Revolution and Revelations

by John Quiggin on September 30, 2004

John Holbo’s post on apocalyptic Christianity and its political implications raises a couple of questions I’ve been wondering about for a while.

The first one relates to my memories of the late 1960s, when most people of my acquaintance gave at least some credence to the belief that there would be a revolution of some kind, sometime soon. At about the same time, I encountered the Revelations-based eschatology of people like Hal Lindsey. Thirty years later, there’s been no revolution, and I don’t know of anyone who seriously expects one. As I recollect, belief in the possibility of a revolution had pretty much disappeared by 1980.

Revelations-based prophecies have similarly failed time after time, but they seem to be more popular than ever. What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation? I assume there’s heaps of research on this kind of thing, but I hope to get readers to point me to the good stuff.

The second point is that, as can be seen from Lindsey’s site, he and other apocalyptic Christians have strong political views, which could broadly be summarised as favouring a vigorous military response to Antichrist (variously identified with the Soviet Union, the UN and so on). How does this work? Do they think that another six armoured divisions could turn the tide at Armageddon? If so, wouldn’t this prevent the arrival of the Millennium and the Day of Judgement[1]?

And how does all this affect believers in rapture? Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

fn1. There’s a genre of horror movies (The Omen, The Final Conflict and so on) that takes pretty much this premise.

{ 50 comments }

1

Ayjay 09.30.04 at 3:02 am

Two questions:

1) Why do so many people think there’s a book of the Bible named Revelations?

2) Is there any empirical evidence for the belief that “Revelations [sic] – based prophecies seem to be more popular than ever”? I think that claim is almost certainly false; it is undoubtedly the case that Hal Lindsay is far less popular and influential than he was in the 1970s. Perhaps John has been misled by the success of the Left Behind books into assuming that people who read such novels always, or even usually, agree with their eschatology. Strange to say, millions of people have read the Left Behind series not because they agree with the theology but because they believe them to be really good books. Tragic but true.

2

Ayjay 09.30.04 at 3:15 am

Also, as far as I can tell, no adherent of the Lindsay/LaHaye eschatology thinks that there is any doubt about the outcome of the Battle of Armageddon. But some of them would like to hasten the arrival of that battle, because that would hasten the Second Coming, and would put an end more quickly to evil. Something like that.

Anyone who really wants to understand this stuff, and where it comes from, should read Paul Boyer’s terrific book When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture.

3

Kieran Healy 09.30.04 at 3:16 am

For the history, Norman Cohn’s “The Pursuit of the Millenium”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195004566/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ is the book to read. For the social psychology, see Leon Festinger’s “When Prophecy Fails”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0061311324/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ and the “End of the World” sketch from “Beyond the Fringe”:http://www.guardianoffers.co.uk/mall/productpage.cfm/Guardian/nmpwmbf1/33176. (“Same time next week then?” “We’ll have to get it right sooner or later.”) Paul Boyer’s “When Time Shall Be No More”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674951298/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ is about the culture of American end-times prophecy. Boyer’s a historian, I think. I don’t know of a sociology of these ideas — Festinger’s focus was on what happens when the apocalyptic prophecies of small groups fail to come to pass, but this can’t provide a satisfying explanation of what makes this point of few stick. Nancy Ammerman’s “Bible Believers”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/081351231X/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ looks at fundamentalists in general, but that’s a broader category than the end-times crowd. I’ll have to ask my Soc of Religion friends if the field has a standard theory of these guys.

4

BenA 09.30.04 at 3:20 am

There’s a good history of pre-millenialist Christianity in American culture since World War II called When Time Shall Be No More by Paul Boyer. It’s about a decade old, so it’s a little out of date, but it covers the ’40s through the ’80s very well, as well as touching on the earlier history of premillenialism in the U.S. Boyer does a very good job of suggesting why this belief system is so popular, despite all the failures of prophecy.

5

Ayjay 09.30.04 at 3:27 am

Ha! I recommended Boyer FIRST.

