KEEPING THE FAITH: Hope over hysteria

ronnie

Ronnie McBrayer

Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 12:51 PM.

Seventy five years ago this week, millions of ordinary Americans were convinced that the world was coming to an end. They came to this conclusion, not because Hitler was rattling his sabers in Europe and the entire world teetered on the verge of war. Rather, these fears were fueled by a broadcast aired from a small CBS radio studio in New York City.

Orson Welles took to the airways on Oct. 30, 1938, as the usual host of the Mercury Theater, and using the science fiction book, War of the Worlds, as his script, described in dramatic and fictional detail — with that unmistakable voice of his — how Martians had invaded Earth, landing in Grover Mills, N.J.

There were 32 million radio listeners that evening, and none with 24-hour news, Twitter, Google, or text messages to learn from the world around them. Thus, the nation was thrown into a terrifying hysteria that simply could not be duplicated today. Telephone lines were clogged; police stations were overrun; anxious mobs filled the streets; churches ran over with impromptu prayer meetings; and citizens barricaded and armed themselves.

There is a Christian equivalent to this kind of unnerving fear and panic. It pours from radio and television stations, podcasts and pulpits, from books, periodicals, and websites. The oft-presented Christian version of the Apocalypse is initiated not by a Martian invasion, but by Jesus’ violent and destructive return to earth.

“Jesus is coming back!” they say. “There will be few survivors, but if you do survive the initial onslaught, you will be left behind to suffer the vengeance of the glory of the Lord, as he tramples ‘out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.’”

These Orson Welleses of our day sell millions of fictional books, movies, computer games, CDs, audios, videos, T-shirts, calendars, and greeting cards with their shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, fear-mongering.

Personally, I’m very well acquainted with this kind of mania. Growing up in the revivalistic tradition, almost weekly the pastor would tell us how the universe was about to come unwrapped and how very few of us were going to make it through the Jesus-invasion. As a self-centered child and teenager, I felt that if Jesus had waited all these centuries to show up on earth at this particular blip in history just to interrupt my life, it was fairly discourteous on his part to do so.



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