It’s The Apocalypse, Stupid: Understanding Christian Opposition to Obamacare, Civil Rights, New Deal and More


American evangelicals have been waiting for the world to end for a long time. But that’s not to say they’ve just been sitting around. Apocalypticism has inspired evangelistic crusades, moral reform movements, and generations of political activism.

In his latest book, Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of history at Washington State University, traces this history of American evangelical apocalypticism from the end of the 19th century to the present day. In the process, he proposes a revised understanding of American evangelicalism, focused on the urgent expectations of the end of human history. If you want to understand modern evangelicalism, Sutton says, you have to understand their End Times theology.

Daniel Silliman spoke with Sutton at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, in Heidelberg, Germany.

Why write about evangelical Christian apocalypticism?

The question that initially sparked this research was why were fundamentalists and their evangelical heirs skeptical of the state? Why were and are they critical of the federal government? I started thinking about this in the context of the health care debates over the last decade. Why were so many Christians so reluctant to support national health care? I could see why they were critical of the Democratic party on gay rights. I could see why they were critical on abortion. What I didn’t understand is why, as a conservative Bible believing Christian, you would be opposed expanding health care.

This book is a very long, 480-page answer to that question.

My argument in a nutshell is that the apocalyptic theology that developed in the 1880s and 1890s led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that event, you’re going to be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that is going to give more power to the state.

How significant is apocalypticism in the history of American evangelicalism?

The idea that Jesus is coming back soon was a fairly radical and unconventional idea in the 19th century, but by the 21st century it’s the air American Christians breathe. The most recent polls said something like 58 percent of white evangelicals believe Jesus is going to return by 2050. They simply take for granted that there is going to be a Rapture and Jesus is going to come back.

I took those statistics and others like them and moved backwards in time. What I found in my research was that apocalypticism was central to fundamentalists and evangelicals. What made them most distinct, what set them apart from liberal Protestants is not what we’ve traditionally thought. It’s not questions of the virgin birth or how you read the Bible or questions of the nature of the incarnation or the literal resurrection of Jesus or Jesus’s miracles. All those matter, all of those things do set them apart, but they don’t affect how they live their daily lives. The one thing that affects how they live their daily lives is that they believe we are moving towards the End Times, the rise of the Antichrist, towards a great tribulation and a horrific human holocaust.

In their minds, the imminent Second Coming would not be as important as getting people saved. Salvation, converting sinners, would be the most important thing driving them. But in terms of how they’re shaping and organizing their own lives, I think apocalypticism has been the driving force for much of the last century. It has fueled the movement and shaped it in fundamental ways.

If you haven’t been in the archives it’s really unbelievable to read these articles, these sermons and these letters, to realize how much apocalypticism saturated the minds of fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 20th century. The looming rise of the Antichrist was just the forefront of their thinking.

And they say that. Over and over again. They’re very clear.

This is significant because to believe the world is rapidly moving to its end effects how you vote, how you’re going to structure your education, how you understand the economy, how you’re going to treat global events, how you’re going to look at organizations like the United Nations.

Apocalypticism is central to understanding how fundamentalists and then evangelicals acted.

Can you give a broad outline of this theology?

It’s a relatively complicated theology that fundamentalists and then evangelicals drew from a lot of different influences, a lot of different impulses. The key to unlocking their theology is to see some fairly obscure passages from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 24 through their eyes.

But their conlusions, broken down to their simplest form are these: We’re living in the church age and we’re moving towards the Rapture. Jesus will Rapture all true believers out of this world, they’ll just disappear, they’ll go up to heaven with Jesus, and then with the loss of Christian influence in the world, Satan will have free rein to take power through a political leader, called the Antichrist, who is then going to rule over the world for seven years. This period is called the Tribulation. Antichrist rule will lead to a series of wars, which will then culminate with Jesus coming with an army of saints and fighting the battle of Armageddon, in the literal land of Palestine. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist, vanquish evil and then establish a new kingdom.

There’s been a long debate in Christian history about the timing of Jesus’s Second Coming. Would he come to initiate the start of a new millennium, a 1,000 years of peace and prosperity, or would he come at its conclusion? Fundamentalists and most evangelicals believed that Jesus is going to come back before the millennium. From there they determined that there will be signs or indications that tell us we’re approaching the Second Coming. They believe the Bible had laid out these signs, the sequence of events that would happen, as they understood it, as we get closer and closer and closer to the Second Coming of Christ.

