Yes, it's true. A weird hermit, writing about his visions in a cave one hundred years after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, will sway a lot of Republican voters in the upcoming Super Tuesday primary elections 2008. An astonishing number of Christian evangelicals take Bible prophecy so seriously that it shapes the way they will vote this year. But that's not the problem.
There are millions of Christian evangelicals who read Biblical prophecy in a way that encourages them to vote to feed the poor, protect the environment, support ethics in government, provide adequate health care, housing, and education--even vote against the war in Iraq. These are all moral values for many Christians.
There are many other millions of Christian evangelicals, overwhelmingly White and conservative, who read Biblical prophecy in quite a different way. So on Tuesday keep an eye on Republican voters in those southern states in what is traditionally called "The Bible Belt." This will determine how the split between "pragmatists" and "purists" among conservative White evangelicals is playing out. Pragmatists may divide their votes between Mitt Romney and John McCain. Purists are likely to vote for Mike Huckabee, especially in Arkansas, where he was governor. But also scope out Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Pundits over the next few days are likely to talk about the splits in the Christian Right, or even predict its demise. Don't bite on that baloney. Does anyone seriously think most conservative Christian evangelicals will bolt the Republican Party and vote Democratic in November? I think not.
This does not mean that Democrats or progressive movement activists should treat Christian evangelicals or other people of faith in a disrespectful way--millions of us are already Democrats and progressive movement activists (and we don't think they are the same thing, either, Matt Bai).
So as a Christian, what is it that bothers me about how many people in the Christian Right view Biblical prophecy?
It's how they read it.
The last book of the Christian New Testament is "Revelation," written by John of Patmos. It was originally thought to have been written by the same John who was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). It most likely was not.
John of Patmos was a hermit who lived in a cave on an island off the coast of what is now Turkey. He had visions and wrote them down. Standard stuff for prophets. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches urge their followers to read "Revelation" as a metaphor, as do most "mainline" Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians.
In the older Christianity--the one Jesus the Jew actually practiced--women were revered for their wisdom and spirituality. But that didn't suit St. Paul nor apocalyptic St. John the Evangelist who was doing LSD on Patmos (I visited his cave) where he wrote about the four horsemen and the blazing fires in the sky. (It could have been the Patmos sunset seen by a stoner emerging from a cave--or the Patmos sunrise--equally bewitching).
God, I wish I could write like that. (Fat chance.)
Anyway, the Christian Bible's book of Revelation describes in graphic terms what will happen when an angry God finally intervenes in human affairs at the end of time. The prophetic narrative describes the End Times as a period of widespread sinfulness, moral depravity, and crass materialism. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride in bringing God's wrath in the form of wars, disease, civil strife, and natural disasters. Satan's chief henchman appears in human form as the Antichrist, a popular world leader who secretly harbors sympathy for the Devil. He promises peace and unity of all nations under one world government--but it's a conspiracy. His agents are tracking down and punishing Christians who refuse to abandon their faith. Satan's allies receive a mark--the Mark of the Beast--represented by the number 666.
This period of hard times are called "the Tribulations" and culminate in a final cataclysmic doomsday confrontation of massed armies in the Middle East, at a place named Armageddon. Good triumphs over evil at the battle of Armageddon, ushering in a millennium of Christian rule.
The book of Revelation (and other prophetic verses in the Bible) provides important clues for understanding the rhetoric and actions of devout Christians who are influenced by apocalypticism and millennialism. Among Christians, belief in an actual coming apocalypse is particularly strong among those Fundamentalists who not only read the Bible literally, but also consider prophetic Biblical text to be a coded timetable or script revealing the future.
Christians who believe the apocalypse is at hand can act out those theological beliefs in social, cultural, and political arenas. An example might be when believers view current world events as "signs of the End Times" or see those with whom they disagree as agents of the Antichrist.
Here is the really bad news. For a few million Christian Fundamentalists...
...we are the agents of the Antichrist!
You and me. Liberals, secularists, humanists, Muslims, progressives, feminists, everyone in the LGBTQ community, and more. Even Christians who don't think the way they do--like me--are enemies of God and Country in their theological worldview.
We are Satan's scum.
And on Tuesday, some of these Christian Fundamentalists will be voting for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, after which us sinners and Devil's disciples will have our bodies crushed like grapes until our blood runs ankle deep through a valley in the Middle East.
That's how they read the Bible.
So on Tuesday, keep your eyes on the Bible Belt.
I will be posting more "revelations" about the Christian Right and election 2008 over the next few months. But remember, millions of Christian evangelicals already vote for Democrats. Some 95% of Black evangelicals, for example, vote Democratic in Presidential elections. Some White evangelicals are swing voters. There are progressive Christian evangelicals. There are even progressive Christian Fundamentalists. And you know what? None of us spiritual folk can leave our beliefs outside the voting booth. That's just stupid. We don't ask secularists to leave their morality and ideology outside the voting booth. Get over it.
So don't cost Democratic candidates some votes by being an ignorant jerk who goes around saying stuff about Christians and other spiritual people that just is not true.
I will be on Pacifica radio at 9pm Tuesday evening discussing these issues. Tune in.
Election cycle disclaimer. These are my personal essays written on my own time.