When The Atlantic came out with "What ISIS Really Wants," its classic piece on Islamic apocalyptic thought, in March 2015, it got a lot of press because of its clear-eyed insistence that the role of Islamic doctrine and history could not be ignored when describing the radical faith preached by ISIS.
Remember, it's only been two years since ISIS declared a revived Islamic caliphate on June 29, 2014.
Maybe that's the reason why the Deseret News is writing about the end of the world in a recent story that links the two religions that have detailed Last Day narratives: Christianity and Islam.
The likeness ends there. Versions of the end of time are radically different among the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But you might not know that from the following article:
The world didn't end during the early years of the Christian community, despite the apostle Paul's imminent predictions.
It didn't end in 1914, although WWI gave people quite a scare. It also didn't end on May 21, 2011, to the chagrin of popular evangelist and radio broadcaster Harold Camping, who predicted the date of the apocalypse several times during his career.
Apocalyptic teachings, including the idea that God intends for the world as we know it to cease to exist, have been part of both Christianity and Islam since their beginnings. In the U.S., around 1 in 5 adults say the apocalypse will happen in their lifetime, a figure that's stayed relatively constant over the past century.
"I think thinking about the end of days is not quite as foreign to us as we might like to think," said Graeme Wood, the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations who has studied apocalyptic thought in Islam.
With the rise of ISIS, apocalyptic worldviews have taken on new significance. Members of the terrorist group justify horrific violence with their beliefs that they have a crucial role to play in bringing about the end of the world.
So far, so good, although I am not sure why Judaism is left out of this equation.
The article then swings into the debate about pre- and post-millennialism among Christians, as if these beliefs are similar to Islamic doctrine on the Last Days. (Yes, there are some messianic themes in Shia Islam that may sound familiar to "Left Behind" readers.) It then adds a few thoughts about pre-millennialism from secular scholars but does not quote one pre-millennialist who can defend that line of thought. There’s a lot of them out there. This Baptist Press piece lists some as does this Patheos blog, or one could interview their first cousins, the dispensationalists.
Instead, we get:
Beyond affecting someone's mindset, apocalyptic beliefs shape behaviors. Someone who is certain that Jesus Christ will return to earth in their lifetime and upset the current order won't care as much about efforts to improve society.
"People who oppose, for example, anything related to climate change could say, 'Well, you know the world will end. There's nothing we could or should do about it,''' (University of Chicago Divinity School historian Bernard) McGinn said.
Pre-millennialists may engage in an election season and rally around certain candidates, but politics won't be their core concern, (associate professor of religious studies at North Carolina State University Jason) Bivins said.
They often have a "deep resignation about the ability to change anything," he noted.
This attitude may frustrate people who don't share this apocalyptic worldview, but it's not exclusive to believers. There are many nonreligious people who couldn't care less about social justice activism or politics. What's more concerning is when someone's sense that the end of the world is coming leads to violence, scholars said.
This article started as a discussion on Islamic (specifically that of ISIS) apocalyptic thought, then segued into a discussion of Christian pre-millennialist thought, as if the two are comparable. They are not. The article ends with a mention of the Branch Davidian fiasco as an example of the Christian crazies out there who are anxious to do violence because of their end-times beliefs. That disaster had nothing to do with any form of small-o Christian orthodoxy.
So, where is the discussion of Islamic millennialism? You know, the belief that Jesus will return to Earth for 40 years, proclaim Islam as the true religion, then die and be buried next to Muhammad. And the "armies of Rome" that will meet Islamic forces at the Syrian city of Dabiq and the former will suffer a crushing defeat.
The Atlantic piece described all of this, with lots of references that could be traced. There’s a lot of Islamic sites out there that also discuss apocalyptic events, so why is this left out? And there's plenty of people to interview about this, such as Will McCants of the Brookings Institute, who last year published a book called "The Islamic Apocalypse: The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State." His book is one of many on the topic.
Instead, all we hear about is Christian pre-millennialism.
The whole mishmash is quite puzzling, as they have an in-house expert at the Deseret News: former Blaze religion editor Billy Hallowell, who just came aboard the DN ship last month to work for its national edition. Hallowell has a book out called “The Apocalypse Code.” Hopefully he can clue his employer in on the breadth of thought out there.