Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama and Antichrist

I wrote last month about a particularly guilty pleasure of mine, checking out "the various sites of the Left Behind Religion that has so thoroughly infected US Protestantism." One of my favorites, as I said then, is 5 Doves and its Bulletin Board, the Latter Day Letters. What's been most interesting on this and other similar sites is the attitude to the US Presidency. Needless to say, this type of religion is infected with that other heresy, US exceptionalism. Consequently the occupant of the White House is a really hot topic.

Most of the Doves despised Clinton and adored Dubya. Bush, of course, spoke the talk, whereas Clinton was a womaniser and what's more he was married to Hilary, a woman who really struck the Left Behinders with dread. I'm not certain why, I suspect it's because she represents a type of woman who challenges all the complementarian gender ideologies to which these people adhere. However it was the countdown to the last US Presidential election that added a whole new dimension to these Presidential twitterings. I refer, of course, to the candidacy of one Barack Hussein Obama. That he was a candidate was bad enough, that he would win was even worse. Although in a perverse way the Obama victory was a happy event for the Doves. As his campaign momentum built up, whisperings began that maybe, just maybe, he was the Anti-Christ that the Doves so decry but whose coming is really eagerly anticipated because it means that their time can't be long before, in a burst of sacred schadenfreude, they are lifted off the planet and taken "home." And since the election result last year I think I've seen some half a dozen dates for expected rapture come and go, the most recent being Pentecost Julian calendar (the Western Trinity Sunday). Such credence for Eastern Orthodoxy only arose because Western Pentecost proved to be such a disappointing fizzer. And now the hope has shifted to July, all on the strength of a presidential joke. If you followed the link you'll see that, according to that poster, at least, Obama is not yet the AntiChrist but will 'come into his kingdom' on 11 July. But others have no doubt who Obama is.

Anti-Christ is a term that only appears twice in the New Testament, in the first and second letters of John. As John Sweet points out the anti in the Greek can mean 'over against' as well as 'instead of' and so the word has a sense of 'usurpation as well as substitution'. In the letters of John the term is used tp warn against deceivers and false prophets and those who have left the community and denied that Jesus is the Christ (1 Jn 2:22) and everywhere in John is the indication of many antichrists who have come as well as one/those to come. However this warning in 1 John is prefaced by the call to recognise that the letter's audience are 'in the last hour' (1 Jn 2:18). It is this endtimes notion that enables the linkage of the letters anti-christ with a variety of figures found in various endtimes and apocalyptic scenarios throughout the New Testament, the most famous/notorious being the apocalyptic drama played out in Revelation.

This New Testament apocalypticism draws on a range of Old Testament imagery but most important is that of Daniel 7, in which the seer has a vision of series of beasts rising out of the sea culmnating in a final and 4th beast who initiates a time of persecution attended by disasters. THis vision is a prophetic rendering/commentary on the 2nd century Seleucid monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated the Jerusalem Temple and suppressed various aspects of Jewish practice thus sparking the succssful Maccabean revolt and the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty of high priestly monarchs who created the only real independent Jewish state in the history of ancient Palestine. But as Sweet notes this imagery in Daniel itself has older antecedents in the ancient chaoskampf mythologies associated with the New Year. A good example is the battle of Marduk against the cosmic monster and mother of the gods, Tiamat, the acccount of which, Enuma Elish, was recited each year as part of the Babylonian New year festival. And in the Old testament texts are many echos of a similar chaoskampf myth in which Yahweh defeats a great sea monster or Leviathan.

So what has all this to do with Obama? Well, I'm interested in the New Testament instancing of trends associating the endtimes figure with deception. The beast, the anti-christ is a deceiver, as befits a lawless one (2 Thess 2:3). Now I'm wondering if these ancient apocalyptic and prophetic texts have a certain insight into the ways of power, which is no doubt why they still exert a hold over the imagination. Like the rest of the prophetic corpus, of which they are a sub-category, these texts provide a sacral commentary on events of the present and the past. Hence their power, still, to captivate and enthrall.

