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Reductio Ad Antichristum

Oh, here we go again: [1]

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made remarks on Sunday before the election that should Obama win, his victory would lead to the reign of the Antichrist.

“I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he’s not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes,” said Jeffress.

“President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”

Man, this really gets to me. The media have a habit of finding some crazy thing a pastor at a small, out-of-the-way church says, and blowing it up as if it were representative of Christian thinking. Alas, First Baptist Dallas is a huge church, and thoroughly mainstream in Dallas, even establishmentarian. Lots of really good, faithful people worship there. It ticks me off that on the Sunday before the election, the pastor stood in the pulpit and accused the president of the United States of being in league (literally) with Satan incarnate.

Cards on the table: I am an orthodox (and Orthodox) Christian who, with the tradition, believes what the Book of Revelation says about the coming, at the end of history, of a literal Satanic figure called the Antichrist. But having spent a couple of teenage years emotionally caught up in the Evangelical “end times” world, I have seen firsthand how that prophecy stuff seizes the mind of millions of Christians (mostly Evangelicals, but Catholics and Orthodox have their own less well known versions). It’s kind of a joke among my longtime readers how susceptible I am to apocalyptic thinking about finance, the environment, and so on. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty confident it’s all a legacy of the emotional imprint of waking up every day when I was 13 and 14, reading in the paper about the ratcheting up of nuclear tensions between the US and the USSR, and, under the guidance of Rapture-ready reading, expecting the advent of mass slaughter and Satanic tyranny any day now. I came out of that eventually, and was so embarrassed and disgusted with how I’d given my mind over to such lurid fear that I threw Christianity away for years. To be clear, I hadn’t been raised in that kind of religion, not at all. I found my way to it on my own, chiefly because the story it told about how we are living in the last generation before the End Of The World was electrifying. Addictingly so.

Now we have the pastor of one of the largest and most influential Southern Baptist churches in the nation taking to his pulpit two days before a presidential election, and telling people that if they vote for Obama, they’re paving the way for the reign of the man Christians believe will be even worse than Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. It’s insane. Why would you do such a thing as a pastor? The day may come when that kind of rhetoric may be justified — say, if the second coming of Adolf Hitler is only one election away from taking power — but to believe that we are anywhere near that point, and, as a pastor, to encourage people to interpret their politics in such hysterically maximalist terms … well, I’m sorry, it’s to make a fool of yourself, and of the faith.

I am a conservative Christian who believes that Obama’s re-election is on balance a bad thing for American Christians, for a number of reasons. I see no reason why a pastor shouldn’t have given a sermon warning about the threats, as he saw them, of returning Obama to the White House. But invoking the Antichrist, and working the congregation up into thinking that this election was an apocalyptic choice (even if you non-credibly disavowed that this is what you were doing, e.g., I’m not saying that Obama is the Antichrist, but…)? Come on.

change_me

If I had been in that congregation and listened to that sermon, that would have been my signal to find another, more spiritually sober church. Apocalypticism is a narcotic among millions of American Christians, and it makes us drunk, ruining our political judgment and making us prone to say things in public that make ordinary people think Christians are crazy.

To be clear, I don’t really care what this kind of thing does to the Republican Party. I very much care what it does to the church. Putnam & Campbell found [2] that Millennials have turned away from the church in significant numbers because the church became so associated with conservative politics. Granted, churches cannot compromise on what they believe to be the Truth because it doesn’t fit into the political preferences of young people. But do they have to make it so easy for young people to consider church nothing more than the Republican Party at prayer? Because that’s what you do when you give a sermon saying that people who vote for the Democratic presidential candidate are casting their lot with Satan.

Come on, Church, be better than this. Again, I’m a conservative Christian who believes in traditional eschatological views on the End of Days, and who believes that this is an important topic of study and serious discussion among Christians. Just to make that clear. But the wildly disproportionate interest that popular American Christianity has with the End Times not only makes us look stupid, it also makes us actually stupid, insofar as it corrupts our prudential judgment with emotional hysteria.

62 Comments (Open | Close)

62 Comments To "Reductio Ad Antichristum"

#1 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 12, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

For the sake of argument let’s assume Christianity is 100 percent correct. Let’s also assume that large numbers of people have been turned away from it by crazy pants preachers like the above.

How is God going to sort this one out?

A. Reward the preachers because their faith was sincere, but misguided. Then send all those outside the church to hell because they’re unsaved, although they were pushed in that direction by the crazy pants preachers.

B. Send the preachers to hell as punishment for their misdeeds and the unsaved outside of the church as well.

C. The ironic justice option which is the reverse of A.

D. Universalism which is the reverse of B.

E. Mysterious ways.

#2 Comment By Turmarion On November 12, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

MH, my belief is in what I’d call D′–that is, I’m a universalist, but I believe that there will be a period of purification (Purgatory, if you want to use that term) for everyone, commensurate with their Earthly deeds. Thus, while everyone ultimately gets to heaven, some will take longer (understanding that terms for time are metaphorical or analogous when speaking in terms of eternity), maybe much longer, to get there. So, I think such preachers will take much longer to get to heaven than those that left the church or Christianity altogether because of said preachers’ rantings. I think God would take a sincere non-believer over someone spewing fanaticism or outright lies in His name.

#3 Comment By Noah172 On November 12, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

FN at 3:27,

The answers to your questions depend on the assumptions from which one starts. Under the preterist interpretation of Revelation, the events described, largely symbolically, therein are told in the context of the persecution of the nascent Church under the reign of Nero, and are meant to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Jewry in AD 70. In this interpretation, the Apostle John was rather an astute chronicler and forecaster of his era (although I suppose divine guidance was not necessary to foresee that the rebellious, fanatical Jews of first-century Judea were on a collision course with imperial Rome).

