God, Calvin, and Social Welfare - Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon May 01, 2006 at 07:42:27 PM EST
Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates (author info)
Left Behind It's hard for many Americans to understand how theological disagreements and beliefs about the Second Coming of Christ and the apocalyptic End Times can play a significant role in how people vote for public policies and political candidates. For many influenced by the Christian Right, however, theological and apocalyptic beliefs shape their political participation in profound ways.

The word apocalypse refers to the idea that there is an approaching confrontation between good and evil that will reveal hidden truths and forever transform society.
For Christians the Apocalypse involves the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is tied to a Biblical prophecy of a vast Battle of Armageddon where God triumphs over Satan and then decides which Christian souls are saved and rewarded with everlasting life.

In England, the Calvinist Puritans developed an "apocalyptic tradition [that] envisioned the ultimate sacralization of England as God's chosen nation" (Zakai, 7). This "chosen" nation would play a special role in the End Times, and was seen as fulfilling in some important way the Biblical prophecies in the book of Revelation.

Puritan settlers from England transferred this notion of a chosen nation to the New World colonies, where apocalyptic fervor and millennial expectation was common. If you think that time is running out, salvation--the saving of souls--takes on a central importance. After the United States was founded, these ideas were transformed into an aggressive variety of evangelizing to save souls for Christ before the final apocalyptic judgment that would send the unsaved to a fiery sulfurous lake called Hell.

From the pre-Revolutionary colonial period and up through the Civil War in the 1860s, most Protestants in the United States understood the timetable of the apocalyptic End Times prophesied in the Bible in a specific way called "postmillennialism." This meant that they believed that Jesus Christ would return only after Christians had converted enough people to establish a Godly Christian society purified and prepared for his triumphant arrival. This period was generally thought to last one thousand years or a lengthy period of time, and the word millennium refers to a thousand year span of time. Since Jesus was expected to return at the end of the millennium, the belief is known as postmillennialism.

According to Michael Northcott, the postmillennial apocalyptic view in America "involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a form of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a truly godly Kingdom" (Northcott, 42).

This could be interpreted in different ways. Social progress, especially in the framework of the Quakers and Unitarians, could be linked to the idea of preparing the kingdom on earth for the coming kingdom of God. In this progressive version of social welfare the focus is on changing social institutions. Another religious phenomenon, however, shifted the focus of social policies toward individual solutions as part of a theological split in Protestantism.

The Second Great Awakening, ran from the 1790s to the 1840s. Theologically, this involved "a vigorous emphasis on `sanctification,' often called `perfectionism'" (Martin, 4). Sin was seen as tied to selfishness. Good Christians should strive to behave in a way that benefited the public good. This in turn would transform and purify the society as a whole in anticipation of the coming Apocalypse. America was seen as a Christian Nation that would fulfill Biblical prophecy, but it was individuals--not society--that needed to seek perfection in the eyes of God.

According to Martin, the evangelical Protestants involved in the Second Great Awakening:

...were so convinced their efforts could ring in the millennium, a literal thousand years of peace and prosperity that would culminate in the glorious second advent of Christ, that they threw themselves into fervent campaigns to eradicate war, drunkenness, slavery, subjugation of women, poverty, prostitution, Sabbath-breaking, dueling, profanity, card-playing, and other impediments to a perfect society (Martin, 4).
These theological beliefs were widespread, and they influenced public policy. In the mid 1800s, Protestants seeking the abolition of slavery sang "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," and that line in the Battle Hymn of the Republic was a direct reference to the apocalyptic End Times. http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/b/h/bhymnotr.htm

Some of the aspects of this second evangelical revival were institutionalized into existing Protestant churches such as the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists; and these denominations grew even as they remained separate from the evangelical movement. Meanwhile, the Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists who directly opposed the evangelicals began to fade in importance (Hutson).

By the late 1800s, most of the major Protestant denominations (called "Mainline" denominations) had found some accommodation with the discoveries of science and secular civic arrangements such as the separation of church and state favored by Enlightenment values (Ammerman). In addition, by the beginning of the 20th century there was "a growing interest by churches in social service, often called the Social Gospel, [which] undercut evangelicalism's traditional emphasis on personal salvation" (Martin, 6). So there was a growing split between Christian evangelicals and Christians in the mainline Protestant denominations.

