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« Words, Words, Words, Nothing but Words | Main | Putting his money where his mouth was »

March 12, 2009

Re: Imminent Catastrophe?

The_seventh_seal Diane asks,

What -- if anything -- are we to make of [David] Wilkerson's warning?

It is, to borrow (and rip out of their original context) words from Jeremy Bentham, "simple nonsense . . . rhetorical nonsense -- nonsense upon stilts."

Or as the Scroll of Pythia puts it, "All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again."

"This," of course, being the Christian attraction to crackpot apocalyptic scenarios. Three words: Y-2-K. Nine years ago, people were scared that at the stroke of midnight (midnight where was never entirely clear), civilization would collapse and all of our young men would eventually be forced to either work for Aunty Entity or enter a cage with a 50-50 chance of never leaving. 

The nadir of this was a then (I don't know about now) well-known radio broadcast about the family (not that one, another one). The host, instead of dispensing his usually solid advice about marriage and kids, got on a Y2K kick that culminated with the following scenario (I'm quoting from memory): "It's January 15, 2000, two weeks into the Y2K crisis. A family knocks at your door -- a man, woman and their two children -- and they say 'We're hungry, can you spare some food?' What do you do?"

My answer then, as now, is "check your thorazine, because you're probably hallucinating." At the time, I wrote about this and other absurd fantasies and the terrible witness they represented. (Apparently, the host learned about it and tried to defend himself, saying that his words weren't alarmist. Yeah, right.)  Nothing says "Jesus Shall Reign" like stockpiling water, ammo and Spam by the kilo, doesn't it? I acknowledged that after the "crisis" passed, at least the Spam would make lovely housewarming gifts, as in "I'm here to tell you about the peace, love and joy a relationship with Christ can bring. By the way, would you like a 5 kilo tin of Spam?"

A decade later and the band is getting back together for a reunion tour. The recession/depression has them dusting off the old songs and adding a few new ones. However, their music still -- well, you get the point. 

I'm not making light of the economic mess we're in. When "Dr. Doom," Nouriel Roubini, says that he sees "no hope for the recession ending in 2009," and that it "will more than likely last into 2010," I Iisten. When he says that "We are in the 15th month of a recession . . .  [and] growth is going to be close to zero and unemployment rate well above 10 percent into next year," I'm concerned.

But this isn't Road Warrior. If, as I read on some blogs, people are truly concerned about how people in New York are going to feed themselves in the "coming emergency," they have bigger things than the economy to worry about, because the conditions that would bring that scenario to pass go far beyond 10 or even 15 percent unemployment.

Are we going to take a hit in our standard of living? You bet -- if for no other reason than that the cheap credit-fueled recent increases in our standard of living were unsustainable. As Steve Pearlstein wrote in the Washington Post, we are "in the midst of a painful adjustment from spending the equivalent of 106 percent of what we produce each year -- which is what happened for most of the past 20 years -- to spending 96 percent of what we produce and putting aside a modest 4 percent for savings."

This "deleveraging" of the economy will result in real suffering as "households cut back on their spending and businesses close stores and factories, lay off workers, and reduce their investment in plants and equipment."

But we're talking about going back to, say, the late '80s or early '90s -- 1990s, not 1890s. Apart from the hair bands, I recall them being okay. Even that reduction is probably overstated since some of the increase in standards of living is due to technology, which isn't going anywhere.

Hardly the stuff of The Seventh Seal, is it? I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the pain caused by this "deleveraging" will not be evenly distributed. For areas such the Rust Belt, this cratering economy will accelerate the destruction of a way of life that lifted millions of Americans into the middle class. For them, "catastrophe" may not be too strong a word.

But the Christian response is to look for ways to ameliorate that suffering, not retreat into our private Sci-Fi channels. In his most recent book, Chuck tells the story of how Christians ran towards Rome and its plague victims when everyone else, including physicians, were running away from the city to save their lives. 

Pythia was right: it has happened before and it will happen again. Pathetic.

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Comments

Dan Gill

It's my understanding that David Wilkerson's prophetic utterances have failed before, and thus he does not meet the biblical standard for a prophet.

