“We’re heading into nut country today.”John F. Kennedy to Jackie in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963
On the night of March 23, 1997, Marshall Applewhite prepared to achieve his life’s mission. As the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult, he had already supervised the successful “evacuation” of several followers. Now he would be the last of the chosen few to join the alien spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet speeding past Earth.
As he mixed a lethal dose of phenobarbital into his applesauce, did he experience doubt? Did he wonder whether his psychiatrists had been right? Chances are, no worries clouded his blissful mind. He probably ate his poison and slipped the bag over his head with a smile on his face.
Americans were morbidly fascinated in 1997 by the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult. What makes someone abandon rationality, surrendering their personal agency to the point of death? Why would someone deliberately destroy their life in the pursuit of an unimaginably stupid concept? Instead of these questions, we should be asking ourselves why we find this behavior surprising at all. Cult logic is a powerful political tool, far more consistent with our biology than the contortions of Enlightenment Era reasoning. Destructive religious cults are as American as mass gun ownership, and their power warps our politics on a daily basis.
Most of the world was baffled by the Trump Administration’s decision to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sure, Republicans had been threatening to do this for two decades, but Trump was the first President sufficiently unconcerned to carry out this self-sabotage unilaterally, with nothing in return. It was a provocative statement, destroying the last remnants of US credibility in the Mideast peace process, signaling a new commitment to permanent enmity with the Islamic World. The US joined exactly zero other countries in making this puzzling move. What did the American people gain? Nothing, it was a pure loss for the US, and a dangerous escalation of tensions in the wider world.
So why did Trump do it? Beyond that one decision, why is one of the most unapologetically racist leaders in our history, a man lauded by KKK leader David Duke for his anti-Semitism, such an enthusiastic supporter of Israel?
Trump moved our embassy to Jerusalem to satisfy a crucial element of his base, and it isn’t Jewish voters. White evangelicals, the voting bloc consisting of roughly 20% of the national electorate and about 80% of the GOP’s remaining organizational leadership, cheered this step. They see how inflammatory and potentially disastrous this simple move could be, and that’s why they wanted it to happen.
Over the past generation, white evangelicals have embraced what can only logically be described as an apocalyptic death cult. They are unconcerned about Mideast wars, climate change, poverty or of course, racism, because each new disaster brings us closer to their religious fantasies of The End. Our powerful religious nutjobs, who utterly control the Republican Party, yearn for the day when they can look down on you from a living heaven while you suffer a world of unrelenting horrors. White evangelicals, through the Republican Party, are voting to make the apocalypse now.
It would be a mistake to try to explain this death cult theology without a refresher on cult reasoning. When confronted with the firmly and passionately held End Times beliefs of someone like former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there’s a temptation to dismiss them as either mentally ill or stupid. Pompeo finished first in his class at West Point, then went on to earn a law degree at Harvard. He’s not dumb and he’s not crazy by any medical definition. And unlike much of the rest of the Trump staff, Pompeo isn’t a grifter. He’s there because he actually believes in some very scary stuff.
Pompeo’s beliefs, which we’ll explore later, sound crazy because they aren’t accessible through conventional reasoning. Cult logic doesn’t operate like rational or scientific logic.
Anyone with sufficient intellect and curiosity can independently discover that the world is round, or that clouds are composed of water vapor. One need not believe in anything to access that reality. It is empirically provable, demonstrable through the power of the scientific method. You need not possess any faith in Thomas Edison to access the power of electricity. You don’t have to say a prayer or conduct a ritual before flipping a light switch. It just works, whether you believe in it or not.
A multi-cultural democracy sits on a foundation of empirically provable data, things that work for everyone regardless of our backgrounds or beliefs. Scientific values developed in the Enlightenment Era make our democracy possible. Whatever religious, spiritual or fantasy beliefs any group of Americans may have, we can reach consensus on a shared public reality through an appeal to our shared experience of empirically demonstrable facts. That’s how we manage to live together without bloodshed despite vast differences in personal values. Cult logic does not operate this way.
