Freedom Or Religion

Former Vice President Mike Pence thinks religion means freedom. He claims that First Amendment rights do not protect Americans from having other people’s faiths forced upon them. “It’s nothing the American founders ever thought of”.  Evidently, he is not a scholar of Jefferson, who penned that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion”. The Constitution doesn’t mention any Supreme being; neither does the National Anthem.

An oft-repeated meme from Vietnam War days says, “We have to destroy the village in order to save it”. Putin likes the sound of that blessed violence – and the sound of his missiles bombing Ukraine, “dehousing” the civilian population back into the stone age. Serious indicators point to Russia preparing for total war – even going nuclear. Despite battlefield losses and chaos, retreat might be possible from worldly things, it’s impossible to retreat “from faith”.

And Putin has set himself up as Holy Russia’s defender of Christian morality. He has the military wherewithal to impose his will – and the anointing of God – to wage a holy “special military operation” against the Ukrainian forces of evil. And the Russians face the children of the Devil, who must be “de-Satanized”. According to Russian propaganda, there are no civilians there, just demons. And when we make others into devils, as C.S. Lewis said, this is “the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils”.

“We aren’t coming to kill you, but to convince you,” the “People’s Governor” of Donetsk threatened. “But if you don’t want to be convinced, we’ll kill you. We’ll kill as many as we have to: 1 million, 5 million, or exterminate all of you.” This religion has an ominous Old Testament ring to it. “So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.”(1 Samuel 15:3) Speaking on camouflaged piety, Reza Aslan notes that “a cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God”. Russian state media has suggested Ukrainian children should be drowned or burned, women deserve to be raped by Russian soldiers, and anyone who resists should be shot. What a moral difference religion makes!

Regrettably, we see the logical conclusion being played out in evangelical life. Those with whom we disagree are not just wrong, they are evil. Amidst the slaughter, Kremlin mouthpiece Tucker Carlson barfs out that Democrats hate Russia for being Christians. In rebuttal, we point to the some 400 Ukrainian Baptist churches having been wiped out. “It’s not just buildings that have been destroyed”, a Baptist pastor says, “but church leadership and congregations have been broken down”.  In persecuting any believer not under Moscow’s thumb, Putin is converting by bayonet. And American evangelicals echo Putin’s words: “We reserve the right to react and do everything to protect human rights, including the freedom of worship.” The “religious freedom” sought by Franklin Graham and his ilk entails the same Orwellian  formula to “force others to be free.” The evangelical war-god prefers using the same politics and combat methods as Satan: murder, destruction and domination. Pin the tail on the real Satan.

Having seen Putin carrying Russia’s divine mission to fruition, one can only dread what lessons-learned Christian Nationalists here are cooking up to impose when they get the chance. Mike Flynn, has-been Army general (pledged to support the Constitution) is now an evangelist touting Christian Nationalism. (Questioned whether he believed in the peaceful transition of power, Flynn took the Fifth). He alleges America needs “one religion under God”. If America is to be a Christian nation exclusively ruled by Christians, then who will be its Supreme Leader? Pick your thousand-watt celebrity of weirdness: Franklin Graham? Paula Cain? Sean “Guitar Jesus” Feucht?  “It’s time for the Church to rise up with one voice and tell our government leaders and the rulers of big tech that we refuse to be silenced”, Feucht sing-preaches.

But evangelicalism has never been “one religion”. It is polymorphic, with some 200 major denominations in the United States. Likewise, it is polycephalous. There is no Patriarch Kirill, no Pope, no Ayatollah, and no one “owns” the movement. Evangelicals agree on one Truth, but divergent secondary doctrines are equally valid small-T “truths”. Far from being a monolithic beast, its organic complex retains traditional tensions among different religious constituencies. Individual Results May Vary. And these religious play-actors setting themselves up as defenders of traditional morality are not even Christian but Christian-like bastards, “fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith”.

This is not Cookie Monster’s game, One Of These Is Not Like The Other. The Russians are missionaries just a bit farther along in their Christian Domination quest. Now if a heavyweight like Mike Pence – together with a religion-coddling Supreme Court – is now singing the Christian Nationalist blues, there is little hope for true freedom (religious or not) in Americans’ near future. If history is any judge, when the “Righteous” run out of enemies to kill, they’ll start devouring each other.