This split took several forms, including a disagreement over the timetable of the apocalyptic End Times. Most mainline Protestants remained tied in some way to postmillennialism, with its emphasis on social and political activism and a script that pushes the expected return of Christ into the future, or otherwise de-emphasizes actual date-setting. Many evangelicals, however, had embraced a form of apocalyptic belief called "premillennial dispensationalism." In this view of the End Times, Jesus returns before the millennium of the perfect utopian society under the rule of God.

The "dispensations" are epochs believed to be prophesied in the Bible, and most premillennial dispensationalists think we are approaching the last epoch or "dispensation" and therefore the End Times are at hand. Evangelical premillennialists look at worldly events and then scan the Bible's book of Revelation for "signs of the times," by which they mean signs of what they think are the approaching End Times. This means the Bible has to be read as a literal script of past, present, and future events; and it increases the urge to convert people to a "born again" form of Christianity and thus save souls before time literally runs out (Martin, 7-8.). These ideas became central to several groups of Protestants, today represented by denominations such as the Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God (Oldfield 1996, 14)

One way to read the book of Revelation is as a conspiracy theory in which Satan's agents attempt to build a collective one-world government and global religion in order to trick true Christians and prepare for the showdown between good and evil. Many evangelical and fundamentalist premillennialists concerned with the End Times looked at the burgeoning U.S. government apparatus under Roosevelt, the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism, and the United Nations as all part of the prophetic End Times Antichrist system (Oldfield 2004). In the same way, domestic social welfare policies that were built around collective institutional solutions rather than personal salvation not only promoted sin and sloth, but could also be framed as tied to Satan's End Times strategy.


Sources:
Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 1-65. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hutson, James. 1998. "Faith of Our Forefathers: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic," Information Bulletin, The Library of Congress, Vol. 57, No. 5, May. Online at http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9805/religion.html.

Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.

Northcott, Michael. 2004. An Angel Directs The Storm. Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire. London: I.B. Tauris.

Oldfield, Duane Murray. 1996. The Right and the Righteous: The Christian Right Confronts the Republican Party. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

___. 2004. "The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right's Influence and How to Counter It," Foreign Policy in Focus, Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, March, http://www.fpif.org/papers/2004evangelical.html

Zakai, Avihu. 1992. Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


On LaHaye:

by Chip Berlet

"Left Behind Video Reflects Bigoted Apocalyptic Violence of Original Fiction Series," (6/12/2006)

"LaHaye and Jenkins: Why is the Criticism Left Behind? "

The World According to Tim LaHaye: A Series
Part One: Hunting Down the Enemies
Part Two: Pre-Trib Perspectives
Part Three: Satanic Secular Humanism
Part Four: Secular Humanism as False Religion
Part Five: The Secular Humanist Web
Part Six: The Council for National Policy
Part Seven: Humanists Attack the Family
Part Eight: The Age Old Conspiracy


Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates


The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates

Chip's Blog




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Firstly, very good article--interestingly, premillenial dispensationalism seems to have been popularised primarily through the Scofield Reference Bible (which was used by the founders of pentecostalism, among others, and which is even the source of one of the longest-running "Apocalypse Urban Legends" (one which even predates the major promoters of it, the Assemblies of God and the neopentecostals, by a few years)--namely, that the Antichrist is the head of Russia and that "Gog and Magog" refer to the leader of Russia and to Russia itself respectively:
The Scofield Reference Bible taught the interpretative school of dispensationalism, and it was the chief vehicle by which this school of Bible interpretation became highly influential in the United States. Scofield's annotations to the Book of Ezekiel, ch. 38, prophesied that Russia would play a part in the Battle of Armageddon. This passage of Scofield's notes is illustrative of his interpretations and method:

That the primary reference is to the northern (European) powers, headed up by Russia, all agree. The whole passage should be read in connection with Zechariah 12:1-4; 14:1-9; Matthew 24:14-30; Revelation 14:14-20; 19:17-21, "gog" is the prince, "Magog," his land. The reference to Meshech and Tubal (Moscow and Tobolsk) is a clear mark of identification. Russia and the northern powers have been the latest persecutors of dispersed Israel, and it is congruous both with divine justice and with the covenants (e.g. "Genesis 15:18") See "Deuteronomy 30:3" that destruction should fall at the climax of the last mad attempt to exterminate the remnant of Israel in Jerusalem. The whole prophecy belongs to the yet future "day of Jehovah" ; Isaiah 2:10-22; Revelation 19:11-21 and to the battle of Armageddon Revelation 16:14 See "Revelation 19:19" but includes also the final revolt of the nations at the close of the kingdom-age. Revelation 20:7-9.