I've a friend who says, "If you want to buy a book of prophecy, wait a few months and it will be on sale for a quarter." None of these so-called prophecies pan out. Who remembers The Late Great Planet Earth?

But you shouldn't rag on Spam. In Hawaii, the imminent catastrophe would BE a Spam shortage. It is beloved there, I presume as a holdover from WWII days.

Roberto Rivera

No, I love Spam. I wouldn't dream of putting it down. When I was a kid in Puerto Rico, the school cafeteria would take government-issued Spam and put it into the red beans. It would acquire that great red beans and sofrito flavor. It was some of the best red beans and rice I've ever had.

Diane Singer

Never say "it can't happen here" .... That's what the ancient Israelites thought (time and time again if you're reading the book of Judges), that's what many Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe thought before Hitler, that's what people in Cuba thought before Castro, etc. While I don't take Wilkerson's words seriously, I'm not naive enough to think that America is somehow immune to the historical catastrophes that have destroyed civilizations throughout history. My only reason for raising the issue is to get Christians to think about how to live "when the foundations have been destroyed." To that end, I think the comments that have been raised in my original post have been thoughtful and useful. Our attitude should always be "to prepare for the worst, pray for the best" with a good, spiritually healthy dose of "the Lord has left me here to serve others as Christ would serve them" added into the mix.

Roberto Rivera

I didn't say "it can't happen here" -- I said that many Christians are drawn like moths to a flame to doomsday scenarios. This attraction has them creating fantastic, in the literal sense of the word, scenarios on the scantiest of evidence.

Can "it" happen? Sure but there's no reason, based on what we know now, to think that the current economic crisis will "destroy the foundations." I know that you didn't say that but that is the latent assumption behind much of the apocalyptic chatter making the rounds.

A few years ago, the History Channel ran a special called "Last Days on Earth" about the eight threats to life on Earth. Apart from the global warming silliness at the end, it did present seven things that are real threats: gamma ray bursts, super-volcanic eruptions, asteroid strikes, wandering black holes, runaway artificial intelligence, plague, and nuclear war.

Clearly, I don't believe "it can't happen." On the contrary, I am much more aware of what "it" might be than the vast majority of people. In fact, it's precisely this awareness that prevents me from taking more fantastic scenarios to heart.

R2

Mary DeMuth

Wonderful article, and it made me laugh out loud. So little does these days, so thank you!

I'm happy to say I survived Y2K with no extra spam or gallons of purified water. Lord willing, I'll survive another prophecy.

David Cervera

Not going to be The Road Warrior? But I just got my car set up with guns and big spikes, and that all-leather outfit didn't come cheap. At least I didn't get a mohawk yet...

pete

Steven Pearlstein in that Washington Post article doesn't know what he is talking about. He is speaking from the same economic theory perspective that brought on this calamity and wasn't able to foresee it.

Government spending won't fix this problem, because it has not worked in the past either. It will only exagerate the problem. And because it will further debase the currency it is yet another violation of 'just weights and measures'.

The bigger the boom the bigger the bust. We could easily see a depression as big or bigger than the one of the 30's.

If you want decent economic advice don't look to the failed pendents who didn't see this coming, look to the Austrian economists who did see this coming and do accurately understand how these things work.

David

Going back to Diane's question - how to live once the foundation has been destroyed - brings me to an important realization. I imagine myself more able to live like the early Christians in Rome during the plague than I know myself able to live as a Christian ought in America today - pre or post-meltdown. I suspect most of us would find it easier to share our very last potato than to give away 5% of our "deleveraged" savings.

Josh

I am saddened and grieved by the mocking and synical response to David Wilkerson's "An Urgent Message". Whether you agree or disagree with a brother is irrelevant. The words used to disagree were demeaning and rude.

As a fellow co-laborer I am heavy hearted at the tone of Mr. Rivera's writing and wish as believers we could come together in intercession for our nation as opposed to throwing stones at one another.


jrmd32

Good writing. Of course, bad things are going to happen in the future, but it is irresponsible for leaders like Wilkerson to make dire predictions when they have given false prophecies in the past. God does not expect us to heed the words of someone who has been wrong, even if some of those many predictions have come true.

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