The rough picture is that we’re moving towards the End Times. Instead of the idea that Christians are building the kingdom of God on earth, the earth is on a quick, slippery slope descending to hell.

What is the practical effect of this expectation?

Traditionally, people have believed that this expectation that Jesus is coming back would lead to indifference, that people would focus on the next world, they would invest very little in this world. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. This is a central argument in the book.

D.L. Moody is often used to illustrate the idea of indifference. He famously said that the world is a sinking ship and God has given him a lifeboat and told him to save as many as he could. That’s the idea, that there’s not anything you can do but save those who are sinking. At the same time, Moody turned around and established what were later known at the Moody Church and the Moody Bible Institute, which were extremely active in reform movements during the progressive era. They were focused on issues of crime in Chicago, sanitation, temperance, and in all kinds of moral reform efforts.

It’s clear from Moody to Billy Sunday to Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, that to believe that Jesus is coming at any moment does not make you less active or less involved in your culture. They say over and over and over again that this is not the case. We just haven’t heard them. Every generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists says it. Their apocalyptic theology makes them more active not less.

There is a biblical argument for this that they use. It’s the parable of the talents. In this story a ruler invests in his servants, giving each of them a number of talents, or money. He then goes away to another kingdom. When he comes back he wants to know what they’ve done with their talents. Some had buried their talents, afraid of losing it. Some had lost the money, wasting their talents. But some had invested wisely and made more money. So the returning ruler rewarded those who had invested wisely and maximized their talents and used them for greater good. For fundamentalists and evangelicals, the point here is that God has given them talents. He’s gone away, he’s coming back, he’s coming back soon, and he’s going to ask what you’ve done with your talents. Jesus ended the parable by instructing the disciples to “occupy” until I come. And that’s what fundamentalists and evangelicals have done.

That means that, far more than many other Christians, they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible.

What I’m arguing is that in fact the conviction that Jesus is coming back very very soon creates a sense of urgency, or anxiety or excitement that means there is no time to spare, because the clock is ticking and they’re almost out of time.

The standard narrative of white evangelical history is a great withdrawal from culture in the 1920s and then a reengagement in the 1950s, leading to the religious right in 1980s. Do you want to revise that?

Yes. That’s one of the historiographical arguments I’m making in the book. The traditional argument is that fundamentalists were active and engaged in American society until the Scopes trial, the anti-evolution trial, in 1925. They were humiliated and defeated in the Scopes trial, they withdrew and focused on building their churches, their institutions, but they weren’t engaged in mainstream culture until the rise of Billy Graham who helped turn them around. Then it’s a few quick steps to the rise of the religious right.

That’s incorrect. They never gave up. They never withdrew or disengaged from culture. In the 1930s, for example, most of these fundamentalists were very critical of the New Deal. For Americans who were actively looking for signs of the coming Antichrist in the context of the 1930s, in the context of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, Roosevelt had all the markings of someone setting the stage for the end times. He was concolidating power. Government was growing.

I found a letter from one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s operatives. He had gone out to survey the country and look for areas of strength and weakness before the 1936 election and what he told FDR is that the greatest threat was not from the economic reactionaries, that was his term, but from the religious reactionaries. He said the “so-called evangelical churches are strongly against you.” It was shortly after that that FDR issued a letter to all the churches of the nation, asking for their support, and asking what he could do to better meet their needs.

Fundamentalists were involved in politics, they were involved in social reform. A few of them were talking about abortion and same-sex relations in the 1930s. They were very much active and involved with what was going on around them. There’s just no evidence to show that they retreated.

I’m trying to decenter the Scopes trial as not that substantial of a moment in the history of evangelicalism.

What about African-American evangelicals? How were they apocalyptic?

This was one of my favorite parts of doing this book. I wanted to take seriously how African-American evangelicals compared and contrasted with white evangelicals. They started from the same theological premises, but came to very different political and social conclusions.

They had that sense of fever and anxiety and hope for Jesus’s Second Coming, but for them, the signs of the times and the method of occupying until he comes were very, very different.