These and similar passages were a major source of Hal Lindsey's earlier prophecies. Scofield's extensive notes to the Book of Revelation are a major source of the various timetables, judgments, and plagues predicted by Lindsey's and other fundamentalists' computations of the end times. It was largely a result of the success of the Scofield Reference Bible that dispensationalism has largely displaced the Calvinist understanding of the Book of Revelation and Bible prophecy; it is a result of the success of dispensationalism that fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S.A. lays such a great stress on end-times speculation.


It should be noted, as an aside, these are notes from the 1909 and 1917 versions of the Scofield Reference Bible, and almost identical claims are STILL used by "end time" preachers in the Assemblies of God in claims that Russia is controlling the EU and/or United Nations and that the Russians going to war with Israel will spark Armageddon.  (Yes, that's right--the claim that Russia = Satanic started all the way back in the Tsarist period during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II--using the Russian progroms occuring during that time as justification for the claim--and has continued through the life of the USSR (in fact, the inventors of "dominion theology" incorporated anticommunism into their theology at the time and as early as the thirties were promoting the idea that communism = Satanism due to Russia being the largest Communist country; the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International used their theologically based anticommunism as a carte blanche to interfere with both US and international politics, occasionally with US backing) and is promoted even now in regards to post-Communist kleptocracy Russia.  (Disturbingly, several media reports have noted that US-Russian relationships--at an all time high before Dubya's election--have begun to deteriorate to the point that no less than Mikhail Gorbachev has given grave concern of the possibility of a new Cold War beginning.)

I've documented the general results of the major push towards apocalyptic thinking in the Assemblies and its descendent churches (including the neopentecostal movement) in a history of "Dominion" or "Restoration" theology within the pentecostal movement.  (This is particularly important because this is one of the primary justifications for dominionism in these churches, and in particular the concept of "dominion theology".)  Having been in the Assemblies myself, I can definitely vouch for Oldfield's commentary in his book in relation to apocalyptic thinking and premillenial dispensationalism.  

(In fact, one of the "waking nightmares" I STILL have that recurs--one that has not been helped one bit by the increasing tension with Iran over their nuclear program and whether it is in fact nuclear weaponisation--is actually a memory of a sermon in the church (which I walked away from later) during a point in the early 80's when relations between the US and USSR had soured considerably.  The preacher described in great detail how people would be raptured up--and then have a ringside seat to see the world be destroyed in literal nuclear hellfire seven years later when the Soviet Union would invade Israel via Iran and try to nuke Jerusalem, thus triggering a worldwide nuclear exchange.  He talked about how all the "saved" would be having a party in heaven, seeing the wicked burned alive in a thermonuclear holocaust that would devastate the planet and laughing at them over how they were so foolish and that they were finally "getting theirs" for attacking God's own.  "God's soldiers" would come down and finish off anyone else who hadn't been nuked (in Israel, at Megiddo Hill) (and then they'd get a "new heaven and new earth".)  The scariest thing I remember is that they were practically orgiastic over the concept of a world-destroying nuclear war, that they actually WANTED a nuclear war to happen because they wouldn't have to deal with all life being extinguished but could sit in heaven and LAUGH at people, and that they WANTED World War III to happen ASAP.  It still frightens and sickens me to know that, and I get really, really damned scared anymore knowing someome who's close friends with folks like that has his finger on the big red button that could launch a nuclear war.)

by dogemperor on Tue May 02, 2006 at 05:58:52 PM EST

Hi dogemperor,

I really appreciate the detailed commentary, and find the information in it very valuable for deepening my understanding of the issues.

For folks who want to see how the idea of Russia as playing a role in apocalyptic confrontation still reverberates today among apocalyptic evangelicals, just do an Internet search on the words "Russia" and "Magog."

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Wed May 03, 2006 at 06:13:26 PM EST
Parent


They have taken existing elements and rearranged them to suit their lack of an Armageddon. Oh they use the Great Commission to evangelize, but as part of a general long term military action till the entire earth not only has heard of of Jehovah, etc. But either believe (their version), convert to, are enslaved or are dead. It may be that they think they have 1,000 years (from which ever arbitrary time they designate) in which to do it. And if they don't then they lose in a big way. So they have every reason to have a global spanning military as we have right now. Empire to them is okay and God given, as is bloody warfare as holy rites and conquest is success of their militant evangelization.

Their time table is much longer than the usual End Times scenario. Still it means a dictatorship or harsher authoritarianism here and more brutal one abroad.

by Nightgaunt on Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 09:43:43 PM EST



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