Hitlers come and go”, a quote of Stalin reads. “But the German people and the German state remain”. The dictator of a Communist country that devoured itself sounded almost eschatalogical. The same aphorism could be applied to Russia or the United States. The house that has been evangelicalism is empty today. The spiritual weather forecast looks grim. But as my blog header announces, our perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations.. God will protect his church. Even if a “Christian” sword demands Freedom Or Religion.

Mental Illness Versus Religious Performance

When the president talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he’s not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the president talks to God?

– “When The President Talks To God”,           Bright Eyes

“When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’”. Ever since Jesus began his ministry, religious fervor has been mistaken for mental illness. Physicians in the 19th Century ascribed many cases of mental illness to religious “excitement”. Nowadays, psychiatrists simply prescribe pills. Even so, psychologists struggle to find the dividing line. The Scientific American suggests even mental health professionals must frequently rely on conclusions based on observable behaviors.

In the Miracle of the Swine narrative mentioned in all three Synoptics, Jesus calls forth a “legion” of demons from a Gerasene man living among the tombs. Psychiatrists would diagnose the man’s pattern of self-mutilation as suggesting schizophrenia spectrum. Christians, on the hand solidly place this as demon possession, with the “legion” of demons crying out, saying, “What business do you have with us, Son of God?”

“You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.” So goes the old saying. But not if you’re religious. Or at least a charismatic Christian, following a tele-preacher who acts as a conduit for the “Spirit of God”.  Especially those COVID-19 denying faith-healers whose Anointed Word from God has killed many of their own flocks, by claiming the people of God “have dominion and authority over COVID-19”. Including self-proclaimed “prophetess” Kat (Jesus-loves-dessert-in Heaven) Kerr who broke Satan’s lie that Biden had become president, by laughing it off in the Spirit.  She’s the same nut job, among other wacky prophecies, dispatched “1000 Special Ops Angels” to ensure Trump would get reelected. It’s just a smidgen of her spiritual looneyness that JoeMyGod takes a deep dive into.. And evangelicals – for which faith detached from reason plays well – keep nodding their heads in approval.

Søren Kierkegaard was spot on when he observed that “in paganism the theater was worship – in Christendom the churches have generally become the theater.” The best televangelists are accomplished thespians, knowing they are the lead performers acting in a religious theater.  It doesn’t matter what pours forth from the performer’s mouth – however toxic – so long as it keeps God’s people entertained. Is it performance art, or mental illness?

Ever since the Moral Majority days, an evangelicalism founded on racism has spilled over its self-righteous banks to put a voodoo curse on Others they don’t like.  In a recent pro-Trump rally, the crowd cheered as a “prophet” declared that the “Angel of Death” is coming for named Democrat politicians by the end of the year. Kill the Gays! Kill the Abortionists! Now the dam is bursting into society at large: Kill the Librarians! Kill the School Board! Kill Election Officials. Kill the FBI!  Kill the George Floyds!  Kill George Soros globalists!  Or whatever Demon-Du-Jour St. Tucker of Carlson anathematized the evening before. These are the divine commands they are receiving loud and clear now. Of course, it’s rarely been translated into criminal action – excepting Jan. 6th – but the imprecatory rhetoric is rampant throughout an evangelicalism bent on smiting its perceived enemies.

It gets deadly serious when the National Leader hears divine voices. People by and large adjust to presidents who formulate policy by personal gut feeling, or just plain lie about their inner motivations in executing it as they see fit. What about a foreign leader with claims to righteousness and to revenge, and who hears the audible voice of God?  Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Ayatollah, Putin?  Surely they were demon-possessed – or at least delusional. What about an American president?  

