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Revolution and Revelations

September 30th, 2004

While we’re on the interface between religion and politics, here are a couple of questions I’ve been wondering about for a while.

The first one relates to my memories of the late 1960s, when most people of my acquaintance gave at least some credence to the belief that there would be a revolution of some kind, sometime soon. At about the same time, I encountered the Revelation-based eschatology of people like Hal Lindsey. Thirty years later, there’s been no revolution, and I don’t know of anyone who seriously expects one. As I recollect, belief in the possibility of a revolution had pretty much disappeared by 1980.

Revelation-based prophecies have similarly failed time after time, but they seem to be more popular than ever. What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation? I assume there’s heaps of research on this kind of thing, but I hope to get readers to point me to the good stuff.

The second point is that, as can be seen from Lindsey’s site, he and other apocalyptic Christians have strong political views, which could broadly be summarised as favouring a vigorous military response to Antichrist (variously identified with the Soviet Union, the UN and so on). How does this work? Do they think that another six armoured divisions could turn the tide at Armageddon? If so, wouldn’t this prevent the arrival of the Millennium and the Day of Judgement[1]?

And how does all this affect believers in rapture? Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

fn1. There’s a genre of horror movies (The Omen, The Final Conflict and so on) that takes pretty much this premise.

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  1. Fyodor
    September 30th, 2004 at 15:09 | #1

    JQ,

    I’m glad you asked. Let me make it real simple for you. Look up “dispensationalism” at http://www.wikipedia.org.

    Alternatively, if you prefer fiction, have a look at the “Left Behind” series of novels (they’re huge sellers in the USA).

    V. scary stuff, particularly on the subject of Israel’s future.

  2. wilful
    September 30th, 2004 at 15:36 | #2

    So you’re looking for a rational explanation of all of this?

    Okaaay. Good luck with that one.

  3. September 30th, 2004 at 16:05 | #3

    “What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation?”

    One may as well ask, “What is it about John Howard as a politician that protects his statements from empirical refutation?”

  4. September 30th, 2004 at 17:10 | #4

    John, there is only one thing for it. I think you need to get rapture ready!

  5. cg
    September 30th, 2004 at 17:14 | #5

    Thanks DJ. Up until now I had no idea just how many people were “trying to undermine pre-tribulationism”.

  6. zoot
    September 30th, 2004 at 19:05 | #6

    What is it about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation?
    Whatever it is, it’s the same thing that protects economic rationalism as a belief system. As an economist surely you’re well placed to answer your own question.

  7. September 30th, 2004 at 19:27 | #7


    What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation?


    The ideological mentality lives in This World of space and time. The theological mentality lives in Another World, which is timeless and location-less.
    Apocalyptic Christianity is not really focused on the empirical world which it believes, at a fundamental level, to be superficial and delusory.
    Or, as Frank Knopfelmacher put it:

    There are some exit visas from the Soviet Union. So one gets plenty of disillusioned Communists. But there are no exit visas from Heaven. So there are not so many disillusioned Evangelicals.

  8. John Quiggin
    September 30th, 2004 at 19:48 | #8

    zoot, economic rationalism is certainly well-protected against refutation. But as Howard noted a week or so ago it’s not invulnerable. Three decades of failures and disappointments have pretty much finished off the purist version of economic rationalism that held sway in the 1980s.

  9. Mark Bahnisch
    September 30th, 2004 at 21:08 | #9

    Jack’s right – if you’re a chiliast, then you believe that there’s eschatalogical time and secular time. Belief is not rational, as Pascal correctly argued against the Thomist tradition, so therefore it’s not open to rational refutation.

  10. Paul Norton
    October 1st, 2004 at 09:14 | #10

    Providing another angle on Jack’s astute comment, some of those who believed in the likelihood of socialist revolution also believed (a) that it could be brought about, or brought nearer, by their assiduous attempts to convince other people of its desirability and (b) that it would have consequences which would be socially beneficial and morally desirable. I held beliefs of this sort between the ages of 18 and 23.

    I became disabused of belief (a) when it became apparent to me that my inability to persuade large numbers of my fellow citizens wasn’t just because I was a lousy advocate for a fundamentally sound case, but because the case itself was flawed, partly for reasons explained in the next paragraph.

    I became disabused of (b) when it became apparent that the failure of socialist revolutions elsewhere to achieve the intended results, and the negative results which were achieved, were the highly probable and predictable consequences of measures which must be taken to accomplish and preserve a revolution which is “successful” in the sense that the revolutionary party/movement achieves and retains power.

    None of the foregoing should be taken as implying that I’m reconciled with capitalism at the level of basic convictions (as opposed to practical political calculations).

