: I was conditioned to look at world events as being a sign that the end is near, sound familiar?
It's part and parcel of the JW experience.
: Well, times are bad. Are they the worst ever?
No. The 14th century was a lot worse. At least a third of the entire population of the world died within a decade ,plus or minus, of 1355.
: Perhaps, at least in terms of dangers to the over all survival of our species.
Potential dangers are quite different from realized dangers. Sure, there is a lot more potential for destruction of the world by mankind itself today than ever before. But there is also a lot more realization of how horrendous that would be. The potential for destruction from traditional major destroyers is the same as always. To date, we have seen nothing of the massive die-offs that one would expect if the Society's traditional claims that earthquakes, pestilence, famine and war were much worse than ever. So, while there is danger, it does not come according to the Society's claims. Therefore their claims are valueless.
: Interestingly, I do not see humans as being any more "evil" the way the Society does. If anything the enlightened world is more humane. Were there talks of "human rights" or "women's rights" a couple hundred years ago? "War crimes?" Was this in human's vocabulary before the twentieth century? If you were black, living in the South in the 1950's you could not eat at the same restaurant as a white person. In this area, times are better, far better.
In the world as a whole, times are far better than 100 years ago. No need to go into details that are obvious.
: But still, things are not good. Like most everyone here I get a little twinge of fear whenever I hear the news, especially when I hear any talk of "peace and security" (btw...is there really any other way to word this concept? I don't think so.)
Of course there is. Note how the NWT phrases the scripture (1 Thess. 5:3):
"Whenever it is that they are saying: 'Peace and security!' then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape."
The operative words here are "whenever", "suddenly" and "instantly". The Greek word hotan translated by the NWT as "whenever" can be translated as "while, then, when, whenever, as long as, as soon as", and so forth. The word translated as "suddenly" is not an issue. The word inserted by the NWT as "instantly" is not in the original Greek, but it can be argued to be understood to be there, although it is certainly not necessary, and in the case of the NWT it is there mainly because of prior doctrinal considerations.
So, while it is possible that the scripture means, "at the precise point in time that they begin to say, 'peace and security', destruction is to be instantly upon them", other meanings can be gotten, for example, by the way the NASB renders the passage:
"While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
Using "while" instead of "whenever", and not inserting "instantly", changes the meaning drastically. I think that the context supports the use of "while" over "whenever". Then the meaning is more like, "during a time when people are enjoying life and saying they have peace and security, destruction will come upon them suddenly and unexpectedly and take them unawares, just like when birth pangs unexpectedly come upon a pregnant woman." This interpretation is fully supported by Matthew 24:36-41, Mark 13:32-37 and Luke 21:34-36. The NWT's rendering creates conflicts with these passages.
: I've read "Signs of the Last Days -- When" by Carl Olof Jonsson. It's a good read, but not great; his Christian belief makes a secular understanding of the subject impossible.
Not at all. I'm as secular as they come and I think that Jonsson's arguments are dead on. Naturally, because a good deal of his audience is heavy duty Christian, and so is he, his orientation is Christian. But he has enough integrity and objectivity, checked by secularists like me, to not let his Christian views influence the secularly oriented parts of his work.
: Anybody have any thoughts on this matter from both a historical/scientific point of view
As above. I think that the historical/scientific view is very well presented by Jonsson, and have never read anything else that even comes close. However, you might read my essay "The WTS and the End of the World" here: http://www.geocities.com/osarsif/index2.htm which deals with some aspects of earthquakes beyond Jonsson's comments.
: as well as a psychological point of view?
There's a book called When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, which last time I looked was readily available in online book search places like www.bookfinder.com