Perhaps the most widely recognized “sign of the times” is the promise of wars and wickedness. It possesses the unique advantage of consistent coverage on the nightly news, to say nothing of its ubiquitous presence on social media and on the lips of the people we encounter daily. A strange dynamic sometimes animates conversations on the subject when certain members of the Church take part. For example, someone mentions a recent increase in violent crimes in their city. The hypothetical Church member involved in the discussion, upon hearing this, might shake his head and say something like, “Christ is coming back soon.” Others in the conversation usually will mumble some sort of agreement and drop the point.

True though the sentiment may be, it often rings hollow, like repeated prayers for the sick and needy that never lead to sincere effort on the part of the supplicant to alleviate the burdens of his fellow men. Perhaps it might be said that the best thing one can do to prepare for Christ’s return in the face of the world’s collective heart waxing cold is to seek the warmth of the Savior’s light through personal righteousness. Important as that is, God did not intend for us to watch the world burn as we hide behind a thin veil of scriptural cover.

At bottom, those who excuse their pessimism or inaction based on a misreading of a few scriptures share an important similarity with historicists in the tradition of G.W.F. Hegel. If the ending is predestined, why should we do anything at all? If everything we see politically and socially is as God wills it, our role is to simply let history wash over us. [1] However, this approach, whatever its theoretical justification, leaves us drowning in history’s wake; it potentially exposes us to God’s judgement.

Radical Historicism

Historicism is the belief in a rational movement of history. Historicists often tend toward progressivism (in the descriptive sense of the word, though frequently in its political meaning as well). [2] All of history is a movement toward a more reasonable, more just, more liberated world.

Christian eschatology includes a sort of historicism of its own. Jesus Christ’s birth is both the metaphorical and literal meridian of time. Everything before was a countdown to Christ’s advent; everything after is a tally until His return. All of history is a series of events centered on and concluding with Jesus’ atoning and cleansing mission.

This simple, Christocentric historicism held sway through most of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, the earnest hope for The Lord’s second coming—sometimes called millenarianism—usually operated in the background. It was far from the defining intellectual paradigm. However, since the early 19th century and the advent of Hegel’s philosophy of history, our intellectual approach to the question of history and fate has shifted.

Hegel essentially took Christian millenarianism and filtered it through a rationalist lens. This purified the former of its overt theological implications, leaving instead the frame known today as historicism or Hegelianism. History itself replaces God’s Providence and the promise of Christ’s return. Everything we do becomes accidental to the will and movement of history. We find ourselves swept up in the current of a raging river. We might fight and try to divert it, but we are powerless before its force. [3]

Hegel asserts that each age of history represents a movement toward a greater consciousness of freedom by a greater number of individuals. This began with the consciousness of one, then a few, then many — and eventually, with the consciousness of all. Hegel’s historicism culminates in the ultimate end of history. When all become conscious of their freedom, no new historical movement is necessary. All has been worked out. [4]

The end of history might reasonably be defined by negatives. A world without strife, without government, without hunger, without passion, without bloodshed, without irrationality, without philosophy. The end of history is a world without. Most relevant for this essay: The end of history is the Millennium without Christ.

Mormon Hegelianism

What does all of this mean for Latter-day Saints? Hegel so successfully captured the intellectual imagination of the West that historicism remains the assumed idiom of politics. We speak of the right and wrong side of history, [5] “the arc of history,” [6] a view of the future from the “top of the mountain,” [7] and so on. From academic writing to popular rhetoric, historicism imbues our understanding of the past and future. In a way, historicism is the water we swim in.

Latter-day Saints, remote from the world though we seek to be, are not exempt from this. More than members of many Christian denominations, members of the Church tend to accept and roll with modernity and its baggage. [8] And so, Christian millenarianism gets a new life after Hegel with all Christians, but particularly with Latter-day Saints.

Rather than a hum in the background of Christian life to the effect of “Christ comes quickly, when we least suspect. Like a thief in the night unless we watch and prepare! We must ensure our lamps have oil,” it instead becomes “the world grows eviler by the moment. Not much I can do about that. All I know is that it means Christ is coming soon, and may his coming be swift to wipe out all of this wickedness!” There is no problem with the second statement in the abstract. Inaction and surrender are normal reactions to an overwhelming force, especially one fundamentally opposed to truth and goodness gaining seemingly unstoppable momentum. In practice, however, grave political and religious mistakes follow.

One additional idea underlies these thoughts: “Even if I could change things, perhaps I would not want to. Christ’s return is desirable, I want to believe these calamities and this generally immoral situation are in fact signs of His coming.” This attitude is sometimes called “accelerationism.” For such a one, standing against wickedness will not be a top priority as it means potentially delaying the inevitable and glorious Second Coming of Christ.

