4 out of 10 Americans think Jesus will be here soon

A quick installment in the continuing series, “What Americans really believe about their faith.”

As reported in Matthew 16:28 (King James version), Jesus says this :

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Now this has caused a huge amount of bother for theologians, since it states rather clearly that Jesus will return to judge the living and dead before some of his contemporaries have passed away.  That didn’t happen, of course; ergo the trouble for Christians.  Theologians being clever, they’ve managed to interpret this away.

But a lot of Americans—in fact, over 40% of them—still believe that Jesus is coming back during either their lifetime or their children’s.

In a new Pew Survey, Americans speculate about what life will be like in 2050.  Lots of interesting stuff (you can see all the results at the link), but here’s one nugget.  When asked whether they thought that Jesus Christ would return to Earth by 2050, people said this (ignore the title, for the first line gives the data for “all Americans”; “DK” means “don’t know”):

Now the word “probably” in the first-column header is a bit misleading: if you break down the 41% of Jesus-comes-backers, that’s 23% of people who say Jesus will definitely come back and 18% who say he’ll probably come back.  So much for apophatic theology.

The rest of the breakdown, by religious affiliation, education, and area of the country, is predictable.

I almost certainly won’t be around in 2050, but perhaps our younger readers can make some dosh by placing a few bets.

34 Comments

  1. Jack
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Pardon my ignorance, but does “white evangelical”/”white mainline” mean white-skinned evangelical/mainline christians, or are they Yet Other Christian Sects?

    • Charles Evo
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      White means Caucasian in this context.

  2. Reinard
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    There has never been a generation of humans who didn’t think that they would be the last. We are all so arrogant to think that we are the most important generation of men to grace this earth. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    • Antonio Manetti
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      That’s true. It goes as far back as the Pauline epistles.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but besides common arrogance it is a well substantiated fact due to population, economical, technological and scientific growth.

      One of the growth pangs is if we manage to turn the demographical arrow. Keeping the rest should help.

  3. Sili
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I used that part of scripture to argue that the assumption of Mary is wrong. Since she was conceived without Sin and the wages of Sin are Death she cannot have tasted Death – hence why she needs to be assumpted body and soul. But isn’t it more logical to that she is the one standing there, who’ll be around still when Jesus returns? Ergo, somewhere out there, Mary is still wandering the Earth.

    Weeeee! Theology is fun!

    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      No, Sili. (What a fortunate handle!) Mary was assumed into heaven — levitated, I suppose, or beamed into heaven; and her being assumed into heaven is called the assumption (with a ‘t’). Being assumed, or assumption, into heaven, is a quite simple though unusual spatial movement from here to there, so heaven is cosmically local, I take it. (Other examples of assumption are Enoch (perhaps) and Elijah (in a fiery chariot).)And the reason she was assumed into heaven is that she did not die, which is infra dig for what she was to become. She was taken up, as a living human being, into heaven. That’s why she can keep making extraordinary periodic appearances from time to time to uneducated peasants and little girls, I suppose. But don’t forget, she can’t be hanging about here, because she’s got to be ‘up there’, I suppose, somewhere, acting a co-redemptrix (that the feminine of redeemer), as queen of heaven, with Jesus (he’s the king, which sounds vaguely incestuous to me). I’m not sure what that says about the nature of catholic heaven, but it sure says something about catholic rationality (or lack thereof).

  4. Eric MacDonald
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I say make your bets now, and leave your ticket in your will. Some grandchild will benefit. The odds ought to be pretty long and the payout pretty big.

    What complete rubbish this all is. How can people think this way? It simply makes no sense. As Frank Schaeffer says in the Rachel Maddow interview (thanks to someone here for posting the clib), the village can’t organise itself around the village idiot. Time to cut these folks loose. They’re clearly several bricks short of a load. But the most amazing thing is that people like Chris Mooney, Karl Giberson, et hoc genus omne, want to bow down intellectually to these morons. Anyone who thinks anyone should do that is a moron himself. Ergo…..

    The more interesting question is also the one made by Schaeffer. Can Christianity of any respectable sort (supposing this can be taken as a possibility) be rescued from the mad right? I don’t think so, and the rational fringe of Christians should cut their losses now. It ain’t going to happen folks. There’s no way to make religion compatible with science, aside from turning it into a completely emotive type of refuge from the storms of life, and then it can’t help anyway.