6

John Quiggin 09.30.04 at 3:37 am

As you can see, ayjay, on this topic, I only know what I read in the papers or in the Internet. The last time I actually read the Bible from one end to the other, this chapter was called “The Revelation to John”, but Google gives only 4000 hits for this, vs 30,000 for “Book of Revelations”, and there seem to be a bunch of other candidates as well. So I plumped for Revelations.

7

Kieran Healy 09.30.04 at 3:43 am

Ha! I recommended Boyer FIRST.

But I’m the one who’ll get a tiny commision when JQ 8

Jeremy Osner 09.30.04 at 3:48 am

“arrange for unsaved neighbors to feed the cat” — fantastic!

9

Marc Valdez 09.30.04 at 3:51 am

Hal Lindsey is having his greatest impact right now on U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Second Coming isn’t forecast to happen until Al Aqsa is removed and the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt. The inclination of True Believers is to let Ariel Sharon have carte blanche, in the hope of moving that process along. Sharon has been very skillful in using American deference to place the Palestinians on the defensive, possibly ushering in an era of relative political stability, with the construction of the Wall and the collapse of the intifada. Not bad for the Israelis, but a big blow to the Palestinians.

10

Ayjay 09.30.04 at 4:04 am

But I’m the one who’ll get a tiny commision when JQ buys it from Amazon.

Yeah, I’ve got to find a way into that racket. A nickel here and a nickel there, and pretty soon you’ve got a dime.

And John: I understand your dilemma, which is why I wondered not why you got it wrong but why “so many people” do. It’s a strangely common error.

11

Dan Goodman 09.30.04 at 4:05 am

Some Greens and some survivalists expect the breakdown of civilization as we know it. Some advocates of settling space say it’s the only way to ensure that humans survive if something really bad happens to Earth.

And you probably know about The Turner Diaries: a novel which begins with opposition to Senator Cohen’s gun control bill, and ends happily with genuine white people in full control of what’s left of the world.

12

Jim Flannery 09.30.04 at 4:55 am

Darn, Kieran beat me to mentioning When Prophecy Fails … I’m pretty sure this book was the first use of the phrase “cognitive dissonance” so its time is now.

One thing I’ve always wondered: was Festinger’s UFO cult the basis for the one in the second half of P.K. Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist? The similarities seem too close for mere zeitgeist …

13

Adam Kotsko 09.30.04 at 5:09 am

Okay, honestly — apocalyptic Christianity and Christianity are the same thing. Jesus thought the end was near. Paul thought Jesus was coming back within his lifetime. The fact that Christianity gets domesticated most of the time does not keep the apocalyptic aspect from breaking out again — in fact, the domestication of Christianity is a big part of why the apocalyptic beliefs keep on not dying out, even after 2000 years of empirical evidence (i.e., in situations where everyone or most people are Christians, some people are bound to notice those crazy apocalyptic ideas in the Bible and run with them [and they are actually there — it’s not simply a misinterpretation] and they’re bound to attract followers who feel like finally someone’s taking this Christian thing seriously).

This is not a fixable problem unless you just want to get rid of Christianity altogether.

14

Warbaby 09.30.04 at 5:52 am

Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States Sara Diamond (New York: The Guilford Press, 1995) is the most current book — and it directly addresses the political aspects.

The underlying politics of apocalyptic Xtian ideology probably has much more to do with spreading popularity of the beliefs than anything else.

Fredrick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997 has been highly recommended, though I haven’t read it myself. Fred’s work on the Christian Right fills in areas where Sara hasn’t.

15

Jim Harrison 09.30.04 at 5:58 am

I’m the guy who chirps up to point out that religions don’t have bones. Since they are not based on reality but consensus, they are never more or less than whatever their believers decide they ought to be. In particular, the end of the world stuff is quite optional to Christianity and in many periods of church history has been largely ignored. What people end up believing is hard to predict, but it’s a good bet a lot of them will claim that whatever it is is the true meaning of Christianity.