Imagine the political activities of a person who believes the world a lost cause. Will they vote? Will they promote truth in the public square? Will they stand against moral evil when it enters their community? Perhaps some will. Many others, however, find themselves complacent, if not utterly indifferent.

On the religious front, will such a person seek to save the souls of their neighbors and acquaintances? Will they be likely to stand unashamedly before men to declare their convictions? Will the Family Proclamation be in their heart (let alone on their lips)? Many more people who choose to disengage politically do not disengage from proselytizing and bearing witness to the truth, it must be acknowledged. However, political indifference with regard to eternal truth and personal opinions about eternal truth are not disconnected.

Consider the most politically active person you know. Are they active in the Church? Are their politics in line with revealed truth? Would you support putting their political program into action? The individuals promoting the things we as members of the Church oppose are often the most politically active, loud, and insistent voices. Indeed, people who decide to leave the Church permanently often become far more political after their exit.

What do the Scriptures Say?

We covenant at baptism “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places … even until death” (Mosiah 18:9). No clean partition between religious and nonreligious activities evinces itself in this language. We often seek, conscientiously and in good faith, to build such a partition. However, God does not want a part of your life — He wants the whole thing.

With this in mind, consider the parables about Christ’s return. The focus, of course, is on preparedness, but is that preparedness merely discreet and personal? We know that if we are not individually ready, nothing can help us, as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins awaiting the bridegroom (Matthew 25). However, the concept of stewardship also plays an important role. Consider the oft cited parable of the talents, found in the same chapter as the parable of the virgins.

A man, before travelling on a long journey, gathers his servants and gives them stewardship over his goods. Each servant was given care over an amount of money according to his ability. One was given (for the sake of this anachronistic summary) $5,000, another $2,000, and still another $1,000. The first and second servants both doubled their master’s money, for which he rewarded them (it is implied) with a gift of the principal and interest for their wise stewardship. The third, however, feared losing his master’s goods more than he desired to exercise wise stewardship over them; he hid the money in a hole. His master took the money from him and gave it to the one who had just been rewarded with $10,000.

The third servant was not careless. His master’s money was returned in full and undamaged, though perhaps a little dirty. This man, however, feared what might happen to the money more than he wanted to make wise use of his master’s goods with which he was entrusted. The two who put forth their best effort were not judged by the amount they returned to their master. They were memorably told “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” The servant who returned his master’s money in full, but who was “afraid” to venture into the world to exercise righteous dominion in his sphere of influence was called an “unprofitable servant,” and cast “into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matthew 25:14–30).

The word “talent” sometimes distracts from the meaning of this parable. Of course, God wants us to use and grow our literal talents, like teaching, playing the piano, or fixing cars. But the stewardship he entrusts to us is much larger than that. The thing he wishes returned to Him in better condition than we received it is everything over which we have influence. Our careers, our studies, our families, our wards, our neighborhoods, our cities, our counties, our states, and our countries all — to a greater or lesser extent — fall under our stewardship.

Three other pieces of counsel with regard to sharing the truth and actively engaging with the world publicly help clarify and drive the point home: First, when Christ called His disciples (us) the “light of the world,” He reminded them the function of light. Men, He said, do not “light a candle, and put it under a bushel,” that would smother the light by depriving it of oxygen, let alone disallowing the fulfillment of its purpose. Instead, we put a lit candle “on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house,” (Matthew 5:14–16). We must not hide our lights from the world. This applies in all settings, not just preaching the gospel.

Second, follow the advice to be in the world but not of the world. Christ prayed “not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil,” (John 17:15). God desires not our complete retreat from the world as it exists, but our participation in the world, our light in the world. Our influence should be as a little leaven to raise the world higher, but we should not become like the world ourselves.

Third, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you,” (Matt 7:6). Be bold and do not be afraid to stand up before the world, but be wary of your audience. Certain truths are only meant for those who are ready to hear. The injunction to boldly enter the world to influence it for better does not imply foolishness or imprudence. Good stewardship is wise stewardship.

Disillusionment and the Fight for Proposition 8

The Church as a rule avoids taking stances on specific legislation and candidates. However, in 2008, California’s legislature put forward a ballot measure to officially define marriage in the state constitution as between a man and a woman, banning same-sex marriage. The measure was called Proposition 8 (Prop 8 for short). The Church took a stand in favor of the proposition and suggested members do the same. [9]

Members of the Church in California responded. They picketed, canvassed, and generally promoted Prop 8 in public. It initially passed but was stopped by a court and eventually overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. Members of the Church, despite the nominal victory, often have negative associations with the campaign. They were alienated by neighbors, castigated locally, and roundly condemned as a group in the media.