  11. October 1st, 2004 at 14:32 | #11

    Ideological agents that are usually failed revolutionaries. The sucessful revolutionaries of the 20th Century have been technological agencies:

    Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the true revolutionaries of our time. Jobs and Gates are the ones who changed the way the world thinks, acts and communicates…Not the students who occupied the dean’s office in the late ’60s. Not the anti-war marchers who were determined to overthrow the establishment.

    It remains to be seen whether the bio-tech revolution can finish what the info-tech revolution started.

  12. October 1st, 2004 at 15:18 | #12

    No party is immune from extremist extrapolations. There seems to be a multi-partisan distribution of Apocalyptic rhetoric:
    theological: Old Right End of Days;
    ideological: Old Left End of History;
    ecological: New Left doom;
    technological: New Right boom.
    Only living in the here and now and taking one game at a time prevents the romantics from becoming revolutionary and revelatory.

  13. kyan gadac
    October 2nd, 2004 at 00:46 | #13

    There is an alternative view point here. The Christian eschatalogical tradition has been around for a long time. In fact, it’s been argued that the early christian church was motivated by a fundamentally escatalogical set of beliefs – specifically that JC would return within the lifetime of the Apostles.

    It’s a bit pointless to argue that an escatalogical approach has no influence whatsoever because the christian religion itself is a counterexample. On the other hand the transformation to transcendental tradition of the organised church is generally acknowledged to be the reason for the church’s survival.

    But without a revolutionary spark no amount of transcendental doctrine( or empirical pragmatism) will capture the hearts and minds of any people.

    Also I’d point out that the equation of Christian eshcatological tradition solely with the right wing extremism of Amerikan fundamentalism is a misrepresentation of the contemporary Christian tradition. Similar eschatalogical motivations can be found in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic Worker movement in the U.S, the Liberation theology of South America and in the Christian peace movement in all it’s various guises.

    As to the failure of the 60′s ‘socialist’ revolution. It was never solely ‘socialist’ – in fact socialism was regarded as relatively old fashioned compared to hotter issues such as feminism,gay rights, pacifism, and indigenous rights, environmental issues.

    The failure of the 60′s revolution should not simply be assessed in terms of a failure of a putative socialist agenda.

  14. Bard of Bagotville
    October 5th, 2004 at 15:54 | #14

    I have a different spin on all this…

    I was raised a Catholic and I have a triple-major in Pure Maths, Computer Science and Psychology from Sydney Uni.
    I have tried to apply the pure logic I was taught in maths/computing to my spiritual quest and in the end, through logic, I have ‘found God’.
    As such I take great delight in poking fun at conservative Christians who confuse there own personal and social prejudices with divine truth.

    Here are a few things to discuss with Neo-Con Christians at your next dinner-party:
    1. The book of Daniel (beloved by doomsday Christians) provides a list of the lands that will not be taken by the Beast/Anti-Christ.
    “He [the AntiChrist] shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.”
    (Da 11:41)
    According to the map in the back of my Bible these lands are modern day Jordan and other areas on the Arab controlled East-Bank of the Jordan River.
    If the Neo-Cons and Israelis are the good-guys then how come these lands are Muslim?

    2. God promised the land of Canaan to Abrahams descendants for ‘all time’
    Abraham’s oldest son was Ishmael; Ishmael had twelve sons, he is considered the father of most Arab Muslims. Abraham’s second son was Isaac, father of twins Esau and Jacob (also called Israel). Jacob/Israel also had 12 sons (like his uncle Ishmael).
    Modern Jews are predominantly the descendants of Jacob’s son Judah. Most of the other tribes were dispersed by the Babylonians around 600BC.
    So if God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants for all time then people who believe the Bible must believe that the people who occupy the land through-out time are Abraham’s descendants. Any other view means that God lied when he made his promise to Abraham. Unfortunately this is the very view held by the Neo-Cons. They seem to believe God’s promise to Abraham only applies to a small remanent of his 14th grand-sons family; Absurd.

    3. Ask a Neo-Con to define Semite for you then compare that to the definition at dictionary.com.
    Semites are decendants of Shem the son of Noah (the guy with the big boat). Shem is listed as an ancestor of Abraham. Sharon cannot accuse Europe of anti-Semitism because Europe supports a state for the semitic Palestinians. The irony is that the most anti-Semitic people are currently the Israelis and Palestinians; Both Semitic peoples.

    Could write much more but I had better stop.

    OK…one more quick one. If you hear a Neo-Con going on about the ‘Third Temple’ explain to them that you think the first temple was Judeism, the second temple Christianity and the third temple Islam. All three faiths founded at the same place. This will reeeally annoy them.

    Thanks for reading this far…Bard of Bagotville

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