In the early 70s, Marshall Applewhite, a lost soul with psychiatric issues, befriended Bonnie Nettles, a nurse with an interest in the occult. While poring over the New Testament together, they formed a longstanding friendship that would result in mass death and the voluntary removal of several scrotal sacs. Applewhite and Nettles attracted followers with a mix of New Age UFO hooh-hah and an extreme form of Christian asceticism. After Nettles’s death in 1985, Applewhite preached that the Earth was going to be “recycled” or “spaded under.” To survive you had to go to the “Next Level” — by killing yourself. Then you would be resurrected on a spaceship hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Over three days in March, 1997, Applewhite and 38 followers killed themselves by ingesting apple sauce, Phenobarbital and vodka. They put plastic bags over their own heads just in case. The corpses all wore identical black t-shirts, black sweats and Nikes. And all had exactly $5.75 in their pockets, presumably for a cosmic toll. 8 men, including Applewhite, were castrated.
The Xhosa Cattle-Killings
One afternoon in the spring of 1856, a 13-year-old girl named Nongqawuse went to collect water from the river. Times were tough in her corner of Africa: her people, the Xhosa, had been fighting the British for decades. But when she returned to her village, she claimed that two ancestors had appeared with a plan. All the Xhosa had to do was destroy their own crops and cattle. Then the dead would arise to sweep the white people into the sea. An orgy of cattle-killing ensued, including much bitterness toward those who weren’t crazy about the idea. The end result was 40,000 people dying of starvation and the British having a much easier time colonizing the Eastern Cape. Before you sneer at the Xhosa, you should know that in the next century they would produce Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
According to Evangelical Christians, Jesus isn’t just coming back. He’s coming back to kick ass. Evangelicals believe the End Times will begin with the true believers “caught up together,” or “raptured,” to meet the Lord in the clouds. (So if the guy flying your airplane is an Evangelical, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.) The rest of us sinners will be left on Earth to suffer the “tribulations”—war, plague, famine and the advent of the anti-Christ. The Book of Revelations proclaims that Jesus will return in a white robe “dipped in blood” and slay the unbelievers with a sword that appears from His mouth. After that it’s Final Judgment time, when the guy who wanted us to love our enemies hurls the damned into the flaming pits of hell.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
These ultra-violent Islamic extremists are obsessed with the End Times. In fact ISIL is too hardcore and apocalyptic even for al-Qaeda, whose leaders grew alarmed by ISIL’s propensity to murder women and children in Syria and Iraq. (Murdering American women and children, however, is fine.) ISIL considers itself the caliphate that Islamic texts predict will help the Mahdi, a messianic figure, defeat the evil Dajjal, the Islamic version of the anti-Christ. Christians living under ISIL can generously choose between conversion, paying a special tax or death. For Muslim apostates, it’s just death. ISIL’s idea of apostasy is the usual stuff like alcohol and adultery. And it includes Western clothes, shaving, voting or being Shia. Among its many human rights violations, ISIL has reintroduced slavery, crucifixions, stoning, throwing people off buildings, and of course, beheadings.
The Dead Hasidic Messiah
The Jewish version of the End Times is similar to that of Islam and Christianity—lots of scary bad stuff (war! famine! plague!) until the Messiah appears to conquer evil forever. One significant difference is that the Jewish Messiah will be mortal. In the 80s and 90s, some Jews saw Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Lubavitch Hasidim, as a messianic contender. A charismatic leader, he was big on the End Times, encouraging secular Jews to pray in the hopes of creating a generation worthy of the Messiah. His death in 1994 wasn’t enough to convince all his followers that he was merely an exceptional rabbi. To this day, much to the chagrin of other ultra-Orthodox Jews, you can see Hebrew signs calling Schneerson the “King Messiah” in Israel and Brooklyn.
Aum Shinrikyo, or The Religion of Supreme Truth, was a murderous Japanese religion founded in the 80s by Shoko Asahara, a crackpot seeker with messianic delusions. Asahara believed that a nuclear apocalypse was imminent unless he could cleanse the world of its bad karma. He also claimed to be Christ and the first “enlightened one” since Buddha. The group attracted thousands of followers, particularly among university graduates looking for a less materialistic life. In the late 80s, Aum Shinrikyo became paranoid and violent. They murdered dissidents, as well as an anti-cult crusader and his wife and child. Then they started manufacturing sarin, a nerve gas. In June of 1994, they released sarin in the small city of Matsumoto, killing 8 and injuring hundreds. The following March, they again released sarin in several cars on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 and injuring hundreds more. The perpetrators either got life sentences or are, like Asahara, in prison awaiting the death penalty.
The Order of the Solar Temple
What happens when a Belgian quack joins forces with a French con man? Why, a Francophone apocalyptic death cult, of course. In 1984, Luc Jouret (the quack) and Joseph Di Mambro (the con man) met in Geneva. Kindred spiritualists, they formed the Order of the Solar Temple, another mixture of Christianity and UFO hooey but with a secret society twist—Di Mambro claimed to be a 14th century Templar. Di Mambro liked money; Jouret liked sex with female congregants. They did sincerely believe that an ecological disaster was coming. Those who “purified” themselves—that is, died by fire—would be reincarnated to a planet orbiting Sirius. In October 1994, 53 members died in Switzerland and Quebec in an orgy of murder and suicide. Some had set fires and shot themselves; others had been poisoned. A 3-month-old child had been stabbed through the heart. Remarkably, 16 more members would kill themselves the following year in France, and 5 more in 1997 in Quebec, proving that just because you’re bilingual it doesn’t mean you’re smart.
The Thousand-Year Reich
Hitler had a lot of terrible ideas. Arguably the worst one, after genocide, was his belief that the Third Reich would exist for 1000 years. It worked something like this: the First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until Napoleon did his thing. The Second Reich was the 1871-1918 monarchy. The Third Reich was Hitler’s, and the wonderful empire that he would create, free of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals — in other words, all the interesting people — that would last for 1000 years. Nazism is often considered an irreligious movement, but this is a blatant echo of the Christian idea of the coming 1000-year reign of Christ. What was supposed to happen after the Nazi millennium was unclear.
The Withering Away of the State
Marx famously wrote that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Still the utopian scenario of Marxism has strong religious underpinnings. Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that a time of turmoil will precede a religious utopia; Marx and Engels believed that revolution would usher in the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” with workers controlling the means of production. This would lead to a “withering away” of the state. According to Engels, the only necessary governance would be for “the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production.” From this kind of magical thinking it was a short step to Lenin, who had no problem killing lots of people in the interests of economic equality.
The Ghost Dance
In 1889, a shaman named Wovoka had a vision. During a solar eclipse, he saw the dead of his Paiute tribe returning to life, the plains again filled with bison and the land free of white people. If his people performed a five-day circle dance, then this vision would become reality. Native Americans were getting squeezed out by white settlers, and Wovoka’s prophecy gave them hope. The circle dance ceremony was adopted by tribes all over the plains. The Lakota Sioux called their version a “spirit dance,” or Ghost Dance. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was concerned about the new ritual, especially since the Lakota believed that the Ghost Dance made them impervious to bullets. In December of 1890, the Army came to disarm the Lakota. A scuffle quickly spilled over into the Wounded Knee Massacre, when the Army killed between 200 and 300 Lakota, mostly women and children.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments 2000
Elizabeth Clare Prophet