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Eric Metaxas’s American Apocalypse

Charlie Kirk interviews Eric Metaxas

Before I get started here, let me say clearly that Eric Metaxas has been a friend for over 20 years. He is a dear man, very kind and sincere, and loves God with all his heart. Nothing I say here should be interpreted as a personal attack upon him. I am criticizing his words and his opinions, which, as a Christian and as a conservative, alarm me greatly. The fact that Eric is not a cynic, that I have every confidence that he 100 percent believes what he says, only intensifies the tragedy. I would prefer not to write about Eric’s views, out of respect for our friendship. But I cannot stand to see what is happening to what is broadly my tribe, without saying something. He is influential, and he speaks not only to a lot of people, but for them as well.

To start, and for readers who haven’t been following me: I am an Orthodox Christian and a political conservative (registered as an Independent). I did not vote for Joe Biden, and have never associated myself with Never Trump. I have praised Trump when he has done things of which I have approved, and I have criticized him when I thought he deserved it. I don’t “hate” Donald Trump, nor do I hate people who voted for him. I dread the Biden presidency, but I believe the man won the race. I think it’s possible that there was election fraud in some places in this big country of ours, but based on Trump’s performance in court since election day, I don’t believe that it is provable, if it existed at all.

Eric is going to be the emcee at the Jericho March in DC this weekend. It’s a big Christian to-do intending to rally the faithful behind Donald Trump’s claim that the election was stolen. Headlining it will be retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who recently endorsed a call for the President of the United States to impose martial law and arrest his opponents. Somebody like that should be anathema to conservatives. But these are not normal times. These are times that reward ideological extremism all around.

Because I’m trying to understand what these Christians are thinking, I watched this week’s interview that the influential conservative activist Charlie Kirk did with Eric. You can see the whole thing here:

I took notes. All these quotes can be verified in the clip. I wish I had written down the time stamps for all of them. Nearly all the stuff I quote below is said in the first 21 minutes, FYI.

In characterizing the election result, it is hard to be more lurid than Eric in this interview. He believes that Donald Trump won the election “by a landslide” (in fact, Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump, and even if Trump had won the Electoral College vote, it would have been close, not anything like a landslide).

“It’s like stealing the heart and soul of America. It’s like holding a rusty knife to the throat of Lady Liberty,” Eric says, of the election.”

“You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington,” he says.

“This is evil,” he says. And: “It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered. … This is like that times a thousand.”

This. Is. Hysterical. But there’s more.

“This is trying to kill the American people. This is everything.” And he says to believe otherwise is listening to “the voice of the Devil.”

Think about that. An Evangelical broadcaster is saying that Donald Trump’s election loss is a thousand times worse than rape and murder, equivalent to the murder of a nation. And if you don’t believe it? You are demonized.

And then this:

“Everybody who is not hopped up about this … you are the Germans that looked the other way when Hitler was preparing to do what he was preparing to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see how you can see it any other way.”

I was ticked off the other day when he boosted Zmirak’s obnoxious accusation that I (he cites my previous book by name) and other conservatives who don’t endorse Stop The Steal are “servile” equivalent of Nazi collaborators. I tweeted about it, at Eric, asking him if he agreed. He responded thus:

Well, now Eric has said in his own words that anyone — even fellow Christian conservatives like, well, me — are “good Germans” if we don’t share his opinion and his vehemence. How the hell are we supposed to think when we have been likened to the kind of people who went along with a mass murderer who prepared the Holocaust and World War II?

Do you believe that, reader? Do you believe that people who may even have voted for Trump, but who do not think that the election was stolen from him, are no better than Nazi collaborators?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So far, Trump is one for 50 in the courts. Judges have found no evidence for the claims put forward of election fraud. Maybe there has been fraud, but in our system, you have to be able to prove it. Who knows, maybe it really happened somewhere, but no one can demonstrate it at this time. It is metaphysically possible. But we can’t operate on what might have happened somewhere, and what might one day be brought to light. (In their conversation, Kirk and Metaxas say that maybe if we pray hard enough, God will uncover fraud somewhere.) Courts, and our system, have to operate on the best evidence available. It’s just not there. Trump-appointed judges have been among those who have found this. Are they all in on the conspiracy too?