Cult reasoning starts with a source of authority. It may be the teachings of a guru or pastor, a pamphlet, Mao’s little red book, or a series of YouTube videos. That authority is built around a revelation, something accessible only to those with the special virtue of faith. Revelations from this authority are often treated as a secret, only revealed after careful demonstrations of group loyalty. Reality in a cult is judged by its relationship to “truth” as defined by an authority. Unlike a lightbulb, or climate science, cult logic only works for those who believe in it. To everyone else, it is nonsense.
That’s why the beliefs of people like Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, and Rick Perry can seem nuts. These beliefs only make sense within the context of the wider cult. No one discovers these beliefs through independent testing or research, they are only persuasive after you’ve accepted the authority of the cult and its leaders. And out in the real world of evangelical faith, almost everyone inherits these cult beliefs through family. The really scary folks are the fresh converts, but they are thankfully rare.
A powerful obstacle to understanding this movement is its fundamentally unbelievable character. Evangelical beliefs about the End Times, as serious as cancer to those in its grip, are dismissed by those outside the movement as an insignificant fringe if they are ever engaged at all. These beliefs are simply too implausible to be taken seriously by those outside the mental framework of the cult. No one could possibly take this stuff seriously, yet they do.
End Times Dispensationalism
So what are these End Times beliefs that have converted much of the remaining Protestant establishment in American into a disastrous death cult? It’s complicated.
Christians have always believed that Jesus would one day return, but that belief started out vague, and grew steadily less important as this key event kept failing to occur. In first decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Apostle Paul believed that Jesus’ return was so imminent that people needn’t bother getting married. Naturally, that belief didn’t age well.
As time passed and Christians who initially thought themselves immune from death started dying, these young churches needed an explanation. New Testament writers offered a series of oblique pronouncements about an End of Days, but their attention gradually moved from the imminent return of someone who persistently failed to return, toward a focus on Heaven and the Afterlife.
One Biblical writer, influenced apparently by persecutions of Christians in the Second Century, wrote a psychedelic screed which came to be titled Revelations. To the extent that anyone can derive context or meaning from this rant, it seems to be directed squarely at the writer’s most hated targets, the Romans and the Jews. In it Jesus is said to condemn the unbelieving Jews as the “Synagogue of Satan” and their future torments are described with sadistic color. It also imagines a series of exquisite horrors to be vengefully visited on its other main character, Rome, at the End of the World.
The Book of Revelations barely made it into our New Testament canon and the Christian belief in Jesus’s return faded into a minor element of the faith. Down through the centuries, End Times theology flared up in times of plague, disorder, or mayhem, but it remained the playground of religious zealots and outcasts, never developed with much interest by conventional theologians.
Ask an American evangelical today about Armageddon or the End of the World, and you’re likely to hear a story gleaned from popular literature that descends not from the early church or the Bible, but from the colorful imagination of a 19th century English cultist.
After being seriously injured in a fall from horse in 1827, lapsed cleric John Nelson Darby began to write down the theology God had revealed to him. Most of his work was forgotten, and his teachings flopped entirely in Europe. However, one element of his cult mythology caught fire in the US, especially in the South. By crafting together bits and pieces of Biblical text like the disconnected words on refrigerator magnets, Darby invented a story of The End Times perfectly suited for the needs of slaveholder religion in the South. It was called Dispensationalism.
Darby taught that history was broken up into “dispensations,” periods in which different theological rules and realities applied. In this scheme, Jesus will return one day to establish his perfect millennial kingdom. Before this can happen, the world must experience a terrible dispensation, a seven-year cataclysm, which he called The Tribulation. This period of unbridled famine, disease, and sadism will be initiated by the political rise of a figure they call The Antichrist, who will act as a global dictator.
Ask an actual theologian about this, even someone at most Southern Baptist or evangelical seminaries, and you’re likely to be greeted with a dismissive eye-roll. And Catholics aren’t buying this garbage at all. “Serious” religious figures have dismissed this nonsense since it was invented, limiting its spread to the relatively ungoverned, atomized churches of evangelical faiths. Book-reading, seminary-trained theologians have as much influence over evangelical religion as establishment Republican leaders have over their party’s voters.
Over time, Darby’s core beliefs were developed to fit new circumstances, but the fundamental story that’s come down to us evolved as follows, with variations depending on which cult guru you consider authoritative.
