Is Belief in the Second Coming of Christ Bad for Creation?

Do you believe that Jesus will return to Earth someday? Then you probably don’t care about environmental devastation and the catastrophic loss of life of future generations. That’s the absurd conclusion drawn in an academic paper published in the latest issue of Political Research Quarterly.

Do you believe that Jesus will return to Earth someday? Then you probably don’t care about environmental devastation and the catastrophic loss of life of future generations.

That’s the absurd conclusion drawn in an academic paper published in the latest issue of Political Research Quarterly. In their article, “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado test the following hypothesis:

 Citizens who believe in Christian end-times theology are less likely to see global warming as a policy problem that requires immediate government action, compared to citizens who do not hold end-times beliefs.

 Initially, I thought by “Christian end-times theology” they might be referring to premillinial dispensationalism, a eschatological view held by many American Evangelicals, that was popularized in the Left Behind series of novels. But the authors make it clear that they are not just referring to dispensationalists but to all Christians who believe in the Second Coming.

To measure sociotropic [i.e., with an eye toward collective outcomes, rather than strictly personal ones] time horizons in the form of end-times beliefs, we simply asked respondents to indicate whether or not they “believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ—that is, that Jesus will return to Earth someday?” Of respondents, 56 percent answered yes to this question, a comparable percentage to what has been observed in other surveys. Among Republican respondents, the number of believers jumps to 75 percent.

 The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is common to all orthodox Christians and has been since at least 381 AD when “he shall come again” was included in the Nicene Creed. In other words, when the paper refers to “end times believers” it is talking about almost every Christian believer in the history of the church.

The researchers admit that “evangelicals and other traditionalistic Christians” are concerned with “environmental degradation” as other Americans. They even admit that our “doctrinal beliefs support a ‘stewardship’ ideology.” Yet for some reason, the researchers claim, “such Christians are particularly unlikely to support politically oriented environmental protection—especially when they hold inerrant views toward the Bible.” (That group would include, at a minimum, almost all Evangelicals and Catholics.)

So if we Christians are worried about the environmental problems what could possibly prevent us from wanting the government to take immediate action on climate change? The researchers say,

 We argue that end-times believers often oppose costly policies to deal with global climate change because they have shorter sociotropic time horizons than do nonbelievers. . . . For most people, if the community in question is global humankind, then the sociotropic SOF would be infinite (absent worries about human-generated global devastation).

 Stated differently, end-times believers might think a little bit like actuaries. But instead of calculating the life expectancy of individuals, they calculate it for the entire planet.

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