16

Andrew Boucher 09.30.04 at 6:15 am

I thought belief in the possibility of a revolution continued into the Reagan years. e.g. Tracy Chapman’s “Talk about a Revolution” is copyrighted 1982. (But maybe she wrote it sooner?)

17

BenA 09.30.04 at 6:27 am

Ha! I recommended Boyer FIRST.

“The last shall be first…” (Matt. 20:16)

18

ruralsaturday 09.30.04 at 8:44 am

There’s a butterfly called the Viceroy that pretty accurately mimics the Monarch’s color-and wing-shape.
The Monarch is poisonous – the Viceroy isn’t. The Monarch evolved bright markings to warn predators away. Not only does truth have nothing to do with the outcome, the dishonesty, the lack of truth, the camoflage is paramount.
The educational system most of us spent our lives in until adulthood instills a sense of the primacy of accurate logical thought. But madness can be every bit as powerful, every bit as organized, and every bit as victorious as sanity.
The tacit assumption of the human race rising from a swamp of ignorance is the result of that misconception, that madness, or delusion or illogic, is always a detriment. But it seems likely that we haven’t risen steadily up from some dark origin, but have fallen repeatedly into chaos and anarchic unknowing, and struggled to rise again each time.
In the artificial environments of human-controlled landscape the mad, the illogical, the delusional should be inferior, the rules say they should, most of us have been rewarded all through school and in our working lives for good sense and pragmatic realism, so we expect the world itself to follow suit.
This has its parallel in the sense many people have of moral behavior being an evolutionary advantage.
George Bush, and a great portion of his congregation, is a vibrant refutation of that sense of logical order, though a cynical case could be made for just the opposite position, in his case personally.
As late as a year ago Crooked Timber showed clearly the majority academic disdain for fundamentalist beliefs, as though they were trivial, amusing, only important because they kept showing up in mass media.
I see this image, some ancient priest with a table of the solar eclipses, promising the people he’ll darken the sun; they scoff – he does – everything changes.
Carl Zimmer’s The Loom has a post up about the common ancestor we all share, living his or her life 2,300 years ago.
That would be a very important life I’m thinking, to us.
Enough to build a religion around, if you could.

19

Andrew Brown 09.30.04 at 8:50 am

1) the way to think of religious beliefs is like genomes: the cell can fetch from the genome a wide variety of resources to deal with different conditions in the outside world. So apocalypticism is dormant in Christianity, but available as a resource in times of great anxiety.

2) a good book no one has mentinoned here is Damian Thompson’s “The end of Time”, available, I see, used or new from Amazon for 38 cents. So I won’t bother touting for a commission.

Damian is very good at the fun aspects of apocalyptic belief. He regards it as something like an interest in celebrity journalism — something that spices up life for the believers without really impinging on their quotidian decisions. He has another book coming out, based on a PhD thesis on what happened to a particular London pentecostal sect in 2000-2001, when the world conspicuously failed to end at the millennium.

20

mona 09.30.04 at 8:58 am

“Okay, honestly — apocalyptic Christianity and Christianity are the same thing. “

In part, yes, in the metaphoric, original sense of apocalypse as mystical revelation, it’s not even an exclusively Christian thing, most religions define themselves as mystical, prophetic revelations.

But it’s not true in respect to literal and fanatical beliefs of end of the world prophecies, this “rapture” trend John is talking about. That is pretty much an exclusively American thing, today, at least within a western context of Christianity. Also, it’s more of an Anglo-Protestant thing, you don’t get this obsessive literal reading of the Apocalypse in mainstream Catholicism, for instance.

I think that particular trend has more to do with certain aspects of American history, politics and culture, rather than Christianity as a whole. Especially when it comes to the marketing success of those apocalyptic book series.

