On conspiracies, apocalyptic Christian nationalism, and how bad eschatology is ruining the world / Michael Frost

You don’t have to look too far these days to find apocalyptic paranoia. And if you’re paying attention (and how could you not!) to the rise in right-wing conspiracies, QAnon, Christian nationalism and a hyperactive fear of “globalism”, you may realise that there is a distinctly religious – or more specifically, Christian – shape to this apocalyptic nightmare.  

There are, of course, many things shaping and directing the kind of phenomenon we’re seeing right now; the historic and ongoing presence of racism and white supremacy, years of fermenting factional divisions between different social, ethnic, religious and economic classes, the rise of post-truth media, and on and on the list goes. But as a theologian, one of the things I notice is the way in which so much of this surge in nationalistic, conspiracy-minded, and angry (sometimes violent) mentality is shaped by a particular form of Christian eschatology. And once you see it, you realise the influence is everywhere, and it’s very hard to dislodge. 

If you don’t know, eschatology deals with what people believe about where things are headed. It includes various beliefs about heaven, hell, the ultimate fate of the world, the return of Jesus Christ, and so on. Within the Christian tradition itself, views on these matters are varied and have been for a long time. But over the past two centuries it is one particularly erroneous and toxic view of the “end times” that has come to shape much of conservative Evangelicalism, especially in North America (but also here in New Zealand, as the networks of Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches exchange information and ideas across the globe in the blink of an eye).

Up until the mid-19th century many Christians believed that ultimately the world would be transformed by the church and finally become the “kingdom of God” on earth, then Christ would return and faithful believers would enjoy eternity with God in heaven. Now, admittedly, this is a framework with its own problems, but as the reality of it coming to pass appeared increasingly unlikely a more pessimistic view of the “end times” began to emerge. Some Christians began to read certain books of the bible – in particular the Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation – as prophetic code books predicting events in the last days. In this interpretation we see the propagation of ideas like the seven year rule of the Antichrist, having to take the ‘mark of the beast’ to buy and sell, the restoration of the nation of Israel, rebuilding of the temple and ‘salvation’ of the Jewish people, a time of tribulation and persecution for Christians, and “the rapture” (when Christ’s followers will be caught up in the air to meet Jesus) before Jesus returns to earth to defeat his enemies and reign for a thousand years. At the end of that millennial reign of Christ, Satan will gather his forces for one final battle – Armageddon – in which all evil will finally be defeated, Satan and his followers will be cast into a lake of fire, and God will reign forever more with Christians in heaven.

Whether you realise it or not, this relatively recent (and deeply flawed) theological interpretation of certain biblical texts, has shaped a significant stream of the Christian community. And this is deeply relevant to what we’re seeing right now. Fears about globalism, the United Nations and New World Order are directly influenced by the religious belief in a rising Antichrist who will rule the world through a one-world-government. In this context, any Christian who stands against this rising globalism is being faithful to Jesus and will ultimately be rewarded. Americans, in particular, have shaped for themselves a unique role within this eschatological framework. Their priority for the nation of Israel as well as their antipathy for Russia and Iran are both impacted by specific interpretations of ancient apocalyptic texts, and many American Evangelicals see themselves as uniquely ushering in the end of days, as well as taking a stand for Jesus in the midst of a world that is going the way of the Antichrist.

If this is the case, then it makes sense that the world will conspire against you. It makes sense that everyone will try to take your guns (so that they can more easily subdue you). It makes sense that people will try to join global accords for peace, using the cover of environmental concern and climate change; those accords for peace are simply covers to prepare the way for the rise of the Antichrist and his new world order. It makes sense that only you and your tribe will understand this, because everyone else has been blinded by the devil and the plans of the enemy. It even starts to make sense that there is global Satanic cabal of paedophiles made up of powerful political/celebrity figures, and that there is a Deep State trying to take down “God’s anointed” leaders to more easily pave the way for the rise of evil. 