The first half of Darby’s Tribulation will be relatively unremarkable. The second half will be a global bloodbath of Biblical proportions, culminating in a battle in the valley in front of the Megiddo hills, called Har Megiddo or in common English translation, Armageddon. Jesus himself will physically return to Earth at that battle like some celestial Gandalf and establish his new kingdom over the blood-drenched ruins of modern Israel and Palestine.
Certain events will precede the rise of the Antichrist, including the reestablishment of Israel as a homeland for the Jews…so that they can be utterly destroyed, and all “unrepentant” Jews can be ushered off to their rightful place in Hell. The exact events precipitating this apocalypse are a cultist’s playground. New gurus emerge with new theories all the time as the assumptions of previous prophets are falsified by unfolding events. The End of the World never disappoints, even though it never happens, because it lives in the realm of unquestionable faith and cult loyalty.
Now, you might imagine that people would want to avoid an outcome so dark and terrible, but Darby’s theology included a clever caveat. You see, at the outset of this period of misery and punishment all the good people, the faithful members of the cult, will be yanked away to heaven like happy little Hare Krishnas. Thanks to The Rapture, faithful believers will watch the Tribulation unfold from God’s skybox, looking down with satisfying schadenfreude as all those spiteful sinners who laughed at them get starved, tortured and murdered. In the most commonly accepted version of the death cult, all the believers are spared from the consequences of the End of the World.
Dispensationalism was a sacred invitation to destroy everything around us without consequence. It freed believers from the frustrating, tedious, spiritual labor of creating a better world in favor of a liberating nihilism and sanctified bigotry. Among Southerners, who had long struggled to retrofit a religion of liberation and brotherhood to serve the economic demands of a racist slave republic and then a Jim Crow terrorist regime, Darby’s death cult was like a magic key to a new political world. It arrived just in time to neutralize any religious urge toward social justice while Southern planters were reestablishing their post-Civil War dominance.
Belief in The Rapture encouraged an inversion of Christianity, in which all the powerful, difficult elements of traditional Christianity that encourage compassion, humility and positive engagement in the world are dismissed as irrelevant. The universe becomes a grand trash bag, to be used and discarded, with no hope of improvement. It produces a worldview in which goodness is defined-down to mere cult loyalty.
No individual action, no matter how repugnant, is bad so long as it furthers the aims of the cult. And any effort wasted on improving the world around you is practically a sin. The only worthwhile investments in public life are aimed at gaining new recruits and influencing politics toward the apocalypse. It was the purest spiritual distillation of American bigotry, narcissism, racism and greed. We have yet to confront its growth or its implications.
From Civil War to Civil Rights
Darby’s ideas were picked up in the 1880’s by a struggling frontier hustler named Cyrus Scofield. A Confederate soldier and deserter who roamed the Midwest after the war, down on his luck after a series of attempted scams had been busted, Scofield found Jesus, or at least the opportunity that Jesus presented, during an 1879 St. Louis crusade by the evangelist DL Moody. He organized his first church just a year later in St Louis, but his reputation for corruption and rumors about the family he abandoned dampened recruiting and revenue. Like so many struggling con artists before him, he improved his luck by leaving his home community and reestablishing himself in Texas.
In Dallas, Scofield finally found success, building what became an early prototype of the mega-church. Empowered by a mythological Confederate pedigree he invented for himself (he’d actually been born in Michigan), Scofield set about shaping the core of Darby’s End Times ideas into a Confederate Lost Cause narrative. He joined the United Confederate Veterans group in Dallas, presided over the unveiling of new Confederate monuments, and spoke repeatedly about “the Negro problem” in their community. United Daughters of the Confederacy, at a Decoration Day event in 1904, offered Scofield a medal for his “valor” at Antietam, apparently unaware of his desertion.
