I used to think that the greatness of a people or nation was dependent on their faith in God and their righteousness in keeping His Commandments. That when people became wicked and committed sins that they ‘lost the Spirit of God’ and started on a downward spiral toward their eventual doom. I believed ‘wickedness was not happiness’ and the further away from God people get, the more selfish, depraved and unhappy they would become.
As a Mormon we were taught that we lived in the Last Days before Christ returns. In the Bible as well as the Mormon scriptures there are many verses and even whole chapters which emphasise how close to the Second Coming of Christ we are.
[As an example read Matthew chapter 24 (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt/24?lang=eng) and Mormon chapter 8 ( http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/morm/8?lang=eng) ]
I was taught by Church leaders that we live in perilous times of great wickedness. Here’s just one example of the language used: “Now, my young friends, you need to appreciate that our days now and the days that lie ahead are ‘perilous.’ In this regard, President Boyd K. Packer has observed: “I know of nothing in the history of the Church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances. Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds in wickedness and depravity that which surrounds us now.””
Elder James J Hamula (The First Quorum of Seventy 2008)
As a young teenage boy going to school during the last days of the Cold War, I believed the prophecies in the scriptures and the words of the Latter-day Prophets of my Church would soon be coming to pass.
So much emphasis in Mormonism is placed on preparing for the ‘End Times’ that I was convinced I would not have time to finish my school studies before the Great Battle at Armegeddon commenced. As a family we prepared for the terrible times ahead by gathering our obligatory ‘years food supply’ together.
The message of those times was emphasised by the very presence of large storage containers of dried wheat stored in my bedroom. (I made good use out of them by placing a wooden board across some of them to make a study desk.)
All the time as a child and teenager I grew up in fear of imminent impending war. It was exciting watching the news and hearing about the ‘wars and rumours of wars’ and speculating on how soon Christ’s Second Coming would be.
The anticipation for the end times was increased by my Patriarchal Blessing where it specifically mentions my involvement in the Last Days. (“You are of Royal Heritage, Stephen, inasmuch as you descend from Ephraim who was so blessed by his father and his blessings are your blessings and all of the blessings given unto him are shared by you and you will be among those chosen people who are gathering the saints, preparing for the great judgement and sorting out of the tribes.”)
So great was my excitement for the Second Coming, and so strong was my belief in the prophecies of the ‘Signs of the Times’ about the Last Days that I anticipated that there would not be enough time for me to finish my high school education. I honestly believed the hype from the Church that the world was so wicked it was ripe for ‘the Harvest’ when the Wheat and the Tares would be separated very soon.
Most Mormons I know had similar expectations to me. And most are still anticipating the Second Coming imminently.
Many Christian religions believe similar prophecies.
The problem with this thinking is it skews our perception of reality. We tend to see what we believe. So we see any and all violence, war and natural disaster as a ‘Sign of the Times’. With our limited perspective on terms of geographical location and time, it is all too easy to make generalizations about the whole world which are not accurate. As a normal human tendency we tend to see what we expect to see and ignore any evidence to the contrary. But worse than that, the media often feed our fears by over-sensationalizing the violence and disasters because it makes for more interesting viewing.
And if we add in tribal ‘in-group/out-group’ thinking we start comparing other religions, countries and communities to our own as a subconscious means to raise our self-esteem by feeling more righteous than others. In the Mormon Church they talk about ‘personal righteousness’, when really it’s just a clever disguise for feeling self-righteous!
I agree with my non-religious friend who sees the futility of this thinking:
“To think that we can deduce rises and declines of ‘greatness’ in this manner is absurd. What is wrong with every country in the world becoming equally ‘great’? Life is not a competition– if humanity does not learn to collaborate and cooperate for the good of all people everywhere, we fail, spiritually and biologically. The moment we think is is important or necessary to be greater than anyone else, rather than focusing on our own abilities to improve for the greater good, we are the cause of the problem. Start with the person in the mirror, and when you can say you are absolutely perfect, then judge others.
