Apocalyptic Religions

When the End of the World Is a Central Belief

Many religions have an "end times" scenario. It is recognition that life as we know it will not last forever. Even then, however, there is often an expectation of something new coming from the destruction of the old, whether it be new cultures rebuilding after the destruction of all old ones, or a judgment that allows entrance into a physical or spiritual paradise.

Certain religions, however, hold their apocalyptic beliefs to be fairly central in their overall theology.

Destructive cults, particularly those that result in mass suicide, are commonly apocalyptic, but that doesn't mean apocalyptic religions have to be destructive.

Christianity and the Religious Apocalypse

Christianity certainly has an apocalyptic component to it. However, the amount of emphasis of that theology varies greatly. Some Christians are convinced the end times will be very soon upon us, and some even think they are already here.

Due to the negative connotations of the term “apocalyptic religion,” care should be taken in its application. To believe that there will be an apocalypse sometime in the future but feeling no need to act upon it doesn’t really fall into the common understanding of apocalyptic religion, and plenty of Christians fall into this category. After all, even atheists believe the world will eventually end. They simply believe it will come from an asteroid, the burning out of the sun, or other natural phenomena.

That’s not really being apocalyptic.

However, the more one emphasizes the nearness of this apocalypse, the more apocalyptic they become. Those carrying signs reading “The End is Near,” who make choices based on the approaching end are apocalyptic, or who expect the Rapture to shortly occur are all more correct in being labeled apocalyptic.

Branch Davidians at Waco

David Koresh led a splinter group of Branch Davidians at Waco, teaching them that he was the returned Jesus Christ, which is commonly accepted in Christian end-times scenarios. As such, the terribleness of the end times was already here and also expected to get worse.

His followers largely separated themselves from the rest of society in their compound at Waco where they collected weapons and supplies. They viewed themselves as part of the righteous few who would be pressured to join the ranks of the anti-Christ, which might include anyone who disagreed with them, including the government.

Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate teaches that creator aliens periodically recycle life on earth, destroying and then rebuilding. It is vitally important to be accepted as a spiritual equal to these aliens before that happens so that they may be carried away or at least reborn (if they haven't fully succeeded in their spiritual enlightenment) before this event occurs.

Believing that a spacecraft hiding in the comet tail of Hale-Bopp might be their last lifeboat from earth, many members consented to mass suicide to free their souls from their earthly forms and hopefully gain entrance to that craft.

Raelian Movement

The Raelian movement was originally strongly apocalyptic, although that component of their teaching has lessened throughout its progression.

Originally, Rael taught that the Elohim, who created human life on earth, would destroy humanity if we did not develop into enlightened beings in the very near future, embracing things such as social justice, equality, and tolerance and rejecting war.

That message was soon clarified to state that it was expected we would destroy ourselves through nuclear holocaust if we did not follow the directions of the Elohim.

The Elohim also wish to visit us, but first, ​we must show we are ready, and they are only willing to wait so long. If we do not build an embassy for the Elohim before 2035, they will abandon us and we will never benefit from meeting our progenitors.

Even that date is now up to more interpretation among the Raelians, however.

In addition, while having the Elohim arrive and converse with us would be a decidedly good thing, fewer and fewer are seeing the lack of an appearance as being particularly bad.