Save me from this road I’m on
Oh, Jesus take the wheel
“Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Some Hearts (2005)
Stan was my friend in high school. His mom went through an ugly divorce, got a little crazy, and joined a pentecostal Assemblies of God church when I was a sophomore. We made fun of her—speaking in tongues, full immersion water baptism, miraculous healing through prayer—but I admit I was a little freaked out by her beliefs at the time. Having been raised most of my life in southern California, I had a learner’s permit at 15, a driver’s license at 17, and my first car as soon as I could manage. But throughout my high school years, I was dependent on the kindness of parents to give me and my friends rides to and from places and events. Well, Stan’s mom had a bumper sticker on her car that read: “WARNING: In the event of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.”
It wasn’t that I was upset about her belief that “the church” would be physically snatched away from this world by a wrathful god in the “end times.” I just couldn’t understand how an otherwise caring and loving mother would be okay with being raptured out of the moving vehicle she was driving with her children and their friends still in the car. I mean, potentially at least, wasn’t that religiously inspired child neglect? I got another clue to her cognitive dissonance in 1968, the year the federal government made seat belts mandatory. She had a beat-up 1960 Olds 88 4-door sedan without seat belts from the divorce settlement, and concerns were raised by the other parents that her vehicle wasn’t safe enough for the transport of the adolescents in her care. She was apologetic that she couldn’t afford to install proper safety belts because her ex reneged on the child support. “We are all in the hands of our Lord,” she would say. “His eye is even on the tiny sparrow.”
To say there’s a lot of evangelical end-of-days apocalypticism in this country is an understatement. Forty-one percent of American adults believe we’re in the end times. Seventy-seven percent of Evangelicals and 54% of Protestants concur that “the world is currently living in the ‘end times’ as described by prophecies in the Bible.” Forty-five percent of practicing Catholics say the end times have arrived. These are the results of a 2013 OmniPoll conducted by James F. Fitzgerald, who also found that 54% of blacks, 48% of Hispanics, 39% of whites, 46% of married adults, and 47% of parents say the world is in the end times. According to a contrasting 2012 Reuters poll, something like 22% of Americans believe the world is going to end in their lifetime. Either way, there are a fuck of a lot of people in this country who are convinced the world is coming to an end, and soon.
I’m not here to parse out the various and confusing elements of Christian eschatology—Resurrection, Rapture, Tribulation, Second Coming, Millennium, Last Judgment, etc. Nor am I interested in discussing the niceties of Christian Zionism versus Christian Dominionism versus Christian Identity ad nauseam. With anywhere from a quarter to a half of the US population buying into the notion that the end of the world is neigh, is it any wonder that “Jesus take the wheel” is more often then not the default decision made by Americans. That also includes political decisions, anything from what to do about climate change and income inequality to how to handle terrorism and police brutality. Particularly scary is the reality that citizens and elected officials are making decisions about a future they don’t believe is going to happen. Why do anything about global warming or institutional racism when the world is going to end soon?
Take environmental issues. More and more people, and the politicians they elect, don’t believe that global warming or a sixth mass extinction or pollution or even littering are a problem because after the world is laid waste at the battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Jesus will usher in a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. This denial of basic reality is a huge fucking problem for the rest of us, and for the survival of the planet. There’s no need to be prudent or plan ahead or take care of the next generation if the world is going to end in our lifetime. Ann Coulter once said that having children is what makes people conservative, because they now have a stake in the game and an interest in the future. But becoming an end time Christian actually makes people nihilistic because that future is predetermined and apocalyptic.
Wow, punk rock, man! No future! Who would have thought that evangelical Christians and punk rockers have so much in common? And you know who else shares this nihilism? Islamic jihadis. Of course, Islam has its own eschatology, involving the Mahdi, al-Dajjal, Isa, Ya’juj and Ma’juj, Dabbat al-ard, destruction of Mecca, al-Qiyamah, and the Day of Judgment. The great majority of Muslims aren’t apocalyptic however. Even those Muslims who narrowly focus on jihad (holy war) aren’t all obsessed with the end of the world. But of those Muslims who believe in an imminent Islamic end time, virtually all practice jihad as a means of realizing their apocalypse. Al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Nusrah Front, Islamic State—because all these end time jihadi groups are both Sunni Muslim and proponents of a fundamentalist Islamic revivalism known as Salafism, its best to call this type of terrorism Salafi jihadism.
