Christian Eschatology and Social Thought: A Historical Essay on the Social Implications of Some Selected Aspects in Christian Eschatology to A.D. 1500

By Ray C. Petry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Problem of Christian Eschatology and Social Thought

TODAY, IN SPITE OF THE CUMULATIVE DISASTERS THAT THREATEN TO end our civilization, few people think calmly and rationally about the dissolution of our world. Eschatology is a term virtually unknown. Its connotations of final things and world's end are still a part of our Hebrew-Christian ideology. But they are decreasingly effective as conditioning forces in our everyday social reactions.

It is frequently argued that these thought-forms lost their validity with the coming of modern science and philosophy. To be sure, they are patronizingly granted a kind of symbolic significance. Customarily, however, they are thought to retain permanence for a few fanatical groups of millenarians only. Even in those communions where eschatological doctrines are still held to be authoritative and applicable to daily life, the historical relationship of last things and social thought is but indifferently capitalized.

More recently, however, the emergence of the atomic threat -- for there has been little enough of atomic promise -- has posed anew the problem of man's future and his end. During a brief period, after the first atomic disclosures, prognostications were rife concerning the incredibly heightened tempo of human progress now potentially within the human grasp. These glowing dithyrambs have since given way to gloomy predictions, fitting in quite well with the sinister purposes of hypernationalistic politicians, on the ineluctability of further wars. Desperately, and with infinitely greater foreboding, the common man clutches at a fading hope that civilization may, somehow, still survive.

As might be expected, a number of religious enthusiasts now find sudden and unprecedented support for their most frenzied contentions. More than one person not of their persuasion asks whether these wildest predictions may not shortly be translated from the

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