Eschatology is a branch of theology concerned with the final events of human history and the ultimate destiny of the world. Christian eschatology is concerned with the second coming of Christ, the ressurection of the dead and the final judgement. Perhaps the best known example of Christian eschatology is, sadly, the version presented in the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I'm not a fan of that view, but that will have to be a topic for a future post.
Though it might seem a bit esoteric, eschatology is actually an important area of study because what we believe will happen in the future affects how we live our lives now. Especially because, as Christians, we believe that we will live to see that future. So, while eschatology is primarily a theological term, I think one can see how the term might be applied to other belief systems. After all, many people have beliefs about the future of the world that affect the way they live their lives now. To illustrate this point I'd like to give a few examples.
The most obvious example that I can think of is the widely held belief that carbon dioxide causes global warming. The concern is that unless we quickly reduce our CO2 production we will face global climate change, which would lead to disastrous consequences. Industry leaders and policy makers are starting to make choices that don't make sense unless you believe this is a real possibility. This is just one example where beliefs about future events can impact the way we live now.
An historical example of a belief system with an eschatological component is Marxism. Karl Marx, the founder of modern communism, didn't just believe that communism was a good idea. He believed that the fall of capitalism was historically inevitable and he believed that it would eventually give way to a utopian, classless society. By providing this vision of the future, Karl Marx gave his followers something to strive for, which may help explain why his beliefs have had such an impact upon history.
For my final example I would like to talk about the technological singularity. The belief is that one day humans will be able to acheive greater-than-human intelligence through artificial means. Once this happens those intelligences will be able to develop even greater intelligences. This will cause all technology to advance in ways we cannot possibly predict. The interesting thing about this belief is that, while many assume that the singularity will be a good thing, others have pointed out that it could just as easily be a disaster. Since the core concept is that these changes will be unpredictable there isn't really any way to know for sure.
I hope I've given you an understanding of why it's important to analyze our beliefs about the future. For anyone, whatever their worldview may be, beliefs about the likely course of future events can have a big impact on the way they act now. Even if we believe that those events are far off they still color the decisions we make on a day to day basis. For that reason alone we should think carefully about what beliefs we hold about the future and where those beliefs come from.
What do you think? Are you thinking of an eschatological-type belief that I missed? Do you want to offer your thoughts on the ones I mentioned? If so, please leave a comment.