This doesn’t seem to me wise. It’s a kind of hyper-Catholicism that’s not actually very Catholic, a kind of religion remarkably unfriendly to hysteria. Here’s why I don’t think it’s a reading of the signs of the times.
Horrible things happen all the time, sometimes to very large numbers of people…We don’t need Divine intent to explain a worldwide pandemic. They come naturally. They’re the kind of thing nature does. And has done repeatedly through human history.
And this particular kind of pandemic has been predicted for some time. Decades, at least. The conditions for its creation and spread have existed for many years. Epidemiologists have warned about China in particular for a long time. The odds were that we’d suffer such a thing sometime.
In other words, there is no sign in it to read. The coronavirus is, as far as we can know, just one of those horrors natural to a fallen world. We don’t need direct Divine intent to explain it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Fatima and think the prophecies should be taken seriously…as prophecies not as a Catholic form of fortune telling. We’re not supposed to listen to Sister Lucia as if she is some sort of Catholic Madame Sosostris with a crystal ball. Fatima was not a Catholic seance and the visionaries of LaSalette are not a Catholic Nostradamus.
The point of authentic prophecy is to reveal and preach God’s truth to a humanity deafened by sin. Prophecy is not so much about foretelling the future as pointing out the danger of a particular path. Prophecy is like seeing your favorite kid starting to take drugs and saying, “If you keep doing this you will fry your brain, end up a total loser and maybe zap yourself into prison and an early grave. Don’t do that.” That’s the point of prophecy, so to spend all your time picking over this prophecy or that from the Blessed Virgin in order to sniff out a conspiracy theory or foretell the future is not only dumb it’s wicked. All forms of witchcraft, the occult and fortune telling are condemned by Sacred Scripture and the traditions of the church. That’s because the future is in God’s hands. We are children of time and the only future that we should be concerned with is our eternal future.
The visionaries of Fatima are saints. The miracle of the sun is astounding. The messages from Fatima are sharp and amazing in their accuracy. The world needs to hear them. I’m convinced they are authentic and the church says so too. But they have their place (like all authentic private revelation) as a complement to the primary revelation of Jesus Christ God’s Son and the witness to that revelation in the Sacred Scriptures.
Do we live in troubled times? Are we worried that the worst is yet to come? Yes. I’m worried too. Are we concerned that the whole world may tip over into economic shipwreck, famine, social unrest, revolution and war? Yes. It has happened before, and not too long ago. Read again the history of the very times in which the Fatima children lived.
Are we worried? Yes, but going all gooey over conspiracy theories and apocalyptic ponderings don’t really get us anywhere. What good does it do except make you more worried? What can you do about it? This was my response to a book about such things some time ago. Read it here if you wish.
Bad things may happen tomorrow. Really bad things. The just person plans prudentially for all eventualities and lives for the present day as if it is the last day of his life and also as if he will live long and prosper. The unquiet person not only lives in fear, but wallows in fear….they actually enjoy the fear like the addict his drugs. Apocalyptic and conspiracy theories are forms of fear and the irresponsible preachers and teachers and media pundits who foster these fears are like pushers who provide their junkies with a hit.
So put aside all the fear and be people of genuine faith–remembering what the Lord Jesus himself taught us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”