Now, here’s the really scary part. Groups of end time religious fanatics—evangelical Christians and Salafi jihadis respectively—are jockeying for power in this country and in the Middle East, with the aim of bringing about the end of the world. What’s more, they’ve each designated the other as their mortal enemy and vow to fight to the death to defeat their foe. So now we have two fundamentalist end time religious movements potentially squaring off against each other across the globe, not in a war between civilizations or a war to save the West, but in the ultimate holy war to destroy this corrupt world and usher in a purified heaven and earth. It’s Jehovah versus Allah, the Bible versus the Koran, and what’s crazy is that the annihilation of civilization as we know it is not collateral damage, but the avowed goal. During the Cold War between east and west, the proliferation of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union was deemed a strategy of mutually assured destruction, a balance of nuclear terror that oddly enough kept us from blowing up the planet. Now, there is a very real danger that religious nuts will gain control and wage holy war in order to realize the end of the world.
To this apocalyptic dualism, add a third element, the Zionist zealotry of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank. Hasidic Jews like the Satmar have long decried any political attempt to force the hand of the Messiah, of which the State of Israel is the principle instance. It took the settler movement in the Occupied Territories via groups like Gush Emunim to infuse political Zionism with a religious fundamentalism that viewed the establishment of Israel as the inadvertent start of the Messianic Age, allowing the Jewish settlers to consciously hasten the coming of the Messiah by redeeming every centimeter of the Holy Land, Eretz Israel supposedly given by god to the Jews. This theocratic, halachic Zionism encompasses various elements of Jewish eschatology—Gog and Magog, the Day of Judgment, the return of exiles, even the rebuilding of a Third Temple upon the Temple Mount in a new Jerusalem and a return to animal sacrifice—and intends nothing less than building a literal paradise on earth in the form of a Greater Israel. So while the realization of a Messianic kingdom here and now through Jewish efforts is completely opposite to the divine dramaturgy that marks sweeping Christian/Islamic end of the world scenarios, there’s a frightening synchronicity between the messianism of settler Zionism and the apocalypticism of Christianity and Islam.
Progressives often wonder why any sane woman votes Republican, given the GOP’s atrocious record on women’s issues. I constantly wonder why rational individuals have anything to do with end time politicians. I mean, how does one trust a politician or a political organization to work for the common good and a common future when they proclaim that the end of the world is near? Should an evangelical president who fervently believes in the apocalypse have his finger on the nuclear launch button? Not that electoral politics, or politics-as-usual, can do much to diffuse the apocalyptic tango between Christian evangelicals, Islamic jihadis and Jewish extremists that seems to be centered once again in the Middle East.
Evangelical voters are mostly Republicans, and they’re now divided between Rubio and Cruz, with Bush in third place, as we enter February. Trump polls only slightly higher than Hillary (3.3% to 2.1% as of 7-30-15) among evangelicals, but evangelicals are by no means anybody-but-Trump types (see JC Derrick, worldmag.com, for more evangelical politics).
Trump continues to hold steady in the polls even as more and more conservatives comes out against him. The National Review recently editorialized against Trump as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” (1-21-16) NR hosted a symposium in which some 22 leading conservatives vented their opposition to a Trump GOP nomination. Talk show host Glenn Beck, in endorsing Ted Cruz in Iowa, said that he prefers Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump because at least Sanders is honest about being a socialist.
There’s clear evidence that Trump is actually pulling a lot of his support from white working-class Democrats, all the while Trump garners endorsements from the likes of Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin. (See Robert Reich’s “Who lost the white working class?” 1-19-16) The backing from Blue Dog Democrats won’t be enough to get Trump elected president, but it will continue to further fracture the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Meaning that there’s gonna be a lot of blood spilled before this ongoing GOP debacle falls out, and there’s little likelihood the party will unite behind either Rubio or Cruz—the candidates favored by evangelicals—if Trump is not nominated. A split RNC is all but inevitable, and if one or another Republican elite attempts to broker the convention, breakaway movements and third party runs are guaranteed.
So its a win all around, except for the part about Hillary winning the presidency.
Don’t be fooled by the youthful insurgency surrounding Bernie’s candidacy or the supposedly hapless nature of Clinton’s campaign. At this stage of the Democratic primary, she has the numbers and he doesn’t, even without the intervention of party super delegates. No amount of young idealism is going to prevail over old entrenched Democratic Party money and power. It looks like Hillary faces a severely divided Republican field and a critically weakened GOP, so she will prevail. Of course, things can turn on a dime. I’m reminded of that as we go to press, and the news of Scalia’s death comes home to roost. Obama, a rather middle-of-the-road Democrat, now has a stunning opportunity to significantly impact the judicial philosophy of the Supreme Court for generations to come. His appointment in turn will be fought tooth and nail by the Republicans. Chances are good come November 2016, each party will field candidates for President, Vice President, and Supreme Court Justice.
It’s pure smack to this old political junkie.