A friend of mine writes on esoteric matters and one of his recent video talks got my attention. He was discussing dispensationalism as an ‘engineered ideology’. You’ve probably heard the tenets of dispensationalism, even if you don’t know that word. It’s the Protestant evangelical theory of the imminent disappearance of millions of people (Protestant evangelicals) into the sky – an event called “the rapture” – after which, according to the theory – there will be a 7 year “tribulation” on the earth (terrible things happening – rivers boiling with blood, etc.), and Israel will fight as ‘the earthly people of God’ against the antichrist who has taken over a “revived Roman empire” and stamped everyone with his insignia. Then Israel gets martyred, and the Savior returns with his angels to win the war, inaugurating a 1000 year golden age of peace on the earth. Then the world is destroyed after all, and judgment occurs. Or something like that (it’s been a while since I looked closely at the various charts they’ve made, so a few details might be off).
Dispensationalism is not part of Christian tradition: My friend points out that this is a relatively recent system and, quite correctly, that it is not part of historic Christianity, but is in fact considered a heresy by the Orthodox Church and was, at least until recently, by the Roman Catholics too, and still is by Reformed Protestants. It became the dominant preoccupation among religious fundamentalists in the West, based on the popular ‘study bible’ notes of C.I. Scofield (someone who wrote in the margins of his book a lot), and was propagated by Dallas Theological Seminary and the gazillion independent evangelical churches those graduates founded and inspired during the Goldwater-Reagan era, and so was linked with neo-conservatism as a quasi-religious political ideology (see Sharlett’s book “The Family” if you’re interested in how that really happened) and therefore with the military industrial complex Eisenhower spoke of. It is largely the reason why the US considers Israel an inviolable ally to this day – seemingly unaccountably (any politician challenging that doctrine is signing a political death warrant) – and also for the massive opposition to climate science, with private studies funded by corporate energy lobbies (the ones who have been benefitting from the last few wars) and backed by religious ideology.
Most Christians consider it heresy: One point, that this friend made, I think is particularly worth repeating – and that is that dispensationalism has become so prevalent that the average person, who is religiously illiterate, thinks that’s just what Christians believe. People seem completely unaware that actually any Christianity with a history going back more than a few hundred years holds to nothing of the kind and considers such ideology alien if not repugnant. Keep in mind, Protestantism itself is of fairly recent vintage. That particular Protestant ideology, eschewed by Reformed Protestants but adopted by the Brush Arbor Revival movement that gave us mass evangelicalism and populist politics, incidentally, is even more recent.
It’s inconsistent with what Christians have always said: All of this “Left Behind” stuff would be baffling to Christians just 5 centuries ago, before there were any Protestants at all. Back then, there was no looking at Hebrews as a special people – Christians (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) considered themselves the new Israel whose Messiah had come, fulfilling all the Patriarchs and Prophets, just as Reformed Protestants do now – an idea they inherited from the original stream, if you will. The idea of a separate chosen people and the validity of some kind of re-instituted animal sacrifices as atonement for sin in a rebuilt temple, which dispensationalists push for according to their theory, would have been considered most dire heresy to anyone receiving the blood of Christ in the Christian liturgy. In the West, you’d likely have met the Inquisition for such an unChristian proposition, if you’d said something like that in the wrong era.
2000 years of ‘end times’: As for the 21st century being “the end times”, no one thought that in the 4th century, of course, nor the 5th, 6th, etc. There have always been moments of hysteria among ordinary people, but the Church has maintained that the ‘last days’ began when Christ came, fulfilling all the Patriarchs and Prophets. In other words, the ‘last days’ are all the days of the Church itself.
There are many antichrists: As to specific events and trends that signal the death throws of the world, the thinking of the Orthodox includes various opinions, but a general consensus is that there are and have been many antichrists, many tribulations, and many fallings away – that these things have occurred in every age, and will occur again. That is not to say that there will not be a finality to the world at some point, and a rather bleak one, a necessary working out of Death to its logical conclusion, in a kind of fascist enthusiasm for leadership and authority, with people clamouring to be led and for someone to be ‘strong’ on their behalf, trying to use power to bring all the world under one overriding system of cultural influence. You see it now, don’t you? To say “government” now is to think of something dominated by an executive, isn’t it? Hardly what the founders of the fledgling US would have considered a balanced republic.
