February 26, 2020

Believe in Armageddon and it will come

As the Bangor Daily News editorial of April 5 points out, even Republicans such as Sen. John Danforth are concerned about the emergence of “an American Theocracy” run by conservative Christians. The danger is not just a reversal of standard Republican policies such as state freedom, but a threat to the very process of checks and balances whereby legislation is crafted.

If Congress’ hastily involvement in the Terri Shiavo case is an omen, the hallmark of wise lawmaking – careful and judicious deliberation – is under siege in a system already suffering from political rifts and pork-barrel shenanigans. Our country and Constitution are becoming hostage to ideologically driven haste, divorced from standards of reason upheld as ideals through symbols such as the blindfolded statue of justice and phrases such as justitia omnibus, justice for all, the motto of the District of Columbia.

The danger does not stop there, however, for when reason and procedure are ostracized from political process, the door opens for demagoguery and fanaticism. Certainly not all conservative Christians are fanatics, that is, persons rendered impervious to lucid argument by the authority of a dictatorial faith; but many of those that are champion a particularly frightening and ominous worldview: that the planet will suffer Armageddon, destroyed in fire, when God inflicts terrible punishment on unredeemed souls. The NBC miniseries “Revelations” is no doubt an attempt to attract America’s 40 million conservative Christians to their TV sets, pandering to the thrill of watching an eschatological holocaust that many believe is imminent.

In my introductory philosophy class, the first lecture revolves around a single statement: Beliefs affect actions, which in turn affect reality – a succinct version of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a general and simple maxim, but psychological testing validates the basic premise. For example, those whose beliefs predispose them toward negativity often increase their chance of failure.

On a political scale, the power of ideas steers the fate of nations, races and environments. If we believe forests are more consumable “resource” than testaments to the wonder of nature, the contours of the planet reflects this view. If a powerful majority believes a certain race is inferior, as has been the case many times throughout history, a dynamic of domination ensues with custom-entrenched roles of superior and subordinate-all because of a flawed belief system unchecked by rational scrutiny.

Examples of turmoil fed by unbridled devotion to religion are numerous. The spread of Islam during the 7th century sparked vast conquest through warfare. Medieval Crusades stoked the populace into hysteria and carnage. In the 17th century, Europe was awash with blood as Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other mercilessly, driven by the furor of their convictions. The civil wars instigated by these religious factions, each convinced that Christians on the other side were horribly misguided, led to the antidote of Rationalism and the doctrine of the separation of church and state. Our forefathers (and mothers) came to realize that theocratic rule failed miserably because zealots of various denominations fought to make their brand of religion the foundation of the throne.

Historically, fanaticism has promoted a narrow-minded impetus where passion hermetically sealed from reason supercedes evidence. Under such circumstances, all-consuming war is a serious threat. If Republicans control government, and Republicans, in turn, are the pawns of fanatic conservatives, the immolation of the world may be realized through a self-fulfilling prophecy of the radical right.

Uncertainties abound in such a sweeping, scary claim; but the stakes are high and even a small probability is cause for alarm. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are poised in silos and submarines. And the United States seems to be on a crusade of sorts, occupying one member of “the axis of evil” and preparing for possible “pre-emptive” attacks on the rest. If even one nuclear bomb detonates in the course of our imperious efforts to bend other cultures to our will, the result could be apocalypse-especially if powerful segments of the population believe it is prophesied.

In Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” the 1970s doomsayer book which The New York Times labeled the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller of the decade, Armageddon is precipitated by the USSR, which was identified with the Gog and Magog of Biblical Revelations. I remember being terrified by the book when I was young and naive. The fact that the USSR is gone and Lindsey’s account has been adjusted repeatedly (the book is currently in its 70th edition) does not sway the current wave of death-mongers from their unflinching pronouncements of annihilation. As “Revelations” airs on NBC, I expect my fear to be just as great as when I read Lindsey’s book, but for different reasons.

Chris Crittenden has been published in many nationally recognized literary journals and teaches part-time for the University of Maine at Machias.

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