The Secular Apocalypse

For the last 100 years the world has been living under the threat of doomsday. From 1914 to 1918 the most devastating war the world had ever seen took the lives of about nine million combatants and seven million civilians. The war was so catastrophic people didn’t know what to call it. Some called it “The Great War,” others called it “The War to End All Wars.” No one called it World War One, because no one could image there could ever be a second world war.

Then, just as the war was winding down a new strain of flu began to surface. One of the first cases was in Fort Riley, Kansas. Seven people died on a remote island north of Norway. Eventually the outbreak became severe in Spain, and the plague was called the Spanish Influenza. Before it was over 20 million to 50 million people had died, including 500,000 in the United States.

In Philadelphia a parade to celebrate the end of the war in 1918 drew a crowd of 200,000. Meanwhile St. Louis shut down the city with a very unpopular ruling. But the death rate in St. Louis was less than half of that in Philadelphia.

When things returned to normal, the roaring twenties followed the decade of death. But then it all came crashing down with the stock market failure of 1929, and the Great Depression followed. The depression didn’t really end until the Second World War, which was ended by the atomic bomb.
But prosperity returned and American factories were running full speed and new suburbs were sprouting up around our cities.

The prosperity and growth did have the side effect of pollution. In 1952 a “killer fog” resembling the biblical plagues in Exodus, and lasting five days killed 4000 right away and another 8000 through lingering illness.

By then the Cold War was in full force. The world had been divided into two spheres, the Communist Block and The Free World. The fearsome weapons developed to end the second world war hung over our heads like a sword of Damocles. Meanwhile, US soldiers, sailors, and marines were sent to South Korea to keep that country free.

The initial success in liberating the South made MacArthur overconfident, and he invaded the North to destroy its army and finish the task of liberating the Korean peninsula. But the Americans were met on a frozen tundra by the Chinese army who had invaded from the north.

The Chinese army was poorly equipped, but they had an unlimited number of young bodies to sacrifice. The approached uphill in wave after wave. Only the first lines and the last were given rifles, the last two shoot deserters. Those in the middle ranks were instructed to take a weapon from their fallen comrades in front of them.

The war in the North ended in a stalemate, and US forces are still there in South Korea and the DMZ keeping the peace.

Then the sixties brought us a serious of shocking assassinations and a quagmire in Vietnam, with protests in the streets and on college campuses. Amid that chaos, someone noticed that rivers were on fire and Eagles were dying. People started paying attention to the Doomsday Clock, which represented how close we were to extinction. It was originally set at 7 minutes to midnight, back in 1947 when it was created. In January of this year the clock was set to 100 seconds before midnight.

For one hundred years we have lived with the threat of the end of human life—and most other forms of life—on earth. The world has been in a secular apocalyptic threat. It’s no wonder that so many have been attracted to biblical texts speaking of the last days or judgment day.

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