21

bad Jim 09.30.04 at 9:28 am

You can still find old leftists, even in the U.S., looking forward to a general strike. That particular strain is with us still. The universality of frustration and impatience guarantees that this sort of thinking will never go away.

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then
Remold it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

22

ajay 09.30.04 at 9:51 am

A Christian who believed in the Rapture, etc., should logically vote for the less Christian presidential candidate on offer (as long as he is reasonably competent, etc). The only exception would be if a (Rapture-believing) Christian presidential candidate has a non-RB-Christian (but competent) VP candidate. Here’s why:
Come the Rapture, which our voter expects any day now, he, and all RB-Christians, will be whisked up to heaven and be generally OK. Meanwhile, all non-RB-Christians will be stuck on earth – not damned, but fated to suffer the rise of Antichrist, and all manner of other unpleasant stuff.
Although our voter will himself be OK, he should pity his less godly fellows. If the President has been raptured, they will be left without leadership in an extremely difficult time; if, on the other hand, he hasn’t, he will at least be around to organise emergency aid, civil defence against the swarms of locusts which bite like adders and sting like scorpions, and so on. Don’t forget – the non-Raptured are not damned: if they repent, they still get a chance at heaven.
So he should vote for a non-Christian president – assuming that the candidate is not so manifestly evil/incompetent that the definite damage he will do pre-Rapture will outweigh the possible good he will do by staying at his post post-Rapture. (after all, the Rapture might not happen during his term of office at all – then you’d feel a bit silly.) The ideal is a born-again President, who then hands over (via Rapture) to a competent but non-Christian VP when the End of Days comes along.
And, from this argument, a virtuous RB-Christian should surely refuse to be Raptured, preferring to stay behind and help out his less-believing friends in the troubles to come. After all, would John Wayne have got on the helicopter to be evacuated? Hell no! He’d have stayed on the ground with the rest of his squad! Similar, in fact, to the bodhisattva, who refuses Nirvana in favour of returning to earth.
Which leads me to suspect that, since no true Christian (selfless, pitying his fellow man in misfortune, etc) would agree to be Raptured, the Rapture is a trap. Don’t think they’re being lifted up – they’re going down.

23

abb1 09.30.04 at 10:45 am

John: …At about the same time, I encountered the Revelations-based eschatology of people like Hal Lindsey. Thirty years later, there’s been no revolution, and I don’t know of anyone who seriously expects one.

Bad Jim: You can still find old leftists, even in the U.S., looking forward to a general strike.

I understand the point you’re trying to make, but surely you can’t be saying that concepts like ‘revolution’ and ‘general strike’ are on the same level of absurdity as this rapture thing? Revolutions and general strikes have happened, y’know. Looking forward to a general strike is not nearly as crazy as looking forward to be raptured.

24

JamesW 09.30.04 at 11:43 am

Norman Cohn has written a follow-up to his fabulous Pursuit of the Millennium, titled Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (Yale University Press, 1993). I’ve not read it but bound to be worthwhile.
Useful website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/readings/endtime.html

25

rea 09.30.04 at 12:15 pm

Strange thing is, even though it’s hard to find old leftists who still believe in the coming Revolution, the gang of rightists running the United States seem hell-bent on bringing about the collapse of capitalism due to its own contradictions . . .

26

Omphale 09.30.04 at 1:06 pm

Growing up in an environment of true believers who all still honestly feel that the world may not last their lifetime, let alone mine, I’ve noticed that their primary M.O. seems to be disengagement, not the rabid entree into politics we’ve witnessed on the far-right fringe.

I think this comes out of the rejection in Evangelical Christianity of Calvinist predestination. If you believe that humanity has an expiration date, and it’s fast coming up, there’s no reason to get particularly involved in politics. Really, your focus should be on the conversion of lost souls in the limited time left.
If, however, you believe, that we do have the ability to change our future, then your investment is in staving off the apocalypse and buying ourselves some time. After all, plagues and wars in the Holy Land have happened before without the Messiah appearing, so why not assume that if only you can legislate the world in moral rectitude, you’ll get to meet your grandchildren?