Well, here’s news: Eric Metaxas doesn’t care what the courts have said. In a clip that starts right here, he says,

“So who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened, and I am going to do anything I can to uncover this horror, this evil.”

Evidence, or the lack of it, does not matter. He is declaring as a matter of faith that Donald Trump won the election. How can you argue with that? You can’t. It is a statement of faith.

So, when he talks about doing “anything” he can to fight this thing that is a thousand times worse than rape and murder, what does he mean? Quote:

“We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”

There is no way around it, and it grieves me to say it: Eric Metaxas is calling for violent bloodshed to defend Donald Trump’s presidency, and he doesn’t care that Trump’s lawyers have not been able to prove in court that Trump had the election stolen from him. He told Charlie Kirk that he is willing to kill or be killed for a political cause for which there is not enough evidence to advance a court case, even among friendly judges.

This is fanaticism. But according to Eric, to disagree with him is to be under the sway of the Devil. Actual quotes:

“This is sacred. … Every American should say I really don’t care what it takes, we will not let this happen in America.”

“The fact that Republicans would shrug, it’s just despicable, it’s very clarifying, and I just believe God is in this, what can I say?”

“I still feel that those of us who know this is massive fraud, we have no choice but to fight.”

He knows because … he just knows, is all. God is in it, after all. It’s holy war. He says too:

“Everything’s at stake. America’s at stake.”

“If we don’t get our people in … we go over the cliff, and we don’t come back.”

If you really believed that, then of course you would be willing to kill and be killed for the cause. My God.

Eric says that America is God’s instrument, one that he has used to spread “liberty” around the globe. The Christians of Iraq could not be reached for comment, most of them dead or displaced as the result of America’s unjustified invasion of that country, but what are facts to a Christian nationalist who just knows things. He says “I believe it is God’s will that we would continue to do that, at an increased level, for a long time… .”  Manifest destiny, I guess.

At this point in the interview, Kirk asks Metaxas — who has, recall, just called for fighting to the death to defend Trump’s sacred case — where he thinks Trump’s legal strategy stands. Know what Eric says?

“I am thrilled to be too ignorant of the details to answer that question in any substantive way.” 

I’m not kidding. Click on that link to see and hear it for yourself. He says that the courts are irrelevant, that America is in the crucible, that we have a fight to the death on our hands, and that anybody who disagrees is no better than Germans who stood by and let Hitler come to power … but he cannot give even one detail of the actual court cases, and is “thrilled” to be ignorant of the cause for which he is urging people to shed blood and die! 

And more: after all this rhetoric exerting people to regard this conflict as a holy war for the existence of America, and to be prepared to fight to the “last drop of blood” to prevail, he responds to Kirk’s remarks about a future of conflict like this (click here to hear it yourself):

“I know that the lunatics who believe in violence and stuff, they’re going to do that. But I don’t know that it has to happen. … Prayer can also calm down the violence.”

The violence he has just spent the entire freaking interview encouraging from the Right! Do words not mean anything?!

There’s even more. Eric tells Kirk that, “People I know and trust well have heard from God that Trump will have a second term.” Says this doesn’t prove it, but “if these people heard from God, then it has to happen.” Says these people “have a track record.”

So he cannot give a single substantive reason why Trump should prevail, or how he might do that. People he trusts say that God told them so. Eric: “I know that sounds insane to people, but I’m at a point where I don’t care.”

Towards the end, Eric says that “part of the reason God has allowed this” — the election crisis — “is to wake up the church.” For politics? Not to inspire us Christians to repent of anything other than failing to be more politically engaged on behalf of Donald Trump? He goes on:

“The holy remnant of the church is, has never prayed like this and fasted. People like me and others we’re fasting. When’s the last time we fasted and said God, you have to do this, there’s too much evil, we cannot just shrug it off, you need to speak, Lord, you need to do something. People have been fasting and praying so much that I know something is going to happen. Whatever happens, something will happen.”