I say all of this because I know it can be hard to make sense of how people end up speaking and acting the ways that they do. And although this isn’t the only contributing factor, it is one of them, and it has been manipulated to take advantage of people who have been shaped for many decades to see the world as heading for a final battle between good (Christians) and evil (the one world government/new world order etc).  People who see the world this way will ultimately be committed to do just about anything in order to be on the side of “ass-kicking Jesus”… not all that different from jihadists who flew planes into towers believing that God was on their side too.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is not what those texts in the bible are talking about at all. The book of Revelation, notoriously difficult to interpret, is widely recognised as being a subversive religious text, circulated to Christians during the time of the Roman Empire. It speaks in coded and highly symbolic language about how and why to stay faithful to the peace-making way of Jesus in the face of a violent empire who demanded their allegiance to Caesar and the way of Rome. It is not about predicting future events, it is about a critique of power and violence, and offers the hope that those who are able to stay faithful to the way of self-giving love and refuse to take up the violence of the empire will ultimately be found to be on the right side of history. It is anti-imperial theology, and it does continue to speak to us today, but not in the way that Kirk Cameron and the Left Behind series would have you imagine. 

The challenge to us from texts like Revelation is about how easy it is to be co-opted by allegiances to empire over and above your desire to live loving, generous and faithful lives. It always seems easier to go with the flow and allow yourself to participate in ways of violence, division and hatred, when it seems like that’s what everyone is doing.  

When you’re watching a kid get picked on at school, it is much easier to join in with the abuse then to stand against the crowd and defend the victim against the bullies. When you’re in a culture that oppresses people of a different colour, gender or sexuality, it is much easier to join in – or at least to say “perhaps now is not the right time for change” – rather than to take a stand on behalf of those who are suffering. When you’re in a nation that prides itself on being exceptional, on being powerful, on being the ‘greatest nation in the history of the world’, it is much easier to pledge allegiance to the flag and to look down on those who take a knee, than it is to speak up for those who have been so badly mistreated.

That is the challenge of texts like Revelation. Who do you love more, your empire or those who are suffering?

It was never meant to be a text to inspire a battle of the end times. It was never about raptures, or peace treaties, or Russia, or gun rights, or globalists vs nationalists… it was always about how we choose paths of love and justice over violence and power.

 Perhaps this is an eschatology that would have served us much better than that which has now deeply corrupted many Christian minds … because it is a long long way back from here.

Michael Frost works in the arenas of theology, spirituality and social change. He is interested in the idea that theology should subvert harmful ideologies and open us up to liberating and transformative conversations. He hosts a podcast and blog called In the Shift, for when life and faith go off script. Follow him on Facebook here.

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4 thoughts on “On conspiracies, apocalyptic Christian nationalism, and how bad eschatology is ruining the world / Michael Frost

  1. This is so helpful in understanding the rather scary Christian Right. Thanks for taking the time to share this revelation!

    Like

  2. I ask, have you ever been to hell and/or seen the new earth? Have you ever been in hells lake of fire? It’s real and so is the new earth. Now, after being there I have an urgency to act like the time is short weather Jesus comes back today, tomorrow or or in the next 1000 years! Just know the season and act accordingly, disasters happen for this cause that we would wake up!! Evaluate our lives. Take our hearts apart and clean them out. Make amends. Preach the gospel of salvation to as many as God says. Realign ourselves, because we are again pledging legiance to this materialistic world! Look at Sodom and Gomorrah, and the days of Noah.. they ate, they drank, they worked and they played..sin grew the more and people called good evil and evil good. They will learn how to say no as a normal to evil and be prepared for the mark of the beast. I don’t know about all them government following Christians and how they will cope facing the pressure of the mark???? Big question. Im enjoying what God is teaching and showing me at this time. Two lines faced each other, one side police ..the other civilians clutching arms .. a man stood behind the line of police and gave commands, “march” and they marched to push the civilians back. If they squashed an old man in the process, it didn’t matter, they were not human in that moment. They were robots. They had no souls. So will it be for those who pledge legiance to anti christ and heed the false prophet.
    to gaze upon his works and marvel. Bu

    Like

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