Prophets of doom were once a parody—these shoddily clad, long-bearded and crazy-eyed predictors of imminent peril wearing sandals and sandwich-board signs bearing the standard clichÃ©: “The End is Near.” Now, they are the respected voices from a sub-group of the intelligentsia of our society.
One is Peter Schiff, president and CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, now famous for predicting the current housing crisis and recession in 2006 and 2007. Another is Gerald Celente, CEO of The Trends Research Institute, who predicted the 1987 stock market crash and the collapse of the Soviet Union and now believes Americans will not only experience food riots and tax revolts by 2012, but are heading for the “Greatest Depression,” implying that our pending troubles will exceed those of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Such individuals have become media sensations, as witnessed by a recent article in the New York Times magazine by Hugo Lindgren, who describes this obsession to plummet to the depths of futuristic angst as “Pessimism Porn.”
The person I have been reading and listening to lately is James Howard Kunstler. After reading his impressive fictional account of post-apocalyptic America called “A World Made by Hand,” I have been drawn into some of his other nonfiction works such as “The Long Emergency,” which discusses the history and dangers of our reliance upon peak oil; “The Geography of Nowhere,” a social commentary and criticism of suburban sprawl; and more recently, his weekly podcast with host Duncan Crary.
Kunstler is a self-proclaimed “actualist living in a real world,” and not a pessimist. It is his way of saying, “while the approaching times look terribly bleak, don’t accuse me of trying to be a killjoy.”
It’s hard not to be. Pandemic calamities are possible around every corner. We used to say “knowledge is power” and the more you know, the better. Now, it seems, the more you know, the more cause there is to be depressed—with only the twisted logic of not being as abysmally ignorant as your neighbor for consolation.
Biblical prophets were equally realistic, seeking to awaken dull and comfortable lifestyles to a passionate and benevolent awareness by their often bizarre, if not offensively abrasive language and style. Yet, they placed blame more on a potentially remedied forgetfulness than on a complete repudiation of shortsighted human weakness and incompetence.
The problem—that they so accurately reveal for our day as much as for their own—is our tendency (better still, our fundamental sin) of living for the sole protection of ourselves rather than firmly placing our security in the divine command to care for each other. In this admonition, they became not merely prophets of doom, but also of hope.
Sadly, their listeners did everything but listen. As a result, they suffered the decimation of their grand cities and beautiful towns while being forced into exile to live as refugees and slaves. May God have mercy upon us if only a similar severity can free us from our hardened condition of head and heart.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.