by Jon Basil Utley
Utopian fantasies have long transfixed
the human race. Yet today a much rarer fantasy has become popular
in the United States. Millions of Americans, the richest people
in history, have a death wish. They are the new "Armageddonites,"
fundamentalist evangelicals who have moved from forecasting Armageddon
to actually trying to bring it about.
Most journalists find it difficult to
take seriously that tens of millions of Americans, filled with
fantasies of revenge and empowerment, long to leave a world they
despise. These Armageddonites believe that they alone will get
a quick, free pass when they are "raptured" to paradise,
no good deeds necessary, not even a day of judgment. Ironically,
they share this utopian fantasy with a group that they often castigate,
namely fundamentalist Muslims who believe that dying in battle
also means direct access to Heaven. For the Armageddonites, however,
there are no waiting virgins, but they do agree with Muslims that
there will be "no booze, no bars," in the words of a
popular Gaither Singers song.
These end-timers have great influence
over the U.S. government's foreign policy. They are thick with
the Republican leadership. At a recent conference in Washington,
congressional leader Roy Blunt, for example, has said that their
work is "part of God's plan." At the same meeting, where
speakers promoted attacking Iran, former House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay glorified "end times". Indeed the Bush administration
often consults with them on Mideast policies. The organizer of
the conference, Rev. John Hagee, is often welcomed at the White
House, although his ratings are among the lowest on integrity
and transparency by Ministry Watch, which rates religious broadcasters.
He raises millions of dollars from his campaign supporting Israeli
settlements on the West Bank, including much for himself. Erstwhile
presidential candidate Gary Bauer is on his Board of Directors.
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also both expressed strong end-times
American fundamentalists strongly supported
the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. They consistently support
Israel's hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for
war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign
policy has turned much of the world against us, including most
Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race.
The Beginning of End Times
The evangelical movement originally was
not so "end times" focused. Rather, it was concerned
with the "moral" decline inside America. The Armageddon
theory started with the writings of a Scottish preacher, John
Nelson Darby (1800-1882). His ideas then spread to America with
publication in 1917 of the Scofield Reference Bible, foretelling
that the return of the Jews to Palestine would bring about the
end times. The best-selling book of the 1970s, The Late, Great
Planet Earth, further spread this message. The movement did
not make a conscious effort to affect foreign policy until Jerry
Falwell went to Jerusalem and the Left Behind books became
Conservative Christian writer Gary North
estimates the number of Armageddonites at about 20 million. Many
of them have an ecstatic belief in the cleansing power of apocalyptic
violence. They are among the more than 30% of Americans who believe
that the world is soon coming to an end. Armageddonites may be
a minority of the evangelicals, but they have vocal leaders and
control 2,000 mostly fundamentalist religious radio stations.
Although little focused on in America,
Armageddonites attract the attention of Muslims abroad. In 2004,
for instance, I attended Qatar's Fifth Conference on Democracy
with Muslim leaders from all over the Arabian Gulf. There, the
uncle of Jordan's king devoted his whole speech to warning of
the Armageddonites' power over American foreign policy.
Armageddonite Foreign Policy
The beliefs of the Armageddon Lobby, also
known as Dispensationalists, come from the Book of Revelations,
which Martin Luther relegated to an appendix when he translated
the Bible because its image of Christ was so contrary to the rest
of the Bible. The Armageddonites worship a vengeful, killer-torturer
Christ. They also frequently quote a biblical passage that God
favors those who favor the Jews. But they only praise Jews who
make war, not those who are peacemakers. For example, they vigorously
opposed Israel's murdered premier Yitzhak Rabin, who promoted
the Oslo Peace Accords.
Based on this Biblical interpretation,
the Armageddonites vehemently argue that America must protect
Israel and encourage its settlements on the West Bank in order
to help God fulfill His plans. The return of Jews to Palestine
is central to the prophetic vision of the Armageddonites, who
see it as a critical step toward the final battle, Armageddon,
and the victory of the righteous over Satan's minions. There are
a couple internal inconsistencies with this prophecy, such as
the presence of Christians already living in the Holy Land and
the role of Jews in the final dispensation. In the first case,
Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other Religious Right leaders
tried to pretend that Christians already in the Holy Land simply
didn't exist. As for Jews, they needed to become "born again"
Christians to avoid God's wrath (or, according to some Armageddonites,
a separate Jewish covenant with God will gain them a separate
Everyone else - Buddhists, Muslims (of
course), Hindus, atheists, and so on - are then slated to die
in the Tribulation that comes with Armageddon. As described in
the bestselling Left Behind series, this time of human
misery ends with Christ then ruling a paradise on earth for a
Armageddonites know little about the outside
world, which they think of as threatening and awash with Satanic
temptations. They are big supporters of Bush's "go it alone"
foreign policies. For example, they love John Bolton. They were
prime supporters for attacking Iraq. And, with very few exceptions,
they were noticeably quiet about, if not supportive, of torturing
prisoners of war (only with a new leadership did the National
Association of Evangelicals finally condemn torture in May, 2007).
Their support of the Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and former
New York mayor Rudy Giuliani shows that they consider aggressively
prosecuting Mideast war (to help speed up the apocalypse) more
important than the domestic programs of these socially liberal
On other foreign policy issues, they are
violently against the pending Law of the Seas Treaty, indeed any
treaty which possibly circumscribes U.S. power to go it alone.
They want illegal immigrants expelled and oppose more immigration.
They fear China's growth. They despise Europeans for not being
more warlike. The UN figures prominently in their fears, and the
Left Behind books present its Secretary General as the
Antichrist. Domestically, they strongly support the USA PATRIOT
Act and all of President Bush's actions, legal or illegal.
Armageddonites and Fascism
Author and former New York Times reporter
Christopher Hedges argues that worldview and reasoning of the
Armageddonites tend toward fascism. In his book American Fascists,
Hedges focuses on their obedience to leadership, their feelings
of humiliation and victimhood, alienation, their support for authoritarian
government, and their disinterestedness in constitutional limits
on government power. Theirs was originally a defensive movement
against the liberal democratic society, particularly abortion,
school desegregation, and now globalization, which they saw as
undermining their communities and families, their values, and
livelihood. Their fundamentalism is very fulfilling and, Hedges
writes, "they are terrified of losing this new, mystical
world of signs, wonders and moral certitude, of returning to the
old world of despair."
Hedges, a graduate of Harvard Divinity
School, also shows that fundamentalists are quite selective. They
don't take the Bible literally when it comes to justifying slavery
or that children who curse a parent are to be executed. The movement
is also very masculine, giving poor men a path to re-establish
their authority in what they perceive as an overly feminized culture.
Images of Jesus often show Him with thick muscles, clutching a
sword. Christian men are portrayed as powerful warriors.
The overwhelming power and warmongering
of the Armageddonites has inspired some resistance from other
fundamentalists, but they are a minority. Theologian Richard Fenn
writes, "Silent complicity (by mainline churches) with apocalyptic
rhetoric soon becomes collusion with plans for religiously inspired
genocide." Their death-wishing "religion" is actually
anti-Christian and should be challenged openly by traditional
The next election will likely loosen their
grip on the White House. However, their growing ties to the military
industrial complex will remain. Exposure of their war wanting
as a major threat to America and the world may well become as
destructive for them as was the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s.
But that will only happen if Americans become as concerned as
foreign observers about the influence of the Armageddonites.