One world culture: It’s interesting that just a few years ago, evangelicals were up in arms over “submitting” to anything like a “one world government”, calling that the great “babylon”, but they were working doubletime to ensure the world submitted to their own nation’s hegemony, and outraged when anyone even expressed disagreement with its consolidation of power (remember the French on Iraq?). But creating a one world *culture* – a monoculture – is virtually a stated goal of the same evangelicals, not just politically (in terms of “furthering our interests”) but religiously as well. That’s literally what “evangelicalism” means – to evangelize the world – to make it, specifically, evangelical – to self-propagate. And when that culture is operated from a political ‘city on a hill’, that’s exactly what a one world government is. It’s a city with “many hills”, on which the one harlot perches, as the prophesy goes. So, it’s easy to be skeptical about the prophetic doubletalk.
All sizes of Antichrist, sixty for the price of one: Likewise, we don’t question whether Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin were the antichrist – of course they all were. So was Diocletian. Herod was an antichrist. So are all the various little antichrists – Gaddafi, if you like – the list is very long. Most of them, during and since the cold war, have actually been funded and supported alternately by the United States or Communist Russia – now just the US. I find that interesting, in the wake of all the little revolutions against various antichrists happening all over the world, the vast majority of which we plan to ignore and allow to be crushed, and so the power of antichrist to be consolidated for the sake of a ‘stability’ and ‘flow of energy resources’ to the one great nation (the ‘superpower’, if you like). The one big beast supports a crown of many little horns. You’ve probably met an antichrist in a corporate setting, or a family, in a religious venue, or on the roadway driving a big vehicle and railing at you – micro-antichrists of a sort. The world is awash with any number of us ready to step up in any capacity to act as antichrist of whatever power we can gain. The person matters less than the personality and the power that is exalted as the basis of humanity and human interaction. Craving for power is high witchcraft, and you’ll see it on the airwaves, as people squint and talk about exercising the ‘power’ of “jesus” too. The ideal culture of antichrist occurs when it no longer matters who you elect to rule – you get the same thing – it could be any one of us because, eventually, it’s all of us.
Dispensationalism itself is part of the “falling away”: As for apostasy, we could read forth a litany of ‘fallings away’ – the Protestant Religion itself is a falling away from its Roman ancestor (and a logical conclusion initiated by an original falling away of one Patriarchate – the Roman one – from the other Patriarchates of the world). Evangelicalism is considered a falling away within Protestantism by other Protestants, watching their break with Rome further fragment into 10,000 denominations – as many as there are storefronts to support them. Dispensationalism itself is an example of falling away within Evangelical denominations, too, and from the tradition and eschatological thinking and analysis of the originate Christendom. The children repudiate each other, and their children’s children, just as they deserted their mother.
The “falling away” began with the first humans: The world itself fragments. As the poet said, “the center cannot hold”. That’s what we Orthodox mean by Death – first, the fragmentation of man physically (his body from his soul – do we not find them in conflict?), then of man’s soul itself (his mind conflicting with his will at odds with his emotions), of man from man (conflict among people), of the one man and the many, of one multitude and another, of man from ecology (man and all other natural creatures and things, even the world itself, the whole cosmos), of one animal species and another, one plant species and another – the lion slaughters the lamb, and the little boy spears the lion, and we all bend our plowshares into swords, and death is evermore, and sorrow and crying go on and on, and of course man from his creator – the one thing is not somehow separate from the other – it is the meaning of Death indicated in the dis-integration of all things, and addressed beyond all measure in the Incarnation. Want to see apostasy? Look at greenhouse gases. Look at war. Look at extinction. Look at epidemics. Look at how many marriages fall apart. We are always, all falling away.
Tribulations aren’t magic acts: And tribulations we have known all along. Need we enumerate them? Sure, it’s not done yet, and there’s going to be some really bad stuff go down, but it’s not without (so far) ten thousand years of tremors leading to it. An incredible blowing out away from paradise, spiraling from eternity toward entropy. Even the cosmos itself is said to be an explosion, expanding away from a fragmented center. This magic act stuff of people flying off by the gazillions isn’t happening, and certainly isn’t the point, even if it weren’t itself a form of religious apostasy – a falling away in its own right, in its pretense at ‘flying’ away.