There were a number of important and substantial issues that were not on white evangelicals’ radar screens, but for black evangelicals, they were absolutely central to what it meant to be living in an apocalyptic age. For them a sign of the End Times was not the supposed lawlessness of Martin Luther King, Jr., a claim made by some white evangelicals. No, for African Americans a sign of the coming tribulation was lynching. They didn’t see the Antichrist coming out of the New Deal, they saw the Antichrist as an extension of state governments that were racist and had Jim Crowed them for generations. They too had a very strong sense that Jesus was coming back, but he was coming back for different reasons, he was going to right different wrongs, and he was going to bring a different kind of peace and a different kind of justice. A different kind of millennium.

While African Americans were having their own theological discussions among themselves, they were also aware of developments in the white evangelical community, but they were not engaging directly with white theologians. For them it was a different kind of discussion. For them, thinking through apocalyptic theology was happening in the context of a long black liberation tradition, so they put a lot of emphasis, for instance, on a verse in Psalms that talks about a great leader coming out of Abyssinia or Ethiopia. There was a sense in which Jesus’s return was the coming of a black liberator.

White fundamentalists and evangelicals were very clear that they didn’t want anything to do with African Americans for most of the twentieth century. They didn’t see African Americans as able to contribute to their movement. The racial assumptions were built into who evangelicals and fundamentalists were as people, just like the vast majority of white Americans right alongside them. They were no different.

But what apocalypticism did was give white evangelicals a framework and a rationale for fighting the Civil Rights movement, for example. In the last days, they insisted, there will be lawlessness. So they saw the Civil Rights movement as an example of people who break the law. Whiteness influenced these evangelical theologians, and when we compare them with African American theologians we can see how their sensitivities influenced the way they read, understood, and applied the Bible.

How does apocalypticism shape someone like Billy Graham and, by extension, modern evangelicalism?

Billy Graham gets a pass from a lot of scholars who pay very little attenion to his apocalypticism. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s been a core of his ministry. In 1949, when Graham had his first major revival in Los Angeles, the famous one that put him on the map, the revival began just days after Harry Truman announced that the Soviets had tested an atomic bomb. So Graham used this to say, the end is near, the time is close. You have to get saved today because Jesus is coming back.

He would say getting people saved is the engine driving him, but the reason there’s an urgency to getting people saved is that Jesus may be coming back before we wake up in the morning. And he would say that at every revival campaign. That was his message.

He wrote about it more than just about any other topic. He published books on apocalypticism in the 1960s and the 80s and the 90s and 2010. In 2010, writing as a 91-year-old, he believed this message was one of the most important things he could leave behind on this earth. In this book he says the signs are now clearer than ever. He’s written a lot of books, but five on apocalypticism? I don’t know that he’s covered any other topic in five books.

At the same time, I want to be very clear: postwar evangelicalism grew far more diverse than interwar fundamentalism. After the war, the movement got bigger, broader, more inclusive and less tied to apocalypticism. What happens is essentially evangelicalism divides, and you have these more respectable people like Graham and Carl F. H. Henry and Harold John Ockenga, and others on one track preaching a respectable, moderate apocalypticism. Then you have populist apocalyptics who become incredibly popular, like Hal Lindsey in the 1970s, Tim LaHaye in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Then, you have growing numbers of self-proclaimed evangelicals completely rejecting the apocalypticism that had for so long given their movement its distinctive identity. The story of postwar evangelicals is this tension between the more respectable, more careful, more savvy, leaders and those who preached a radical populist apocalypticism that harkened back to the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.

And yet the apocalyptic never leaves. It’s still there, that’s where the polls come back. It’s now assumed by hundreds of millions of Americans that the rapture is a real thing and that Jesus is coming back.

It’s a genius theology, because it allows people to look at very diverse, very troubling, very dark contemporary events and put them in a context; to say, “I know why this is happening, and it’s going to turn out OK. We are going to be OK.” It gives them peace, comfort and hope in a world that often offers none of those things.

  • joeyj1220

    At first I thought the title of the article was “Is the Apocalypse Stupid?” and I answered “YES”

  • Jim Reed

    These are topics that could use a lot of discussion here on RD, and in many ways have been discussed. Here are some issues with the last paragraph.

    allows people to look at diverse troubling contemporary events and put them in a context; say, “I know why this is happening, and it’s going to turn out OK.

    It’s like everything turns backwards, and turns backwards again. The troubling events in this country are primarily because of the evangelical Christians, and the way they vote, and their disregard for the environment or public health, and the way they support the rich who are sinking the rest of us. We are going to be OK, but only if we can get beyond the evangelical Christian problems and create a progressive world to start to make things OK. Think about it. The world offers them hope, and they offer the world destruction, if they get their way.

    When you look closely, the genius theology is based on a lie. This author should stick around to discuss some of the details.

  • Whiskyjack

    What I find absolutely remarkable is the durability of the apocalyptic myth. The only thing that the hundreds (if not thousands) of predictions of the return of Jesus have in common is that they have all been dead wrong. This unfulfilled expectation has now been happening for over two thousand years, if you start with the apocalyptic scenario envisaged in the War Scroll.
    I honestly cannot understand the lack of historical understanding that leads generation after generation to believe in these myths. The “signs” of the apocalypse are so vague that they have been seen in every era from time of John of Patmos to the invasion of the Vandals or Mongols to the Millerite fantasies of the nineteenth century through to Hal Lindsey’s invariably wrong predictions. It also speaks an the arrogance and sense of exceptionalism that each generation must feel as they expect that it is during their lifetime that this fabulous event will happen.

  • villabolo

    A minor correction. Apocalyptic teachings started becoming popular with William Miller’s (Millerite) teachings on Dispensationalism in the years leading up to 1844.

  • Jim Reed

    The fact that it hasn’t happened yet shows it is getting closer.

  • dubrarian

    “The story of postwar evangelicals is this tension between the more respectable, more careful, more savvy, leaders and those who preached a radical populist apocalypticism that harkened back to the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.”

    Why would ‘radical populist apocalypticis[ts]’ logically be any less savvy than their moderate counterparts?

  • Rudy R

    Jesus preached the apocalypse would happen in his generation. It’s safe to say that the apocalypse is a failed prediction.

  • Jim Reed

    Jesus the preacher wasn’t even invented until a later generation, so that prediction must have failed before it was even made. Does that make any sense?

  • Whiskyjack

    Actually, I think that the failed prediction of an imminent day of judgment is one of several strands of evidence that suggests that the Jesus of the NT was actually based on a real apocalyptic preacher in the first century CE.

  • cgosling

    The apocalypse is under way? So send me your wealth, you can’t use it.

  • Jim Reed

    Just one that Paul didn’t know about, and the Christians of Paul’s day didn’t know about.

  • Whiskyjack

    Paul was suffering from the same delusion. He thought that the day of judgment was imminent, as well. I think that it’s reasonable that his delusion was founded on the same failed prophecies. By his own testimony, Paul had not met Jesus. His expectations were probably founded on hallucinations, rumors, and second- (or third- or fourth-) hand stories.

  • Jim Reed

    In the church world it comes down to market share. In recent times the prosperity gospel and megachurches have been doing well, especially if TV can be combined with book sales.

    As book stores decline, there will probably be an opening for some form of Internet evangelism to become more dominate on a global stage, if the right personality can be found.

  • Jim Reed

    There was a lot of searching the old testament scriptures by Paul and those Christians. That was a primary source of their understanding of Jesus.

  • Rudy R

    Whether you believe in a historical or mythical Jesus, the Jesus story started soon after his supposed death/resurrection. The authors of Matthew and Mark were of the theology that preached of a Kingdom on Earth, because, at that time, it was still in the generation of Jesus. But the author of John, which was written 60-90 years after Jesus’ death, knew that the generation of Jesus had passed, so he updated the theology of a Kingdom in Heaven.

  • Jim Reed

    I think Jesus was a myth because the extensive writings of Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus the man whose story was from the gospels which were written later. The written record of Christianity before the gospels was Paul. This seems to show the gospel story was not yet a part of Christianity, and was developed as the gospels were later written.

  • Craptacular

    “What I find absolutely remarkable is the durability of the apocalyptic myth.” – Whiskyjack

    The human mind has problems conceptualizing infinity. The apocalyptic myth helps create a finite time frame and deal with our limited existence on this earth, with the added bonus of it’s always just about to happen. The “always about to happen” part puts butts in the pews today, as opposed to 20, 100, or a thousand years from now.

    And, as I posted in another thread, attempting to use facts (or the historical record) to dispel beliefs is next to impossible with those who value belief over facts.

  • Russ Neal

    Perhaps a better question than why evangelicals don’t embrace totalitarian government as the true savior is why non-evangelicals do.

  • Whiskyjack

    I agree that belief trumps facts for many people. I just find it remarkable that the myth carries so much currency in modern America given that it’s been demonstrated to be wrong for over two millennia. That’s amazing durability,

  • Jim Reed

    We think people need to work together to form a more progressive society to start working on problems that we already know about. Democracy is a large part of that. It is very clear to us non-evangelicals that the church is not the answer, and it has always been a drag on progress. The concept of turning everything over to a “true savior” might be why Christianity always gets things wrong. The problems can be solved, but not by assuming you already have all the answers, and you have had them since the beginning of time.

  • Craptacular

    Non-evangelicals embrace a totalitarian government? Do you mean other christians or everyone who is NOT an evangelical (muslim, buddhist, atheist, etc.)?

    The evangelicals do seem to embrace totalitarianism, though, but it is based on their belief that jesus/god or Billy Graham will rule. In other words, totalitarianism is not bad as long as THEIR leader is in charge. Hypocrisy at its finest, I know, but I expect nothing less from them.

  • freddiefedora

    Religious Fundamentalists of every religion always get it wrong regarding what will please God and, of course they make false predictions on what will happen. Same old, same old.

  • Huh?

    Hasn’t every generation since the time of St. Paul believed they are living in the End Times?

  • Jim Reed

    There might soon be a way out of that trap. End Times means the end on earth. If we can spread to multiple planets, then people should start to see the end times concept has become obsolete, and the people can be free.

  • I think this durability is an indication that we’re dealing with an archetype, in the Jungian sense. Something “hardwired” into our subconscious. The mythology of the end of everything seems to be universal across cultures.

  • Eric

    Um, no, that’s a patently stupid question based on a patently stupid premise.

    The question I’d ask, though, is how does Sutton explain the evangelical support for Bush and the invasion of Iraq, among other examples of pro-gov’t/pro-state views over the last fifteen or more years.

    Whence the apocalyptic suspicion of state power among the “religious right”?

  • apotropoxy

    Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire made the same point about the beliefs the Christians had toward their empire too. That faith tradition is ultimately little more than a death cult.

  • Jim Reed

    They know as long as we have a Democrat for president we won’t get end times. They support Republicans.

  • Frank6548

    I’m against Obamacare because I don’t trust the government to properly manage it.

  • seashell

    How sad that all the other well developed countries have governments smart enough to manage their health care, but according to you, the US government is not. Why is that I wonder, Frank?

  • Jim Reed

    I think it is because when Obama won Rush was at his height of power, and he said as long as Obama is president he wants America to fail. The Republicans took up that call and have been working on it ever since.

  • Jim Reed

    Now we are seeing how much that way of thinking can damage the world, so we need to grow beyond it.

  • Joe Monte

    Dictating and codifying what people can and cannot do with their private bits sounds like the apotheosis of totalitarianism. Your remark is the apotheosis of chutzpah, Russ.

  • Joe Monte

    You almost Onioned me with that comment. Your subtlety is brilliant!

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    I hope to get to this in more detail, but this is merely one of the mistakes that this author makes. There have always been several different and competing ‘end times narratives’ even in American Protestantism — and it is mostly American Protestantism that has focused on this main idea until very recently. The Rapture, in particular, is hardly part of most of the historical discussions because, except for a few minor Protestant sect, it simply was unknown before an ex-recruiter for the John Birch Society teamed up with a hack writer to create a badly-written but popular series of apocalypse fictions. I would be very surprised if th author can find many mentions of it in the general sermons of the time. even if some ‘high-altitude’ theologians may have discussed it.

  • Craptacular

    Trusting the government to run a criminal justice system but not a healthcare system is the height of hypocrisy. If Frank6548 truly believed what they wrote about “Obamacare,” they would want the “government” out of any system that has the power to terminate life…including the military. Frank6548 is simply a religious troll that needs to be told:

    “Oh please the histrionic hyperbole is childish.” – Frank6548

  • Frank6548

    The U.S. Government wastes 125 billion a year. Enough said.

