Preppers and faith

October 16th, 2019

What is a "prepper"?

In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its emergency preparedness recommendations to suggest that families should have 10 days’ worth of food and water on hand instead of the previously recommended three days’ worth. This increase was made in light of more severe and prolonged hurricane seasons in recent years. For many American families, the very idea that you should have any stockpile of food and water may come as a surprise, but to those in the preparedness and survivalist communities, 10 days is just a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Prepper is a term used for people who are serious about emergency preparedness and survivalism. This goes far beyond the 10-day kits encouraged by the U.S. government. For many in the prepper community, anywhere from three months to a year or more of food, water and other necessary supplies is the goal. Preppers stockpile not just nonperishable food and water but also water filtration systems, guns and ammo for defense and a plethora of other gear. Some even make plans for alternative housing in case of a severe crisis.

For many preppers, disaster — natural or otherwise — is just around the corner, and being prepared for these emergencies isn’t just good advice; it’s a way of life. Self-reliance is an intrinsic value to the community, and many are skeptical that the government will provide any meaningful help in a disaster.

“For me and my wife, survivalism and preparedness is not the doom-and-gloom mindset that kind of drove the Preppers genre in the past,” Brad (full name not given), the creator of Full Spectrum Survival, told VICE news and multimedia company. “For us it’s more of a methodology of preparedness and independence that we live by.” 

More than just doomsday

In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched Doomsday Preppers, a reality show featuring different American families preparing for end-of-world situations. The show focused on people prepping for highly specific scenarios — like the collapse of the power grid or extreme civil unrest —often with state-of-the-art technical gear, an assortment of armaments, and well-supplied lodgings for their small crew. This image of the rugged survivalist is popular in the media, especially among far-right communities who stress self-reliance at all costs, but it’s far from the only form of prepping.

Preppers can be found in all environments, from backwoods homesteads to urban condos. Cliff of Seattle (full name not given), founder of the Urban Prepper YouTube channel, says his concerns over the volatility of the tech industry led him into prepping. “For me it just seemed like the responsible thing to do, just like it would be responsible for me to have life insurance or to have auto insurance, or have us all on a medical plan,” he said in an interview with VICE. Having an organized stash of food and water is just the beginning. For urban preppers, learning the skills to help out in a disaster situation is key. Cliff agrees. “Why prepare for zombies if you’re not prepared to have a flat tire?”

But fear of an unknown future drives many preppers, both liberal and conservative alike. Concerns about civil unrest, global climate change and a deep mistrust of government can lead some preppers into panic. This anxiety isn’t just for online conspiracy enthusiasts. Even some of the wealthiest members of Silicon Valley are prepping. Many have purchased land outside of the city, and some have gone so far as to have corrective vision surgery specifically so they don’t require glasses in the event of an emergency. Steven Huffman, the mid-thirties CEO and founder of the website Reddit, is one such techie. “If the world ends — and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble — getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain,” he said in an interview with The New Yorker.

For Huffman, deep-seated anxieties around our societal structures have led him to stockpile food, water, and ammo. Most preppers recommend one gallon of water per person per day and a minimum of 2,000 calories of food supplies per person per day. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power — that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work,” Huffman said. “While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.” 

Prepping faithfully?

On the other end of the spectrum, some are speaking out about the ways anxiety is affecting our larger community. Robert A. Johnson, a hedge fund manager and economist, says that the constant talk amongst his peers of fleeing what they perceive as the disintegration of American society is irresponsible. “Twenty-five hedge-fund managers make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined,” he said. 

Instead of running away from society’s problems, Johnson argues, those with excess wealth should work to address problems like income inequality and underfunded public schools.

According to Johnson, you can’t outrun society’s ills. But you can use your resources to change them for the better, and that’s as good or better than stockpiling rice and beans for an uncertain future.

This emphasis on doom and gloom can be counterintuitive to the Christian gospel of hope and resurrection. While there will always be uncertainties about the future, the hope Christians place in Jesus Christ means facing these uncertainties with boldness and not fear.

For some forms of the Christian tradition, prepping is an expression of Christian hope. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, commonly known as the Mormons) prepping for disasters is a principle taught by the church itself. Called “Provident Living,” members are encouraged to have a year’s supply of food and water for each member of their families, in addition to a year’s supply of financial resources. However, this large supply of resources isn’t intended just for the families storing the food and water, but for the whole community. For the LDS church, being prepared for inevitable disaster means being better able to be a good neighbor in times of need. 

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