Seventy five years ago this week, millions of ordinary Americans were convinced that the world was coming to an end. They came to this conclusion, not because Hitler was rattling his sabers in Europe and the entire world teetered on the verge of war. Rather, these fears were fueled by a broadcast aired from a small CBS radio studio in New York City.
Orson Welles took to the airways on October 30, 1938 as the usual host of the Mercury Theater, and using the science fiction book, War of the Worlds as his script, described in dramatic and fictional detail – with that unmistakable voice of his – how Martians had invaded Earth, landing in Grover Mills, New Jersey.
There were 32 million radio listeners that evening, and none with 24-hour news, Twitter, Google, or text messages to learn from the world around them. Thus, the nation was thrown into a terrifying hysteria that simply could not be duplicated today. Telephone lines were clogged; police stations were overrun; anxious mobs filled the streets; churches ran over with impromptu prayer meetings; and citizens barricaded and armed themselves.
There is a Christian equivalent to this kind of unnerving fear and panic. It pours from radio and television stations, podcasts and pulpits, from books, periodicals, and websites. The oft-presented Christian version of the Apocalypse is initiated not by a Martian invasion, but by Jesus’ violent and destructive return to earth.
“Jesus is coming back!” they say. “There will be few survivors, but if you do survive the initial onslaught, you will be left behind to suffer the vengeance of the glory of the Lord, as he tramples ‘out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.’” These Orson Welleses of our day sell millions of fictional books, movies, computer games, CDs, audios, videos, T-shirts, calendars, and greeting cards with their shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, fear-mongering.