George W. Bush, for example. “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did.” Bush was not elected; he was ordained to carry out God’s commands, taking the leap from seeking to obey God’s will to embodying it as earthly redeemer. Bush claimed his anointed position obviated accountability to any mere mortal. “I’m the Commander – see, I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the President”. Those close to Bush were spooked by his “sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do”. As Gary Wills noted, “the conviction that we might benefit by removing Saddam is not the same as believing that God wills it – except in George Bush’s mind.” Cal Thomas ascribed Bush’s dangerous arrogance to individuated religious feelings, which “supplant objective truth and make the individual a high priest unto himself.”  Meanwhile, estimates of total fatalities in his contrived Shock and Awe against Iraq vary between 800,000 and 1.3 million.   

I could go on and on about Presidents who were utterly unqualified, or otherwise psychologically and spiritually impaired. But cut to the short and say Donald Trump wins the prize. “Against his staff’s warnings about dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted their personal “love letters” assured international peace. Despite that North Korea continued unabated at delivering a nuclear missile to “hit and wipe out” the American mainland. “Only I know”. Donald Trump didn’t ask Americans to place their trust in each other or in God, but rather in himself alone. I Alone Can Fix It. According to Trump’s psychologist niece, the former President is mentally ill with an attention-seeking Messiah complex.  Theologian  Diana Butler Bass agrees. “The King of Israel? The second coming of God? He thinks he’s Jesus. That’s where we are.”  His dangerous attempts to hold on to power after he lost the 2020 election almost convinced his cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. It had the opposite effect on millions of his “Let’s Go Brandon” followers, with many expressing their willingness to die for him. It becomes a shared psychosis, arousing a “similar pathology in the population that creates a ‘lock and key’ relationship”.

Oh, I can’t tell if he is a crook or a religious fanatic,” declares one of Sinclair Lewis’ characters in his political novel, It Can’t Happen Here. The man is listening to the nomination of presidential candidate Buzz Windrip. Supported by both fundamentalist Christians and large corporate interests, the cunning Windrip ultimately wins the election, and proceeds to transform America into a dictatorship. Is Trump an attention-seeking, Bible-fumbling performance artist, or is he certifiably insane? Either way, it appears our country is life imitating art at the whims of another wrong hero. One, like the deranged “precious bodily fluids” character in Dr. Strangelove, who has his finger on the nuclear button. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Ps. 118:9). Sadly, Trump will keep his crowds entertained until the final curtain falls – directly on top of all of us.

Saying The Silent Part Out Loud

We are constantly reminded of the holiness of televangelists – by themselves. Like Kenneth Copeland, whose spiritual purity would be sullied if he took a commercial flight in “a long tube with a bunch of demons”.  Whenever I board a plane and head back to the cheap seats, all I see is a bunch of entitled white people in first class – just the demographic Copeland would feel comfortable with. But because this man of God is creeped out to be around normal (lesser) humans, he needs his own private business jet – together with a hangar full of holy spare airplanes.  And how about the divine extortion scheme run by Paula Cain, where she informed her members to sign over their January paychecks to her. Or bad things would happen to them.

“The nondenominational megachurch has made it easier for charlatans, or those who simply seek autonomy, to shelter themselves from accountability”, according to Ministry Watch. Nobody has been watching these scam-vangelists for so long that they have convinced themselves of their invincibility. And so they grow bolder in explaining how it really works.

“I’m not worth your McDonald’s money? I’m not worth your Red Lobster money?” A pastor was haranguing his “broke” congregation because they did not buy him the luxury watch he wanted. “You know I asked for one last year. And here it is all the way in August and I still ain’t got it”, he scolded.  At least he is a truth-teller in admitting that the prosperity church is nothing more than a counting house. The greed no longer hides behind Jesus’ robes.

Likewise, the Christian Extremist Right feels secure enough now to show their cards. It’s been alluded to, hinted at, or implied – but finally now, they confirm it. According to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, “we were a nation founded upon, not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Constitution.”  Now they have made the jump to decree that the words of the Constitution are “God breathed” – dictated word-for-word in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe, free from error and infallible in all respects. The Holy Spirit controlled the anointed Founding Fathers, just like with the verbally, plenary inspired Bible. Odd then, that the Constitution sounds more like a product of Freemasonry that nowhere mentions the word “God”. Funny, if it is inerrant, as Scripture supposedly was, I don’t recall the Bible having to be amended 27 times. Truth is incontrovertible; it doesn’t evolve. Nevertheless, our Constitution has been now officially decreed a further Word of God.