Why would these people be raptured? I mean come on, are there really that many people who are without pride or hypocrisy or hatred or anger, who have given their surplus to the poor, shelter to the immigrant and foreigner and stranger, relieved prisoners in prison, made sure the sick had health care? That’s who Christ said the righteous are, right? And if there are a lot of such people, as many as say they are ‘saved’ in their hearts, are they really the people who have consistently done the opposite all this time, and voted against it, and lobbied against it, and screamed on talk radio about how they shouldn’t have to, and no one’s going to make them, and have erected enormous political seige engines to lay waste to anyone trying to see that it gets done? Good Lord, if they’re right about the rapture, they’re not the ones going!
The rapture as a ratline operation: The “rapture” sounds more like a Gaddafi exit strategy than justice being served or the righteous being rewarded – if anything, it’s a way out for the people who made sure the poor didn’t get public assistance, the immigrant got chased out as quickly as he arrived, the prisoners got neglected with worse treatment not better, and the sick died for lack of healthcare not healed by the willingly parted with coin of good samaritans. The rapture is more like an elevator ride out of danger to the great bomb shelter in the sky after nuking Hiroshima, draining the world of resources, starving most of the people on the planet, poisoning everything that was pure, creating the longest running period of nonstop warfare in human history, and bringing on a climactic extinction event. If there were a rapture, it would seem more like a post-WWII ratline escape to Argentina than a joy bus to cloud 9.
You’re needed here – your work isn’t done: Besides, the people with the rapture bumper stickers have been the ones clamouring for strong central leaders, the very people we need for antichrists to succeed and to get all that important work done building up that “one world government” that binds all other governments to its will, ensuring our interests are followed, and extending this particular culture into every corner of the world where “American” values can be understood, to mix a little Hal Lindsey, Darth Vader, and nearly every president since Reagan together. My own view is that whenever the people talking about the rapture get what they want, politically, economically, and religiously, we’ve got another antichrist on our hands. Remember the last one? The little devil doesn’t have to be able to string a coherent sentence together – heck golly gee, we could even see the first female president in that role in 2012 and rest assured it won’t just be more mooses that get shot from helicopters then, don’tcha know? Don’t get excited if you voted for Obama, though – same policies, difference of degrees, different face.
Which way is Rome? What about the great city among all cities they call the “whore of bablyon”? You’ve probably heard that phrase. The dispensationalists say it’s a symbolic “revived Roman empire” that weds economic, religious, and political power into one monolithic monoculture that dominates the whole world. Um… I thought we have that already. When I learned the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought that’s what we were saying – “one nation under god” – just one – not many. And currently, that nation is driven by a corporate-evangelical-neoconservative nexus of power. Do you deny it?
Eschatology is sociology: See, this is where I think they almost have it right. Eschatology (the science of prophesy) is really a sociological analysis projected forward to its logical conclusion by people with discernment – it’s a social science, as much as anything. The ancient tradition says basically, ‘hey, when you see this (aforementioned) power nexus occur, you’re looking at the culture of antichrist or, if you prefer, an anti-Christian culture’. And the fathers that wrote that stuff knew full well that “anti-” means not just opposite of, but having the trappings of the thing it is opposing – a counterfeit. In other words, the culture of antichrist, in the view of the original Christians, will mimic and proclaim itself as a “Christian civilization” and will oppose all other civilizations in its bid for hegemony (check out Samuel Huntington’s book, The Clash of Civilizations http://goo.gl/yiBWR – it’s a neoconservative bible and almost dispensationalist-like blueprint for the necessary wars of the future that will resolve all civilizations into one).
All antichrists are puppets: In short, it will be an unparalleled imperialism, under a princely executive, at the ostensible head of an economic-religious-political power structure with enormous military power (yep, that’s what the prophesy says – it says, to paraphrase, ‘you should see his armies – mess with the bull, get the horns!’ ) – but that leader, who will attempt to dominate the whole world in the name of that all-consuming, all-dominating “city”, civilization, or “nation/empire” will be just a puppet, according to the tradition. Maybe it’s even just the office of the executive and a succession of such leaders, but I think it’s certainly both. What is really behind him is the systemic evil that supports such a thing, an almost nebulous reality one could call ‘the beast’ (some have called it ‘the octopus’, some ‘leviathan’, some a ‘monster’) and, underlying that, the personal enemy of all mankind himself – the one for whom ancient pagans tossed babies to burn in the belly of Molech, whereas modern civil religionists toss white phosphorous at the babies – more efficient that way. The thing about the illusion of a presidency is that long-term policies are too important to be left to the exigencies of a single person and a 4-year timetable. A shadow government *must* exist in any successful world power, or it simply couldn’t get anything done. In that sense, it’s absolutely necessary that any president and any antichrist be a puppet. The change that’s evolving is simply that the conglomeration of power structures is becoming “multinational” as we like to put it in stock reports – or “global” when we advertise or picket it.
Onward Christian soldiers: Among the ways evangelicals tend to err is in thinking the systemic antichristian society is a single political structure, a unigovernment, like some pristine nation, instead of a massive multinational set of relationships governed by influence from a center of power which is at once both national and global. Nationalism itself feeds the culture of the beast, if you will, and blinds us to the tradition as it is elaborated before us. Anyone who has touched governmental bureacracy knows the smell of brimstone quite well, though. What, did they think you’ll know the beast by a one-page tax form, a balanced budget, and no filibustering in congress? Simple is too simplistic. Likewise, they tend to think there’s some kind of new religion, like spectacular devil worship, that will be the cult surrounding the antichrist. They fail to look at what has happened to their own religion, and how it has become the dominant political force, a civil cult, at the apex of power, a religio-political reality, and to correctly assess the antichrist living in and through that coopting of anything like real faith they might have had. You don’t vote for Sarah Palin because she makes any sense – you do so because of ideology – and religion reduced to political ideology is the ideal religion of antichrist.
Mark of the beast: In short, if I were looking at the bumper stickers, then looking up and looking around for candidates for all of this, and I had a strong background in the ancient form of Christianity that typifies Orthodoxy, I would have to shrug and burn my draft card, rather than hand out a tract on a “rapture”. There’s a ticket to ride, all right, but it’s going the other way. You know it’s weird, they still ask for that darned thing (draft registration) any time we do anything official, even if we’re too old. Did you register? Yes, sir I did. You spelled my name wrong, so I’m officially not in the system, for the umpteenth million time – but here, I’ll take the mark… (I’ve filled out the darned form to re-register half a dozen times over the years).
If there’s a mark of the beast, though, it would seem to be whatever credentials make one successful in the beast’s society, wouldn’t it? So, in this society, that’s being White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Republican. Being a WASP, and all that goes with it. Another way of putting it is that I’d need to be an evangelical fundamentalist neoconservative, or at least comfortably existing in their world, under their influence. A more skeptical and rationally anarchistic way of putting it is that I’d have to just participate, in nearly any way, in the system emanating from the USA. It allows plenty of room for participation – protest, within reason – dissent, within reason. It just asks for some basic signs of upholding the core, underlying premise, and then you can have your parade. After all, haven’t the last few wars been fought in part to enrich certain energy, arms, and security investors, in part to ensure the operation of the physical power plant that keeps the beast’s heart beating, but also, at some level, to eliminate genuine resistance – the kind that says ‘we’re not participating at any level – we’re going to oppose you at every level’? I think that’s exactly what’s going on. Certainly, it fits well with that Huntington thesis, again.
Does the mark work? The evangelical WASP thing, though, probably seems unfair, but it seems even more unfair to those who aren’t part of the good old boy ‘network’ that makes that mark work. Doubt that it exists? What do you think a political coalition is? It’s a nexus of corporate lobbies and moral doctrine disseminators that shape society in a way that best benefits the interests of a particular type of person at the expense, one can easily argue, of some other types of people. Natives over immigrants, corporations over individuals, tax-exempt religious institutions over non-exempt ones, Christians over Muslims, or whatever. And that’s without even appealing to the lowest examples of those who wish blacks and women had never got the vote. Someone with integrity argues with the best, not the worst, among their opponents. Of course the mark works; it works very well. The mistake is in assuming it’s an actual tool and die stamp or some kind of microchip. If there were a microchip, it would just be a symptom of the order, as another form of control, but not the total story. The mark is, according to tradition, the political, economic, and religious currency of the realm – and the mistake is thinking of it in terms of one one person getting some kind of tattoo on his one forehead. Instead, it’s a system that supports, sustains, and entitles participants in the beastly system – not a magic stamp reduced to a meaningless microdot on the hand, but a full ideological reality involving one’s mind and one’s labour.
Understanding marks: The Christians who actually wrote those original texts would have gotten it, as they touched their own foreheads and hands together with a different mark, the sign of the cross – ‘my mind, my gut, my strength is marked by my hand with this sign.’ The titillation over a mysterious mark has more to do with iconoclasm in the Protestant evangelical mind, that rejects physical signs themselves as inherently spooky and evil, and that skews the reading, so they go looking for which microchip or barcode is the bad one. The people that wrote the books have always had physical signs and icons of many kinds, including lots of marks. If you’re a Westerner who has been to an Ash Wednesday service and gotten the cross marked in ashes on your forehead, you know there’s something very old which that’s left over from. The Orthodox are continually marked in many similar ways, all year long.
You’ve got it, and you don’t even know it: The thing is, even if you’re “against” all that global hegemony and system of personal control stuff, the US has been pulling you farther right, while calling it center, so to speak, and using dialectic to get a little concession there, a little more over here, until basically if you’re not an evangelical fundamentalist neoconservative, you’re just being inconsistent. Shop at Walmart? What’s the difference then? You might as well be. Don’t shop at Walmart, but sending your kids to patriot camp? Er… public school? Same thing. What kind of conditioning do you think they’re getting in there? Centrist, moderate, “balanced”, conditioning. <evil grin> They’re being conditioned to take their place and pursue their role in the system, and not to want to overthrow it or refuse all participation, or some such thing. School is about citizenship, not learning, otherwise it would be bad at the one, and good at the other, not the opposite. Have a job, pay your taxes? We all give tribute, in some way, right? No, we’re all evangelical fundamentalist neoconservatives, in some sense, right down to the most herbal progressive of us – let’s not fool ourselves. We’re all children of antichrist. How’s it going, brother?
No evangelical ‘bar code’: I should say that I realize any number of people reading this might be believers in the system we’re talking about. I won’t try to convince any one individual. I never argue with belief when I encounter it. People believe all kinds of things. Aliens among us. Elvis being alive. Healing scarves sold on TV. Effortless diet plans. Talented “contemporary christian” musicians. That Sarah Palin, or that sorority bimbo you’re dating, is actually quite intelligent. Respect in the morning. In fact, credulity, and this age of creedence is, in my view, one of the principle conditions necessary to progress toward that final antichrist – people must be conditioned to believe, and believe easily, not necessarily in traditional magic, but in things that have the equivalent epistemological value – easy currency that distances one from tradition (makes us ahistorical) and discernment (e.g. logic). I just won’t argue religion because, generally speaking, religion is magic in this contemporary culture.
Not gonna argue: Besides, my interest is only in saying look ‘this stuff’ isn’t ‘our stuff’. I am willing to concede, on a theoretical level, that you may well be right, and the god I pray to is a fiction (it is certainly not the Protestant evangelical god), and the church on which I will forever stake my salvation is a blindness (it is certainly nothing even remotely like Protestant evangelicalism). But I don’t think so, obviously, and I seem to be doing fairly well, epistemologically speaking – unlike Kansas ( http://goo.gl/WXbqx ), an icon of what evangelical fundamentalist ideology can do to shift a people away from the kind of authetic self-interest that protects their families and communities from decline and harm, by getting them on a kick of “national self interest” and appealing to their ‘morality’ as a temptation to exercise control over others, and so be lured into the culture of power .
So if you’re of a mind to convert, convince, or cajole me, I can tell you it won’t even flower into a discussion. This is, for my part, a monologue. Not every article is a debate – almost none of mine are – and I’m well aware of the fragmenting tendency in evangelical religious circles toward continual argument. Orthodox people, properly, aren’t trying to discover truth by arguing. We simply say this stuff isn’t what we received from Christ, the Apostles, and the Fathers, and preserve to this day. In fact, to consent to argue it, would be one possible form of participating in the very alien deviation from tradition, or apostasy, we must necessarily oppose.
The process is: argue, fragment, reduce fragments to any shared denominators, transform the shared denominators into central essentials, unite under a banner of coalesced power to go after others together for a similar process of synthesis and mutual conversion. It might easily be, in effect, participating in the very culture of antichrist I’ve been describing, which necessarily is a force for fragmentation, and then reconsolidation and control (which is why the myriad fundamentalist “christianities” (sic.) are united under a political force, coopted into reducing their interests to “moral issues” and blind support for corporate interests, by having been transformed into cultures more amenable to integration into a political-economic reality – that is, said culture of antichrist.
So if you’re inclined to dislike what I’ve written, all I can say is I’ve written worse, and probably will write worse still, but the writing itself doesn’t change the fact of the distinction I’m drawing – which is the point, not anything that could be argued. Or as Christ said, “Does this offend thee? It gets worse…’