Imagining Satan (Part One)
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Mon Dec 04, 2006 at 09:56:53 PM EST

Modern Christian Right Print Culture
as an Apocalyptic Master Frame

by Dr. Brenda E. Brasher and Chip Berlet
Copyright 2004-2006, All rights reserved, crossposting online of this text is prohibited. Presented at the conference on Religion and the Culture of Print in America, Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America, University of Wisconsin-Madison, September 10-11, 2004
[Read Part Two] - [Read Part Three]
Within the subculture of the contemporary Christian Right, an entire genre of literature flourishes that suggests sinister conspiracies are behind high profile current events. One of the most popular contributions to this literary stream is a series of twelve books commonly referred to as the Left Behind series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Each book explores Christian apocalyptic themes and motifs via the fictional device of a modern setting.

Critics frequently dismiss this apocalyptic genre as "paranoid" and "kooky;" appealing only to people on the fringes of society.~1 Yet according to a 2003 survey, the core buyer of the Left Behind books is "female, married with children at home, average age 44, born again Christian, lives in the South, college graduate, attends church one or more times weekly."~2

Table 1

Readers of the Left Behind Series~3

    65% attend a non-mainline Christian church

    84% are born again Christians~4

    26% are Baptists

    64.7% learned of the series from a friend or relative

    60% have read seven or more books in the series

    70% gave the books as gifts

Every volume of the Left Behind series was on the New York Times' bestseller list for weeks. Christianity Today estimates that more than 60 million copies of the books were sold by the end 0f 2004.~5 The huge sales this literature has achieved, and its audience demographic, gives clear evidence that it has familiarized far more than Christian fundamentalist true believers with a modern take on apocalypticism.

The wise appeal of this series may in part be attributable to the fact that apocalyptic and conspiracist texts-fiction and non-fiction-are familiar rather than anything new. Apocalypticism and conspiracism exist as part of continuous historic subcultures at the margins of American society. At the same time, an apocalyptic frame so pervasive it frequently escapes attention has significantly influenced mainstream America.~6


There are two basic ideas behind apocalyptic thinking. One is that that things are not what they appear to be. The other is that there will be a day of reckoning in the future in a confrontation with cosmic significance. Beyond this basic structure, apocalypticism plays out in a number of different ways. Apocalyptic traditions trace back to "Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions, as well as secular belief systems. Apocalyptic themes permeate literature, art, and music in the United States, from Moby Dick to Dick Tracy to Tracy Chapman."~7

People awash in an apocalyptic mindset often believe that an approaching confrontation will be a "cataclysmic event" or a "transformation of epochal proportion." They also have a strong tendency to believe that they are among a select few who "have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations."~8 But their responses to this secret knowledge can differ widely. Some respond with optimism, hoping the apocalyptic moment will bring a positive-even utopian-change. Apocalyptic motifs have informed the mobilization strategy of oppressed group in America, from enslaved African Americans in the black church to the 1890 Lakota Ghost Dancers.

Others respond with pessimism, and anticipate a terminal doomsday, or a tumultuous period of chaos or violence. Wessinger argues certain types of apocalyptic millennialism generate a "radical dualism" that demonizes opponents.~9 The contemporary American Patriot movement exemplifies this response.~10

Still others expecting an apocalyptic confrontation remove themselves from society and passively await the expected transformation while turning inward for solace. The 19th century Millerites are one of the best examples of the latter in American history.

Academic discussions of the apocalyptic, millennial, and millenarian aspects of social movements have a lengthy pedigree.~11 As the Western calendar millennium neared, flurries of major studies expanded this corpus.~12 Many authors argue that apocalypticism is widespread throughout American popular culture...and has long ago escaped the confines of religious belief and moved into secular arenas.~13

The specific beliefs of Christian fundamentalists about the End Times inform their theology, and their interaction with secular political life.~14 Stewart and Harding found evidence of a significant amount of apocalyptic rhetoric across American society. Their key observation was that throughout the USA, "The term culture wars marks these polemic contests that have taken on the apocalyptic discourse of ultimate stakes and final solutions, promoting hyperbole and even panic." In their view, this reached "larger publics" in America that became "swept up in contemporary conflicts over rights, race, gender, and broad questions of politics and the public sphere."~15

