In my last article, I related the rapture to Russia. Tied to the rapture is the idea of the Antichrist. My purpose now is to show that Vladimir Putin is not the Antichrist but that the danger he poses is far graver.
Rather than getting caught up in conspiracy, we need to be crystal clear about the danger posed by leaders like Putin. He is one of many today: Recep Erdogan, Silvio Berlusconi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Rodrigo Duterte, Nicolas Maduro, and Narendra Modie. The world never has faced as large a threat from right-wing authoritarian leaders. Democracy itself has been rendered vulnerable.
“The expansion of authoritarian rule, combined with fading and inconsistent presence of major democracies on the international stage, has had tangible effects on human life and security,” warns Kundai Chirindo of Lewis and Clark University.
This sounds an alarm not only about democracy’s precarity but also about the threat to human life as a result of democracy’s decline. This is reality and much more dangerous than a fictional rapture or a QAnon conspiracy.
People under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected to worry about Putin’s rhetoric. Why care about the people of Ukraine? Why care about Russia when you will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word? There’s no reason to worry as long as Jesus shows up on time.
Putin a real threat
Yet in reality, Putin represents a threat that looms larger and more precariously than any alleged anti-Christ. Putin represents a growing form of national leadership by “macho” or “strongman” leaders with an artificial celebrity style. Actually, their “machismo combines a deeper bullying, masculine set of performances with a paternalistic dominance that claims to protect their own people,” Betul Eksi and Elizabeth A. Wood warned three years ago in the journal Theory and Society.
“The use of masculine performances by Putin undermines the institutions of democracy in favor of a charismatic form of politics that is destructive and anything but democratic.”
The use of masculine performances by Putin undermines the institutions of democracy in favor of a charismatic form of politics that is destructive and anything but democratic. These performances also hide serious socio-economic issues, including policies that directly harm a democracy.
The model Putin presents to the world casts him as a man of the people, a transgressive, angry man who is the only one capable of saving the nation from its weaknesses, its embarrassing losses (implied “feminization”). He set up a direct line from his office to the people. No other institutions were needed. Putin is the father of the nation.
Dispensationalism as an American phenomenon
This feeds into the rhetoric of the dispensationalists, who with their rapture schemes always fixate on Russia’s alleged role in the final conflagration that will end the world as we know it. Yet what most Americans don’t understand is that this dispensationalist teaching mostly lives in the United States.
Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puzzles over the American attraction to the rapture: “The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal ‘rapture’ in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been ‘left behind.’ This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.”
Wright’s amazement parallels American progressive Christian dismissals of the rapture delusion, but that doesn’t make it less dangerous.
A fixation on Russia
Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye have been two of the most celebrated of the end-times writers. The doomsday preachers always salivate at the apocalyptic scenarios that include Russia — the “bear from the North” (Daniel 7). They locate Russia in the esoteric prophecies of Ezekiel as Gog and Magog. The preachers breathlessly quote Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 7.
Self-proclaimed prophet Craig C. White, for example, says: “The new Russian Union is here! Kazakhstan and Belarus have joined Russia in a new Eurasian economic Union. Ukraine was supposed to join but backed out at the last moment. I think this is a big step. Daniel chapter 7 tells us about the Russian bear during the end times. Three ribs may be nations along its western border in the teeth of Russia. Two of those nations may be represented here. This is a new Russian Union! Christians should be alerted that Daniel 7 is moving forward. This is an economic Union. I expect that three nations will one day soon say to Russia, you must create a Political Union including other nations! Devour much flesh!”
Russia figures prominently in the final war that occurs in what essentially is the genocide of the earth’s remaining population, according to the dispensationalists. Putin now embodies this apocalyptic scenario in frightening reality. But there will be no “superman” Jesus flying in from outer space to rescue God’s special evangelical children.
Tune in to any of America’s 2,000 Christian radio stations or 250 Christian TV stations and you’re likely to get a heady dose of dispensationalism, an end-times doctrine invented in the 19th century by the Irish-Anglo theologian John Nelson Darby. When speaking to Episcopal audiences who see no point in even discussing the rapture, I remind them that Darby was an Anglican and that I hold Episcopalians responsible for the rapture illusion coming to America.
One-third of Americans believe this
Dispensationalists espouse a “literal” interpretation of the Bible that offers a detailed chronology of the impending end of the world. We are not dealing in esoteric, isolated pockets of fringe believers, cults or wacky religious movements. This is a movement that encompasses almost one-third of the citizens of the United States.
Their message has multiple outlets — Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas has written at least two books on the coming end of the world. Franklin Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson and a plethora of preachers constantly warn of the end of the world.