Because we can earn God’s favor by our deeds? Really?

Maybe God is doing something — just not what Trumpy Evangelicals want Him to do. He is surely exposing intellectual and theological rot: the kind that inspires Christian leaders to declare apocalypse, exhort believers to shed blood and prepare for martyrdom, and to denounce anyone who disagrees as devil-driven collaborators with history’s greatest evil — all for a cause that the leader cannot even begin to explain.

I was talking to my wife about this, and she got pretty upset (and has given me permission to share this story). She was a senior in high school — First Baptist Academy in Dallas — when Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush. She said that the adults in their circles had been encouraging students throughout the campaign to believe that if Bill Clinton was elected, it would be indescribably awful, but not to worry, because God would surely not let that happen. And yet, it happened. She said it’s hard to express the titanic sense of shock that she and other students had that day. This was not supposed to happen! God had failed!

My wife said that when Christian leaders talk like Eric is talking, they set people up to question their entire faith. If Joe Biden is sworn in, does that mean God has failed, or abandoned us? Or, if Christian authorities were wrong about Trump getting a second term, what else are they wrong about? Are they wrong about who Jesus is?

Words mean things!

I say all this as the author of a recent book, Live Not By Lies, that argues a soft form of totalitarianism is descending on American life. It is a bold, some would say alarmist, claim. But it is a claim that I spend four chapters explaining and defending. I could be wrong about it. Maybe my facts are wrong, or my logic is faulty. It is testable; I lay it all out. I would be very, very happy to be proven wrong. I can tell you exactly why I believe that I’m correct, and I make a case for it. I don’t just assert it because God told me so. If I did, you would be justified in rolling your eyes and moving on.

It’s fair to ask: if I really do believe that a form of totalitarianism is emerging in American life, why am I not willing to fight to the death to defend the country from it?

The answer has to do with the answer a pro-lifer would give when asked why, if he really believes that abortion is a form of homicide, he is not blowing up abortion clinics and stopping at nothing to kill abortion doctors?

Before one takes violent action, one has to be reasonably confident of success. Otherwise it could mean shedding blood in vain. It might — might — be justifiable if that violence could stop unambiguously evil acts. But what if the violence not only stood very little chance of succeeding, but also risked causing things to be worse? Regarding soft totalitarianism, as I explain in the book, we are not looking at something that is Stalinism 2.0; rather, this is going to be more like Huxley’s Brave New World combined with Communist China. Is it worth mass killing to prevent a system that requires people to affirm their loyalty to an ideological creed (broadly speaking, wokeness) in order to get into college, to hold many jobs, and to participate fully in the economy? At this point, I would say no — but that does not mean that we will not be facing a form of totalitarianism, a word that refers to any system in which politics conquers every aspect of life.

Second, violence is only justified when all legal, peaceful forms of resistance have been exhausted. That is not remotely the case in the US, with regard either to abortion or soft totalitarianism. The patient activism and witness of the pro-life movement has not overturned Roe yet, but we are much closer than at any point since 1973. And if it is overturned, that only means the issue goes back to each state. It only moves the line of battle. Victory will never be total, because in a democracy, you have to move hearts and minds. The fact that the abortion rate is declining speaks to the success pro-lifers have had in doing just that, despite the fact that abortion remains legal.

Similarly, political conservatives have barely begun to fight against soft totalitarianism. They might not ever do it. Half the Senate is Republican, but do you see Republicans fighting against the radical racialism that is conquering institutions, or the extreme gender ideology that is doing the same? No, they hardly ever do. Do you see them in any number give speeches about the importance of defending religious liberty? Nope. Trump did some good things on these fronts as president, but did he make any of it a priority? No, he did not.