Holy War must be waged by a divinely-anointed Leader. While the Constitution makes provision for a President, it says nothing about his (her) divinity. Yet Right-wing pastor/MAGA cultist Shane Vaughn declares that “Donald Trump carries the prophetic seal of the calling of God: Donald Trump is the messiah of America.” Vaughn is no outlier; he reflects core covenants of the Christian Right. For many, Trump is the second coming of God. Jesus our Savior gave his life for America, and Trump our Chosen One – the new man of sorrows – sacrifices his own every day for us. A billboard in Georgia proclaimed For Unto Us A Son Is Given  , taking the text from Isaiah 9:6 and applying it to the heaven-sent Trump in bold letters. We no longer have to read between the lines – they are being open and honest about an autocratic Christian States of Amerika.

I occasionally have this nightmare that the Christianity practiced around me is normal while I am the dystopian one. God blesses the greedy; God loves a holy hunger for worldly power and domination. Evangelicals are finally saying the silent part out loud. The truth is out, but it doesn’t look like the Truth I know.  That Truth left the building some time ago.

I’ve Been So Wrong About The Rapture.

One of the most conspicuous End Times preachers was Jack Van Impe. For 30 years, he hosted an attention-grabbing television program, on which he translated disturbing headline news into a drip feed of conspiracy-tainted suspicions and fear. Van Impe had a commanding delivery, made even more compelling through a rapid fire recitation of Bible verses like he was a walking concordance. As a premillennial dispensationalist, Van Impe became known as a Prophet of Doom. But not for his end times-hooked listeners, eager to hear his reassurance that they will escape the cataclysmic end of the world by being raptured to Heaven.

Van Impe, who died in 2020, had plenty of company in the Darby/Scofield doomsday school of prophecy: Lindsay, LaHaye, Hagee, Dallas Seminary, and Moody Church to name a few. A cursory review of apocalyptic televangelist John Hagee’s popular titles is telling: The Battle for Jerusalem, Earth’s Final Moments, Attack on America, From Daniel to Doomsday. These folks have long had their fingers on the pulse of their evangelical audience, and most importantly, the monsters they’re told that hide under their beds at night. Since Van Impe’s death, the hurry-up Armageddon flames have been fanned even hotter with the Ukraine invasion. Evangelicals have a counterpart to the so-called “Doomsday Clock” – with a Rapture Index now up to “fasten your seat belts” level.

I am not a Tribber. Meanwhile, I chip away on a non-monetized blog, when I could be buying business jets and collect fat royalties from Simon & Schuster like Hagee, if I started peddling my own rapture porn novels. The Rapture pulp fiction oeuvre is one proven money-shaker I would like a slice of. Shoddy prose aside, these books essentially write themselves. Let me briefly outline the prophetic story line  behind my future-casting proposal:

March 2022, and the Ukraine “special operation” continues to bog down. Putin sacks some of his surviving generals and purges his security service of officials blamed for incompetence. Putin dismisses peace overtures and doubles down, and the war segues into bloody urban fighting either mitigated through Berlin-type city-busting, or Syria-style chemical or biological attacks. But the Biden administration has pinky-promised that Ukraine will not fall.

Putin has warned of “consequences as you have never before experienced in your history” if NATO becomes more involved. Russia has already raised the level of their version of DEFCON. This raises the potential for a nuclear duel (triggered accidentally or otherwise), although some analysts conjecture World War III may have already started. Regardless, both sides are digging in for a protracted war. For the servile Russian political machine, nothing is off the table. The Russian “message is not just about Ukraine,” a political scientist in Lithuania stated. Putin has already threatened Sweden and Finland. The Baltic states are wondering, are we next? Moldova feels threatened, as well. One Duma member demands the return of Alaska. Another suggests launching a nuclear missile at the U.S. to ‘send a message’. Another famous dispensationalist, Pat Robertson, is waving the American nuclear flag. “Well, if you do that, we’re going to escalate…We have the firepower to wipe out every Russia city.”

