It's been just nine years since dooms-dayers expected the new millennium to bring the end of the world, yet the cry of "Armageddon" still rings out. Last month alone, NASA had to allay fears of a 2012 end-of-the-world scenario.
And why not? We all know humans are doomed. Either our sun will explode in a few billion years or God's wrath will consume the planet tomorrow. But few Americans have embraced the coming of the End Times as intensely as the Evangelicals profiled in Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary I co-directed with Kate Davis and Franco Sacchi, to be released theatrically in New York City, Providence and Boston in January. In the film, we join Christian Evangelicals on an explosive tour of the future as they see it, from anguish to the sublime perfection of a new world.
There are some 50 million Evangelicals in the US who believe in the literal truth of Bible prophecy. You can argue theological accuracy all you want. This massive block of citizens possesses unshakable belief that the end of the world will be heralded by a series of prophetic events some of which have occurred (e.g. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) some of which are ongoing (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
I am not talking about Bible-thumping, street-corner ravers, though one or two do appear in our film. The people we profiled -- from Evangelical leaders to rank-and-file believers -- are for the most part formidable, intelligent, well-educated. And all are fixated upon Israel (the land of Christ's return).
Waiting for Armageddon opens with James and Laura Bagg, an attractive pair of 30-something jet-propulsion engineers living in Connecticut. Yes, Evangelical rocket scientists from the Northeast.
"We could be raptured out of this world during this interview," Laura says, referring to a miracle where all good Christians disappear from earth and rematerialize in the clouds as chaos seizes the world. "There will be car crashes and plane crashes. And the people left behind will be asking, 'Are they coming back for me?'"
Then James Bagg explains that, "You see God has a plan for the world and it all centers around Israel."
The Baggs are, in a way, typical. Millions of Evangelicals share one political belief even more sacred perhaps than opposition to abortion or same-sex marriage: The belief that Israel must remain a Jewish state forever.
If that sounds unfamiliar or contradictory, then you've never spent much time listening to Evangelicals. End Times theology declares that the Jewish people must maintain control of Israel and Jerusalem, and retake the Al-Aqsa Mosque (a/k/a the Dome of the Rock), or Jesus won't return. Period. Understand, they are talking about mankind's ultimate salvation. And if that means embracing foretold disasters and wars including the Battle of Armageddon, so be it.
This is no small sect. Evangelicals control some 60,000 US radio stations. They meet in 25,000-member megachurches and sit on school boards and legislatures across the country. As the Rev. Mel White, former ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham and Pat Robertson puts it, "They are everywhere and they are not going away."
Embedded in its dramatic illustration of the End Times, including a Christian tour of Israel, Waiting for Armageddon offers an object lesson: That if people believe their God has revealed the ultimate course of history, then nothing, not even war, with all its bloodshed and horror, is to be feared. It's a reality that, whether dealing with the Taliban or the Jews or the Evangelicals or even Sarah Palin, every leader -- religious or political -- needs to understand if true dialogue can take place. Because for a great many true believers, the end of the world is just the beginning.