Why not? One major reason is that wealthy elites, as well as middle-class suburban professionals, have embraced wokeness. In his Kirk interview, Metaxas talks as if this is all something imposed on the masses by a tiny number of liberal elites — something that was the standard Evangelical view of the 1980s and 1990s. Well, guess what? Managerial elites and the professional classes have already accepted wokeness. This is their ideology now. It is absurd in 2020 to think that the problem can be solved by electing more Republicans. If that were true, why didn’t having Trump in the White House and the Republicans in charge of Congress for the first two years of the president’s term turn the tide? Aside from the fact that these issues really don’t matter to Republicans — not even to Donald Trump — the cause of this crisis is not primarily political, but cultural.

Far too many conservatives live in a bubble, and fail to see that Big Business is as much if not more of an enemy than Big Government. Conservatives grouse about how wokeness has overtaken university culture, but is this something that can be solved by politics alone? To their credit, Trump’s administration has done good things on that front (e.g., dialing back the Title IX overreach from the Obama years). But even if Trump were much more popular than he ever was, and even if he were a brilliant political tactician (which he isn’t), he would not have been able to make a decisive difference.

It has to do with the nature of the totalitarianism. Multiple people with whom I spoke in the former Soviet bloc, interviewing them for Live Not By Lies, told me that Communism was easier to deal with in one key aspect: it was easy to see the lines between good and evil then. Now, it’s easy for them to sense that something very bad is happening, something that has similarities to what they lived with in their youth, but it’s far less cut and dried than Marxism-Leninism. I talk about all this in the book — how unlike Communism, this is a therapeutic form of totalitarianism, one that is intimately bound up with consumerism.

The soft-totalitarian cultural revolution is not coming to America with the Red Army. You can’t fight it like the Hungarians fought the Soviets in 1956, or the Czechs fought them in 1968. But coming it is, and fight it we must.

Christian nationalists who hold a naive, Reagan-era understanding of the world are part of the problem. In his interview, Metaxas talked about how a Trump-led America is good for the whole world, because it makes us all “freer”. If you talk to the people of the former Soviet bloc, they don’t see America like that (though they used to). Now they regard America — especially our Woke Capitalism — as the source of some of their problems. Gender ideology — it comes from America. In Poland, I talked to Christians who were having to decide between their consciences and their jobs, because the Polish branch of American multinationals for which they worked were forcing them all to celebrate LGBT Pride in the workplace. This is what America means now to a lot of those people who used to regard us as a friend. Nationalist Evangelicals like Metaxas are living in a world that is forty years out of date. The unquestioned radical individualism of contemporary American life is not a simple virtue, but has become our undoing — and many people overseas recognize this.

I regard myself as a nationalist too (as opposed to globalist), but I do not consider America to be an unambiguous force for good in the world. One of the things I liked about Donald Trump was his stated belief that America should stop it with these unnecessary foreign wars. When I hear Evangelicals like Metaxas trotting out that shopworn rhetoric about America being a force for spreading “freedom” around the globe, and how we have to ramp that up again, I hear the voice of George W. Bush in his Second Inaugural Address, and I wonder if they even paid the slightest attention to what Trump has been saying.

Back to the point: if we were going to take radical action against this coming soft totalitarianism, what would we have to do? Blow up people’s Alexas, and seize people’s smartphones and throw them in the lake. That’s because the new totalitarianism is intimately woven into the technology that we have all accepted. How far do you think a presidential candidate would get in this country by promising to ban Alexas and the technology that powers them (also, Siri)? I would vote for him, but I think I would be a tiny minority. The point is that we have become the kind of people who welcome this stuff, not because we aspire to live under totalitarian domination, but because it makes life easier and more fun. The Christians of Russia and the Soviet bloc who stood up to hard totalitarianism all told me, for Live Not By Lies, that the only way Christians in the West are going to be able to mount a resistance to what’s coming is if we are prepared to suffer.

See this man below? His name is Yuri Sipko, and for years he was the leader of Russia’s Baptists. This photo was taken in 2019 on the streets of Moscow:

I had just spent two hours interviewing him in a coffee shop. Here, from my book, is part of what he told me:

“Many of us didn’t even have Bibles. Just to be able to find yourself in a situation where there was a group, and one person was reading the Bible to others, this was the greatest motivation,” Sipko says. “This was our little niche of freedom. Whether you were at work in the factory on the street or anywhere else, everything was godless.”

