Christian survivalists?

Michelle Obama And School Students Help With Harvest Of White House Garden

The Washington Post has a feature headlined "A muscular, die-hard spirituality: Self-sufficient Christians prepare for Second Coming or for life after global disaster." So you can imagine that I expected the story to be about that. It begins promisingly enough, with an anecdote of a 74-year-old computer professional Ken Uptegrove. He has a garden, tries to live simply, studies the lives of early Christians, launched a ministry and an unnamed Web site, and hopes someday to move to a remote area with other self-sufficient Christians.

But then the story just goes in a completely different direction. No other survivalists are quoted, much less Christian survivalists, although we hear that business is booming at one online store that sells emergency supplies. In fact, it sounds like any trend toward survivalism, if there is one, could very well be secular:

Sustainability and self-sufficiency appear downright mainstream, exemplified by first lady Michelle Obama's White House vegetable garden. . . .

In the popular imagination, survivalists are Rambo types, [Richard Mitchell Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University,] said. But survivalists often are urbanites or suburbanites who distrust the government or think the government is flawed. For the less hard-core, survivalism might offer a measure of control that seemed lost to natural disasters or terrorism, [emergency supply store owner Joe] Branin said.

"This is one way people feel like they're taking control of their own situations again," he said. "We've had so much drama. It's like getting your oil changed in your car. You've done something that feels good. It's the same way with somebody going down and getting a survival kit and having extra food or water. It gives them that level of a little bit of security."

And then this:

Yet being prepared isn't all bad, Mitchell said. If survivalists are gardening because they think the United States should be less dependent on foreign countries for food or energy, maybe they're on to something. And if survivalists distrust government and economic systems they don't completely understand, perhaps the recession has proved that they have a point.

The story says that "some Christians see signs of the end times and Jesus's Second Coming." Well, sure. "Some Christians" have seen signs of the end times since shortly after Jesus walked the earth. There's nothing wrong with writing a story about survivalists motivated by religious beliefs, but this was not that story. And a story about those Christians who believe the end times are nigh might also be insightful. And a story about gardeners being "on to something" would be interesting -- although I would hope we'd learn what that something might be. (Ditto for those of who distrust government or economic systems "having a point.")

But this is a story that desperately needs either more religion or less religion in it. Otherwise it just seems confusing.

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