27

Bruce Cleaver 09.30.04 at 1:24 pm

Adam Kotsko –

The Revelation of St. John has *also* been widely interpreted as foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in AD 66-70, and having nothing to do with any later era. If that be the case, the end _was_ near.

28

John 09.30.04 at 1:28 pm

< >

*raises hand* guilty.

I think it’s really funny to read the Christian literature from the 70s and early 80s that all expect the End Times to be right around the corner, and in some cases insist that we were (about 20 years ago or so) living in the final 7 years of something or another. Go to http://www.chick.com and take a look at some of that nutbag’s older tracts. Good stuff.

I think Christianity loves the possibility of a coming Apocalypse because so much of Christianity relies so heavily on fear to win converts. The end is coming! God will judge you! Better clean up your act right now! Comical. I think if Jesus was the Son of God and he came back today, most fundies would decry him as a liar and as the antichrist.

Which reminds me of something funny I saw that a protestor at an Edwards appearance had said. She said “It’s hypocritical for the Democratic party to be pro-abortion and against the war in Iraq”. The logical turnaround of that statement is that it is hypocritical for the Republican party to be pro-life and for the war in Iraq. But fundies never think that hard, and everyone knows logic is the evil lesbian twin sister of science.

29

John 09.30.04 at 1:31 pm

If anyone was curious as to what I was raising my hand and saying guilty to, it was the earlier post that said “Some advocates of settling space say it’s the only way to ensure that humans survive if something really bad happens to Earth.”

Somehow the quote disappeared when I post. But I don’t think anyone really cared one way or another.

30

Keith 09.30.04 at 2:12 pm

What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation?

If you start from the basic assumption of Christianity, apocolyptic or otherwise– that an invisible Ming the Merciless lives in the clouds, and that he knows and controls all, than it really isn’t a stretch to think that Lord Ming’s End Time scheme is simply being thwarted by those Damn Secular Rebels, with their Enlightenment ideals.

A natable common attribute among End Time Fundies is that they seem to lack nearly all Critical Thinking Skills. They don’t trust rational thought (that’s what the underlying implication of the Fruit of Knowldege story at the beginning of Genesis instills: that Knowledge is the root of all sin) and thus, tend to employ a patchwork approach to decision making. The Bible says this in one book, that in another and as long as we follow both, never mind that they contradict one another, then the Great Plan will work. It’s those Heathanish doubters who empluy Pagan magic like Socratic Logic and empirical observation that muck things up and if they’d simply have a little more Faith in Lord Ming’s Plan, everything would come up brimstone and Hellfire (for the sinners you know, not the faithful, who will be sitting in Cloud Kuckoo land watching the apocalypse from a safe distance).

31

cleek 09.30.04 at 2:47 pm

I think if Jesus was the Son of God and he came back today, most fundies would decry him as a liar and as the antichrist.

of course.

i’m reminded of:

If the real Jesus Christ
Were to stand up today
He be gunned down cold
By the CIA
– The The, Armageddon Days Are Here Again

32

JPed 09.30.04 at 3:25 pm

Let’s not forget that the desire to believe in the End Times is similar to the desire of all of us to believe that the times we live in are important for some reason… the most [this], the only time [that]. Take the not-too-moldy Wired articles expecting the Dow to top 10,000 soon — the so-called Long Boom.

The times we live are are special, because they’re (probably) the only ones we’ve got. Yes, the Internet has irrevocably changed human life, but so did toothpaste (can I get an AMEN) and the cotton gin. I think it’s sad that some people believe “now” is special only because the world is about to end — there are so many other reasons to know that there is no time like the present!

33

Jeremy Osner 09.30.04 at 3:27 pm

Bad Jim — is that from the Rubaiyat?

34

Brian 09.30.04 at 4:24 pm

I use to watch the televangelists talk about this stuff but got out of the hobby 10 years ago or so. Used to love Jack van Impe. (He’s still around and consulting the White House, if I recall correctly).

