It's Easter and, More than Ever, American Christians Believe Jesus's Return is Nigh

Half of Christians believe Jesus is coming soon. The Rapture Ready Index is at an all time high. Didn't we learn anything from 2012?

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Mar 30 2013, 2:00pm

It’s Easter weekend, and you know what time that is. Time to start thinking about the most anticipated comeback in history. Time to start thinking about The Rapture, and I don’t mean that band everyone used to like.

According to a 2010 poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, nearly half of all American Christians believe that Jesus will return sometime soon—within the next 40 years, to be exact.

Pew re-publicized the press release a few days ago in time for the Easter holiday, this Sunday, a time when Christians celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. But the findings were originally published as part of a broader survey looking at, among other things, American’s paranoia over a coming apocalypse more generally. Fifty-eight percent of all respondents believed that another World War was definite or probable in the next 40 years; 53 percent believed the same about a nuclear terrorism attack on the United States.

A full 41 percent believe the world will move to a single global currency by 2050—a favorite bogeyman among New World Order conspiracy theorists, if not technically an apocalyptic fantasy; 31 percent believe the earth will be pummeled by an asteroid in that same time period.

But these polls were conducted before December 2012—the supposed end of the Mayan Calendar and a day many feared would mark the end of the world. I think we can all agree that was a total letdown. It made me wonder if perhaps American fears about the end of the world had softened a bit since the Pew poll was conducted in 2010. Turns out I don't have the tools to conduct a new, large-scale poll from my living room in Brooklyn. But it did seem like a good time to consult one of my favorite indicators, the Rapture Index.

Turns out The Rapture may be more imminent than ever.

As I reported back in December, just before 2012 didn’t explode the earth, The Rapture Index was, at that time, at its highest level ever: 186. The index is a composite score compiled by a man named Todd Strandberg, which aggregates 45 separate sub- scores, each of which tracks some kind of prophetic activity, from “Satanism” to “liberalism.” According to the index, any score over 160 means “fasten your seat belt.” The Rapture, it seemed, was nigh.

I thought perhaps the index would have dropped a bit since 2012. It has, in fact, risen a point higher to 187, setting a new all-time high in its roughly 22-year history. Reasons for the unprecedented score include the Sandy Hook massacre, “a new poll,” which “finds that more couples are living together outside of marriage,” and Pope Benedict’s decision to peace out from the Vatican.

Screen grab of the Rapture Index, currently at its highest level ever. 

That the index continues to mount isn’t surprising. As Strandberg noted in an email exchange I had with him in 2010, “The Rapture Index has slowly but surely pressed higher and higher over the past few years,” adding: “The major(ity) of the index categories are simply more active more often, and I see no end to this trend.” On one hand today’s score is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Strandberg was right—the score has continued to climb. But Strandberg is also the one keeping score.

On the other hand—and this is purely speculative—I wonder if the ever-heightening belief among Christians like Strandberg that the Rapture is coming doesn’t reflect a broader trend toward apocalypticism in the United States—one in which fears over 2012 represented just one, atypically unified expression. As noted by Robert Vicino and his employees at Vivos, a company that builds underground luxury survival shelter complexes, 2012 wasn’t the biggest concern among people who really believe the world will end soon. Vicino and his crew said they were much more worried about things like asteroids, pole shifts, volcanic eruptions, worldwide economic collapse, and nuclear and biological terrorism.

Whether Jesus figures into the minds of some or any of the people buying space in Vivos’ multi-dweller shelters is unknown, though employees made it clear when I interviewed them last year that clients weren’t your typical hyper-conservative, survivalist types. They were much more mainstream. As one employee told me, “Survivalists really kinda hate us. And we thought we would really appeal to them. But, you know what? They go through so much work… and they don’t like us because people just basically write a check.”

I guess we can all check back circa 2050. But in the meantime, happy Easter. And fasten your seatbelts!

Lead image by Doug Ellis via Flickr