From his Dallas pulpit, Scofield did more than anyone else to spread Darby’s End Times mythology among fundamentalist congregations. Though he lacked any formal education and had never been a church member prior to his “conversion,” in true American style he established himself as a cult guru, calling himself “ Dr. Scofield” and building a reputation on his fiery End Times preaching. The Dallas Morning News printed his sermons, replete with references to Confederate exploits and the glory of the Lost Cause. He traveled extensively through the US and Britain on speaking engagements. But most of all it was his Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated guide to the scriptures, which my grandmother was still reading in the 1980’s, that cemented Darby’s original mythological invention into Southern culture.
Scofield found success by congratulating the wealthy and comforting the comfortable, a feat made easier by the slaveholder religion of white evangelicalism and the new innovation of End Times theology. He preached that democracy and a corrupt, lying press would bring about the reign of the Antichrist. As the first twinkling of industrialization stirred in Dallas, he railed against labor agitators and social reformers.
It was in the pages of his Bible reference that I first learned of “Ham’s Curse,” a Southern theological explanation of supposed innate black inferiority descending from the sin of one man. The same book described Catholics as pagans and suggested that the Roman Church was the “Whore of Babylon” from the Book of Revelations. But Scofield undertook a racial innovation of his own with remarkable consequences.
Scofield began to preach that the Jews were a specially-blessed race, with a key role to play in Jesus’ return (prior to their eventual annihilation, of course). It was Scofield who paved the path down which Jews in the South could become some asterisked version of “white.” Along the way, his theological innovation created the strange dynamic we still see today, in which virulently racist white religious nuts, perfectly comfortable tormenting little brown children from “the Mexican countries,” are also fanatically attached to Israel and oddly enamored of everything Jewish. This seems like a curious carve-out from Scofield’s otherwise bigoted universe, but it fits with his over-arching concern, and the central premise of slave-state evangelicalism – protecting the interests of wealthy patrons.
Though the Jewish experience in Texas was old and diverse (there was a Jewish soldier at the Alamo), the Jewish community Scofield knew in turn of the century Dallas was relatively urbane and affluent. Scofield built a venture-pastor business on his ministry to elites, and the only Jews he knew were part of that elite.
The great waves of 19th European immigration to America were never more than a trickle in the South. Jews Scofield knew in Dallas were from merchant families with broad national and even international nodes, some including Confederate veterans. In Southern cities, affluent Jews held a special place, frequently among the most educated, traveled and cultured members of society. Many were like the Dallas retail entrepreneur, Alex Sanger, relocating to Texas to extend an already successful family network. In short, Scofield is unlikely to have ever in his life encountered a Jew who wasn’t his social better, and he built his life, business, and theology around serving the needs of his social betters. Within the context of Scofield’s world, his curious racist “exemption” for Jews makes sense, though it set evangelicals at odds with a wider Southern racist world for the coming decades.
This spiritual moonshine of backwoods batshit theology and self-congratulating racism percolated quietly through Southern life through the first half of the 20th century. Fundamentalist believers like my grandmother, who became enamored with this stuff in the 1920’s, took the meaning of The Rapture to a predictable extreme. Why bother with any involvement in public life if your efforts were meaningless, and the only real reward was in Heaven?
Evangelical dispensationalism was the perfect opiate for lower income whites in an exploitative, racist system. Like most of the fundamentalists of her era, my grandmother had no interest in politics. I’m not sure if she ever cast a vote. Fundamentalist theology delivered all the value its donors needed by simply keeping the poor white folks quiet. That wouldn’t last. Eventually, the wealthy rentiers who dominated Southern politics would need this racist mass moved to action. When the real white apocalypse approached, even these supposedly passive observers would be moved to frenzied activism.
The threat of desegregation brought Armageddon to white Southerners’ doorsteps, ending the political passivity of fundamentalist congregations. Republicans from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon had fumbled through efforts to appeal to Southerners, but Republicans simply couldn’t crack the code. Though they gained some ground in Presidential elections after the 1964-65 Civil Rights Acts and they managed to persuade some established Southern politicians to switch parties, Republicans had virtually no presence on the ground in the South for two more decades. It was pastors, not politicians, who built the machine that would convert dyed in the wool Southern Democrats to the GOP. And it was the logic of the apocalyptic death cult that would help them translate a discredited “segregation forever” into the politics of the culture wars.