Today, it is easy to obtain a Bible in Russia, easy to meet for worship services, and easy to find religious teaching on the internet. Yet something among contemporary Christians has been lost, the old pastor says— something that was held dear by those small groups.

Sipko goes on:

Christianity has become a secondary foundation in people’s lives, not the main foundation. Now it’s all about career, material success, and one’s standing in society. In these small groups, when people were meeting back then, the center was Christ, and his word that was being read, and being interpreted as applicable to your own life. What am I supposed to do as a Christian? What am I doing as a Christian? I, together with my brothers, was checking my own Christianity.

Small groups not only provided accountability, he says, but also gave believers a tangible connection to the larger Body of Christ. “This was so wonderful. This was true Christianity”

It was startling to hear Sipko say that in Russia today, there are Evangelicals who have returned to the patterns of life their ancestors lived under communism—even though there is far more freedom (of religion, and everything else) since the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991. “They have a very clear understanding that their faith in Christ means they are going to have to reject this secular world,” he says. “Even under free conditions today, we are having to live in the underground.”

Here is a man who lived through Stalinism, and suffered greatly — and he’s saying that in a Russia that is much more free, and much wealthier, the young Evangelicals who want to be faithful are having to turn their backs on career, material success, and status. He went on:

“Without being willing to suffer, even die for Christ, it’s just hypocrisy. It’s just a search for comfort,” says Yuri Sipko, the Russian Baptist pastor. “When I meet with brothers in faith, especially young people, I ask them: name three values as Christians that you are ready to die for. This is where you see the border between those who are serious about their faith and those who aren’t.”

Sipko is a Russian, but if he were an American, it is impossible that he would list “the second term of Donald J. Trump” as one of those values. I suppose Metaxas would denounce him as no better than a “good German.”

I suppose that line offends Eric, in a “how dare you” way, but what else is one supposed to conclude by his extremely rash rhetoric slandering everyone who does not share a belief that he is too ignorant — proudly ignorant! — to be able to defend with facts or logic when asked? How many American Christians who have endorsed the “Stop The Steal” campaign, and who find their blood heated by this kind of talk, would be willing to do what the young Russian Baptists are doing, and live like their ancestors did, for the sake of preserving the faith? These are prepared to shoot their neighbors for the sake of Donald Trump, but in real life, they wouldn’t even shoot their television.

All this really upsets me, as you can tell. If, God forbid, we were to have a civil war in America, then it should only be a last resort, after every other bloodless option has been tried, and should be something undertaken only for the gravest reasons. This is not a game. There are real and demonstrable reasons to be concerned, even afraid, about where post-Christian American society is headed — believe me, I’m the last one you have to convince of that! — but the idea that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump is not one of them. It is shameful that a Christian with a wide broadcast audience would stoke the apocalyptic fears of people, and urge them to “fight to the death, to the last drop of blood” — then act like violence is only something that can come from “lunatics” of the Left.

We have seen this year how violent the Left is prepared to be, but mark my words: if radical Christians shoot people or commit some other violent act in defense of Trump, Eric Metaxas and those who talk like him will have blood on their hands.

Finally, in my book, I talk about how Hannah Arendt said that one of the signs of a pre-totalitarian society is one in which people stop believing in the truth, and instead easily accept any claim, however unsubstantiated and preposterous, that satisfies them emotionally. I gave examples of how the woke Left does exactly that. I finished the final manuscript in March. But if I were writing it today, I would mention the way so many of my fellow conservatives have shown themselves lately to be no better than the Left.

In the past on this blog, I have called out Prof. Tommy Curry, a leftist race radical who used to teach at Texas A&M, but whose hysterical broadcast and print rhetoric came very, very close to justifying violence against whites to achieve social justice. When I criticized him in this post and in others, some leftists, including a journalist at the Chronicle of Higher Education, faulted me for having the gall to hold Curry responsible for his words. Well, the same standard has to apply to conservatives. Many on the activist Left are destroying this country, its institutions, and the possibility of communal peace, with their crackpot ideology, deranged lies and slanders. But God help us, so are some on the Right, including the Christian Right.