  5. Screechy Monkey
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    How can we hope to take any action to address climate change, or nuclear waste, or the national debt, or any other long-term problem, when ~40% of the population doesn’t think there’s a “long term” to worry about?

    (Admittedly, I’m assuming that most or all of those anticipating Jesus’s return believe that there will either be an apocalypse or some other dramatic change to the world. I suppose if they just think he’ll make some nice speeches and perform a few parlour tricks again, things are different.)

    This is why it’s not worth it to sell out to believers just to gain a little ground on acceptance of evolutionary theory. The ToE is cool, beautiful even, and the basis for a lot of modern science, but if you had to choose between:

    1) A United States where everyone accepts the ToE, but 40% believe the Second Coming is imminent; and

    2) A United States where only a lunatic fringe expects the Second Coming, but evolution is no more accepted than today (perhaps they’re all Fodor/Berlinski types)

    … is it really a close call?

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Just to clarify, in #2 by “lunatic fringe” I really mean “only a handful of people.” I realize that some would argue it’s a lunatic fringe already.

    • dave's not here
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      I think your initial argument has a lot of credibility. Add to it that insane line from The Babble about subduing the earth and you have 40% who not only think global warming, etc, are not problems but, in fact, positively mandated by gawd. I choose Option 2.

    • Notagod
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Well said! On the semi-bright side, the 60% (those that oppose the 40%) have significantly more potential, as the jesus-coming-ers have historically voted more often. The candidate selection process is another area that has good potential for improvement.

      I suppose if they just think he’ll make some nice speeches and perform a few parlour tricks again, things are different.

      I think its the same with regard to the prospects for future generations. Christians, that I have talked to, lack any concept of responsibility for the future habitability of the planet, however, they often qualify that with a phrase like “Those in the future will receive new magic if it is needed”.

    • smilingatheist
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Though I partially agree with you that long term thinking is partially effected by religious thinking like this I would have to argue there is other factors. Short term profits, consumerism based on the ‘next big thing’, etc are all factors. I work in the engineering industry, you will rarely find any new project that has more than a 25 year life span. Keep in mind engineering in older times thought if something stayed up for 400 years it was ‘good enough’. Quite the mind shift. So in one way I can sort of see a correlation behind why some people may be drawn to this idea more.

  6. musubk
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I almost certainly won’t be around in 2050, but perhaps our younger readers can make some dosh by placing a few bets.

    Nah. By 2025 it’ll be pushed off to ‘probably by 2075.’ It’s always going to be near enough to be imminent, but just far enough away.

    • Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Yup. It was supposed to be, like, the 1980s back when I was young in the 1960s/1970s. The popular theory in my milieu (or, rather, one of my milieux) was that it would happen a “generation” after the creation of the state of Israel. This was supposed to accord with some alleged biblical prophecy.

      I guess they’re hedging their bets a bit more these days.

  7. mike m
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    [that’s 23% of people who say Jesus will definitely come back and 18% who say he’ll probably come back. So much for apophatic theology].

    That doesn’t sound like a fringe to me. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) is so nutty it’s hard to even believe the stuff she has coming out of her mouth mouth. She believes this stuff, talks about it and keeps getting elected.

    I think they just need to be right so bad, and to prove they are right to the non-believers. Point God’s little accusing finger, in an image from their own mind, and say off to hell with you and you and you there, go to hell. But … what they don’t know is that after a million years in hell we will adapt, evolve, into creatures quite comfortable in all that heat. The other thing they don’t know is that if Jesus comes back he is going look at them shake his/her head and say you guys are really nutty. Everything in religion has evolved over the last 2000 years, or so, designed and re-designed for (and by) the broken aspects of the human ego, self will run amuck.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      it’s hard to even believe the stuff she has coming out of her mouth mouth.

      When you wouldn’t like what she has coming out of her mouth ass.

      after a million years in hell we will adapt, evolve, into creatures quite comfortable in all that heat.

      Sorry, no. One of the characteristics of hell is the absence of joys such as sex and procreation.

      There is only stasis.

      [So you won’t even have the chance to learn something. It is the same bogus extortion as the “loving” Jesus preacher going “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”]

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    The real question is, if HG Mencken were still alive, would he still be able to hold this up to what it says about the country in pages of the Baltimore Sun, or would he be howled outta Ballmer?

  9. Insightful Ape
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Of interest, the strongest negative predictor seems to be college graduation. “Only” 19% of college graduates agree with that prediction.
    Another question that would be of interest is how many are specifically thinking about Left Behind style rapture.