“As we are distracted by the symptoms of societal ego, that somehow we think being greater than any ‘other’– person, nation, culture, religious status… we seek out symptoms of human struggle to attack to make us feel superior or virtuous to (unsuccessfully) hide the guilt of not living up to our own potential. Rather than looking through the eyes of compassion, which was what I thought Jesus taught (I guess I am wrong), we attack others (through words, thoughts or actions) instead of striving to better ourselves and lending a hand to those struggling along with us. I don’t care what the flavor of the day is: issues of abortion, slavery, gay rights, guns… we are not paying attention to the root cause of why these things are issues in the first place– no matter what ‘side’ you are on. Condemning other’s actions because at the time they are lost, unloved, unsupported, living from fear of attack by anyone for any reason… it has never worked, and never will. If we have lost any ‘greatness’, it is because of our need to be better than others, which means others must ‘fail’, and the downward spiral continues.” ~ Kriste Brushaber
On the other hand, by almost every statistical measurement it is very evident that most of us actually live in the best of times. This has to be the best time to live on this planet since humans evolved.
We must be doing something right. Just look below at all the 31 charts for evidence that times are good. http://www.businessinsider.com/charts-that-will-restore-your-faith-in-humanity-2013-5
Having been brought up believing we lived in the Last Days before Christ returns, and that the world is getting more violent and wicked. I grew up in fear. I now realise that my fear was fed by my cynically manipulative belief system – Mormonism.
Just two and a half years ago I had a marvelous epiphany. I realised my faith in Mormonism was misguided. After coming to understand how I, and my parents and siblings, had been sold a lie, I realised that the world is not about to end.
All of a sudden the world appeared to be more beautiful and wonderful than I ever believed it was. With more joy and love than I believed existed.
My paradigm, or world view, changed when I realised my biased world view was being influenced unduly by other people in a church which was manipulating me for its own ends.
I now have less fear and more hope than ever before.
I feel more connected with the earth and humanity than I ever imagined was possible.
The world has its problems, that’s for sure, but it isn’t helped by scare-mongering by religious institutions whose agenda is to control the minds of their adherents where the inevitable conclusion would be catastrophe for the world with the results of self-fulfilling prophecies.
There is wonderful evidence for the good that is happening in the world.
Steven Pinker recently published a book detailing that evidence:
The Better Angels of Our Nature – The Decline of Violence in History & its Causes. (By Steven Pinker)
“This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history. Believe it or not-and I know that most people do not-violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.
“What could be more fundamental to our sense of meaning and purpose than a conception of whether the strivings of the human race over long stretches of time have left us better or worse off?
“How, in particular, are we to make sense of modernity-of the erosion of family, tribe, tradition, and religion by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason, and science?
“So much depends on how we understand the legacy of this transition: whether we see our world as a nightmare of crime, terrorism, genocide, and war, or as a period that, by the standards of history, is blessed by unprecedented levels of peaceful coexistence.
“Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword “If it bleeds, it leads.’
“Also distorting our sense of danger is our moral psychology. No one has ever recruited activists to a cause by announcing that things are getting better, and bearers of good news are often advised to keep their mouths shut lest they lull people into complacency.
“…the mind is a complex system of cognitive and emotional faculties implemented in the brain which owe their basic design to the processes of evolution. Some of these faculties incline us toward various kinds of violence. Others-“the better angels of our nature,” in Abraham Lincoln’s Words- incline us toward cooperation and peace. The way to explain the decline of violence is to identify the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.” ~ Steven Pinker
See Steven Pinker talk about the main topics of his book as he lectures at Stanford University:
I agree with my wise friend Kriste Brushaber when she says that maybe these are both the ‘Last Days’ and the ‘Best of Days’.
The ‘Last Days’ of an outdated mode of thinking which served humanity well in the past, but is not capable of taking us forward to a far richer and brighter future for humanity.
And the ‘Best of Days’ as we learn to pool our collective resources of thoughts, talents, energy, passion, money, time and actions to contribute to that beautiful and bright future!