It's been just nine years since dooms-dayers expected the new millennium tobring 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-worldscenario.
And why not? We all know humans are doomed. Either our sun willexplode in a few billion years or God's wrath will consume the planettomorrow. But few Americans have embraced the coming of the End Times asintensely as the Evangelicals profiled in Waiting for Armageddon, adocumentary I co-directed with Kate Davis and Franco Sacchi, to be releasedtheatrically in New York City, Providence and Boston in January. In thefilm, we join Christian Evangelicals on an explosive tour of the future asthey see it, from anguish to the sublime perfection of a new world.
There are some 50 million Evangelicals in the US who believe in theliteral truth of Bible prophecy. You can argue theological accuracy all youwant. This massive block of citizens possesses unshakable belief that theend of the world will be heralded by a series of prophetic events some ofwhich have occurred (e.g. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) some of which areongoing (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
I am not talking about Bible-thumping, street-corner ravers, though oneor two do appear in our film. The people we profiled -- from Evangelicalleaders to rank-and-file believers -- are for the most part formidable,intelligent, well-educated. And all are fixated upon Israel (the land ofChrist's return).
Waiting for Armageddon opens with James and Laura Bagg, an attractivepair 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," Laurasays, referring to a miracle where all good Christians disappear from earthand rematerialize in the clouds as chaos seizes the world. "There will becar 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 worldand it all centers around Israel."
The Baggs are, in a way, typical. Millions of Evangelicals share onepolitical belief even more sacred perhaps than opposition to abortion orsame-sex marriage: The belief that Israel must remain a Jewish stateforever.
If that sounds unfamiliar or contradictory, then you've never spent muchtime listening to Evangelicals. End Times theology declares that the Jewishpeople must maintain control of Israel and Jerusalem, and retake the Al-AqsaMosque (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 thatmeans embracing foretold disasters and wars including the Battle ofArmageddon, so be it.
This is no small sect. Evangelicals control some 60,000 US radiostations. They meet in 25,000-member megachurches and sit on school boardsand legislatures across the country. As the Rev. Mel White, formerghostwriter 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 aChristian tour of Israel, Waiting for Armageddon offers an object lesson:That if people believe their God has revealed the ultimate course ofhistory, then nothing, not even war, with all its bloodshed and horror, isto be feared. It's a reality that, whether dealing with the Taliban or theJews or the Evangelicals or even Sarah Palin, every leader -- religious orpolitical -- needs to understand if true dialogue can take place. Becausefor a great many true believers, the end of the world is just the beginning.