Doomsday Preppers

The other day I confessed my secret love for bad Christian television. In truth, I really have a thing for crazy people in generally.

Maybe it’s just me, but they are a never ending source of entertainment. Whether it’s crazy televangelists, a “Christian discernment ministry” website, or just crazy people at Walmart, I can’t get enough.

So, you can imagine my joy when I came across a new show on National Geographic called Doomsday Preppers. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really need to. It’s pretty amazing.

The show highlights various people, usually families, and their attempts to prepare for the apocalypse they are convinced is just around the corner. The episodes I saw this weekend featured, among others, a couple in Texas, two families in South Carolina, and another couple in Utah. Each had a different expectation for how the world will come crashing to an end.

The couple in Texas believed that a terrorist attack will bring an end to the United States as we know it. The families in South Carolina were convinced that a global economic meltdown will bring the world to its knees. And the couple in Utah was convinced that a nuclear apocalypse is just around the corner.

To prepare for these doomsday scenarios each family has gone to some pretty incredible extremes.

The couple in Texas used steel shipping crates to build a house modeled after a medieval fortress. Their hope was to create a place from which they can defend their homestead from roaming bands of mauraders who might want some of the 20 year supply of food they have stored up. To make sure their house was as safe as they hoped it was, they fired their .22 rifles at it to test whether it was bulletproof or not. It was.

The families in South Carolina teamed up together to go ahead and get off the grid. They’ve created a farm complete with chickens, cows, a pond for storing drink water, and enough dried food to last them for years. They sure knew how to cook when the power goes out. Like their apocalyptic peers in Texas, safety was also a top concern for these families. Trip wires lined the property. Secret caches were hidden across the farm and contained backup supplies in case the families were forced to flee the main house and seek refuge in one of their strategic hideouts. And of course, both families made sure that everyone, including the children, were proficient in shooting a wide variety of firearms, just in case thieves showed up to “take food out of their families’ mouths”.

Not to be outdone, the couple in Utah had constructed an immense underground lair and stocked it with several years worth of food and other supplies in preparation for the nuclear apocalypse they were convinced is sure to hit…….Omaha. Seriously. Omaha, Nebraska. Not to be outdone by their colleagues in Texas and South Carolina, the Utah couple also had a not so small arsenal to defend themselves when humanity inevitably turns on each other.

Maybe you hear these stories and you think to yourself, “Man, I really need to get on the ball and start stocking up on bottled water and freeze dried beans.” Well, good luck with that. I’m just not convinced the world is hurtling towards the apocalypse. And, frankly, there’s nothing you can tell me that will convince me otherwise.

But just for the sake of this post, let’s assume that we are hurtling towards the apocalypse. If it is, then is what we see in this show really how we should be reacting? Or perhaps, more importantly, what does it say about us as people, or specifically as Christians, if we do choose to react this way?

I’m sure it says a lot of things, but there are just a few that I want to focus on.

To begin, this approach demonstrates a profound lack of hope for the future, but also for people. I think a lot of the blame for this can be placed at the feet of Hollywood, or at least our inability to separate the fiction of apocalyptic movies from reality. Are there scary things happening in the world? Of course. Are people capable of great evil? Absolutely. But the assumption that catastrophe necessarily results in the devolving of humanity into soulless monsters is much more the result of apocalyptic movies than it is grounded in reality.

Certainly there are instances of rioting and madness that arise in moments of uncertainty and outrage. But I think we need look no further than the very real catastrophes of the recent past to see how people actually react in apocalyptic type scenarios.

When tornadoes ripped through Alabama last year, when the levees burst and destroyed New Orleans, and when the earthquake leveled Japan, though there was initially some rioting and violence, the ultimate outcome was the outpouring of love and support as strangers helped other strangers rebuild their lives and their community. People turn on each other and destroy society in the movies because it makes for an entertaining storyline, not because it is the inevitable reaction of people who have suffered through a catastrophe. In reality, life goes on. History teaches us that civilizations rise and fall, but society continues no matter what disaster befalls humanity.

As Christians, when it comes to the future, we simply can’t follow this hopeless path. We can’t pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and live as if that is an impossibility.

Secondly, I think that all of this doomsday preparation demonstrates how powerfully we can be captivated by fear. This is ironic because if there was one thing all of these families had in common it was their declaration that they weren’t afraid. They can say that until they’re blue in the face, but it was fear of the unknown that drove them to stockpile for the apocalypse and it is fear of running out that keeps them committed to their preparations. There is no such thing as having security or even needing a sense of security apart from fear. Fear creates the need for security. However, security does not eliminate fear. It only masks it for a while.

Without hope a person should be afraid. But as Christians we find hope in the return of our Lord. For the people of God the “end of the world”, so to speak, is something to celebrate, not something to fear. We claim that Jesus is returning, not to the destroy all things, but to make all things new and bring heaven to earth.

If Jesus is our hope for the future, then this should be a time of preparing the world for its coming King, not abandoning it and leaving the King with a dump to return to.

Finally, I think that this sort of doomsday preparation belies an underlying self-centeredness both in the apocalyptic hoarders, but also in those of us in the church who forsake the world for our future in heaven. Too many of us are not interested enough in helping society survive and thrive in the here and now, let alone rebuilding it in the case of an actual global catastrophe. Instead, we’re only interested in “me” and what happens to “mine.” We want our ticket to paradise, the rest of the world be damned. It’s this very mentality that would make the prophecies of these doomsday planners come true. So, it’s ironic, if not a bit insane, that they (or we) think such a mentality would also be the solution for the future.

As Christians, this sort of life is antithetical to what it means to be the people of God. By definition we share this life together and have been called out together for the sake of the world. If we focus only on ourselves, ignoring everyone and everything else, then we have no right to call ourselves the people of God.

Ultimately, I think we should all be asking ourselves whether our not the apocalyptic landscape presented in this show and so many of the movies we watch is a sort of world that any of us would even want to live in. If it’s not, then perhaps we should begin trying to change the future, rather than simply making preparations to survive it.

Instead of stockpiling a decade’s worth of food or training on an arsenal of weapons in order to kill anyone who steps on our property, I want to suggest that we should be working now to change the course of history. Apart from the return of Christ, the future is not set in stone. The future is very much what we choose to make of it. We could choose to wipe ourselves out, but we could also begin living the kingdom life in the here and now.

If there’s one thing Doomsday Preppers can teach us, it’s that we should prepare for the future, just not by running for the hills or building bomb proof shelters. We should begin to work towards building a better world now, rather than panicking over what could be or what would be if we do nothing. Instead of picking up a gun and bullets we should reach for a hammer and nails and transform the world we live in. And above all, we must learn to love and serve others, rather than seeing them as enemies out to steal what’s “mine”.

Of course, if you’re still convinced that guns and freeze dried bananas are the only hope for the future and all that stuff about loving, serving, and transforming is just too idealistic and naive, then the person you’re going to want to mock and criticize isn’t me…..it’s Jesus.

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt