If you need convincing that the apocalyptic worldview is still alive and well, then read a recent article on Alternet concerning American fundamentalist John Hagee‘s attempts at garnering support for a war with Iran: War on Iraq: As Bush’s War Strategy Shifts to Iran, Christian Zionists Gear Up for the Apocalypse. I am far more comfortable reading about visions of the end by an apocalyptic writer from 2000 or so years ago, or even from the middle ages, than I am in finding apocalypticism used among contemporaries to inspire war in the present, I must admit.
Paul Boyer’s When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1992) traces the historical development of apocalypticism in the United States. Before Haggee suggested that Iran was to be the main evil force in the final Armageddon, other American fundamentalists suggested Iraq (which is now not a popular candidate without an evil leader). And, of course, during the Cold War many saw communist Russia and its allies as the forces of Gog, the evil army from the north.
Bush certainly does not hold back from using suggestive rhetoric (take the “axis of evil” for instance). Back in the 1970s and 1980s it was Hal Lindsey’s best-selling Late Great Planet Earth (predecessor to the Left Behind series) that inspired the likes of Ronald Reagan:
That [a coup in Libya] is a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off . . . Everything is falling into place. It can’t be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s people. That must mean that they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons (Ronald Reagan in 1971 as cited by Boyer, p. 142).
Speaking to a lobbyist for Israel in 1983, Reagan says:
You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through (as cited in Boyer, p. 142).
For an apocalyptic thinker in any time period, the “prophecies” always “describe the times we’re going through“, whether it’s Judea in the second century BCE (see Daniel 7-12), Münster in the 1500s (also described here), or America in the 1980s or 2007. There are, of course, fundamentalist, apocalyptic websites devoted solely to explaining current events as signs of the end, such as Tribulation Watch. But I suppose that — leaving aside the likes of Hagee — one does not want the one in charge of pushing the button or sending out troups thinking along these lines or looking forward to the ultimate battle.
For more on Hal Lindsey, the Left Behind phenomenon, and the origins of the notion of a “rapture”, see my posts: “Left Below” / Left Behind: “Ha, ha, life goes on”, and Satanic conspiracies of the 1970s and 1980s.
(I came across a link to the article about Hagee on the blog of Jodi Dean, a political theorist).