Bush was easy character to identify with the anti-christ. He told the most amazing lies (which he probably carried off so well because he believed many of them himself), he was a warmonger, he subverted much of the US governmental system, he squandered US wealth and resources, he subverted the US justice system. Worst of all he could talk the talk and so he wrapped himself in religion. Consequently he furthered the corruption of much of US Christianity morphing it into a form of USianity or Stars-and-Stripes-ianity, as evidenced by such treats as the Patriots Bible. The Sarah Palin campaign in last year's US elections (coming soon after the aborted Lakeland revival) was another example of how lost so much of Christianity in the US had become. Bush was clearly a deceiver, definitely a lawless one, a liar. Bush had also snared Tony Blair in his hypnotic spin, which quite corrupted the UK Labour Party beginning the rot which looks like it could now lose office at the next election, to be tossed out in disgrace, after compromising so many of it's preumably core principles. Everywhere Bush went he brought out the worst in people. Just look at Iraq.

The Doves clearly miss Dubya and Sarah and loathe Obama. From the moment he won the elections there was nothing but calumny against Obama on Doves. Most recently Obama's been in the Middle East on a 'building bridges tour' and many of the Doves are excited that this tour represents Obama's selling out of everything US is supposed to stand for in favor of a secret Muslim agenda. His speech at Al Azhar University in Cairo, to them, represented Obama's secret agenda to seel out US interests in favour of something called Islam no dout as part of his own agenda as the Anti-Christ. I must admit I hadn't paid attention to the speech as I had a lot on my plate at the time. I'd heard some soundbites on the news but I hadn't read the text itself. The soundbites were certainly impressive; quite a contrast, it seemed from the arrogance and contempt of the Bush era.

Credit goes to Mad Hatter, who I saw over the weekend, for flagging just how bad this speech actually was. As with Bush, the Doves are completely wrong and have it all upside down (presumably making them great Anti-Christ fodder). Rather than selling out the interests of the US hegemon, Obama has instead inscribed them at the heart of his whole agenda. Reading the speech closely one gets the sense of the velvet glove that covers the iron fist, of the honeyed words that hide the lies and half truths.

Almost straight away the pattern of the speech is set:

"We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world, tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.
"The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and co-operation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalisation led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view

Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust

He doesn't say whose colonialism or acknowledge that it is US colonialist policy in the Middle East as much as any other power (UK, France, Russia) that have denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims and Christians and atheists, to people in the Middle East of all religions. Nor does he say whose interests are served by modernity and globalisation. He deflects attention in fact by framing the issue in terms of a Muslim-Christian divide, one in which 'violent (Muslim) extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims.' No acknowledgement that the US is guilty of promoting violence in the Middle East that far outweighs anything that happened in the US on 11/9/2001. This US promotion of violence and repression in the Middle East to support its own interests 'has bred more fear and mistrust.'

And from there it just goes downhill. After several paragraphs praising the achievements of Islamic civilisation comes this:

The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words within our borders, and around the world.

US exceptionalism strikes again. These aren't modest words and they aren't the truth either. Then comes this:

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms. In Ankara, I made clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.

Well, all those US interventions in the Middle East in the last few decades represent the violent extremism of "we want this and you have to wear it whether you like it or not" which is of course the tone of the whole speech. And that is a liberal tone - the Busheviks didn't even waste their breath trying to explain themselves.

And then he cites examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. If the speech wasn't mendacious beforehand it certainly is now. And all the while deflecting US responsibility, transferring it to the Muslim Other. All of which illustrates the fact that at the US elections, only the pesonnel were changed not the system. The system grinds relentlessy along.

So as usual the Doves were wrong. Obama is not the Anti-Christ preparing to sell out US interests in favor of those belonging to a Muslim Other. If he is Anti-Christ at all it is because he is affirming the US hegemon and using honeyed words to do so, words that deceive and mislead and deflect responsibility.

Check out Angry Arab's take here.

