Saturday, November 12, 2016

Americans, Babylon the Great, and an American history of regarding of the President as an antichrist based on loyalties red and blue rather than on the possibility that we're just Babylon the Great for this era

Over the last twenty some years I would read or see dread-filled missives about how this time around the president was going to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, and declare the executive office a dictatorship for life.  This began near the end of the Clinton administration, in which some evangelical/conservative Protestants here in the United States believed, somehow, that Bill Clinton was going to abolish the Constitution in favor of making himself a lifelong dictator.

When Bush 2 was president I read articles crop up here in the Seattle area about how Bush 2 could be legitimately described as some kind of antichrist by pastors with progressive sympathies here in the Puget Sound area. 

Then when George W. Bush was nearing the end of his second term I began to hear from a liberal friend or two that HE was going to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, and declare the executive office a dictatorship for life and suspend all elections.

Within a day of Obama being elected president I got messages forwarded my way declaring that Christians were going to be sent to concentration camps and that Obama was some kind of Islamic sleeper agent sent to destroy the United States.

What these readings have in common is that they regard the President as a kind of terrifying antichrist role ... based on red state and blue state paranoia ... but explicitly avoiding the more general observation that perhaps Babylon the Great is a role that is played by the United States more generally, regardless of whether the government is what we'd call red or blue.  The red state and blue state advocates scrupulously avoid the possibility that the nature of an Antichrist role is played by the President in the very nature of the job description of being the executive of a principality and power regardless of the personal convictions or character of the person who holds the office.  That possibility seems precluded in the partisanship of blue and red state civic religion.

What if this election has highlighted a different possibility for Christians to consider, that if we consider the role of Babylon the Great as described on the world stage in the apocalyptic idiom, that the United States has fulfilled that role in our era regardless of whether blue and red state partisans got the executive they wanted?  To put the matter a bit crudely, perhaps this year the Antichrist is simply a function of whoever happens to get the job being President of the United States, not a function of whether or not the wrong person based on your political or religious convictions happened to win the electoral vote.   

In other words, if the President of the United States can be considered an antichrist only because you didn't want Trump to get the job what would you say about the role of the President of the United States if Clinton won?  Would SHE have been an antichrist or would she be exempted from such a role?  Let's turn the proposition around, if Hillary Clinton would have been an Antichrist had SHE won would the problem merely be that Hillary Clinton became the Antichrist by becoming president elect of the United States ... or would the problem be in the nature of the level of power the executive branch is able to exercise, that the problem is really that the Presidency, the executive branch as a whole, has accumulated so much power it can play what could be regarded as a role not unlike the Beast or Babylon the Great.

Or, as the author Conor Fridersdorf has been putting it, maybe we need to tyrant-proof the executive office regardless of who actually gets the role of the President of the United States.

Let's consider an idea moving forward, that if you wanted to know who the Antichrist of our time may be just ask yourself who you voted for to be President of the United States.  That's your answer.  It's nothing personal, it's just the nature of the job description at this point, maybe. To argue that this or that person would be the greatest candidate to be president could simply be to make a case that so-and-so is the best possible person to fulfill the role of representing the interests of Babylon the Great; the best candidate to be Antichrist for our time.

Advocates for red state and blue state ideals have spilled much ink and printed many words about how the red state voters don't represent the real Jesus, the real heart of the Christian faith.  They don't, and neither do blue state voters.  The red state and blue state civic religions that define the Christian faith and the teachings of Christ chiefly through the social and political agendas of American political and cultural ideals may simply not realize they are endorsing different modes of an imperial cult; they may sincerely believe that just because the food coloring renders the sugary beverage red or blue that they are not still ultimately drinking the same kool-aid.

Over the last twenty years I've slowly and steadily arrived at the view that rather than only deciding the President has an antichrist role depending on whether the concerns are red or blue that we consider the possibility that the entire civic religious tradition of the United States, in both its red and bleu forms, is an imperialist cult.  The tragedy is that the blue and red state partisans only recognize it in each other and not in themselves.

When Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan it was an expert in the law who asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus provided an answer and the expert, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The man, wanting to justify himself, asked "who is my neighbor?" Jesus told the parable and the crux of the parable was to present to the man that the one who acted in the most loving, neighborly way was the Samaritan.  "The one who showed kindness" was the legal expert's answer, revealing that he didn't even wish to recognize the Samaritan as a Samaritan.  THAT can't be my neighbor, the man's reply reveals to us.