Announcing the identity of the Antichrist (and other participants in the End Times drama prophesied in the Bible) is a popular American pastime; although the identities of the evil conspirators shift over time in a way that reflects current events and contemporary enemies of apocalyptic evangelicals and fundamentalists.~16 Boyer notes that writers have demonstrated "great ingenuity in giving the prophecies a contemporary twist,"~17 and that at one point, Mussolini was identified as a contender for Antichrist status.~18

The 1909 Scofield Reference Bible, (which popularized the version of Protestant premillennial theology called "dispensationalism"), identified Russia as one of the key participants in the End Times drama, and suggested Russia was called Gog in the biblical book of Revelation-an idea that gained favor after the Bolshevik Revolution as Christian anticommunism flourished.~19 Following the collapse of communism in Europe in the 1990s, the End Times battle was linked by some Christian evangelicals with Muslim countries, or with Arabs, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein.~20 In American history, apocalyptic authors have scripted the Gold Standard, the Federal Reserve, and income tax as the Devil's playthings. Scriptwriters for this eschatological drama include Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, Elizabeth Dilling, John Beatty, Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Robertson. Named as antagonists are anarchists, communists, Jews, civil rights "agitators," feminists, homosexuals, and Muslims. Apocalyptic prophecy beliefs in this genre frequently are woven into conspiracy theories.~21

Apocalypticism can also be found in extreme right and race hate groups, especially in the United States.~22 On the international scene, apocalyptic prophecy was used in the construction of the infamous early 20th century anti-Semitic hoax document, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.~23 German Nazism has been theorized as an apocalyptic millennial movement, as has the neonazi version of Christian Identity in the U.S.~24

End Part One

[Read Part Two] - [Read Part Three]

Dr. Brenda E. Brasher received her Ph.D. in Religion/Social Ethics (sociology emphasis), at the University of Southern California, in 1995. She is the author of Give Me That Online Religion (2nd edition), Rutgers University Press, 2004 (named a Top Ten Non-Fiction Book of 2001 by the Christian Science Monitor; and Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power, New Jersey, Routledge, 1998, (named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book). Brasher served as the Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism, Religion & Society series, New York, Routledge, 2001, which was a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2002. She was awared a Fulbright Scholar for field work in 2001-2002.

Chip Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates and co-author (with Matthew N. Lyons) of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, (New York: Guilford Press, 2000). He edited Eye’s Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, (Boston, South End Press, 1995). Both books were awarded a Gustavus Myers Award for outstanding scholarship on the subject of human rights and intolerance in North America. Berlet has also contributed to edited collections, scholarly journals, academic conferences, and popular periodicals ranging from the New York Times to the Progressive.


1 Michelle Goldberg, "Fundamentally Unsound," Salon, online journal, July 29, 2002,, accessed September 11, 2004. In her article, Michelle Goldberg is arguing that people should not dismiss the Left Behind audience as paranoid kooks.

2 Research findings from several surveys compiled at, accessed December 20, 2004.

3 Ibid.

4 "Born again" as defined by Barna Research for its surveys. Respondents must answer yes to the following question: "have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?" Then they must select the following statement about after-death outcomes: "when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior." See, accessed December 20, 2004.

5 Christianity Today, online special collection,, accessed December 20, 2004.

6 Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays (New York: Knopf, 1965); David Brion Davis, ed., The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the Present (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971); Frances FitzGerald, "The American Millennium." The New Yorker, November 11, 1985, 105-196; Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1992); Stephen D. O'Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Joel Kovel, Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anticommunism and the Making of America (New York, Basic Books, 1994); Lee Quinby, Anti-Apocalypse: Exercises in Genealogical Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); Charles B. Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994); Robert C. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Philip Lamy, Millennium Rage: Survivalists, White Supremacists, and the Doomsday Prophecy (New York: Plenum, 1996); Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000).

7 Chip Berlet, "Apocalypse," in Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism, ed. Brenda E. Brasher (New York: Routledge, 2001).

8 _____, "Apocalypse." in Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, ed. Richard A. Landes, (New York: Routledge, 2000).

9 Catherine Wessinger, introduction to Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, ed. Wessinger (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 15, text and footnote 15.

10 Lamy, Millennium Rage; Richard Abanes, American Militias: Rebellion, Racism & Religion (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996); Sarah Elizabeth Mahan, A Dramatistic Analysis of the Video Rhetoric of the Militia of Montana, Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio University, 1997; John Keith Akins, God, Guns, and Guts: Religion and Violence in Florida Militias," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida, 1998.