  • 125 billion out of 3 trillion is 4%. Not exactly apocalyptic, but could be improved a bit.

  • Guest

    You are anti-American trash.

  • Frank6548

    That’s just what’s documented. No to mention the money wasted in bad programs.

  • Ron Wright

    “Hundreds of millions of Americans”.. ? A monstrous use of hyperbole here. Just how many Americans are alive in the USA? Billions? Please, I liked the read but this statement is fallacious and doesn’t do justice to your hard work.

  • Jim Reed

    How many Americans are alive? The answer is hundreds of millions.

  • Ron Wright

    Thanks Jim, for pointing out how I aided you in missing my point by my not expounding the context of the article noting the belief of hundreds of millions of Americans. So, if you believe the article’s statement to be accurate, then good on you.

    The article states: “It’s now assumed by hundreds of millions of Americans that the rapture is a real thing and that Jesus is coming back.”

  • Jim Reed

    The number is still dangerously high. We as a nation are stocking up on guns and ammo in preparation of something, we are electing politicians who are happy to trash the environment and waste our future, and we fill schools with anti-science teaching in the name of the belief.

  • Ron Wright

    Let me state what my comment meant a little better: Good articles lose their punch when they end with fallacious statements (unsupported by facts) used as support for the articles premise. Now, to go from my initial intent to then engage your unrelated concerns is not a road I am willing to walk. So, peace be with you and have a wonderful holiday season.

  • Jim Reed

    The ultimate sin of Christianity might be they have constructed a truly horrible picture of the future. Then instead of working to avoid such a future, they work to convince the world to believe in their picture.

  • Leslie MacKenzie

    I can agree with the fundamentalists that the end times will come by 2050 – they are bringing it about themselves with their anti-environmental voting practices. The tragedy of this brand of Christianity is its lack of love for humankind and God’s good creation.

  • PretaniVirago

    Democratic leaders invoke anti-christ hysteria…until a Republican is back in the oval office and they can shift their focus to some other poor schmuck. As an ex-Seventh Day Adventist I hear these anti-christ accusations day in and day out – the fear is practically palpable with some and holy smokes do they get worked up about Obama.

  • JCF

    Conservative evangelicals are anti-historical (as a part of being anti-intellectual). Most of them just aren’t aware that the same “Christ is coming within 50/20/10/2 years” predictions are the same as were made 2/10/20/50/100 years AGO. If a charismatic preacher says “I just discovered the Bible says Jesus is coming back May 21, 2011”, for them, NO ONE has ever read the Bible this way before.

  • JCF

    Leading to “the Great Disappointment”, when Jesus had the unmitigated gall to not show up!

  • JCF


  • Jim Reed

    No matter how much they invest in the doctrine and no matter how much damage they cause along the way, they will never actually reach the end.

  • apotropoxy

    Yes. But the tradition extends back further than Paul. Jesus, himself, (if we can believe the gospels on this point) believed that Yahweh’s hosts would descent upon Rome and crush it thereby permitting Israel to become an autonomous paradise. His mistake was two fold: first, believing that he was the long predicted messiah who’d get the credit for bring down Rome and, that their messiah story would come true in the first place.

  • apotropoxy

    Frank: “I’m against Obamacare because I don’t trust the government to properly manage it.”

    OK. How about Medicare? It’s one of the best managed programs we have and people who have it love it.

  • Frank6548

    Thanks for helping me prove my point. As the ” best managed” program:

    In 2010 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report claiming to have identified $48 billion in what it termed as “improper payments.” That’s nearly 10 percent of the $500 billion in outlays for that year. However, others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, suggest that there is an estimated $60 to $90 billion in fraud in Medicare and a similar amount for Medicaid.

  • ChristianPinko

    That must be why every society that has not been Christian has been a paradise on earth. Oh, wait.

  • Jim Reed

    I think belief in rapture and end times destruction can be a bad influence, starting with people willing to disbelieve in global warming because they believe it doesn’t make any difference in a world about to be destroyed, and probably many other subtle things. I understand others might have a different opinion, so we probably need to keep discussing it.