We're seeing legal experts behave in the same way this week.  The red and blue state partisans have amply demonstrated that they are the legal experts to whom Jesus' parable about the Good Samaritan.  Who is that you despise most, who you believe is symbolically as well as personally responsible for all that is wrong with the nation?  THAT is your neighbor.  Love that person.  Jesus' parable about the Samaritan is a reminder that if you are interested in defining who is and isn't your neighbor you have betrayed the teachings of Christ.  So, the application is obvious here, your neighbor is whomever you least want to recognize as your neighbor.  For a red state voter it's a blue state voter, and for a blue state voter it's a red state voter. 

Now I happen to agree with Conor Friedersdorf about the need to tyrant-proof the executive branch regardless of who gets it.

What seems to have largely happened in the last twenty years is that the red and blue partisans ONLY worried about the dangers of executive tyranny when the OTHER team had the office.  That's been a problem and it will continue to be a problem unless something changes. To go by the way people have been behaving on the internet this last week that not only won't change it will be exacerbated.

If you only consider the United States to have a civic religious cult that stands in opposition to the teachings of Christ and Christian doctrine and ethical teaching because the person you don't want in the Oval Office got elected then you ... might need to repent of embracing either the red or blue state version of the civic religion.  You might need to confront the possibility that you've been drinking the proverbial Kool-aid and thought you weren't because, hey, you're drinking the BLUE kool-aid and not the RED Kool-aid.  The same goes for the red state voter who presumes to not drink the kool-aid by dint of being a real, honest American.  Being a real, honest American is no guarantee you haven't embraced an imperial cult that is ultimately Antichrist, whether your voting record is red or blue.  How can you know?  Well ... if your default position is to define Christ based on the vision of American you want rather than assess America in terms of the teaching of Christ and the biblical testimony that's your answer; there are a whole lot of red and blue partisans who have become so good at engineering a Bible that exists in their minds to justify their cultic loyalties they may simply be blinded to the reality that they are not followers of Jesus, they are advocates of red state and blue state gospels.  Well, in that case they're both antichrists, they just may not know it yet.


Cal P said...

The fear of Donald Trump ought to convict liberals about how they were perfectly comfortable with the Unitary Executive powers of the President, which functions more like a dictator than a moderator of the republic. So it's perfectly ok that Obama has kill-lists for drone strikes, even setting precedent in murdering American expats. But now that Trump is on his way, the apocalypse is nigh.

In someways, though I didn't vote, I am glad Trump got the win. If Hillary had won, it'd be another 4-8 years of terror from above for the rest of the world without most Americans batting an eye.

Considering most Americans, Christian or not, belong to the Civil Religion, it's a hard pill to swallow. No one wants to believe that they live in the Evil Empire. Perhaps Osama bin Laden was right(!) for the wrong reasons: we are the Great Satan. But such is anathema.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Parts of the Left has come out with some very articulate considerations of exactly that problem, Cal, though folks with more New Left tendencies still seem to e in complete meltdown mode.

One of the sobering realizations any of us who went to college may want to consider is that if we look down on the uneducated rural electorate we have to realize that for them everyone with a college degree, let alone everyone who makes a living in the arts or journalism, is part of one of a number of ruling classes. The failure of the Fourth Estate this year has been so utter and absurd overall in the mainstream left and right outlets it should give journalists a moment to self-examine; maybe, just maybe, populist resentment could be justified against a whole category of people Ellul would have described as propagandists in marketing, PR, journalism, and broadcast media who could come to view the entire democratic process as an actually democratic process with contempt.

Sure, it's legitimate to be disappointed (to put it mildly) about what may transpire but given how disastrously the press handled things we need to ask, if for a moment, whether the loss of the freedom of the press as defined BY THE PRESS ITSELF, would be a real loss for the American populace at large. Because this last week it seems like that would potentially (and terrifyingly) be no loss at all.

When Slate ran a piece in which an author declared that white women voting for Trump betrayed the sisterhood it was the sort of op-ed that never stopped to ask whether that sisterhood ever existed beyond the confines of the journalistic set in coastal cities. Journalists probably don't feel like they're part of a ruling class but that doesn't mean they aren't.

Here in Seattle I caught that there's new managing editorial at The Stranger and so from here it seems the volatile stretch of 2001-2014 could in some sense be regarded as the era of Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll as two sides of the same contemptuous coin. The discredit to the people is thinking the contempt expressed by one is acceptable while the other isn't based solely on red or blue.