The Evangelical Death Cult Enters Popular Culture
Evangelical death cult theology was popularized for mass audiences starting in the 1960’s by TV and radio preachers like Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Hal Lindsey, who had trained in the Dallas Theological Seminary that had sprung up in the wake of Cyrus Scofield, wrote The Late, Great, Planet Earth, in 1970. It was a best-selling fictionalization of Scofield and Darby’s apocalyptic mythology, which was turned into a 1974 prime time television special with more than 17 million viewers. In the show, Lindsey “suggested” that the Tribulation would come in the 1980’s, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel, belief my grandmother shared. As part of a broader national frenzy for cults, the occult and apocalyptic art, the evangelical death cult became a mass cultural phenomenon.
As federal pressure rose on Southern pastors in the late 70’s to desegregate private “segregation academies,” preachers trained in the apocalyptic language of the death cult finally mobilized their congregations toward a massive party switch. Starting in the Reagan Era and culminating with the rise of George W. Bush, the believers in the death cult first became the dominant force in evangelical religion, and then came to control the Republican Party. Starting in the Bush II years, open death cult enthusiasts like Attorney General John Ashcroft began to occupy a few positions of national political influence. A cult that just a generation before had eschewed any involvement in politics or popular culture was now placing adherents in the President’s Cabinet.
Still, why should any of these people have cared in the least what happened in the culture around them? It may be impossible for anyone outside the cult mindset to appreciate this crucial wrinkle, but it’s the last piece of the puzzle for understanding the political impact of the death cult.
Who Actually Believes This Crap?
So, is this death cult a niche belief of a few weirdos, or are there really millions of people who believe in this bizarre garbage? I have some bad news. Probably about half of Trump’s voters in 2016 were motivated at least in part by their apocalyptic beliefs. And basically every member of Trump’s administration who isn’t in it for the grift, and a few like Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt who are, believe in the teachings of the evangelical death cult. Thanks to some adaptations in their theology over the past few decades, death cult enthusiasts have developed an unshakeable grip over the wreckage of the Republican Party.
By the early 90’s, Dixiecrats who’d flooded into the empty Republican infrastructure in the South were joining forces with evangelical believers elsewhere in the country to overwhelm the GOP establishment. Wealthy death-cult entrepreneur Pat Robertson, staged a semi-serious run for President in 1988, actually winning the Iowa Caucus. Newly activated evangelicals torpedoed the reelection campaign of George HW Bush in 1992. They didn’t reject him because he raised taxes or failed to deliver on abortion promises. Death cult believers came to hate George I because he uttered a single hated phrase, “New World Order,” and pursued a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that terrified apocalyptic evangelicals.
Neither George Bush, nor any of the relatively sophisticated, educated people in his administration could have known this, but the evangelical nuts on which the new GOP coalition depended had been using the term “New World Order” to describe a future global dictatorship which would “soon” be established by the reigning Antichrist. Between the use of this triggering phrase, and Bush’s pursuit of newly potent international agreements, death cult enthusiasts began to see him as a threat. Bush’s support among evangelicals collapsed, costing him the ’92 Election, a fate his son would carefully avoid.
But wait, why would death cult enthusiasts care at all? Once they had successfully blunted civil rights reforms, what interest could they retain in the wider world?
This may be difficult, but try to place yourself in the shoes of a death cult believer. You know that the terror of the Tribulation is coming any day now to smite the shiznit out of all those filthy unbelievers (who are coincidentally almost all non-white). But how to you know you won’t be “left behind” after the Rapture? I mean, you know you won’t be left behind because you go to church and you’ve be “born again” and all that jazz, but do you really know?
All of these people are harboring their fears about the things they’ve done, the things they don’t talk about. Pressing down their skeevy desires and secret actions until they all walk around looking like Mike Pence, they know of a hundred unrevealed reasons why God might abandon them to the torments of the Antichrist. Sin-stained death cult believers need a backup plan, and that plan is America.
Death cult entrepreneur, Tim LaHaye and his co-writer Jerry Jenkins, encapsulated these evangelical fears into an updated revision of End Time theology with their 1994 novel, Left Behind. He would expand the story to twelve books which would make him a multi-millionaire, selling 80 million copies before launching a series of campy films based on the series. For a sense of scale, it’s estimated that Oprah’s Book Club recommendations resulted in only 55 million books sold. If you’ve never heard of the Left Behind series, then you don’t know what a quarter of American voters are reading, and that’s a problem.
