Economists are fond of calling environmental doomsayers’ bluffs by challenging them to invest in oil futures if they’re really afraid we’re going to run out of oil within the next few years. I’ve done this before (here, for example, is a Forbes article in which I discuss the challenges faced by Harold Camping’s declaration that the world would end at 6:00 PM Eastern on May 21, 2011). That more people don’t rush out and buy oil futures suggests to me not only that the end of oil isn’t nigh but that many of the doomsday prophets don’t even believe themselves deep down.

I got to thinking about this again while listening to the radio during my drive to lunch. I heard parts of a sermon about the end times, and during the fairly confident pronouncements about what would happen after the second coming of Christ, I started wondering whether we can get a solid understanding of the degree to which people hold to a strong version of (say) pre-tribulational dispensationalism by looking at how they approach asset markets.

Suppose you’re convinced that you have a better understanding of the End Times than most people. How can you profit from it? To take just one example, the rapture will lead to a sharp reduction in population (or not-so-sharp, depending on your convictions about who is truly saved) and, therefore, a reduction in demand for real estate of different kinds, like housing and houses of worship. Wikipedia claims that there are 2.1 billion adherents to Christianity in the world; assuming we’re all saved that means a rapture tomorrow will lead to a sudden 2.1 billion person drop in the population and, therefore, a big post-rapture reduction in housing prices.

We would see a similar reduction in prices for houses of worship. Should we see churches and individuals hustling to write up contracts that will give someone the right to their houses or houses of worship in the event of the rapture? Might those who are agnostic but perhaps holding that the probability of the rapture isn’t zero want to buy and sell options on different kinds of assets in order to ease the otherwise-rough life they can expect during the Tribulation?

If I care about my unbelieving friends and neighbors, would it not testify to the strength of my convictions if I short-sold sovereign debt on which default is more likely after the rapture with a stipulation that they enjoy the post-rapture windfall profits? There are churches and other organizations that are preparing rapture kids and Rapture Letters. What would Rapture Financial Instruments look like?