  10. steve oberski
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    As Sam Harris put it in his “Note to the Reader” in “Letter to a Christian Nation”:

    Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen — the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves — socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.

    • Microraptor
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard that quoted as a reason some conservatives are opposed environmental regulations and sustainable living projects- they’re hoping for an ecocide so that Jesus will return.

  11. Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    The blog heading would be a great name for a discount liquor store: “4 out of 10 Americans think Jesus will be here Soon” — Wednesday night specials on Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur 48.

    • llewelly
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      The blog heading would be a great name for a discount liquor store: “4 out of 10 Americans think Jesus will be here Soon”

      Since he can make wine from water, he most be coming to purchase the hard stuff. Does he prefer vodka, Glenfiddich, rum, or Everclear?

  12. Ian
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Quite interesting really. This is the stuff that has been peddled for the past two millenia. According to the NT when Jesus allegedly said the the Kingdom of God was at hand he meant it literally; hence the comments leave your family, friends, job etc, you won’t need them.

    This has been a repetitive theme ever since; more recently the Millerites who were so disappointed that they are now, I believe, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses – and still here.

    More recently the Heaven’s Gate cult who were so convinced that that spacecraft coming to take them to God was hiding in the tail of Hale Bopp they bought a quite sizable telescope to that they could identify it, then when they couldn’t see it,and were still here, returned the telescope for a full refund because ‘the telescope was faulty’.

    There is no end to man’s ability to delude himself.

    As someone posted above, there are plenty of villages centred around their very own idiot.

    • Microraptor
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Given what the Heaven’s Gate cult did next, one wonders why they bothered trying to get a refund at all.

  13. BaldApe
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    A while back, I read something by an economist who said (of some other economists) that if he sat down with someone who claimed to be Napoleon Bonaparte, the last thing he would want to do is engage him in a discussion of infantry tactics, since that would tend to legitimize his claim.

    IOW, why engage in theological discussions at all? Until or unless they can show me that their subject matter exists, I am about as interested in theology as I am in Unicornology.

    • seady
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      baldape,

      Well said and about time .
      I couldnt agree with you more.
      Better to argue about the merits some aspect of a favorite scifi or fantasy novel (Which the bible is certainly a fantasy novel, but not a very interesting one.)

  14. Sabina
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    interesting, partially fascinating comments, and sooo true. My mom was told as a kid, that the end of the world was to come on the 30th of May – and there was even a song about it on the radio, a rather joyful sounding one. She said everybody she knew was very scared. My generation grew up with the threat of the Cold War and the Atomic Bomb. We haven’t come very far since then. Here it is 2010, and we are being threatened with the same crap, plus bio – and chemical war-fare.
    I’d like to just live the rest of my days in peace and quiet. BaldApe’s last paragraph is exactly what I would have said.

  15. Godless Matt
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Lies, Damned lies, and statistics!!

    having clicked the link and had a look at the poll 2 things immediately stood out.

    1. Higher levels of education are again shown to reduce the level of brain-rot in the american adult population.

    2. 50% of respondents believe that evidence of life will definately be found on another planet by 2050. I cant reconcile that with every other survey i’ve seen on american atitudes to evolution/creation. What gives??

    which is why this kind of report should always be taken with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila and a bite of lemon)

  16. truthspeaker
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure when they say Jesus will return in their lifetimes, they are using Jesus as a metaphor that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      –The above comment was me channeling Karen Armstrong.

  17. Margaret
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Now this has caused a huge amount of bother for theologians, since it states rather clearly that Jesus will return to judge the living and dead before some of his contemporaries have passed away. That didn’t happen, of course; ergo the trouble for Christians.

    I’ve never understood why the Christians refuse to believe their own bible here: they should conclude that Jesus came back nearly 2k years ago and poofed a few people up to heaven, and that that they missed the big event and need to get on with living in the post-second-coming world.

  18. Sam
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    It could be more interesting. Assuming they’re not making any sort of legitimate probability calculation, I’m betting the numbers don’t change much if you alter the time. You probably get very similar numbers if you ask whether it will happen by 2040, or 2030, because they seem sufficiently far in the future to be “realistic”.

    I’m guessing you might see a moderate decrease in confidence if you mention 2020, but not nearly as much as warranted by the decrease in time.

    Just a guess, of course…

  19. jim
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    God, imaginary friend for insecure twats with only one brain cell


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