  • Steve the Terrible

    The American strain of this thing grew out of largely impoverished rural areas and a white Protestant small town culture which historically harbored strong nativist xenophobia and an outsized sense of entitlement. They believed themselves to be the only true American culture and the divinely appointed rightful owners of the American system. The appeal of the apocalyptic narrative is that it serves to undermine the legitimacy of the democratic system of government in the most extreme way possible whenever any perceived threat to this culture’s historically disproportionate political and social power emerges.

  • Neonshirtpockets

    You should always investigate the author of an article. The author is Daniel Silliman. As soon as I saw his picture I was like, “Yikes!” What a fat ugly pig.His picture is here:http://www.religiousstudiespro

    He’s a Communist too. A Communist, Atheist, fat, ugly, pasty white

  • Chip Berlet

    This is not a new idea, there have been several previous books making this argument, including Paul Boyer, Naming the Antichrist, Stephen D O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse, and one I co-wrote, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort which observed in 2001 that one of the four cornerstones of Right-Wing Populism is “Apocalyptic Narratives and Millennial Visions”

  • Jim Reed

    The difference is now people might be more ready to listen.

  • True, but annoying for all of us who have been writing about it for 20 years. The “News from Nowhere” approach of the interviewer implied this was a new idea, and an editor on Religion Dispatches should have caught it. Many of the people who have written about this write for Religion Dispatches. Sloppy. But very glad for the book (and the interview) to raise awareness of the subject that so mystifies so many journalists and Democratic Party strategists.

  • ChristianPinko

    Jim, thanks for your civil response to my admittedly snarky comment. FWIW, I’m not sure how deep Evangelicals’ commitment runs to the idea that the world is about to end. Specifically, how many of them don’t bother saving for their kids’ college funds? How many don’t have IRAs or 401(k)s? My sense of things — admittedly founded on very little evidence — is that Evangelicals use the End Times idea to justify things they already want to do. WRT Global Warming, white Evangelicals don’t want to give up their F-150s, and they definitely don’t want to admit that the dirty, tree-hugging hippies were right about the environment. Ultimately, I tend to agree with Fred Clark of Slacktivist that End Times preaching sanctifies support for states’ rights, which in turn is a euphemism for white supremacy, which is the foundation of the Confederate culture in which contemporary white Evangelicalism is based. That is my $0.02.

  • Jim Reed

    It makes sense about justifying what they already want to do. They are also listening to conservative funded propaganda. Sometimes cracks start to appear in the conservative world, like right now with the torture report. At least the cracks show up if you are watching Comedy Central news programs. Will any of that get through to the evangelical churches, maybe a little bit?

  • Jim Reed

    Annoying, but I think things are changing behind the scenes more than you might at first see. Bush was elected through Conservative Christian support, and took us to war based on a Conservative American Supremacy platform. Democrats were on the run, and afraid to express much opposition. Christianity as a whole seemed unwilling or unable to express any concern about the Conservative Christian agenda. You had the feeling that any opposition was a tiny minority. Now a dozen years later, the opposition is near half of the country, and near half of Christianity. People are much less fearful, and the situation is more volitile, possibly ripe for big change. At least that is what I see. Although there is a lot to be concerned about, things just don’t seem as hopeless as they did back when Bush was rising. People just need to keep writing the books because now is the time when they might start to matter.

  • I agree that people need to keep writing books, and the Sutton book looks excellent based on the citations and interview. I’ve ordered a copy. But as a journalist as well as a scholar I expect more context from an interview in a publication from USC. Which is ironic because I spent many years in the underground press. But nonetheless, I agree with your analysis that things look more hopeful because times have changed. And I should be less grump. 🙂

  • Jim Reed

    I think people spent years trying to figure out what RD was before USC was involved, and I guess USC is now part of that process. I don’t think they have figured out much yet, or at least they haven’t said much about it. That is all good because not knowing exactly what they are is probably a key to making RD what it is.

  • Jim Reed

    take 2

    I see RD as a microcosm of the ancient struggle to find the way. It was created as an environment for progressive Christianity or Judeo-Christianity with an openness to all forms of progressive religion or non-religion. But a problem developed. That always degrades to a debate between secular logic, and religious belief or apologetics. That debate keeps skewing in favor of logic unless it is heavily pruned to maintain some balance, but as you try to keep it pruned, ultimately you have to ask yourself what you are doing. The process of keeping things too much in balance seems to historically lead to conservative forms of torture. This happened to conservative Christianity in ancient times when it got control of the government, and it happened to conservative economics in modern times when it got control of the government.