LaHaye sits squarely in the racist tradition of Scofield, having attended the militantly segregated Bob Jones University in South Carolina. His wildly anti-Catholic bigotry got him kicked off Republican campaigns until he became a key advisor to pastor Mike Huckabee, father of Sarah Sanders Huckabee, on his 2008 Presidential run. LaHaye has a particular obsession with homosexuality, as often happens in…certain circumstances. He managed to write an entire book on the subject in 1978 without, of course, any first-hand personal experience.
Through LaHaye, the death cult theology got a reboot with a reinforcing shot of old tyme Southern racism and a new focus on nationalism. His story is focused on some nice white people who failed to get picked in the holy draft of The Rapture. Finding themselves “left behind” his very white characters, sporting 70’s porn-star names like Rayford Steele and Buck Williams, convert (a little late) to the true faith. Holed up in the center of what’s left of righteous America, they form a ‘Tribulation Force’ to oppose the internationalist Antichrist. There’s even a token black character in the fourth book. He dies, of course.
In LaHaye’s story, the old Pope was raptured because he secretly believed in Protestant theology. The replacement Pope forms an alliance with the Antichrist, because of course he does. Jews in the story are good if they convert and become solid white folk. The rest are screwed.
LaHaye’s vision of The Tribulation is dominated by a laundry list of right wing racist villains. The NAACP, the ACLU, women’s and civil rights groups, environmentalists, and of course Planned Parenthood, join forces to tear down any vestige of true white religion, replacing it with rationalist godlessness.
The quiet message behind the stories is that death cult believers who think they might be “left behind,” which is basically all of them, should see red-state America is their sacred redoubt. Believers must not only hasten the catastrophic events which will herald the apocalypse, they must do it in a manner that preserves white America as a militant backwater, insulated from global events, just in case. Believers need guns, survival gear, and lots of twenty-gallon jugs of space food to help them ride out the disaster approaching for non-whites, and for all those candy-assed, latte sipping white people in the godless cities. If you think people don’t passionately believe in this garbage, then you’re smoking political crack.
For white nationalists in America, Left Behind has replaced The Turner Diaries as their theological touchstone, and along the way it has allowed them to go mainstream, or at least flyover-country-mainstream. Left Behind is fundamentally the same story as The Turner Diaries, influenced by the same evangelical death cult tradition, with the same white heroes and exotic foreign villains, but cleaned up just enough to reach bookstore shelves in Kansas City, though maybe not Boston. In the world of the American evangelical death cult, godlessness is whitelessness, and whitelessness is the definition of the apocalypse.
Does the Left Behind series and its accompanying wave of white nationalist apocalypse porn matter?
John McCain’s most potent ad of the ’08 campaign darkly depicted Obama as “The One.” Mainstream commentators universally missed the subtle but deliberate reference to the Left Behind series. Death cult believers recognized the reference and the apocalyptic imagery, sparking a reaction so strong that LaHaye and Jenkins had to issue a press release stating that they “don’t think Obama is the Antichrist” and the comparisons are “probably” overblown. I mean, probably, but who really knows for sure? Popular right wing radio host Chris Baker described Obama as “the Nicolae Carpathia candidate,” the name of the Antichrist in the books. Soon, McCain began to be confronted with strange outbursts from lathered up racists at his rallies and he never knew why.
Republican politicians are getting better at using death cult imagery to translate white fears into a racist political bloc. The rest of America is largely oblivious to this subculture, to our great, consequential detriment. You can’t understand why white evangelicals describe a wholly corrupt politician as their Messiah without reference to this bizarre mythology. The evangelical death cult is why we can’t have nice things.
No one in either party with any concern for their reputation, ethics or future was willing to serve in the Trump Administration, apart from a handful of figures like James Mattis and Rex Tillerson who foolishly believed they could blunt the damage. This power vacuum presented a perfect opportunity for death cult enthusiasts, whose influence had previously been stunted by their bizarre beliefs.
