While many of us might have enjoyed gently mocking the disappointed followers of Harold Camping on May 22 -- the day after he predicted the world would end -- Matthew Avery Sutton, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, argues in The New York Times that we should take the recent rise of Christian apocalypsism on the right seriously. This isn't the first time the Antichrist has been an important figure in American politics, even if you don't believe he's in the White House. Sutton explains that during World Wars I and II -- times of economic uncertainty and international turmoil -- fundamentalist leaders interpreted the Bible that current events were forecasting the end times: "the growth of strong central governments and the consolidation of independent nations into one superstate led by a seemingly benevolent leader promising world peace." Fundamentalists joined up with libertarians to fight the New Deal. Obama, Sutton argues, is facing the same cultural and political forces.
Sutton explains that with Obama's international upbringing, rumors about his birthplace, expansion of government's role in health care, and fears that he doesn't wholeheartedly support Israel add up to fundamentalists' ideas of the Antichrist in a way they haven't seen since Franklin Roosevelt. And they present and even bigger challenge to Obama than they did to FDR:
While Depression-era fundamentalists represented only a small voice among the anti-Roosevelt forces of the 1930s, evangelicals have grown ever savvier and now constitute one of the largest interest groups in the Republican Party. In the past, relatively responsible leaders like [Billy] Graham, who worked with Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, and even [Jerry] Falwell, who reined in evangelical excess in exchange for access to the Reagan White House, channeled their evangelical energy.
For Bachmann, the connection seems pretty tight -- she's referred to herself as a "Teavangelical." When Bachmann said Hurricane Irene was bringing Washington a message from God -- to cut spending -- the remark was reported as if she meant it sincerely. Her spokeswoman later clarified that "of course it was in jest," and Fox News chief Roger Ailes told The Daily Beast that mainstream reporters were just using it as an excuse to portray Bachmann as a "Jesus freak." But reporters can be forgiven for assuming Bachmann was kidding on the square, given her long history of apocalyptic warnings. In 2004, she told a radio show, "We're seeing the fulfillment of the Book of Judges here in our own time, where every man is doing that which is right in his own eyes -- in other words, anarchy," Mother Jones' Tim Murphy reports. In early 2010, she warned of dire consequences if President Obama wasn't supportive enough of Israel. According to the Minnesota Independent, Bachmann said:
I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States... [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle.