Ever since I was a kid the prognosticators or "pseudo-prophets" of the world have attempted to paint scenarios for what the world will be like at the very end. What I mean is, they offer ideas regarding what it will be like at the very, VERY end. Or as I sometimes call it, the last last days.
Latter-day Saints seem to be somewhat less aggressive in pursuing the hobby of Apocalyptic speculation than other Christian denominations. I think this is because, for the most part, our Church leaders deliberately balance such discussions with visions of hope and comfort, enthusiastically proclaiming that it is "okay" to set long-range goals and not allow ourselves to become obsessed with calamities and "doom and gloom." Instead, they encourage us to move forward with faith. Nevertheless, they remind us to heed our Prophet's voice and "stand in holy places." (See D&C 45:32, D&C 87:8, D&C 101:22).
Still, there are some Latter-day Saints, and many, many people in other Christian demoninations, who make regular and concerted efforts to vividly portray and point out "warning signs" for the rest of us by publishing pamphlets, writing books, filming documentaries, and utilizing other media in an attempt to interpret Bible prophecy. And there is always a perpetual effort to marry such interpretations with current world culture and events.
Honestly, I'm not especially critical of this practice. Don't the scriptures repeatedly warn us to "watch and be ready" (D&C 50:46)? I believe the tendency to think about such things is perfectly natural. All inquisitive Christians, including Latter-day Saints, instinctively ponder upon the dynamics, scenarios, and cultural phenomenon that might trigger the cataclysmic events that will lead to the Second Coming. If you want to re-start your mind to percolating about such matters, just re-read Section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants, or the JST Translation of Matthew, or any part of the Book of Revelation.
But despite our persistent inquisitiveness on this subject, I'm still amazed at how often we get it totally wrong.
By saying this please don't envision me as some kind of wise sage on a hill quietly chuckling at all the speculating fools down below. Actually, I tend to be no less enthralled by the latest visions and predictions offered up by intelligent and spiritually-minded writers, speakers, and High Priest Group Leaders as anyone else. Such subjects grab my attention more quickly than perhaps they ought to, especially considering how many Gospel habits that I must still improve and how I often feel so totally unprepared for "the end." Still, I think "speculation in moderation" is perfectly fine. The trick is to do so without driving away the Spirit. How do we do that? Well, meat before milk is always a healthy posture. We should also avoid being so dogmatic with our personal theories that we start sounding like an authorized representative of the Twelve. Lastly, we should never do so at the expense of neglecting Family Home Evening or helping our sons carve their Pinewood Derby cars.
When I was kid, years before I joined the Church, I was deeply affected by a movie I saw entitled The Late Great Planet Earth. This documentary was a hodge-podge of conclusions about the "end of days" that may have leaned a little too heavily toward fear and paranoia. It was narrated by the late, great Orson Welles, who used his considerable oratorial skills and flare for the melodramatic in his role as host. (Why the producers chose as their host the very man who'd created the "War of the Worlds" radio program--a show that perpetuatd one of the most famous media hoaxes in history!--is a fascinating question. But I digress...)
Despite whatever fear-mongering the film perpetuated, for me personally it still served a useful purpose. I think I can safely credit that film as an important factor that set me on the path to thinking about Christianity. This path eventually led to my conversion to Christ, and finally to my conversion and membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, yes, though seriously flawed and dated, the film played a significant and influential role in my young religious life.
The 1970s weren't really all that different from today as far as folks trying to offer up rational predictions for how the "last last days" will play out. It seems that every generation is firmly convinced that theirs is the very last generation before the Savior's Second Coming. Ours is no different. Except that, finally, this generation happens to be RIGHT. (Sorry, my tongue may have just got stuck in my cheek.)
Back in the 1970s every prognosticator seemed convinced that events culminating in the end of the world and the rise of the ultimate "anti-Christ" would involve the Soviet Union and "Godless Communism" (as the little pamphlets distributed by our town's local Baptist Church used to put it). In the 1990s many of those ideas adjusted to fit visions fostered by the popular Left Behind series of novels. (Even a few LDS authors have jumped on this bandwagon and produced a novel or two of their own with similar themes.) After 9-11 the prognosticators began to adjust their visions to include Islamic terrorism. And these days many Christians have some very "unsaintly" ideas about our current president and how he might be helping to pave the way to worldwide destruction. (That is, if they're not simply convinced that's he's the anti-Christ himself!)
I am not innocent in nurturing some of my own pet ideas and theories. But in so doing I freely admit that they bear no more weight than theories proposed by others. And significantly less weight than any ideas proposed by Prophets. In recent years I have tended to wonder how China fits into the proverbial puzzle. The Late Great Planet Earth wondered about China too since, at that time, they were the only nation on earth that might field an army of 200 million men (apparently that number correlates to some prophecy in Ezekial or Daniel, but I can't remember which (A reader has informed me the verse is Rev 9:16)). Today China has their fingers in virtually every global economy. They manage or control both the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. They supposedly have more active spies in the United States than the Soviet Union ever had at the height of the Cold War. Apparently they have successfully stolen our plans for the Stealth Bomber in a recent espionage effort. With all that, it's easy to wonder if the next World War will somehow involve conflict between China and the West. After all, China seems just itching to reclaim Taiwan, and the timing seems so right for them to invade that island while an appeasing world looks on and shrugs its shoulders--something that would have never happened in decades past.
However, it's also true that China's policy of "one child per family" has led to one of the steepest population declines in modern history. I heard about this situation several years ago from some friends of mine who visted China as tourists. They spoke of the extraordinary imbalance of Chinese men compared to women. Just a couple days ago the news media finally grabbed hold of this story too. It reported that in future years there will be almost 30 million Chinese men lacking Chinese wives. This imbalance can't help but have global ramifications. It might by itself lead to military confrontation. Haven't several wars in history been fought over females? The Greeks? The Priests of Noah? I can't quite recall.