Formerly a minor Congressional figure from Kansas, Mike Pompeo, who has spoken publicly about his belief in the Rapture has now served as CIA Director and Secretary of State. Segregationist hero Jeff Sessions became Attorney General. Rick Perry, who earned a “D” in a class at Texas A&M called “Meats,” took on the normally brainiac role of Energy Secretary. Death cult guru, Ralph Drollinger has brought this core of believers together into an unprecedented cabinet-level prayer group. The only people in the Trump Administration who aren’t there to steal the silverware are working to realize the white nationalist apocalypse.
The difference between this administration and the Bush and Reagan Presidencies is that the inmates are running the asylum. Trump has no politics or policies. So long as he’s free to loot, he has no interest in what his evangelical minions do. He’ll move the US Embassy to Jerusalem or call Kim Jong Un a great guy as long as the check clears. However, as frightening as these very powerful members of the death cult might be, their power comes from the base.
News media was obsessed for months after the 2016 Election with a search for understanding. Who were these “forgotten” people who chose to support the most patently incompetent Presidential candidate in modern times? As in the aftermath of the Heaven’s Gate suicides, the media wanted to know who was eating this poisoned applesauce.
Gallons of ink poured out to record the semi-coherent ramblings of “down and out” Great Lakes residents, but the story remains incomplete. Unemployment rates in key battlegrounds like Erie County had been declining throughout the Obama Era while a boom economy took shape. Hints of the racism and religious batshittery seizing Republican voters was edited out or relegated to the margins. Educated people with long exposure to our big coastal cities and the wider world simply could not grasp what was unfolding.
In Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild wrote of her experiences ‘walking among them,’ using techniques from anthropology to understand what drove Louisiana voters toward such destructive politics. Somehow she missed religion entirely. None of these Trump whisperers explored Republican voters’ beliefs about the end of the world. It probably wouldn’t matter if they’d asked, because the answers statements would have been as garbled and meaningless to non-believing ears as an hour of whale songs.
None of the Trump whisperers ever bothered to talk with Republican Stephanie Borowicz, who had narrowly failed in her 2016 challenge to the long-time Democratic state legislator from central Pennsylvania’s 76th District. Borowicz would go on to take that seat in a second 2018 campaign. She gained notoriety this year for a particularly bigoted opening prayer in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, but Borowicz is still not famous for her most dangerous beliefs. To understand why white, racist religious nuts are drinking poisoned Kool Aid, you need to understand Stephanie Borowicz and her voters.
Borowicz is a transplanted Southerner, educated in a California “university” run by the Assemblies of God, the same evangelical, Dispensationalist denomination I grew up in. She was propelled into office on the strength of her experience as a preacher’s wife and on the bigoted religious rhetoric she was selling.
Why are the most religious people you know so enthusiastic about a racist professional criminal in the White House? Why are the most loudly pious people you know entranced by white nationalism? Why would people charged with loving their neighbor care nothing whatsoever about climate change? And most confusing of all, why are the most racist people you know such passionately uncritical supporters of Israel? The evangelical death cult of End Times escapism is the answer. You can see the political movement driving apocalyptic Republican policies in a single Facebook post for Borowicz.
Remember, Borowicz was running for a state legislative seat. Her prospective job had nothing to do with foreign policy. There’s only one reason to blow that Jerusalem dogwhistle – to identify herself with the death cult and activate their support. That dynamic explains why Republicans all over the country, even in places where the death cult has little power or reach, feel compelled to at least feign support. Evangelical cultists are the backbone of Republican electoral power. And these people love Donald Trump. They love Trump because he supports their vision of an isolated, white nationalist America, and they believe they need that white nationalist bolthole to survive the imminent apocalypse.
Scroll Borowicz’s Facebook feed and you’ll be treated to a lot of God, American flags, Israeli flags, and guns. Lots and lots of guns.
Going all back to Cyrus Scofield and his generous compassionate ministry to Dallas’ wealthy Christians, evangelicals have always had a close relationship to the rentier class. That disinterest in making the world a better place is reflected in the day to day political choices of leaders like Borowicz and their death cult disciples. Thanks to Darby’s theological invention, the evangelical death cult is free from any concern for social justice, fairness, rights, or the betterment of mankind in any form. In fact, the better things get, the farther they grow from their cherished doomsday. Trump is the perfect expression of their white racist hopes for the world, which is no hope at all.