Many Californian members of the Church vowed after Prop 8 to never get involved in politics again. The discouraging, isolating, and potentially personally hazardous campaign poisoned politics for these faithful members who did their best to follow the prophet.

Alienation from the world is never easy. We remain “in the world,” with no immediate hope of deliverance. Living quietly and not ruffling too many feathers has an enormous appeal. However, it goes against the scriptural injunctions reviewed above, to say nothing of Christ’s more startling promises. He does not assure us of comfort and happiness in our lives as His followers. He said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” A man’s enemies, once he has accepted Christ’s salvation will, of course, be the world, but they will often even be “they of his own household.”

One of my favorite imperfect translations in the King James Bible is 1 Peter 2:9, where the Saints are called “a peculiar people.” Certainly, the more literal meaning of our being God’s special possession is important, but peculiar is so evocative. Christians generally merit the epithet, but Latter-day Saints in particular, at their very best, embody every implication of that word. God does not wish us to be like the world, or even be liked by the world “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” (John 15:18).

As the Prop 8 campaign demonstrated to Californian Saints, it will not always be easy, but God wants us front and center. Our peculiarity in contrast with the world should show all the more brilliantly, “like bright metal on a sullen ground.” [10]

Courage! For the Lord is on Our Side

The concluding paragraph in The Family Proclamation says, “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” The principle of “responsible citizens and officers of government” promoting measures favorable to the teachings of the gospel might profitably be applied whenever Latter-day Saints decide to take political or social action, both with regard to protecting the family and promoting anything else ‘that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy,’ (Article of Faith 13).”

We learn early in the Book of Mormon “that the Lord giveth no commandment save he shall prepare a way that we may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them,” (1 Nephi 3:7). God has commanded us to be an influence for good in the world — every part of the world. We must not shun this command; we must stand up knowing that Emmanuel, “God with us,” is still with us today.

We must overcome the temptation of the despairing historicism of Latter-day “doomers,” complacent with the demise of the world before the Second Coming. If we wish to present the earth without shame to the Lord upon His return, we must be able to say that we did everything we could, not that we despaired, and for fear of His wrath hid while our sphere of stewardship fell into disrepair. To be among the good and faithful at His coming, we must be good and faithful — in and through all.


[1] While the debate over the nature of providence and agency remains endlessly fascinating, this paper focuses on a different topic. It outlines a political argument about the detrimental effects of a ubiquitous philosophical doctrine. Whether human agency or divine providence holds greater sway in a particular circumstance does not factor directly into the discussion here. Rather, the paper assumes that humans have agency, and wonders whether the knowledge of Christ’s impending Second Coming (and the signs accompanying it) should prevent Christians from involving themselves in fighting to make the world better. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Today, historicism’s biggest partisans call themselves Marxists. Marx discovered the working out of the historical dialectic through Hegel, and he flipped the system on its head. Where Hegel sees history as the driving force and all accidents and movements within it as beholden to history, in a sort of quasi-Lutheran scheme of predestination, Marx sees the historical actors as the primary movers of history. The final communist state only comes into being if we will it and seek it. [Back to manuscript].

[3] Consider how this view is a misreading of ideas like that expressed in D&C 121:33. [Back to manuscript].

[4] Alexandre Kojeve most coherently articulated the logical conclusion of Hegel’s end of history teaching. The discussion in his correspondence with Leo Strauss in On Tyranny is instructive on this point. See also James H. Nichols, Jr.’s book Alexandre Kojeve: Wisdom at the End of History. [Back to manuscript].

[5] --- [Back to manuscript].

[6] --- [Back to manuscript].

--- [Back to manuscript].

[8] The Latter-Day Church, though ancient in fundamental origin, arose in modernity. Joseph Smith received his first revelations well after Nicolo Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, and Renee Descartes beckoned in the beginning of modernity, to say nothing of Hegel’s Philosophy of History, which was first published in 1837. The political, philosophical, scientific, religious, and technological implications of this historical fact informs the entire worldview (a Hegelian word) of members of the Church. [Back to manuscript].

[9] --- [Back to manuscript].

[10] William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, 1.2.219, Folger Shakespeare Library edition. [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Richards, Ted (2022) "The Despairing Historicism of Latter-day Doomers," SquareTwo, Vol. 15 No. 3 (Fall 2022),, accessed <give access date>.

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