Under the futurist intepretation of Revelation, held by Jeffress and like-minded premillenial Dispensationalists, all the events described therein are predicted for the distant (from John’s perspective) future — and that ends up sounding rather bizarre and crackpot, as you imply in your comment.

#4 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 12, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

I agree with the many studies of Revelation which conclude that John was talking about the Emperor Nero and other contemporary events. Without rejecting it out of hand and saying the Bible is lying, we can stop worrying about all this End Times nonsense. God knew what he was doing when he equipped our sun with enough hydrogen to remain a main-sequence yellow star for about five billion years from now. (John probably knew nothing about that.)

But I don’t worry too much about Jeffress or similar sermonizing. In 2004, one of the best-known bishops of the Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee endorsed George W. Bush, for the predictable “family values” reasons. (COGIC was the original Pentecostal church, but when lighter-skinned Pentecostals woke up one day and said “I’m white — and dear me, y’all are a bunch of Negroes,” they drifted off to form Assemblies of God.)

Voters of African descent by and large ignored the bishop, and a host of storefront preachers who were or weren’t formally associated. Yes, bishop is bishop, pastor is pastor, they are respected, tithes and offerings are ecstatically given, but nobody is thinking about a Sunday sermon when they go vote.

I credit Baptists with congenital melanin deficiencies with the same degree of discernment.

#5 Comment By Martin Snigg On November 12, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

+

I’d have to read the sermon, know Texas and Texas Baptists, but on it’s face I don’t see a problem.

Over a hundred years ago Soloviev “the greatest of Russian philosophers” saw clearly enough to know that. anti-christ would be derivative -a typical brutally violent dictator.

[3]

“The Antichrist, says Soloviev, was “a convinced spiritualist.” He believed in goodness, and even in God. He was an ascetic, a scholar, a philanthropist. He gave “the greatest possible demonstrations of moderation, disinterest, and active beneficence.”

[..]

“..attribution to the Antichrist of the qualities of pacifist, environmentalist, ecumenist.”

Top Thomist philosopher James Chastek has a nice sermon on the anti-christ. [4]

I’m with Bill Vallicella in his recent post ‘The Owl of Minerva’ re: unprecedented nature of Pres. B.O.’s re-election.

-James Kalb ‘The Tyranny of Liberalism’ [content-free ‘equality’ , ‘freedom’ liberal principles cannot stop/ advanced liberalism’s autophagy];
-Philip Rieff’s ‘The Triumph of the Therapeutic’ [the nothing has replaced the sacred/therapeutic elites have literally got nothing];
-Extrapolate from debt/demographic/Islam crises;
-The likes of Edward Luttwak can see Fascism as the way of the future;
-Being modern ourselves we should be able to see a new riff on the modern theme;
-Where has it been shown how we couldn’t share in the fate of all modern political attempts to abolish the transcendent?

If the pastor contextualised it all and could see how the GOP follows slightly slower on the same trajectory, knew his audience, then I’d say he was being a good shepherd.

#6 Comment By Martin Snigg On November 13, 2012 @ 12:00 am

[would NOT be derivative ]

#7 Comment By Joanna On November 13, 2012 @ 12:14 am

Perhaps not the best for American Christians, but better for America as a whole.

#8 Comment By bones On November 13, 2012 @ 12:27 am

I’d like to point out to the pastor that *every* new president, congressman, senator, Pope – hell, even new principal, gas station attendant, blogger, line cook etc. is one step closer to the Antichrist, if you want to interpret Revelation that way.

But before I pointed that out, I’d prefix it with a nice and loud OFFS.

#9 Comment By Charlieford On November 13, 2012 @ 8:14 am

“I see no reason why a pastor shouldn’t have given a sermon warning about the threats, as he saw them, of returning Obama to the White House.”

Yeah, I just love listening to people who have no particular expertise in a field–economics, public policy, foreign affairs–hold forth at length as they share their uninformed opinions on these matters.

Not to mention that, nine times out of ten, any Baptist doing so is giving you second-hand Rush Limbaugh.

#10 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 13, 2012 @ 10:18 am

Turmarion, certainly a modified form of D works to maintain a just universe and avoid the problem of Hell. I figure E is also a popular answer too.

When I read atheists forums I get the distinct impression that the interpretation of Christianity they were exposed to was either A or B.

#11 Comment By Kristoofus On November 13, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

My level-headed (literally–he kept his flat buzz haircut from his West Point days) Jesuit spiritual director in high school had a pretty balanced take on it all: (1) Stop worrying about the coming of the antichrist. He’s already here. He’s born every day. (2) Stop worrying about the end of the world. Whenever it happens, we’re ALL going to have front row seats. Concern yourself with today.

#12 Comment By Julien Peter Benney On November 26, 2012 @ 2:21 am

It’s an interesting question how much influence churches should have on their member’s politics.

The Democratic Party from the 1980s has been following a trend of leftist parties in Europe ever since the 1890s at the latest in being avowedly against traditional Christianity. There is nothing wrong with noticing the problems, but the question is whether severe ecclesiastical sanctions for voting for such parties really are an effective tool.

If the Millennials do not like churches being “the Republican Party at prayer”, the question arises as to how different it is from Catholic or Orthodox churches that were “the royal family at prayer” in Europe 100 years ago? Even then, alternatives to both decaying monarchism and the radical welfare democracy now enforced by welfare-dependent masses in Europe (and increasingly Canada, New Zealand and even Latin America) were advocated by many within “cutting-edge” culture during the Decadent period. They were similarly influential during the Beat era, but declined with the radicalism of punk and especially rap in the 1980s.