With names like the Doomsealers and Mummyjums, end-of-the-world cults are at least entertaining. That many are violent, led by sex offenders, or platforms for abuse lessens the fun factor, but Branch Davidians and Taborites are still fascinating. Even Harold Camping's predictions are intriguing, if absurd.
People have always predicted the end of the world. Many of these prophets had Christian origins, but by no means all of them—in The Real History of the End of the World, Sharan Newman identifies doomsday stories among Muslims, the Chinese, South Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
Newman is mostly professional and objective. Some movements she describes are so ridiculous she can't help a snicker, but usually she simply reports. Each chapter includes several endnotes, proving she's not just making this stuff up. Some of the stories would be pretty hard to believe, otherwise.
It's surprising how often sinless perfection becomes a litmus for surviving Armageddon. Were people further from the edge of eternity okay to do whatever they wanted? Why is there a premium on purity only in the last days? What kind of purity were these people even preaching? In many cases it wasn't purity at all.
The Real History of the End of the World reads like Weekly World News meets a good detective novel. Newman isn't a Christian and doesn't understand Christian doctrine; she also equates the Book of Revelation with Millerite doctrine and suicide cults, an obvious (and unforgivable) blasphemy. Still, this is a fascinating read, full of shudders and laughs in equal measure.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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