In the most recent Thursday Next book by Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot, there is an interesting plot device that I keep thinking about, years after I read the book. It is the anti-smite shield.
In the book, the anti-smite shield is "the primary defense against God's planned cleansings of the sinful" (p. 9). The shield was originally planned for its foolish needlessness to alleviate the stupidity surplus (a dangerously-high amount of stupidity that had built up thanks to the government's sensible programs and actions), but then "the Almighty had decided to reveal Himself and, in a spate of Old Testamentism not seen for over two millennia, began to punish mankind for its many transgressions" (p. 42). This makes the shield needed, so it is no longer a stupidity release valve, and it makes the question of whether or not it works vitally important.
Why do I keep thinking about this? Because I think the entire anti-smite shield storyline is probably a pretty accurate outline of how the end of the world will work.
First, God starts smiting people more directly than ever before. Why? Well, Thursday's brother Joffy has created the church of the Global Standard Deity (GSD), ending inter-sectarian strife through logical argument. Aside from merely ending religious war, "the other big plus of Global Religious Unification was for collective-bargaining powers. Before, dialogue with the Almighty was unclear.... [F]ollowing unification the GSD was in a strong position to ask clear and unambiguous questions of the Almighty" (p. 76). People forgetting their place and trying to negotiate with God as equals angers Him and He begins smiting the world. But instead of random smitings, which could be misconstrued, God "announced the smiting to a state-registered Meek Person" (p. 74). Everyone in Swindon knows that "the Almighty would lay the center of Swindon to waste in an all-consuming fire next Friday" (p. 6).
Not only do the people know the smitings are from God, but they know why the smitings are happening. God is "a clearly disgruntled deity, eager to show His wayward creations the error of their ways" (p. 6). But instead of changing their recognizably-wayward ways, people just seek to manipulate the circumstances. They plan to use terrible criminals as "smite bait" (p. 222) to redirect the smiting away from downtown. Those who think this is inhumane plan to use a "strategically placed righteous man" (p. 224) to save the criminals. So instead of repenting, they just want to move around good and bad people.
The city has produced a pamphlet entitled Vengeful Cleansing by a Wrathful Deity and You which contains safety tips (p. 6), not repentance tips. They know there's a God and He has a will. "Since His Revealment He's kind of ditched the idea of subtle signs or obscure laws" (p. 75). The founder of the world's only religion presents things this way: "'We're in talks with the Almighty to bring Him to the negotiating table,' said Joffy, 'but we're not prepared to talk until He agrees to stop incinerating the unrighteous in an all-consuming column of cleansing fire'" (p. 76). Joffy recognizes that the "unrighteous" are who gets incinerated, but instead of changing the righteousness level of the unrighteous, he's attempt for force God to the negotiating table.
What kind of human action would cause God to declare "that's a wrap" on humanity? Well, the Book of Enoch (pseudepigrapha for the win!) says that heaven is full of angels begging God for the chance to destroy sinful man, but God in His mercy will hold them back until He has incontrovertible evidence that man is uninterested in being saved from destruction. Evidence like, say, constructing anti-smite shields and moving around terrible criminals and stategically-placed righteous men instead of complying with God's commandments. To make it incontrovertible, too, the commandments would need to be universally recognized as the will of God instead of "faith traditions" created by ancient men who didn't understand invisible forces like gravity and magnetism so they made up stories about unseen beings. Once God is "done with ambiguity" (p. 75) and people still refuse to comply with His will, then there's nothing left to do but tear it down. While probably not Jasper Fforde's intent, I think he's given us in The Woman Who Died a Lot a pretty good blueprint for the end of the world.