The idea of predicting the actual date of Jesus’ return has lost favor since all the predictions have been wrong. Hal Lindsay has been wrong so many times that he has now come up with a back-up date in case he’s wrong once again (as I feel sure he will be wrong on both dates).
The go-to argument now is that all the signs indicate the end will come in the lifetime of the noted preachers who keep pushing the rapture illusion. Jeffress says, “I don’t know when Christ is coming back. I’m convinced we are living in the ‘last days’ according to the Bible.” He adds, “We may be the generation that sees the second coming of Christ.” Lindsey dubbed our time the “terminal generation.”
In any event, the military aggression of Russia, dispensationalists say, is a portent of the rapture, when born-again Christians, living and dead, will be taken up into heaven. “All over the earth, graves will explode as the occupants soar into the heavens,” preaches dispensationalist pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.
On the heels of that rapture, nonbelievers left behind on earth will endure seven years of unspeakable suffering called the Great Tribulation, which will culminate in the rise of the Antichrist and the final battle of Armageddon between God and Satan. Upon winning that battle, Christ will send all unbelievers into the pits of hellfire, re-green the planet, and reign on earth in peace with his followers for a millennium.
And there’s the threat from QAnon
Dispensationalists have not corned the market on the obsession with Russia, however.
Peter Wade for Rolling Stone reports on the ongoing internet argument among conspiracy theorists who continue to invent diverging stories about the invasion of Ukraine. These theories range from Putin attempting to destroy the Deep State — a secret cabal believed to exist within the federal government working to subvert former President Donald Trump — to a “false flag” operation. Although there have been thousands of real deaths from a real war over the past two weeks, conspiracy theories continue to emerge and cause real-world problems.
“Although there have been thousands of real deaths from a real war over the past two weeks, conspiracy theories continue to emerge and cause real-world problems.”
Extremism researcher Abbie Richards stated: “It seems like people don’t understand why misinformation is so dangerous during a crisis. … It’s harmful for people in Ukraine who need an accurate understanding of where there is danger.”
As an example of the severity of the misinformation, one Instagram user with more than 20,000 followers suggested that a video from the New York Times of “newborn infants from the neonatal intensive care unit at a children’s hospital in Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, sheltering in a makeshift bomb shelter” was fake. Another influencer with more than 50,000 followers who promotes QAnon theories and encourages her viewers to “question everything,” stated the Russian invasion was merely a false flag operation to shut down the internet.
QAnon adherents are actively “celebrating Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which they believe is real and an operation against the Deep State,” Wade writes, adding that this “isn’t exactly surprising” due to their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and their support for the coup in Myanmar.
New research from PRRI shows QAnon actually has gained followers and support since Trump’s defeat in 2020, with nearly a quarter of Americans (22%) believing that a “storm” is coming — a common refrain in QAnon circles that refers to arrests of high-ranking figures and political unrest. Of those surveyed, 18% believe violence may be needed to save the United States and 16% said they believe that Satan-worshiping pedophiles control the government, as well as the media and finance industries.
Rapture theology and QAnon in Congress
Conspiracy theories like the rapture and those of QAnon belong to the same genre representing the same dangers to the security of the world. Members of Congress who believe in the rapture have particular positions on U.S. support for the nation of Israel. QAnon followers see a civil war coming to America. On the foreign and domestic front, we face challenges from millions of true believers who would welcome Armageddon and a civil war.
“The delusions of rapture believers and QAnon adherents make diligence and the refutation of their false ideas even more important.”
It would be cavalier to dismiss the beliefs of more than 100 million Americans as if they were religious fanatics or fringe politicians. The delusions of rapture believers and QAnon adherents make diligence and the refutation of their false ideas even more important.
Like it or not, faith in the apocalypse is a powerful driving force in modern American politics. In the 2016 election, 82% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. The number rose to 84% in 2020, and every indicator shows that evangelical support for Trump in 2024 is solid. We can’t afford to take these believers lightly.
David Brooks puts the case bluntly: “This moment of heightened danger and crisis makes it even clearer that the No. 1 domestic priority for all Americans who care about democracy is to make sure Trump never sees the inside of the Oval Office ever again.”
Two examples, one from the rapture world and one from QAnon, may help us grasp how deep and how far gone these true believers are becoming. So weird have the attempts to hasten the end-times become that a group of ultra-Christian Texas ranchers recently helped fundamentalist Israeli Jews breed a pure red heifer, a genetically rare beast that must be sacrificed to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy found in the biblical Book of Numbers. According to end-times prophecy, a perfect red heifer will be the first animal sacrificed on the altar when the new temple is constructed in Jerusalem. Ranchers in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana have invested $11 million in efforts to produce the red heifer for this end-times purpose. The search for a red heifer has intensified since a Texas cattle rancher claimed to have had five red heifers born in one year.
