Twice I wrote articles mocking Democrats for pursuing purely political messiahs. (Last week and two years ago.) But I also pointed out both times that Republicans had their own ideological sin, too. And it’s apocalyptic. They are obsessed with ending the world when the focus should be on fixing the world.
(As Flow editor James Robison said, “You weren’t put here to get out of here!”)
Religious Republicans and the Return of Christ
Religion is the most obvious register in which the right does this. All (Orthodox) Christians await the return of Christ. There are dozens of them (at least) references to the second coming in the New Testament. It is also an article of faith in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.
For many conservative Christians, establishing an eschatological calendar has become a cottage industry. Googling “the Second Coming” yields almost seven billion shots. (Although Google Anti-Christian presents it, rather comically, with information about Yeats’ poem of the same name.) Books, movies and even entire television ministries (here’s a notable example) are based on the study of this subject.
Additionally, in recent decades, a whole subset of writings blending Muslim motifs into the book of Revelation has developed. (I first noticed this in my 2001 doctoral dissertation on Islamic eschatology.) This approach has greatly influenced conservative policy, especially with regard to both Israel and Iran. And it has both non-fiction and fiction sides.
The Books of Joel
Perhaps the most famous of the Old Kingdom was Joel Richardson, especially with his The Islamic Antichrist. This argues that the Mahdi of Islam will be the Antichrist of the New Testament. richardson wrote several other books and has a substantial following in the evangelical world. Quite impressive for a self-taught non-expert.
In terms of fiction, another Joel, this one named Rosenberg, leads the peloton. His The twelfth imam series postulates that this messianic figure actually appears in Iran – only he is not sent by God. Rosenberg worked for Rush Limbaugh and several Israeli politicians. On the contrary, he is even more influential than Richardson, because his bio makes it pretty clear.
An evangelical GOP?
I could give other examples, but you understand. Evangelical Christianity is the epicenter of American interest in the end of the world. Evangelical Protestants are a quarter of all American Christians. And they make up nearly half of the Republican Party. So it’s clear that the religious right’s passion for Daniel and Revelation (kicked up a notch with some Islamic spice) hasn’t been limited to churches.
A glaring example: Republicans overwhelmingly support Israel, while few Democrats do. Does anyone doubt that evangelical support for the Jewish people influenced Republicans in the political arena? Many, if not most, do it because they think The Abrahamic covenant still applies. Fewer, although there are still a few, are pro-Israel because the return of Jews to the Holy Land and the eventual rebuilding of the Temple could hasten the return of Christ. This has been called “Christian Zionism”. His influence, although real, is exaggerated, Nevertheless. Of course, many conservatives also support Israel because it is pro-American and democratic. But the religious element is undeniable.
What about the Roman Catholic apocalyptic?
The second largest contingent of Christians in the United States (although the largest in the world) is made up of Catholics. One-fifth of all American Christians belong to the Church of Rome. Like most other Christians (Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran in particular), they are officially amillennials — meaning they don’t necessarily believe the same thing as evangelical Protestants about the end times. (Although we are still looking for the Second Coming, according to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.)
Yes, the Catholic Church has its own prophecies of the end – some of them going back centuries, like that of Saint-Malachie from the 12th century, which predicts that Francis could be the last pope before the Apocalypse. However, Catholics are distributed more evenly between the two parties and, on average, more liberal than Evangelical Protestants. And they are much less obsessed with the end of the world.
Politics and culture have become Bizarro World
Not all Conservative/Republican apocalyptic sadness is religious. Some are strictly political and cultural. (Insofar as the religious and politico-cultural domains can be separated.) January 6 insurgents malcontents saw the 2020 presidential election stolen – and not without reason. If it can happen once, it can happen again. And it’s unlikely to ever benefit Republicans. Moreover, the US government’s intelligence and security agencies have been weaponized against its own citizens – conservatives, that is.
These events may not mark the end of the world, but they will certainly mark the end of the American Republic as we have known it, if not reversed. In the culture, what was frowned upon a few years ago is not only tolerated but now ordered to be celebrated. Men can have babies. Women can have penises. Math is white racism. White supremacy is the greatest terrorist threat. If not climate change. “pride month” just started, in which everyone is supposed to celebrate a lifestyle that the Bible (and not just the Old Testament) clearly condemns as a sinner. Etc, nausea.
Apple trees, not apocalypse
Just as Democrats must give up their yearning for a political messiah, Republicans — especially Christians — should backtrack on, if not abandon, their fixation on The End.
To confess the return of Christ is to stand squarely in the apostolic tradition. Adding ‘when’ to the promise of His coming is warned in Scripture…. Let’s focus instead on being ready (Orthodox Study Bible, p. 1647).
What is the best way to be ready for Christ? Live like his disciples. Fulfill His promise of the Kingdom. Practice charity and mercy in this life. Feed the poor. Dress the nude. Visit those who are in prison. Make our faith public, not just hide it under a basket.
Martin Luther thought the world could end in his lifetime, but he still wrote and preached cons trying to calculate a specific date. In fact, his view of eschatology can be summed up in a perhaps apocryphal (pun intended) quote: “even if I knew tomorrow the world would collapse, I would still plant my apple tree”.
The apple trees prevail each time over the apocalyptic angst.
Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World, and African History from The Ohio State University and a Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary. He is a former US Army Arabic linguist and later a civilian consultant to US Special Operations Command. He is the author of works on the Middle East and Middle-earth, professor of history and sometimes media opinionator (as, for example, on Fox News Channel War Stories: Fighting the Islamic State).