Utopian fantasies have long transfixed the human race. Yet today a much rarer fantasy has become popular in the United States. Millions of Americans, the richest people in history, have a death wish. They are the new “Armageddonites,” fundamentalist evangelicals who have moved from forecasting Armageddon to actually trying to bring it about.
Most journalists find it difficult to take seriously that tens of millions of Americans, filled with fantasies of revenge and empowerment, long to leave a world they despise. These Armageddonites believe that they alone will get a quick, free pass when they are “raptured” to paradise, no good deeds necessary, not even a day of judgment. Ironically, they share this utopian fantasy with a group that they often castigate, namely fundamentalist Muslims who believe that dying in battle also means direct access to Heaven. For the Armageddonites, however, there are no waiting virgins, but they do agree with Muslims that there will be “no booze, no bars,” in the words of a popular Gaither Singers song.
These end-timers have great influence over the U.S. government’s foreign policy. They are thick with the Republican leadership. At a recent conference in Washington, congressional leader Roy Blunt, for example, has said that their work is “part of God’s plan.” At the same meeting, where speakers promoted attacking Iran, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay glorified “end times”. Indeed the Bush administration often consults with them on Mideast policies. The organizer of the conference, Rev. John Hagee, is often welcomed at the White House, although his ratings are among the lowest on integrity and transparency by Ministry Watch, which rates religious broadcasters. He raises millions of dollars from his campaign supporting Israeli settlements on the West Bank, including much for himself. Erstwhile presidential candidate Gary Bauer is on his Board of Directors. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also both expressed strong end-times beliefs.
American fundamentalists strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. They consistently support Israel’s hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign policy has turned much of the world against us, including most Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race.
The Beginning of End Times
The evangelical movement originally was not so “end times” focused. Rather, it was concerned with the “moral” decline inside America. The Armageddon theory started with the writings of a Scottish preacher, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). His ideas then spread to America with publication in 1917 of the Scofield Reference Bible, foretelling that the return of the Jews to Palestine would bring about the end times. The best-selling book of the 1970s, The Late, Great Planet Earth, further spread this message. The movement did not make a conscious effort to affect foreign policy until Jerry Falwell went to Jerusalem and the Left Behind books became best sellers.
Conservative Christian writer Gary North estimates the number of Armageddonites at about 20 million. Many of them have an ecstatic belief in the cleansing power of apocalyptic violence. They are among the more than 30% of Americans who believe that the world is soon coming to an end. Armageddonites may be a minority of the evangelicals, but they have vocal leaders and control 2,000 mostly fundamentalist religious radio stations.
Although little focused on in America, Armageddonites attract the attention of Muslims abroad. In 2004, for instance, I attended Qatar’s Fifth Conference on Democracy with Muslim leaders from all over the Arabian Gulf. There, the uncle of Jordan’s king devoted his whole speech to warning of the Armageddonites’ power over American foreign policy.
Armageddonite Foreign Policy
The beliefs of the Armageddon Lobby, also known as Dispensationalists, come from the Book of Revelation, which Martin Luther relegated to an appendix when he translated the Bible because its image of Christ was so contrary to the rest of the Bible. The Armageddonites worship a vengeful, killer-torturer Christ. They also frequently quote a biblical passage that God favors those who favor the Jews. But they only praise Jews who make war, not those who are peacemakers. For example, they vigorously opposed Israel’s murdered premier Yitzhak Rabin, who promoted the Oslo Peace Accords.
Based on this Biblical interpretation, the Armageddonites vehemently argue that America must protect Israel and encourage its settlements on the West Bank in order to help God fulfill His plans. The return of Jews to Palestine is central to the prophetic vision of the Armageddonites, who see it as a critical step toward the final battle, Armageddon, and the victory of the righteous over Satan’s minions. There are a couple internal inconsistencies with this prophecy, such as the presence of Christians already living in the Holy Land and the role of Jews in the final dispensation. In the first case, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other Religious Right leaders tried to pretend that Christians already in the Holy Land simply didn’t exist. As for Jews, they needed to become “born again” Christians to avoid God’s wrath (or, according to some Armageddonites, a separate Jewish covenant with God will gain them a separate Paradise).
Everyone else Buddhists, Muslims (of course), Hindus, atheists, and so on are then slated to die in the Tribulation that comes with Armageddon. As described in the bestselling Left Behind series, this time of human misery ends with Christ then ruling a paradise on earth for a thousand years.
Armageddonites know little about the outside world, which they think of as threatening and awash with Satanic temptations. They are big supporters of Bush’s “go it alone” foreign policies. For example, they love John Bolton. They were prime supporters for attacking Iraq. And, with very few exceptions, they were noticeably quiet about, if not supportive, of torturing prisoners of war (only with a new leadership did the National Association of Evangelicals finally condemn torture in May, 2007). Their support of the Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani shows that they consider aggressively prosecuting Mideast war (to help speed up the apocalypse) more important than the domestic programs of these socially liberal politicians.
On other foreign policy issues, they are violently against the pending Law of the Seas Treaty, indeed any treaty which possibly circumscribes U.S. power to go it alone. They want illegal immigrants expelled and oppose more immigration. They fear China’s growth. They despise Europeans for not being more warlike. The UN figures prominently in their fears, and the Left Behind books present its Secretary General as the Antichrist. Domestically, they strongly support the USA PATRIOT Act and all of President Bush’s actions, legal or illegal.
Armageddonites and Fascism
Author and former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges argues that worldview and reasoning of the Armageddonites tend toward fascism. In his book American Fascists, Hedges focuses on their obedience to leadership, their feelings of humiliation and victimhood, alienation, their support for authoritarian government, and their disinterestedness in constitutional limits on government power. Theirs was originally a defensive movement against the liberal democratic society, particularly abortion, school desegregation, and now globalization, which they saw as undermining their communities and families, their values, and livelihood. Their fundamentalism is very fulfilling and, Hedges writes, “they are terrified of losing this new, mystical world of signs, wonders and moral certitude, of returning to the old world of despair.”
Hedges, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, also shows that fundamentalists are quite selective. They don’t take the Bible literally when it comes to justifying slavery or that children who curse a parent are to be executed. The movement is also very masculine, giving poor men a path to re-establish their authority in what they perceive as an overly feminized culture. Images of Jesus often show Him with thick muscles, clutching a sword. Christian men are portrayed as powerful warriors.
The overwhelming power and warmongering of the Armageddonites has inspired some resistance from other fundamentalists, but they are a minority. Theologian Richard Fenn writes, “Silent complicity (by mainline churches) with apocalyptic rhetoric soon becomes collusion with plans for religiously inspired genocide.” Their death-wishing “religion” is actually anti-Christian and should be challenged openly by traditional Christians.
The next election will likely loosen their grip on the White House. However, their growing ties to the military industrial complex will remain. Exposure of their war wanting as a major threat to America and the world may well become as destructive for them as was the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s. But that will only happen if Americans become as concerned as foreign observers about the influence of the Armageddonites.