And the Temple Institute of Israel sent him a crew to inspect the heifers at the ranch, examining them according to strict halakhic criteria. The rancher said for these Israelis to call him and ask if they could check his red heifers on his ranch for an unblemished heifer — during the one year in which he had five red heifers born — was “absolutely astounding.” He said, “For me to think it’s coincidence, I can’t believe that. I think that God had a hand in it.”
From the world of QAnon, there’s an equally bizarre story underlining the danger we face. Conservatives have invested much rhetorical power in convincing the nation that Democrats are devils and demons. Millions are convinced that President Joe Biden is one among many.
How this relates to ‘Pizzagate’
“Demons,” says a man named Jones, speaking of the Democratic Party leadership in general. “Not even human.” Which is why it will take the Great White Hope, chosen by God, to confront them. They’re too powerful for the likes of ordinary men such as Jones.
Jones decided to take on the devils and the sex trade that he had imbibed from a prevalent QAnon conspiracy. Remember the story of “Pizzagate”: On Dec. 4, 2016, a man traveled from North Carolina with an AR-15 and opened fire on Comet Ping Pong, the D.C. pizzeria believed by some Trump supporters to be the headquarters of Hillary Clinton’s child sex trafficking ring.
Jones, inspired, decided to do his part. Three days after the assault, according to testimony he later gave, Jones called another pizzeria down the street. “I’m coming to finish what the other guy didn’t,” he declared. “I’m coming there to save the kids, and then I’m going to shoot you and everyone in the place.” Jones forgot to block his number.
After spending 40 days and 40 nights in jail, he says (33, actually), Jones decided to plead guilty to one count of interstate threatening communications. He claims he didn’t actually threaten to shoot, but he had his lawn service business to attend to. He said, “I’ll take the guilty plea, because at least what I’m pleading guilty to is good. Even my preacher said that. He said, ‘You did a good thing.’”
The people who embrace these strange notions also are attracted to Putin. As sure as I am that Putin is not the Antichrist and there never will be an Antichrist, the danger of American Christians flirting with Putin’s transgressive, authoritarian, one-man rule is a threat to democracy everywhere in the world.
Russia’s real threat
Russia is not important because of its alleged role in the dispensational scheme. Russia is important because it is ruled by a man threatening to use nuclear and chemical weapons against other nations.
As frightening as nuclear war is, we must understand the peril posed by Putin’s support in the United States.
“Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said at a campaign event recently. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
In reply, David Brooks warns: “The democratic nations of the world are in a global struggle against authoritarianism. That struggle has international fronts — starting with the need to confront, repel and weaken Vladimir Putin. But that struggle also has domestic fronts — the need to defeat the mini-Putins now found across the Western democracies. These are the demagogues who lie with Putinesque brazenness, who shred democratic institutions with Putinesque bravado, who strut the world’s stage with Putin’s amoral schoolboy machismo while pretending to represent all that is traditional and holy.”
Because of their power as a voting bloc, evangelicals have the souls of much of the nation’s leadership. Some of those leaders are end-times believers themselves. Others are not. Some of those leaders are QAnon enthusiasts. Others are not. Some of them embrace the “all Democrats are demons and communists” line. Either way, their votes are heavily swayed by an electoral base that accepts the Bible as literal truth and eagerly awaits the looming apocalypse.
This is the danger we face. The popularity of Putin among right-wing politicians in the U. S. and evangelical allies suggests that democracy itself is in peril.
Historian David Blight sounds the exact best warning when he says, “American democracy is in peril, and nearly everyone paying attention is trying to find the best way to say so. Should we in the intellectual classes position our warnings in satire, in jeremiads, in social scientific data, in historical analogy, in philosophical wisdom we glean from so many who have instructed us about the violence and authoritarianism of the 20th century? Or should we just scream after our holiday naps?”
Rodney W. Kennedy currently serves as interim pastor of Emmanuel Freiden Federated Church in Schenectady, N.Y., and as preaching instructor Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
Let’s be clear: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not about the rapture and Russia in biblical prophecy | Analysis by Rodney Kennedy
Don’t forget the religious implications of geopolitical upheaval | Analysis by Richard Wilson
What’s wrong with ‘Left Behind’? | Analysis by Mark Wingfield