  • Hanfeizi

    In some ways they are all right, however, as we all face the apocalypse and final judgement- our own death.

  • Hanfeizi

    Right, because everything will end for you at death. Essentially the world is snuffed out when we reach our own apocalypse. It’s an enduring motif because it’s as universal as birth.

  • Hanfeizi

    That is true, you can’t take it with you. Though judging from your photo, your own apocalypse is probably closer at hand than my own. 😉

  • disqus_j2r0StysFo

    put it on audible and i will read it

  • cgosling

    Hanfeizi – Something for you to ponder.

    Being Dead

    Ever wonder what
    it’s like being dead?

    No longer here but,
    being there instead?

    Looking ahead at

    Will there be
    happiness or will there be strife?

    And, will heaven be
    like you were told?

    And, will you walk
    upon streets of gold?

    And, will you sing
    in heavenly choir

    and pity those in
    Satan’s fire?

    And, will they let
    you own a dog

    and will you have a
    place to jog?

    And, what about
    burgers and fries?

    And, what about
    cookies and pies?

    And, what about a
    baseball game?

    And, will TV
    programs be the same?

    And, will your friends
    be there with you

    and will the grass
    be wet with dew?

    And, will there be a
    swimming pool

    where kids can play
    in waters cool?

    So, if you think
    about being dead,

    another choice you
    might want instead.

    How about a long peaceful

    without a morning
    time to keep?

    How about no more

    no more problems, no
    more strain?

    What about eternal

    guaranteed to be the

    It makes no
    difference which you choose

    when your future,
    you finally lose

    simply because it’s
    not your choice.

    In its selection you
    have no voice.

    So don’t ever worry
    about being dead,

    getting there is
    worse it’s said.

    When fate’s
    appointment you must keep,

    just hope it arrives…
    while you’re asleep.

    The time will come
    when you’ll perish

    so every day you must

    and live your lives
    with love and zest,

    and fulfill your
    dreams before you rest.

  • Sharyn Dowd

    Everything that Sutton says in the interview is correct about American evangelicals. In addition, people who take apocalypticism seriously are, as whiskey-jack points out, not critical thinkers for the most part and not particularly historically aware. This same demographic tends also to be more rabidly racist, at least in the MLK era. So that has to be added to the “widespread lawlessness” thing. The Red Scare was also part of the opposition to MLK in this same demographic, though not justified.
    At least in the South, apocalyptic believers are also Republicans since the rise of the Religious Right, so again, “big government” is a “sign” of the “end times,” but it is also part of the Republican propaganda that universal health care means higher premiums and higher taxes and the Democrats are for it, so it must be an atheist plot. That is, I think, as strong an influence on the demographic that Sutton is talking about as apocalypticism.
    He’s right about apocalyptic not dying out after Scopes. My grandfather used to say that the blue eagle of the NRA was the “sign of the beast.”

  • FredPhelps

    Evangelicals believe the rapture will unite them with god, so why wouldn’t they want to accelerate the apocalypse? I heard some evangelicals supported the war in Iraq BECAUSE it would bring about the apocalypse. Also, why don’t evangelicals rejoice when one of their children dies? Aren’t they with god now? Isn’t that the plan? Exactly what is the problem?

  • rumpusstiltskin

    Yet I’m sure you trust the government to end life via capital punishment.

  • Frank6548

    No I don’t. Assumptions are the lowest form of thinking.

  • Grand1

    Why is the question never asked, “What biblical citation do you have to justify and support your belief in the “Rapture.” I cannot find anything in the Bible on that matter. It is fiction; wishful thinking.
    To be consistent, all Christians will be judged in the end “the living and the dead.”
    No exceptions. No asterisks. No “get out of jail free” card.

  • barrashee

    You don’t have to be religious or apocalyptic to be wary of increasing government control over our lives. Consider recent history, like Nazi Germany which “took care” of the handicapped by euthanasia, or the results of gun control in Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, etc. Its a reliably repeated observation that government attracts people who wnat to control other people and who consider themselves “better” than the “ordinary” people in their power, leading to dehumanization and treating the mere citizens as slaves or livestock.