BU Professor says 'end-time passions' find fertile soil in US
End-time passions find fertile soil in the United States according to Alexander Riley, a sociology professor at Bucknell University who has incorporated the study of the 'end-times', known as Eschatology, into his courses.
In a CNN Entertainment report, showcasing Hollywood films depicting threats to the human race, Professor Riley observes that end-time passions find particularly fertile soil in the United States.
"It's been a constant part of the landscape in the Western world for a long time," he says, though it's been particularly present in recent times, perhaps driven by ever-quickening social and technological change, he adds.
Riley observes that end-times passions find particularly fertile soil in the United States, which has a higher degree of religiosity compared to other developed nations, according to a 2008 Gallup survey. At the evangelical Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California -- one of the largest Quaker churches in the world -- Phil Hotsenpiller, the church's teaching pastor, gives a yearly series of lectures on end-times concepts and says interest has been high, with "lines out the door."
He says that he tries to educate his audience about the sources of apocalyptic thought, and why biblical prophecy is such a draw for some.
"Biblical prophecy lays out a scenario that God says this is what's going to happen, and just watch for these signs," he says.
But it's not just Christian groups that have an end-times fascination. Riley says that all the major monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- have variations on the belief that God interacts directly with humanity, and has made a promise "to wrap things up, and then we'll get on with Act Two."
Author Anthony Campbell also takes a look at why religion has such a strong hold on human societies. Campbell believes that one reason why religions have such a strong hold on human societies is that they are based on story-telling, or narratives.
One reason why religions have such a strong hold on human societies is that they are based not primarily on intellectual beliefs but on narratives. Story-telling accesses the human psyche not at the intellectual but at the emotional level, where it is more powerful; probably the brain pathways are different for narrative response and belief formation. Human beings are story-telling by nature. Every society seems to have had its story-tellers, its oral epic poets, and the earliest literature that has come down to us (the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Gilgamesh epic) is narrative. Today we still enjoy narratives in the form of plays, films, and novels. (The death of the novel, like the death of religion, is constantly being foretold yet both novels and religions seemingly continue to thrive.)
Intellectual critics today tend to assume that all this narrative material is merely a concession to the limited understanding of the uneducated masses, who are unfitted to understand the sophisticated concepts that are the real substance of religion. I think that this puts things the wrong way round. To understand the appeal of religions we should look first at the narratives in which they are expressed and only subsequently at the doctrinal beliefs that they give rise to.
If this idea is right, it follows that the occurrence of strange beliefs in religion has a ready explanation. Many people find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Writers of radio or television soap operators often report that people write to the fictional characters in the apparent belief that they are real. This is a trivial illustration of a basic human propensity, which is to project the stories we tell ourselves on the outer world. The human imagination has given rise to religious stories in which all kinds of miraculous and wonderful events occur. These are taken to be real, and give rise to beliefs which are then incorporated into the religions as factual statements.
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