Anyway, it was interesting how the Antichrist would keep changing. First it was Gorbachev (this was the late 80s) then it was Saddam. Then the King of Spain (no really). The EU was the Beast. But since I don’t follow it anymore, anyone know who the current Antichrist is supposed to be?

35

Meteor Blades 09.30.04 at 5:02 pm

The universality of frustration and impatience guarantees that this sort of thinking will never go away.

Bingo. Psychology being what it is, the key appeal of the Rapture and the Revolution happening in our time is just that: they happen in our time, not only proving that our belief was right and our hopes were justified, but also actually rescuing us from the evils that Rapturists and Revolutionaries deplore. Psychology being what it is, not a small porton of these beliefs and hopes are fueled by the desire to be able to say “I told you so!” while being raised up above the unbelieving hoi polloi.

On a more mundane note, why did we get the counter-revolution c. 1981 without first having the revolution?

36

Uncle Kvetch 09.30.04 at 5:24 pm

anyone know who the current Antichrist is supposed to be?

Last I checked, John Kerry and Hilary Clinton were neck-and-neck, with Dan Rather coming up fast on the outside.

37

Dubious 09.30.04 at 5:31 pm

By the way, there have been persistent predictions of Malthusian (or neo-Malthusian) apocalypse over the last several hundred years. None have yet come true.

Obviously, there’s something in human psychology that longs for catastrophe (Biblical, ‘Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Deep Impact’, various nuclear and plague scenarios).

People will contort the evidence to come up with an apocalypse that fits their belief system. I’m not saying that belief in Biblical Armageddon was/is as reasonable as belief in Mutually-Assured Destruction Armageddon, but I think they’re more different in degree than in kind.

38

Robin 09.30.04 at 5:35 pm

“anyone know who the current Antichrist is supposed to be?”

Too many candidates–perhaps George Soros after he has been made UN Secretary General by a coalition of European and Muslim countries who unite to create a decadent atheist, socialist jihad, chanting “Natural Selection au Akbar”.

39

abb1 09.30.04 at 6:05 pm

“anyone know who the current Antichrist is supposed to be?”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, explains:

…The antichrist will divide the world and create war without end. He will lie to God, or declare obvious or God given truths to be lies. Also this is interpreted to mean he will declare that things which are evil to be good. He will refer to war as peace, death as a solution for justice, and serving the wealthy as a means of helping the poor.

Uh-huh.

It goes on:

Antichrist criteria

Based on the interpretations of the specific passages from the books of Daniel and Revelations, the antichrist is commonly expected to meet certain characteristics. The bible describes a beast-like creature, but over the years these characteristics have been interpreted as being metaphors for other concepts.

For example, the beast is supposed to have “ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns upon its horns” (Revelation 13:1-2) which is sometimes interpreted to mean the antichrist will lead 27 or 17 countries. They will follow in his battles that he will declare boldly and without humility are for a purpose which is untrue. Likewise the fact that the beast is described as being “worshipped” is taken as a sign that the antichrist will be a popular figure among those who are deceived by him. Revelation states that “He will appear as an angel of light”, which is interepreted to mean that he will profess to be a man of God, or a person who is himself a Christian.

The most common interpretations continue to be that the antichrist will be some sort of high-ranking political leader, who will initially do very good, popular things, which will win him many followers. In the end, however he is supposed to get increasingly totalitarian and elicit more and more sacrifices from his followers until eventually his evil ways become known, and the era of “trials and tribulations” begins.

We report – you decide.

40

Decnavda 09.30.04 at 6:09 pm

dubious-
Mutually-Assured Destruction Armageddon was a very real possibility that those who warned of it hoped could be avoided.

Biblical Armageddon violates the laws of physics, and those who warn of it claim it to be a certainty.