11 Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded, (New York: Oxford University Press, [1957] 1970); _____, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia, second, augmented, edition, (New York: Schocken Books, [1957] 1968); David Aberle, The Peyote Religion Among the Navaho, (Chicago: Aldine, [1966] 1982), 315-317; _____ "A Note on Relative Deprivation Theory as Applied to Millenarian and Other Cult Movements," in Millennial Dreams in Action: Studies in Revolutionary Movements, ed. Sylvia Thrupp, 209-214, (New York: Schocken Books, 1970); Michael Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974). See also titles in footnote 6.

12 Richard K. Fenn, The End of Time: Religion, Ritual, and the Forging of the Soul (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1997); Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer, eds., Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements (New York: Routledge, 1997); Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn, eds., The Year 2000: Essays on the End (New York: New York University Press, 1997); David S. Katz and Richard H. Popkin, Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Wessinger, ed., Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence, (2000).

13 FitzGerald, "The American Millennium;" Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Vintage, 1996); Lee Quinby, Anti-Apocalypse; _____, Millennial Seduction: A Skeptic Confronts Apocalyptic Culture (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999); Brenda E. Brasher "From Revelation to The X-Files: An Autopsy of Millennialism in American Popular Culture," Semeia Vol. 82 (Summer 2000): 281-95.

14 George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1980] 1982); _____ Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991); Nancy T. Ammerman, "North American Protestant Fundamentalism," in Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, ed., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991); Susan Harding, "Imagining the Last Days: The Politics of Apocalyptic Language," in Accounting for Fundamentalisms, The Fundamentalism Project 4, ed., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994); Lee Quinby, "Coercive Purity: The Dangerous Promise of Apocalyptic Masculinity," in The Year 2000, ed. Strozier and Flynn (1997), 154-165; O'Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse (1994); Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount (New York: The Free Press, 2000); Brenda E. Brasher "When Your Friend is Your Enemy: American Christian Fundamentalists and Israel at the New Millennium," in Millennial Visions: Essays on Twentieth-Century Millenarianism, ed. Martha F. Lee (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001).

15 Kathleen Stewart and Susan Harding, "Bad Endings: American Apocalypsis, Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1999): 285-310; quote from 300.

16 Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More; Fuller, Naming the Antichrist.

17 Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, 333.

18 Ibid. 108

19 Ibid. 152-180.

20 See, for example, Charles H. Dyer, The Rise of Babylon: Is Iraq at the Center of the Final Drama? (Chicago: Moody Publishers, [1991] 2003); Michael D. Evans, Beyond Iraq: The Next Move (Ancient Prophecy and Modern Conspiracy Collide) (Lakeland, Fla.: White Stone Books, 2003); Mark Hitchcock, The Second Coming of Babylon (Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah Publishers, 2003).

21 Chip Berlet, "Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism," The Public Eye 12:2 & 3, (Fall 1998), double issue, revised version available online at; Robert Alan Goldberg, Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001); Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Berkeley: Univ. of California, 2003).

22 Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997); Kathleen M. Blee, "Racist Activism and Apocalyptic/Millennial Thinking," Journal of Millennial Studies 2:1 (Summer 1999), Special Issue on Engendering the Millennium, online version accessed July 4, 2004.

23 Nilus, Sergei A. 1905. The Big in the Small: Antichrist as a Near Political Possibility (Notes of an Orthodox Person. Russia (details unclear). A version of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion]. The full Protocols first appeared as an appendix to this polemic by Nilus. See Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (London: Serif, [1967] 1996).

24 James M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution, (Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1980); Robert Ellwood, "Nazism as a Millennialist Movement," in Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence, ed. Wessinger, 241-260; Chip Berlet, "Christian Identity: The Apocalyptic Style, Political Religion, Palingenesis and Neo-fascism," Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions, 5:3 (Winter 2004): 469-506.

[Read Part Two] - [Read Part Three]

This paper, as it unfolds, is a great resource for serious study of the idea of dualistic apocalypticism behind the Left Behind fiction series and the video game.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
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Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (374 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (195 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (110 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (101 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (113 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (144 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (126 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (118 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (250 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (64 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (161 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (176 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (59 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (65 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (218 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (253 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (107 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (211 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (164 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (163 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (169 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (156 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (130 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (327 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (148 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (90 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (213 comments)

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