I’ll leave you with this, from an e-mail that just came in as I was finishing this post. The author identifies himself as an Evangelical “at the tail end of Gen X.” He wrote me about an earlier post about why young people are leaving the faith. He writes:

I know individual parents who are grieving over their kids abandoning the faith, but there is not the widespread, church-wide lamenting and sorrow you would expect. In fact, people are much more distraught about Trump losing, than the fact that kids leave the faith at a rate of 80% (or whatever the number is) as soon as they graduate high school.  Sure there are some articles about it and the stats get thrown around some, but on a day to day basis, there is little actual discussion about what I see the is the complete collapse of faith in people (who grew up in the faith) that are now 40 and younger.

The number is not that high, but it’s still a four-alarm crisis. If you have been to Europe, which is a religious desert, you have seen the future of America. Where is the concern about that from the churches? We are literally talking about the future not of Donald Trump’s political career or of the United States of America, but of the eternal lives of our children and descendants. Who among Christian conservatives is saying that we should be prepared to struggle to the death to keep our children and grandchildren faithful to Jesus Christ? Politicians come and go, but in the life of the church, it really is true that if we don’t get our young people in the doors, we go over a cliff, and we aren’t coming back.

From a Christian point of view, this really is an existential crisis. It’s more important than election fraud. It’s more important than social justice. It’s more important than anything else. This Christian indifference is trying to kill the church. It’s everything. But far too few Christians act like it. It’s more fun to work ourselves into frenzies about the princes of the earth, and in so doing, accelerate the collapse of the church itself.

History will judge us for this. And so will Almighty God.

UPDATE:A masterful takedown by Andrew Sullivan: 

To survive, liberal democracy must have some level of moderation, some acceptance of the legitimacy of the other side, and room for compromise. It has to be based in empiricism, shared truth, deliberation and doubt. Fundamentalist religion has none of those qualities. It’s all or nothing.

Not only is it all or nothing, but the mandate to believe it, and act on it, is from God himself. When this psychological formation encounters politics, it cannot relent, it cannot change its mind, it cannot simply move on. And a core element of our politics right now — and part of the unprecedented resilience of Trump’s support — is this total suspension of judgment by a quarter of all Americans. When that certainty of faith met a malignant narcissist who cannot admit error, a force was created that continues to cut a ferocious swathe through our culture and our democratic institutions.

And if God Almighty calls for the overturning of a democratic election by force or violence? Then let the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

I learned this from his essay:

Lin Wood, also on Trump’s legal dream team, got into a fight with his own law firm partners last year. In a lawsuit, his partners claimed that he engaged in erratic behavior and excused it by saying that “God or the Almighty was commanding his actions.” At one point he wrote an email saying “God was somehow commanding or directing him to accuse (them)” and that “God has given me permission to be profane in this email.”

There it is. God told him so. That’s how it is with a lot of these people. You can see it on the Kirk-Metaxas interview. Eric says he doesn’t care what can or can’t be prove in court. He doesn’t know anything about the court cases (Kirk asked!).

I spend a lot of time on this blog documenting and lamenting leftist lunacy. I’m not about to tolerate it from the right, even though some of these people are my friends. I didn’t write a book called Live Not By Leftist Lies. A conservative DC lawyer friend with whom I was in touch yesterday said the Texas lawsuit is such a ridiculous piece of legal work that the 106 Republican House members who signed onto it have to know what they’re doing. In his view, they are putting their names on something they know is nonsense, solely for political gain.

By the way, consider that 106 House Republicans signed a letter of support for that Texas suit. Do you know how many signed on as friends of the court for the Fulton vs. the City of Philadelphia case, one of the most important religious liberty cases in US history? Fifty-three. Exactly half.

I wonder if that case was ever mentioned on Eric Metaxas’s radio show. I hope so. But I have my doubts.

UPDATE.2: Words by John Zmirak, performance by Eric Metaxas. Their enemies did not deepfake this:

UPDATE.3: This is actually a very sad tweet, and probably explains a lot:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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