Hope Among The Ruins

In a preview of his forthcoming essay collection, Glimpses of Another Land, Eric Miller explores the paradoxes of hope in a country marked by evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism's apocalyptic impulses:

I was raised in an American Protestant tradition that has at its core an apocalyptic eschatology proclaiming the certain, imminent collapse of human civilization as we know it. In Sunday school classes, in sermons, and at what were called “prophecy conferences” we heard grand and awful pronouncements of an End that was already arriving. The child of missionaries, I recall as a teenager in the middle of South America listening to a recorded sermon by Hal Lindsey called “The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon.” After hearing it at home I was impelled to take it to our little American school so the teacher could play it in Bible class. He did. This end-times, time-is-ending narrative suffused our thinking about the world. About everything.

Everything except the United States. Here, amazingly, hope, despite the encroaching desolation, pounded its rhythm deep into the night. Some managed to preserve hope for America by locating in Scripture an exception clause for the United States amidst civilization’s demise. But for most this native political hope was less self-conscious, less cerebral, and more instinctual. In America there is always the possibility that we can get things right, make things new. What else could America mean?

It’s no surprise at all, then, that as Hal Lindsey in the 1970s and 1980s was convincing millions of Americans that the end of the age was coming, many of those same Americans were lining up at the polls and at abortion rallies to “save the culture.” They were Christians. But they were American Christians. Which identity is more decisive? It is never easy to tell.