I suppose “reasonable” vs. “not reasonable” can be described in terms of a dofference in “degree of reasonableness”, one being 100%, the other being 0%, but to me it looks like a difference in kind.

41

Scott McLemee 09.30.04 at 6:24 pm

You mean we *aren’t* going to have a revolution? Crap.

Last year, I heard a couple of true believers declare that that capitalism has been on the verge of collapse since the 1860s — citing, if memory serves, the correspondence of Marx and Engels. So clearly it is just a matter of time. No need to be impatient.

42

perianwyr 09.30.04 at 7:18 pm

I think this comes out of the rejection in Evangelical Christianity of Calvinist predestination.

I think you misread Calvin. Predestination is largely summed up in the five points of Calvinism (the oft mentioned “TULIP”: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable Grace, Perseverance of the saints.)

Essentially, we as humans do not have an inner element of God to rely on- we are totally depraved and cannot fall back on some sort of universal grace. Only God can save us, and he does so because he is God and for no other reason. Therefore, the atonement of sin in Christ’s death is not universal- it belongs only to those whom God will allow to share in it. This does not mean that the atonement has an internal limit, like some sort of spiritual gas tank- if there are an infinite number of elect, there is enough salvation to cover them all. The postulation that man is totally depraved and that God chooses who will be open to being saved naturally leads to this. It follows, also, that God’s choice must therefore be something that you cannot escape. If you can receive grace, you will receive it. There are no half-measures.

What this means to evangelical witness is that election is something that humans cannot comprehend, and that the community of God is something formed by those called by grace. It is desired that they reach out, because on this world, who can know what form the acceptance of grace will take? After all, the only real proof can’t be seen by humans.

I’m also convinced that a lot of fundamentalists are misreading Calvin, too- it always seemed to me that one of the fundamental features of election would have to reasonably be that humans cannot judge its presence. We are, after all, totally depraved and divorced from God as we are.

I hope that clears things up a little.

43

rea 09.30.04 at 7:22 pm

““arrange for unsaved neighbors to feed the cat” — fantastic!”

You laugh, but I was once taken aside by our born-again office manager, who in all seriousness showed me where to find her completed leave-of-absence papers,which she asked me to turn in for her when she was carried off by the rapture.

44

abb1 09.30.04 at 8:17 pm

You mean we aren’t going to have a revolution? Crap.

If you told me in 1987 that in 4 years the communist party of the soviet union will be banned by the soviet government, I’d probably die laughing.

45

razib 09.30.04 at 8:23 pm

why do religious people keep believing when their ideas have been falsified? check out my post
No arguing with quasi
. the gist is that though many religious assertions might have the form of logical propositions, they really aren’t logical propositions amenable to rejection, rather, any input is simply reworked to confirm the model.

46

Dubious 09.30.04 at 9:42 pm

According to my lights, I agree that MAD-Armageddon had single-digit probability per year or so, whereas Biblical Armageddon has a virtually nil (who knows, maybe I’m mentally ill and ignoring the obvious evidence of God) chance.

So yeah, I was smoking crack there.

47

James Kabala 10.01.04 at 1:07 am

A few points:

1. Wikipedia does great service, but their article on Antichrist is not very good.
2. Contrary to both the original poster and Wikipedia, the book is not called Revelations. Depending on the translation, it is the Revelation to John, the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse (a greek word meaning “revelation”), but not the Book of Revelations.
3. The term Antichrist is not used in Revelation, but in one of the Epistles of John.
4. I agree with those posters who say that End Times speculation is much less popular than it once was. During the first Gulf War, there was a lot of “Saddam is the Antichrist; this is the beginning of the end” type speculation, drawing not only on Revelation but on Nostradamus and similar frauds. Even Johnny Cash recorded a song on the subject. In contrast, it seems as though 9/11 and its aftermath has produced very little speculation of this type, despite the horrific nature of the attacks and the Middle Eastern origins of the attackers. A Google search for “Bin Laden is the Antichrist” turns up a measly nineteen hits, and several of them are sites denying that Bin Laden is the Antichrist.
5. “Rapture” theory was invented in the nineteenth-century United States and is not the most literal reading of the text. Suggested reading here would be Will Catholics Be Left Behind? by Carl Olson.
6. The Book of Revelation is considered by most scholars to be an allegorical denunciation of ancient Rome, not a prophecy of the end times.
7. The things that the Bible does say about end of the world have not in themselves been falsified; specific claims about what the Biblical references mean have been falsified. Jesus told His followers that no one knew the day or the hour of His return, and attempts to calculate it have generally been discouraged, not encouraged, by mainstream Christian leaders.
8. No, John, it isn’t a “logical turnaround.” I think that war in Iraq was an awful idea, but there is a well-developed and detailed just war theory in Christian tradition. Would it be hypocritical to be against abortion and in favor of World War II?

