Awakening Eight Year Old Fears

Between Qadaffi going nuts, insane earthquakes, and nuclear power plant explosions, I feel like all of my childhood fears have come to life. As a little kid, I was terrified of earthquakes (despite living nowhere near a fault line), and the Libyan dictator was America’s Biggest Enemy.

But more than anything, I lived in mortal fear of a nuclear holocaust. It all started when I went to a friend’s house that was equipped with HBO. In between 800 showings of Beastmaster, we saw The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, a creepy-as-hell documentary on Nostradamus narrated by Orson Welles. Among its many predictions for the future was a cataclysmic event that would destroy a major city. The city was assumed to be New York, and with the Cold War still raging, the cataclysm had to be a nuclear attack.

Me and my friend literally ran upstairs to tell his mom. She laughed it off, of course, but we were terrified. “We never shoulda moved out of New Jersey!” my friend whined to his mom, without realizing that he used to live closer to the city than he did now in upstate New York.

Me, I went home feeling sick and doomed. My mom sensed something was wrong and managed to wring out of me that I was afraid the whole world was gonna get blown the eff up. This was around the time that she started going to Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings, so she handed me a recent issue of Awake! magazine. (The exclamation mark was part of the title, kinda like Wham!) The cover had a huge mushroom cloud, flanked by the caption “Will Man Destroy Himself?”

You’ve probably heard of or seen Watchtower, which is the Witnesses’ more Biblically-focused publication. Awake! is kind a current affairs magazine, viewing things in the news through the lens of their own band of theology. In the case of nuclear weapons, this article did not cheer me up at all. It basically said that nuclear weapons could be launched at any moment should the Cold War turn suddenly hot, and that Dr. Strangelove-type scenarios were totally plausible. And if those didn’t kill us all, then nuclear power plant meltdowns would. Chernobyl had just happened, so that frightening possibility was on everyone’s mind as well (including mine).

The solution, according to Awake!: You have nothing to worry about–as long as you believe in God. Because if you do, you will survive The End Times (which we are currently in, according to them) and will survive whatever monstrous conclusion God has for the Earth as we know it. You will then live in a paradise on Earth ruled by Jesus Christ for a thousand years. After that, Satan will return for some reason, only to be defeated for good.

Got it? No? Neither did I. But I did like the Not Having to Worry part. Just believe in the guy in the clouds and everything will be taken care of? Sold!

I used to like reading Awake!, because it would give you an overview of historical events or things going on in the news, in language even an eight-year-old could understand. No matter the problem–urban crime waves, poisoned Tylenol, weak job markets–their inevitable conclusion was Shit’s kinda fucked on earth, but don’t worry, cuz soon earth as you know it won’t exist.

Of course, the implication of an attitude like this–and that of many apocalyptic Christian sects–is that you don’t need to do anything to improve the world. Witnesses specifically say they do not want to be “part of the world.” So they don’t vote, they don’t donate to any causes outside of the church itself, and they don’t get involved in anything remotely political. They believe this world is sinking like the Titanic, so why bother polishing the deck chairs?

This extends to any kind of suffering, physical or emotional. It will all be better when God makes it better. Any relief you provide will be temporary, so just sit back and be patient. This once made sense to me, but now I consider it a reprehensible point of view. It’s like not throwing a drowning man a life jacket because you believe the Coast Guard will eventually come along.

As an adult, there is a terror involved in not believing that everything happens for a reason. But I think I’d rather live with that uncertainty than believe in a God who could end all suffering now but hasn’t for bureaucratic reasons that sound like they were lifted from early drafts of Dogma. Believing that the alleviation of suffering in this world is tantamount to sin is an idea worse than any nuclear winter could be.