Waiting for Armageddon: Review and Panel Discussion
By James Zimmerman
Waiting for Armageddon details the lives of several Americans who live in expectation of a rapture. And, as the film stresses, these evangelical Christians expect the End to arrive very, very soon—one young girl was nearly in tears as contemplated the future she was never going to have. Later, a mother pointed to her son, saying he would never grow old enough to graduate high school, or even to get a driver’s license.
Much of the film is taken up with footage of Christians making a pilgrimage to Israel, primarily to see the sights where Jesus will soon initiate World War III, but also taking time to be baptized in the River Jordan. In between, we are treated to an interview with an ex-atheist confidently asserting he has now given his life to Jesus (or, rather, his wife makes this argument), a pastor explaining wistfully his desire that a missile ‘accidentally’ knock out the Dome of the Rock (another pastor had edited a photo of the Jerusalem skyline by removing the Dome and replacing it with a Judaic temple), and scenes of President Bush affirming his Christian faith.
Despite the fascinating, timely subject matter, the film’s creators had little to say. It’s a dry film, and viewers are not presented with results, conclusions, or even ideas for what to do with the information presented. Most Americans, from the most conservative fundamentalist, to the anti-theist, will leave the theater thinking “Interesting..but now what?” This is a missed opportunity at best. Though there is something to be said for film-makers that limit their opinions, the film would’ve been greatly enhanced had it presented the dangers inherent in holding an apocalyptic world-view, and what concerned citizens can do about the matter. After all, as the film noted, some 10 million Americans believe we are living in the ‘Last Days’ (and, judging from the film’s poster, above, that includes at least one German Shepherd).
Bottom line: B
On Saturday, February 20th, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion following a showing of the film at St. Anthony Main Theater. There were four people on the panel: one woman (a representative of Minnesota Film Arts who served as moderator), me, and two other men – both pastors at local churches. One was the pastor at an evangelical church; the other at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley.
The discussion was lively. The moderator asked questions mostly concerning our impressions of the film. She inquired as to the history of apocalyptic cults in America (the evangelical pastor was quite well-versed in this area), and asked what sort of dangers this mentality may pose for society at large. She then took questions from the audience. I learned that, contrary to what I imagined, most people in the audience were not non-religious, the majority were Christians who came to find out about even wackier versions of their faith.
At one point, the moderator asked: “How do you feel that having the world-view that Armageddon is coming influences a person’s life?”
The two pastors, though careful to label the apocalyptic Christians as ’extremists,’ nevertheless answered that such a view can bring a person closer to Jesus, and that it helps give a person focus. I added that such an outlook fundamentally alters every normal action persons would otherwise have. This was immediately argued by an audience member who countered that many of his relatives believe in an imminent rapture, and he doesn’t feel that they are traumatized. I then spoke for about five minutes about how traumatizing it is, culling mostly from my own life, but also referencing the film and pointing out that if I was to convince the audience that the end was coming exactly ten years from now…wouldn’t it greatly influence how everyone lived out those ten years? I also noted that most of the trauma isn’t consciously observed by the cult member until they have excused themselves from that belief.
Another question tried to uncover reasons why the general public should care if their fellow Americans have this worldview. The two pastors agreed there were dangers involved in having such a view of Jesus’ coming. I added that one reason we should all care is because, as the film noted, such people vote. “Think about it,” I said, “do you really want someone going to the polls and thinking there is no need to be concerned with candidates’ stands on environment, education, or foreign policy because, after all, Armageddon is coming within the year?”
Following the discussion, several audience members approached us saying they enjoyed hearing the differing viewpoints. One Christian even handed me a free copy of a book he and his wife had written.