But even more interesting than the dynamic of China in shaping the future is the impact anticipated by the Islamic faith. Years ago I was made aware that by 2025 the population of the Netherlands will exceed that of native Hollanders. (Is that what you call them? Hollanders? Hollandaise? Oh, the Dutch! (duh) Anyway...) Another report I listened to suggested that by 2050 the majority population of every country in Europe will be Muslim. The reason for this is simple: massive immigration. But even more "impactful" is the fact that Europeans just aren't having kids. In France alone Muslim families average 8 children per household, while native Frenchmen average about 1.5 kids per household. This shift in demographics for Europe is reportedly so imbedded as to be irreversible.
And things really aren't that much different in North America. If it wasn't for the Latino culture, America today would actually have a declining population. Traditional white Caucasions just don't seem to want kids anymore. And if you find that intriguing, think about this: Even Latter-day Saints--in particular American Latter-day Saints--don't seem to have as many children as in generations past. Maybe the trend in LDS family size has changed with the success rates of LDS temple marriages. I understand that the percentage of temple marriages that succeed is now only incrementally better than marriages among the general populace. Whereas in the '60s and '70s, the success rates for couples who married in the temple improved almost two to one. Obviously the Lord hasn't changed. Somehow we have changed.
But back to demographics...Over the next three or four decades the Islamic population in America is projected to explode to approximately 50,000,000 Muslims. By the beginning of the 22nd century, if current birth rates and immigration trends continue, America will be a majority Islamic state. I've watched interviews with leaders in Islamic nations who remind their citizens: "We don't need homicide bombers or terrorists. We just need patience."
The solution if we want to maintain our nation's Christian heritage seems simple: Christians gotta have more babies! But is it really that simple? Obviously the first thing that needs to happen is a fundamental attitude adjustment regarding the sanctity of life. In a recent Ensign article Elder Nelson reminded readers that there are more than 40 million abortions in the world every year. 40 MILLION! And that's only in one single year! But even if there's hope for reversing this attitude in the United States, experts believe that for Europe the situation is too far gone. Europe can no longer avoid the fact that it will have a Muslim majority in a few short decades.
There's no doubt that these kinds of politics and shifts in demographics are going to dramatically effect the world that our children inherit. But exactly how will these scenarios effect events leading up to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior? If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a very rich, famous, and handsome man. (I know handsome must fit in there somehow.) But the answer is simply unknown.
I once had a very interesting conversation with an Islamic woman who happened to be our tour guide on a trip to the pyramids of Egypt. I could tell that she genuinely disliked Americans. She made no secret of the fact that she much preferred tours with Italians or Germans. Of course, she didn't say this outright. But it was strongly implied as we spoke one on one. However, she also said something about Mormons and Muslims that I've never forgotten. It was her impression that the two world religions with the strongest members--by that she meant the two religions whose members were least likely to convert to another faith--were Muslims and Mormons. I have no idea how she drew that conclusion. And I say again, it was just her opinion. But it stuck with me. And if the sentiment has even a shred of accuracy, it seems to add a new dimension as I ponder the looming shift in worldwide demographics. Don't ask me what it all means, but it adds a new dimension nonetheless. Maybe it's just alarming to imagine what would happen if these two religions somehow became opposing forces.
Alas, we really don't know how these matters will impact events of the last, last days. Still, I certainly think pondering and speculating is permitted. However, lest we get carried away, we should remind ourselves that the scriptures plainly teach that "no man knoweth the day or even the hour" of the Savior's coming, "not even the angels"--not even the Son if you read the Gospel of Mark!--but the "Father only" (See Matt 24:36, JST Matt 24:30, Mark 13:32, D&C 39:21).
This seems to hint that our focus should not necessarily be demographics or politics. It should be individual and family righteousness. It should be daily repentence and improvement. It should be mastering Gospel basics and recommitting to traditional LDS ideals and values. For example, sometimes I become very impatient when I hear a young couple talk about putting off children for a couple of years until the bread winner finishes school or becomes established in a career. Granted, the Spirit will guide individuals, and every circumstance is unique. But the basic principle being communicated here is just wrong. Certainly I am sympathetic to newlyweds who want to take a year or two to get to know each other. But much longer than that and--if I might adopt a stereotypical country boy accent--"it just don't seem rawt." So often I hear stories about how close a husband and wife become by acheiving financial and career goals by striving together. Such a mutual achievement becomes the cement that holds a marriage together when times get tough. And frankly, a family is often blessed at the exact moment that it needs blessings. In other words, when a couple decides in righteousness to start their family, the Lord just makes positive things happen. There's no other explanation. Having children is always such a sacred thing. It should never be undertaken without Spiritual influence. But Heavenly Father is perfectly aware of our needs. And if we follow His guidence, we will find that our lives are always rich in opportunities. I sincerely believe that. Sometimes it just takes a slight tweak in attitude. But that tweak can make all the difference in the world.
Yes, the Apocalypse is coming. The Savior will one day return and the Millennium will promptly commence. But if thinking about such events generates feelings of anxiety, we might want to adjust our spiritual approach. The scriptures remind us regularly that we need not fear. Rather than focus on the calamities, we need to focus on the glory. Rather than think only about Armageddon, we should think often about Adam-Ondi-Ahmen. And then we just need to focus on making the Gospel of Jesus Christ the guiding light of our lives.
So keep pondering. Keep studying. Keep praying. And as the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie so often stressed--"Stay in the mainstream of the Church."
The rest, I feel certain, will take care of itself.
(c) Copyright 2009, Chris Heimerdinger