In the past few weeks, I’ve seen two programs about apocalyptic destruction. The first was 2012, a movie in which the earth is destroyed almost completely by a disruption of the earth’s core that causes massive volcanic explosions and the collapse of tectonic plates. The other was a History Channel show called After Armageddon.
2012 is a popcorn flick. It’s the mother of all destruction movies. It’s a special effects extravaganza—everything gets destroyed. And that’s the fun! After Armageddon is much darker. Survivalism and social studies experts speculate on the worst case scenario—global pandemic; the shutdown of technology, utilities, international trade; widespread famine and anarchy. It’s “the Apocalypse for rubber-neckers.” It’s for people who can’t help but stare at a really big mess. And frankly, I found it pretty creepy.
So we have “There goes the entire Western Seaboard,” and “Here’s how ugly this could be.” The ‘how’ of earth’s natural destruction didn’t interest me as much as the ‘how’ of human behavior during and after, as portrayed in these two dramatizations. While there were flitting and sparse examples of humankindness in the course of these awful events, there was very little venerable quality in the population at large. It was every man for himself, and if he cared to, he might also defend his family. There it ended. Neighbors merely nodded pitifully to one another and fled. The shallowly-formed friendships with those in one’s immediate circle dissolved at the first sign of trouble. And for the most part, a stranger was worth no more than a ‘sorry, dude’ while running off in the other direction.
In 2012, world governments built emergency ships using the money rich people paid for their seat on the boat. Anyone who wasn’t a billionaire was only invited if he offered some talent, genius, or skill that benefited the mission or future society. Everyone else on earth would either have to be smart enough to scramble aboard unnoticed or survive through sheer luck out in the chaos.
Unfortunate suburbanites and groups of churchgoers kneeling in prayer disappeared into fiery chasms in the earth. The only way not to die was to either be on a continent that didn’t collapse, or make it to a global government ark in China and scramble aboard as a stowaway. At the end of the movie, these fortunate few floated their boats to Africa, one of the only land masses remaining, and stepped out onto solid ground to begin a new civilization. Thank goodness man’s ingenuity found a way to save the people officially certified smartest by our brilliant world leaders.
After Armageddon was quite a different story. It followed a couple and their adolescent son through a disaster scenario, beginning with a global flu pandemic and ending in a dusty small-town farming community. Some of it was highly plausible. Given that the onset event was a fatal disease, it would be very dangerous to stop for a fallen stranger, especially since the dead littered the streets and the dying were contagious and terminally ill. Throughout this pseudo-documentary, sociology experts, survivalists, and professors presented their theories while seated in narrow hallways and dank basement rooms. (Apparently the disaster has already struck their neighborhoods.)
When did I begin to take issue? When someone introduced that ‘you too’ will be reduced to robbing, plundering, and killing in order to ensure your own survival. “A world without law and order, forced to abandon your home—where would you go? What would you be prepared to do? How would you survive?” This family does resort to killing someone for food. They come upon a warehouse protected by gunmen who refuse to share the food, and when they attempt to steal some, they wind up shooting someone to avoid getting caught or killed.
Along a roadside, they notice a man sitting next to his car, bleeding from the head. The father is a paramedic. He gives the man a compress and an antibiotic injection, bids him good luck and leaves him there. This works out to their advantage in the end, as the man appears later in the story to rescue them. Consequently, their luck improved by leaving him behind, injured and vulnerable. He could easily have had his vehicle stolen, been robbed of whatever survival goods remained, and died there alone in the street. However, thanks to some sloppy medical treatment and a quick well-wish out of a passing car (oh, and thanks to some dumb luck, since faith and mercy don’t really appear in this scenario) he makes it and turns out to be their salvation.
And then we enter the ‘compound’ part of the story. They and their head-injured companion join up with a town guarded by militia and a sheriff. In order to eat, they must endure the fundamentalist preacher’s rant. It’s about the terrors of the Biblical Apocalypse and how special they are for having been spared. “Let’s eat!” he finally says. At some point, armed gunmen come into town and rob some of the foodstuffs. The two apprehended robbers are put face down in the street and shot in front of the entire town. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you! Food is power, and the people who have it are only too glad to use it as a tool of unrighteous dominion over their neighbors.
Mealtimes are scant, because these Christian militias are pretty good at storing some food, but apparently not that great at growing it… or if they are, they cause the newcomer family to eke it out on their own. The paramedic cuts his hand while picking apples. (?) His wound becomes infected, and without antibiotics, he dies.
Twenty five years later, the adolescent son is shown in the typical futuristic white linen tunic and pants. Survivors are building the garden-variety, space age, curvy concrete building with round windows. The big cities remain abandoned. Greenery begins to return to… the desert, as we all know that desert climates become grasslands after a global flu pandemic. Or maybe they all moved to greener pastures. That’s not really addressed.
So, what didn’t happen in 2012? Apocalypse. What didn’t happen in After Armageddon? Armageddon. In Webster’s Dictionary from 1932, 'Apocalypse' is defined only as ‘the last book in the New Testament.’ The 2010 definition is “one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 B.C. to A.D. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.” No Messiah appeared in either scenario. Survivial or demise depended solely on the individual’s strength and daring. And on the other side of disaster, there was no salvation. There was just a scrap of civilization attempting to rebuild.