So Obama is asking for a bargain: to end Western racism (but not wars) against Muslims, Muslims need to stop attacking US foreign policy and wars. This is chicanery--don't you like those old fashioned words? He talks about the US as a force of "progress." How untrue for Obama's audience: the US has consistently opposed forces of progress and advancement in the Middle East: in every conflict between an oil Sheikh or a polygamous prince against progressive socialists or Arab nationalist secularists, the US has always sided with the polygamous princes who have been in alliance with religious kooks and advocates of "holy wars." Hell, he just came from Saudi Arabia where he praised the wisdom of the Saudi king and he wants to talk to me about "force of progress"? Maybe if you can bring up the issue of Wahhabi fanaticism I would believe you. He said that his personal story as an African American (with an African Muslim name) who was elected president is not unique. Yes, it is: and it was not easy: and his name was mocked during his campaign, and he made his best to distance himself from anything Muslims. So here, Obama is assuming that his Cairo audience are a bunch of idiots who did not follow his campaign and the reactions that it generated.

UPDATE And check out Charles Hirschkind's Obama on Palestine: What new beginning over at Immanent Frame

Obama then proceeds to describe the plight of the Palestinians through a series of abstract nouns that evacuate Israel from the scene, and thus, from any responsibility: Palestinians have endured “dislocation” (by whom? by what means?); they endure “the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation” (as if the routine harassment and brutality exercised by the Israeli military against Palestinians were simply natural features accompanying that unfortunate condition identified abstractly as “occupation”). Nowhere in the speech is Israeli violence recognized. There is a brief moment, right as Obama turns to the situation in Gaza, where it seems like he will mention Israeli aggression. His one comment on Gaza begins, “And just as it devastates Palestinian families….” The word “devastates” leads one to believe that, finally, some mention of the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza will follow. Instead, Palestinian suffering again comes to be figured as the result of an abstract and agentless process: “And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israeli security.” “Humanitarian crisis” has the ring of some sort of quasi-natural phenomenon, one for which culpability cannot be established. Moreover, here, as in all other references to Israel made during the speech, Israeli actions are never identified as a cause of suffering, but simply as part of the solution.


  1. Although well written, I found it hard to follow your conclusions. What I gather is that you feel America is an evil empire intent on conguering the world. Or at the very least you feel that American is somehow responsible for all the bad that is going on in the world. Of course if it really hard to tell what your real point is, but it surely is not to try to explain the person and character of "the anti-christ"

    An anti-christ is anyone or any system that denies Jesus Christ is LORD. Any person, religion or system that wants to relegate the Word of God to fiction section of the local library would qualify as anti-christ. Any person. religion. or system that resists the gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation that it offers would qualify as an anti-christ.

    In fact from your own post you could be considered an anti-christ when you equated biblical truth with Babylonian lore. Of course you were quoting another source but none the less it was included in your blog.

    So pleas do tell, what exactly are you trying to say? Are you for Him or against Him, Jesus that is?

  2. Hi Eaglewings

    THanks for your comment. I don't regard the US as an evil empire, no more evil than other anyway. It is the hegemonic power. It always acts in its own interests as is the way of all powers, hegemonic or otherwise. The US, as has UK and FRance, has been pursuing its own interests in the MIddle East for many decades. THe current mess there is a direct result of such imperialistic interferences over many decades and, in the case of UK and FRance, centuries.

    AS President of the US, Obama serves the intersts of the US. That's his job. US intersts aren't necessarily ours or, more importantly, those of the people of the Middle East. No one's ever bothered to consider what their interests might be.

    You ask me if I'm for or against Jesus. I'm for him. But I'm opposed to Left Behind relgion. I regard it as a particularly debased form of Christianity which more often than not becomes a form of anti-Christianity. US exceptionalism when it tries to base itself on Christianity is likewise a form of anti-Christianity. I am also opposed to all forms of fundamentalism and literalism, Christian or otherwise.

  3. Speaking of Americanism, I just finished watching Jesus Camp. It's incredible, shattering and depressing, all in one, to see my own background in it - as well as incredibly frightening to see just how much power and influence these socially/politically conservative people (who like to use Christian lingo), have! and just how far the will go, using children in rallies to promote a conservative political agenda and churches to defame liberal politicians! Holy Fuck!