An approaching confrontation that will change the nature of society and history
Launching from Sarah Palin's church history, Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates offers a very good essay on engaging Christian conservatives is positive dialog. He provides a nicely concise explanation of the various themes of "apocalypticism" and how these different views inform people politically.
In just a few paragraphs he lays out the different motivations between "postmillennialism" and "premillennialism" and describes what is meant by the terms "Christian Reconstruction" and "Dominion Theology".
"Well, it turns out that premillennialists as a major force in Christian evangelicalism are a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout the history of Christianity, this has not been the major mode of thinking about the End Times, and the study of the End Times, which is called eschatology. What is it that gets these premillennialists back into the voting booths and back into political activism?
There are a couple things. One is that throughout history we have to understand that Christian participation in the political process is nothing new. If you are looking at apocalyptic forms of Christian evangelical behavior, or Christian activism, you can look at the abolition movement; you can look at "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" which is an apocalyptic anthem: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." That's the Apocalypse.
You can look at the Temperance Movement; and you can look at all sorts of periods where this kind of Christian activism has had a very progressive outcome. And, of course, the most obvious example would be in terms of Frederick Douglass and the abolition movement using apocalyptic language. But Martin Luther King Jr. also used apocalyptic language, and he used it for good to talk about speaking truth to power, to confront injustice so that there would be a very different world that followed. <.....>
Apocalypticism, explains Berlet, can lead to positive change by confronting injustices, but it can also be used to demonize others. "What I want to deal with today is the different interpretations of biblical prophecy, and how they can be framed and reframed to achieve very different political ends."
This is to say, then, that apocalypticism, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. Apocalypticism tied to demonization and dualism generally has a bad outcome. " <....>
"If that is the setup, you are creating a way of viewing the world that is completely dualistic. There is a good us, and we're with God; there is a bad them, and they're with the devil. And this creates a dynamic that is profoundly antidemocratic because where do you then get into a compromise and a debate with people who are working with the devil? What's the compromise?" <....>"
This is a very powerful argument. And so let's look at apocalyptic dualism, this particular reading of the book of Revelation in which we think that there is a conspiracy of political and religious figures in the End Times, and they are out to destroy America through this thing called secular humanism.
What is the evidence of this? Well, the evidence of secular humanism as part of the satanic plot domestically is abortion rights, gay rights, the feminist movement, any kind of acceptance of non-Christian religion. All of this is evidence, in domestic policy, of satanic attempts to destroy America. And this plot involves sending community organizers across America to stir up trouble and overturn tradition, family, and property rights."
Berlet continues with a brief historical overview of how voters came to be engaged through the manipulation of powerful ideas.
"This is a very powerful argument. And so let's look at apocalyptic dualism, this particular reading of the book of Revelation in which we think that there is a conspiracy of political and religious figures in the End Times, and they are out to destroy America through this thing called secular humanism.
What is the evidence of this? Well, the evidence of secular humanism as part of the satanic plot domestically is abortion rights, gay rights, the feminist movement, any kind of acceptance of non-Christian religion. All of this is evidence, in domestic policy, of satanic attempts to destroy America. And this plot involves sending community organizers across America to stir up trouble and overturn tradition, family, and property rights. (Oooooh, those community organizers we are to sneer at?)
"In foreign policy what is it? According to Midnight Call magazine, not only are abortion and the feminist movement and gay rights all signs of the End Times, and part of the satanic end-times plan to betray Christianity, but they imply strongly, and sometimes state outright, that The Antichrist is part of the system that is building world cooperation through the United Nations and other groups. They specifically think that the one-world religion of the Antichrist is probably Islam. Now, this provides a tremendous motivation for the so-called "war on terror." Because this is not just a war on terror, it is a war on the satanic religion of Islam.
I would think in a civilized society this would be recognized as outrageous religious bigotry, and the fact that it is not being condemned is terrifying to me." <.....> (Me too!)
"Now, Dominionism ranges across a lot of different views. There are the pretribulation perspectives that demonize Islam. There is Christian Reconstructionism, which is kind of Calvinism on crack. And, at the same time, there are soft Dominionists. There are people who think a Christian nation is a good idea, but they are not really prepared to move toward theocracy. So we need to say there is a range of beliefs.
For some Christian Dominionists it is like triumphal hardball politics with a caffeine buzz, and that is really different from the Reconstructionists. So we need to be able to see the differentiation, to see the arguments that are going on, to be able to talk to those people who make up most Christians in America. These are people who are uncomfortable with a secular society but who are also deeply uncomfortable with the demonization and scapegoating that they hear on the Christian Right. "
Chip includes a plea for the use of less divisive language, of ceasing to use terms like "lunatic fringe" and "religious extremists", and some might accuse me of being guilty of that. While I do describe certain types of beliefs like Wahhabi Islam (Taliban) and it's western counterpart Christian Reconstructionsim and Last Days concepts as "extreme" and "fringe", I do not label your regular Christian conservative as such.
I've said it before here, religion is like anything, it can be done well and it can be done poorly, and any beleif system that demonizes others is religion done poorly regardless of faith tradition. Any religion that creates love is done well. I believe there is an unwillingness among Christians to see the log in their own eye and are too willing to give a silent pass to those that preach hate and use the language of warfare. I believe this is how such a minority Christian perspective has gained such political power. Mostly I think there is a deep lack of understanding on the variaties of theological perspective, and how those perspectives lead to political involvement.
Chip concludes in a similar way, although I blame less the media than our own lack of inquisitiveness. We should talk about religion and politics - even at polite cocktail parties.
"I know it's hard to say "apocalypticism," but this is very important stuff. And I think the media has done a gross disservice to America by not probing the depths of these religious beliefs and where they lead different people. I think that if democracy is informed consent, then the media has not informed us. And our consent is no longer informed -- it is misinformed."