By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Are we approaching the end times--a cataclysmic event that will end our culture as we know it? If so, will it be God’s one-time rapture or another of Satan’s man-made ruptures? Edmund Burke once warned Americans that in a democracy “we would forge our own shackles.” We did it 158 years ago, and it appears that we’re on the verge of doing it again.
The passages in the Gospels that describe the end times most likely refer to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It was precipitated by a Jewish insurrection that invited the Roman reprisals that brought the end times to ancient Judaism. Christian America suffered an end times from 1860-1865, and Christian Europe suffered a similar fate from 1937-1945; and in 9/11 an Islamist Jihad was initiated to replace Western democracy with an Islamic caliphate.
One thing is certain. God was not the cause of those apocalyptic and self-destructive attempts at end times, and while Satan may have motivated those who caused them, it’s a cop-out to blame those horrors on Satan. We are fully responsible for our own violent acts of self-destruction, even when they are motivated by Satan and done in the name of God.
Those apocalyptic and cataclysmic end times events shared one salient factor: They were all initiated by religious zealots and pit one tribe against others for political dominance. It brings to mind the folk ballads, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Blowin’ In the Wind. When will we ever learn? After the 2018 election, the answer is still blowin’ in the wind.
Today as in the past, most Jews, Christians and Muslims interpret cataclysmic events in terms of their faith. Jesus warned us to keep watch for the end times, and when facing his own end times in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus urged his disciples to watch and pray. That’s the message on the stained glass window above our altar.
But are we keeping watch? God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer, using fear and hatred to defeat the reconciling power of God’s love; and Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and in politics, as evidenced in last week’s election. Americans remain as polarized as ever by partisan politics.
The irony is that Christians elected a man who is the antithesis of Christian morality as their president in 2016, and most continued to support his fear-mongering and divisive politics in 2018. With partisan anger dominating politics, America needs moderates to promote a politics of reconciliation, or intractable political hatreds will lead to the end times of our democracy.
The American civil religion has lost its moral compass, and that’s because the church, in its myriad forms, has neglected the moral stewardship of democracy. The altruistic standards of Christian morality no longer guide American politics. We need to restore those moral standards of legitimacy and promote a politics of reconciliation to avoid the end times for our democracy.
A healthy democracy requires balancing individual wants and rights with providing for the common good. That’s the moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions. It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that we have failed to apply to our politics.
The end times are described in the scriptures of both Christians and Muslims. They can be understood as the end of life, the end of an era, or the end of the world. Is American democracy approaching its end times? We haven’t yet seen God’s Rapture, but we have seen Satan’s ruptures of justice in the radical right politics promoted by evangelical Christians.
If we ignore the warning signs, we do so at our peril. Do we have a prayer? Yes, but since we must save our democracy from ourselves it will take more than a prayer. So long as a majority of Americans claim to be Christians, they must promote a moral reformation of their religion and politics to avoid the end times of their democracy--and it must begin in the church.
Scriptural references to the end times, or eschatological discourse, are found in Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13. The Qur’an and Hadith also include references to a return of Jesus on the Last Day. For the scriptures and commentary, see End Times: the eschatological discourse in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at pp 183-190, posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/.
President Trump used apocalyptic language and falsehoods leading up to the 2018 elections. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-trumpism-the-presidents-apocalyptic-attacks-reach-a-new-level-of-falsity/2018/11/04/8e4fb87e-e043-11e8-b759-3d88a5ce9e19_story.html?utm_term=.858c7e66a7fb&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1.
An apocalyptic movement known as Q or QAnon popular among Trump supporters resembles the Christian Rapture. It prophesied a cataclysmic political victory of Trump’s radical right policies over sinister liberal conspiracies; but its predicted dates for the fulfilment of those prophecies has passed. See https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/08/failed-prophecies-wont-stop-trumps-true-believers/.
A split America reasserted its divisions in the 2018 midterm elections. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-split-america-reassert-its-divisions-in-the-midterm-elections/2018/11/06/31475b7c-dfa9-11e8-b3f0-62607289efee_story.html?utm_term=.61a1c5451cb3&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On November 4, Robert Samuelson said, We already know who the lost the midterms. We all did. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-already-know-who-lost-the-midterms-we-all-did/2018/11/04/fbdc2680-decb-11e8-b732-3c72cbf131f2_story.html?utm_term=.02e285d953be&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
David Brooks has described the crisis of America’s polarized partisan politics and the central challenge of the age: “...Republicans have flocked to Trump’s cramped nationalism and abandoned their creedal story. That’s left the Democrats with a remarkable opportunity. They could. provide a coherent, unifying vehicle to celebrate the American dream.” Brooks noted that “...After 30 years of multiculturalism, the bonds of racial solidarity trump the bonds of national solidarity. Democrats have a very strong story to tell about what we owe the victims of racism and oppression. They do not have a strong story to tell about what we owe to other Americans, how we define our national borders and what binds us as Americans.
Here’s the central challenge of our age: Over the next few decades, America will become a majority-minority country. ...Republicans have rendered themselves irrelevant to the great generational challenge before us. But if the Democrats are going to lead this transition, they’ll need not just a mind-set that celebrates diversity, but also a mind-set that creates unity. They’ll need policies that integrate different groups into a coherent nation, with shared projects, a common language and culture and clear borders.” See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/opinion/democrats-midterms-immigration-nation.html.
David Frum has argued the case for liberal Republicanism, asserting that the Republican Party should open its doors to moderate conservatives; but that seems unlikely with Trump and his Republican minions committed to the purity of their radical right politics. It’s the same on the other side. President Obama acknowledged that partisan politics are “a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions.”
After the election Frum noted that “The midterm elections delivered a less than a fully satisfying result for Democratic voters, but an ideal outcome for the Democratic Party.” Democrats gained control of the House, but their most progressive prospect to run for president, Beto O’Rourke, lost. That may have helped Democrats since there is “no progressive majority in America.” And the vote reminded all Americans how difficult it will be to preserve and restore liberal democracy after “Trumpocracy.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/why-democrats-won-2018-midterms/575179/
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