“Armageddon : the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil”. There was no good or evil at war in either of these stories. Some people believe that earth is good and people are evil, and that the earth attacking Man is an allegorical Armageddon. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it--make literal prophecy into allegory? While the adversary of truth would love to convince us that scripture is meaningless, he more often succeeds in convincing us that scripture is impressive metaphor to which many meanings can be assigned. Because of this, we need fear none of the meanings, for ‘who can know?’
Let’s go back to 2012. Didn’t I just say it’s only a popcorn flick? What could be more benign? Aren’t I reading way too much into it, if this is the extent of its value? I’m certainly not telling anyone not to see it. I actually think you should see it. But when you see it, really see it. Wonder about material like this. Let it make you curious about true end-time prophecy. Be encouraged to dig a little deeper. Do these movies teach you something about secular society, whether they outwardly intend to or not?
The message would appear to be this: Praying people don’t get saved when the world crumbles. No God from heaven is coming. This is all just a planet turning on its inhabitants, as it is inclined to do since this earth is a mere anomaly in the universe and intelligent life formed here by simple, natural, even accidental means. It’s the philosophy shared by Korihor of old, that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength” (Alma 30:17). You survive only if you save yourself. This is the humanist philosophy.
The director of 2012 is a German filmmaker named Roland Emmerich. By way of background, he acknowledges that his interest in mass disaster is a way of “increasing awareness about both global warming, and the lack of a government preparation plan for a global doomsday scenario.” He is a regular financial supporter of what is described as “U.S. progressive politics.” He is openly gay and advocates for LGBT rights. And he keeps self-described “outlandish” collection of art, including murals and portraits of dictators and communist figures, World War II relics, and images of religious icons in compromising and offensive positions.
Of 2012, he says, "I think seeing the world destroyed makes us aware of what we are actually destroying every day with our reckless behavior on this planet. I think that is the appeal, at least in our movie—to see this as a wake-up call, and for audiences to leave the theatre and see everything safe and normal and to be aware there's still time to save things."
(In the movie, a massive solar flare causes an unusual heating of the earth’s core, which spawns disaster. As far as I know, global warming doesn’t cause solar flares, so… I don’t know. I didn’t end the movie feeling like I should ride my bike to the store and put out the recycling. But that’s beside the point.)
In 2012, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, are all destroyed. Emmerich refrained, however, from destroying the Kaaba—a cube-shaped building at the heart of Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
“Well, I wanted to do that, I have to admit," Emmerich says. "But my co-writer Harald said ‘I will not have a fatwa on my head because of a movie’. And he was right. ... We have to all (in the Western world) think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is. So it's just something which I kind of didn't [think] was [an] important element, anyway, in the film, so I kind of left it out."
He’s repeated in interviews that he’s against organized religion. “At one point, we discussed some part you could not save. For example, the Sistine Chapel and the famous painting where God and Adam touch fingers. I said, ‘Oh great, we have to show how this gets destroyed.’ Then we said, ‘Well we are already there, why don't we have the church fall on people's heads?’ I am against organized religion so that is how we thought of it. The message is never pray in front of a big church. Pray by yourself.” And pray in Africa, the last surviving land mass. Because anywhere else in the world, you’ll still be obliterated, even praying by yourself.
I enjoyed 2012 for its popcorn-y qualities. It’s great if you want some big surround-sound booms on a Saturday night. But whatever you see in the media, regard the source and counsel with the Spirit of truth. Really see. Even frivolous fun may have something new to teach you. And you may find that some of it wasn’t as frivolous as you thought. Don’t let your fragile human intelligence carry you to a far-off destination without your express permission—and the blessing of the Lord.
The Absolute Truth
When Moses approached the burning bush and asked God his name, God replied, “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:13-14). As a child, I considered this answer either cryptic or trite. Now I realize that it was the only answer. God said in effect, ‘there are moral absolutes, of which I Am the first.” Some things are because they are, and the thread of their absolute truth is woven into the fabric of all humanity.
Jehovah told the people of Israel all that they needed to know, all they were able to endure, when he declared his absolute truth. There is a God. He spoke from heaven. Whether or not they were present to hear his voice didn’t matter, because the Spirit of Truth could speak to them personally, and this knowledge would be no less potent to the heart as a voice to the ears. If they knew God, they could meet every need of a brief mortal lifetime and go on to an eternity of greater learning.
A humanist, whether he knows it or not, does believe in absolutes. But his absolutes come from secular science, books and studies written by other secularists, and the ruminations of his own intellect. He is blind to God not because he cannot know, but because he will not.
“I Am that I Am,” Jehovah declared, and it’s consequently more effort to refuse this first absolute than it is to acknowledge it. A humanist contests that his anger is against religion, but it isn’t religion from which he can’t escape—it’s from the Omnipotent, Omniscient God, from whose knowledge and gaze he cannot hide nor façade of hiding maintain except with perpetual rebellion. So said the Savior during his mortal ministry: “He that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16). A humanist hates God for being real. As C.S. Lewis, a former atheist, said, "I gave in, and admitted that God was God."
Humanist propaganda is as hazardous to the mind and spirit as narcotics are to the body. But by the time you realize what it’s done to your perspective, you may already be thanking it and willfully marching into the darker mists.
There is human kindness. There is bravery, heroism, selflessness, faith, and miracle. There are ways to prepare for disaster, survive, and not fear. And should the Lord see fit to bring you home, there is a better existence than this worth preserving. Secure your soul, and you’ll have a life no disaster can destroy.