Robertson was once again waxing prophetic about the end-times. This time drawing a dark line connecting Putin (The King of the North) and his Ukraine invasion as fulfilling specific end times prophecies.  “He went into the Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately”.

All this bravado and bluster is great material for my book. But detonating nuclear bombs across Eurasia and North America would yield a half-billion dead. That would make my book a very short one, indeed. Better that I stretch the pre-Trib Rapture eschatology out a little bit. All wars end at some point. Let’s assume a stalemated war continues through 2024, when Donald Trump is once again elected President. He’s prided himself on enjoying collegial relations with Vladimir Putin. In this scenario, Trump campaigns on negotiating a peace treaty. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said peace talks between Ukraine and Russia should be held in Jerusalem. It’s a holy city revered by both Trump and Putin – both have prayed at the Wailing Wall.

A third Holy Temple “will play a key role at the end of days.” For some time now, an Israeli council of Jewish rabbis – a modern-day Sanhedrin – has appealed to Trump and Putin to join forces in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. “I don’t want to build a (Third) Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now,” declares the leader of a right-wing party growing in popularity. If he were still alive, John Walvoord would agree. He repeated a popular urban legend that “500 railroad carloads of stone from Bedford, Indiana, are already en route to Israel” to erect the Temple.

The Holy Temple will be the earthly dwelling place for the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence of God. “For Orthodox Jews committed to reestablishing the Temple, both the present problems of the world and the problems faced by the Jewish people will be solved only by rebuilding of the Temple. This is in total alignment with the pre-Tribulation period that figures prominently in dispensational eschatology:

“The Third Temple will be built before the Antichrist comes to power and takes control of Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean nations. Satan will spiritually defile the Holy Place of the rebuilt Temple by directing his Antichrist to violate the Holy of Holies at the beginning of the last three and a half years of the Tribulation. The False Prophet, the Antichrist’s partner, will then demand that the Antichrist be worshiped as “god” in the rebuilt Temple.”[i]

Trump has been hailed as a King Cyrus figure, enabling the Jewish diaspora to return to Jerusalem.  As with Cyrus, Trump is the Lord’s shepherd to lay the foundations of the Temple. “The Jewish people in Israel love him… like he’s the King of Israel. … he is the second coming of God.”  Trump may revel in his power as God’s man, but is clueless about his prophetic destiny in the unfolding of these last days. “Let its foundations be laid.”’ – Ezra 6:3.

On the other hand, Putin also has supernatural help. He assumed the mantel of emissary of God to restore the unity of Russian civilization with Russian ethnicity, language and traditional spirituality. To the Russian Orthodox church, Putin is “the chosen one” leading the “self-purification of society”.  “God is inside Vladimir Putin,” according to Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov. “Vladimir Putin becomes a living temple.” As the leader of the Third Rome, Putin has the messianic destiny to reign over Christendom from Moscow and throughout the world.

Trump and Putin: “By the way”, Donald Trump Jr. mentioned, “my father had a great relationship with Putin.”  The President was smitten with his Russian counterpart, who “said nice things” about him. And then there is Trump’s son-in-law and confidante, Jared Kushner (an observant Jew). Many have tried to broker the Peace of Jerusalem to no avail. But Kushner made progress in shifting the tectonic plates. Could he be the False Prophet of Revelation 13?

The Anti-Jesus will sign a seven-year covenant with Israel. But it seems we currently have two Messiah/Anti-Christs. [ii] I can use the template from the Book of Daniel to write one man of lawlessness out of the script: “The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time”.  It’s problematic, however, whether either of these two anti-heroes could represent the protagonist of a novel based on good versus evil. I’m leaning towards Mr. I-Alone-Can-Fix-It Trump.

So far, I have my story’s skeleton. I have my character archetypes – careful to disguise the real persons to avoid legal action taken as potentially libelous. Sinclair Lewis’ Buzz” Windrip could do as a good template. A narrative is in place, with the Antichrist and the False Prophet already having appeared on the world stage.

All these years, Van Impe has been preaching a certain truth. It took Trump to make it revelation. It will take me to write the book.  


[i] Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming,  (New York: Penguin, 2009), p. 8.

[ii] Daniel 11:27