They say that you become what you hate. White evangelical Americans fear an Antichrist who is a charismatic charlatan, claiming religious authority while only interested in his own power and enrichment. He will appear to have been destroyed, then emerge unharmed from seemingly unrecoverable damage. They claim he’ll be greeted as a Messiah and worshipped as a god, while the fools taken in by his lies ignore his crimes. He will present himself as a great friend and protector of Israel. He will speak blasphemies and his followers will put his mark upon their foreheads. Perhaps best of all, the Antichrist will be enabled by a “false prophet,” a holy man who causes others to follow him. White evangelical cultists have built an American President out of their model of the Antichrist and they don’t even see it.
Few prominent American political figures showed their faces at the opening ceremony for the American Embassy in Jerusalem, but two Texas TV preachers delivered public prayers at the event.
Robert Jeffress inherited the pulpit at First Baptist in Dallas from the segregationist firebrand, WA Criswell. Jeffress practically worships Trump, publicly dismissing concerns about his adultery, embezzlement and frauds. He even fashioned a “Make America Great Again” hymn. Jeffress is an enthusiastic death cult believer, celebrating the move of the US Embassy as inline with Biblical prophecy. Mitt Romney minced no words over the choice to honor Jeffress at the event, “a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Jeffress’ fellow Texas venture-pastor, John Hagee, enjoys a similar heritage, blending bigoted religion with right-wing politics from his lucrative pulpit in San Antonio. Hagee, who is slightly crazier and considerably less housebroken than Jeffress, nonetheless deserved his star role in the ceremonies. Jeffress was there primarily as a reward for his loyalty to Trump. Hagee, on the other hand, played as much of a role in the embassy move as the Kleptocrat prominently seated in the front row, Sheldon Adelson. Over decades Hagee has forged close ties between death cult enthusiasts and right wing Israeli politicians, with help and funding from Adelson, building the broad public pressure that facilitated the move.
And tagging along on the trip was Trump’s “pastor,” a slow-rolling personal train wreck and full-grown Honey-booboo of TV preachers, Paula White. All three of these religious grifters were there to congratulate their new Messiah on his holy wisdom, while staying in the comfortable and lucrative wake of his approval.
Global leaders warned of the dangers of this US move, fearing it could limit America’s capacity to prevent a catastrophic conflict far beyond containment. Hagee and Jeffress agree entirely. They have lobbied for the relocation of the US Embassy precisely because they think it might trigger the apocalypse, the destruction of Israel, and the eternal damnation of unrepentant Jews. American Evangelicals aren’t just praying for the apocalypse, they are working to make it real.
Evangelical Christianity in modern America is, like the Taliban or the Nazis, a deep-seated bug in the software of liberal democracy, a fundamental human glitch wired to destroy our plans for a better world. Tens of millions of evangelical voters are praying for nothing with the passion and commitment they bring to their dreams of the apocalypse. Practically no one outside the movement believes they take these destructive ambitions seriously, and a precious few within the movement are open to the slightest sliver of doubt. Like the Taliban, this is a political force beyond negotiation, which we will either confront and defeat, or continue to ignore while they destroy the democratic experiment.
Press this issue and you’ll hear howls of religious discrimination. Anyone should be allowed to run for office in this country, regardless of their religious beliefs. Voters and journalists should be able to inquire about those beliefs, and the potential impact of those beliefs on policy. If voters want the leadership of members of the Heavens Gate, or Jonestown or even the Manson Cults, then those members should be free to serve. But no one in our system should be allowed to impose their religious beliefs through force of law, and no one should be excused from answering questions about their values. Our system survives on our willingness to base public policy on reason and empirical reality rather than our manufactured cult realities.
Say what you will about the Heaven’s Gate cult members, but at least they were only interested in their own suicide. The evangelical death cult in its modern form is mixing up their poisoned applesauce for everyone.
Related post: Why is White Evangelicalism So Cruel?