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JamesW 10.01.04 at 9:06 am

Most commentators here are assuming that apocalyptic ideas are exclusively found in Christianity. Christian eschatology took up a Jewish prophetic line you find in Ezekiel and Daniel. (I especially like Isaiah’s vision of the messianic banquet, in which God’s people will drink vintage wines to the sound of a chorus of 1000 camels.) What happened to Jewish apocalyptic? The Essenes and the rebels in the Jewish war, especially the Sicarii, were under its influnence; I suppose the tendency was largely eclipsed by rabbinic Judaism thereafter, but it pops up much later with Sabbatai Zvi. Are there any apocalyptic Jews today? Some Lubavitchers wonder whether Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was the Messiah. Are there any apocalyptic Muslims? I read that there’s an apocalyptic doctrine in Buddhism.

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Marcus 10.03.04 at 4:28 am

This is a fascinating discussion. Thanks. I have just started a Ph.D. on apocalyptic narratives in news media and film so I have responded to it on my Ph.D.blog: apocalyptics. So I just want to make a couple of points here.

I don’t know if these beliefs are more popular than they used to be but they are certainly popular. A 2002 survey found that a staggering 59% of American’s believed that the events predicted in the book of Revelation will actually occur in the future.

Another really good book is Stephen O’Leary’s Arguing the Apocalypse he gives a good round-up of the history of American apocalyptic beliefs but his strong point is his rhetorical analysis.

And a great website is the PBS Apocalypse site. Particularly relevant is their page on The resilience of the apocalypse

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ruralsaturday 10.04.04 at 9:43 am

perianwyr-
Good exposition, though you don’t place yourself, as speaker, in any other context vis. the material.
I’m struck, again, by the parallels with biological reality that go masked in the dogma. Especially the concept of inalterable election.
Born with it. That’s just how it is and it can’t be changed. Like visual acuity or blonde hair.
There are those mystics who hint that we’re confused, that this time/space thing is an illusion created by our limited field of view. That what is really going on is already done – it’s changeless- we’re going through the changes, but everybody else is back home watching so to speak.
It’s hard to think about, but the past is still there, five minutes ago or 50,000 years, it’s right there; we’re not, is all.
We’re here. Or, rather, here.

Interesting that as this thread developed Pat Robertson hied his portly self to Jerusalem, to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
Interesting too that the incontrovertible evidence of total system change in the global climate wasn’t even brushed aside during the presidential debates, it was as though it didn’t exist, as though it couldn’t be.
Kind of a general reaction I expect. Oh no.
Whether or not the visions of John on Patmos were allegories of Roman political disintegration or earthly human fall and salvation, we’re in it bigtime, we’re in it prophecy or no.
And the people who caused it are still running things. That seems important in a way I can’t get fully ahold of, that the news is so unbelievably disheartening no one wants to talk about it, and that the guys who did it are still playing “Who dies with the most toys wins”.
Someone told me the parable about the rich man entering the kingdom of heaven was supposed to read “…easier for a taw to pass through the eye of a needle…” that it had been mistranslated as “camel” and made silly. But still.

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