Apocalypse I: McCain’s Ringtone for the Christian Right

Let’s update political jargon. Writers still use “dog whistle” for a political message heard clearly by one audience but entirely missed by everyone else. That’s so twentieth-century. Please update to “teenage ring-tone”: Young ears hear it. Older ones don’t. Students yes, profs no. You can pick the tone that will be heard by the age group you want. But be careful: Some people have young ears.

The political equivalent is John McCain’s invidious “He’s the One” ad. Ostensibly, it merely suggests that anyone who inspires people must be a poor leader. (Well, don’t expect a Republican to remember FDR or JFK. But what about Churchill?)

But the message is really intended to ring loudly for dispensationalists, the subset of conservative evangelicals who are looking forward to the Rapture, the Tribulation, the whole timeline of approaching apocalypse. While McCain has officially rejected the endorsement of John Hagee, he’s still ringing the bell for Hagee’s followers.

For those with ears to hear, the ad’s message is simple: Obama is presenting himself as a messiah. According to dispensationalists, a critical sign of the approaching End Times is that a false messiah, a.k.a. the Antichrist, will present himself. He’ll be incredibly charismatic, and promise to bring global peace and solve the world’s problem. But he’ll actually abuse the world’s confidence, behave diabolically, and persecute true believers. If Obama is presenting himself as the messiah, then he’s the Antichrist.

To get the message across, the ad uses faux “biblical” English: “It shall be known that in 2008 the world will be blessed.” It tells us that Obama “has annointed himself.” (Messiah means “annointed one.”) It shows the candidate promising “a nation healed, a world repaired.” (See, anyone who promises good things must really be evil, because human beings can’t achieve such stuff, they have to wait for God to repair the world.) The ad claims that Obama believes “he can do no wrong.” He believes he can split the Red Sea. Any of the many millions of people who have read TimLaHaye’s apocalyptic Left Behind novels will automatically think of Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist figure in the series, who starts as charismatic politician and ends as Satan incarnate.

Some of McCain’s intended audience won’t quite accept that Obama is the Antichrist. Hagee himself thinks that the Antichrist must be “at least… partially Jewish,” which puts Hagee on the same page as the late Jerry Falwell. Hal Lindsey, who before LaHaye was the most successful populizer of dispensationalism, has written an article at the ultra-right WorldNetDaily arguing that Obama is merely preparing the way for the Antichrist. The African-American guy, he’s the assistant, he doesn’t qualify for the top job.

On the surface, labelling Obama as the Antichrist is a bad idea. Dispensationalists look forward to the End, and the Antichrist’s arrival is therefore a positive sign – just like the return of the Jews to their land is a positive sign. But this contradiction runs through pop-dispensationalism. Mike Evans, another preacher in this vein, once wrote a book that denounced the Oslo process as a plot masterminded by the Antichrist. Yet Evans eagerly looked forward to the End, with all its attendant horrors.

At The Stump, Michael Crowley presents this reading of McCain’s ad as “an entertaining theory.” Like a teacher who thinks it’s an entertaining theory that the kids are hearing something he can’t.

4 thoughts on “Apocalypse I: McCain’s Ringtone for the Christian Right”

  1. You can call it the Matthew 11:15 (“He that has ears to hear, let him hear”) ring tone. As creepy as it is, it’s strategically clever. Secular liberals dismiss the ad as heavy-handed, poorly executed satire, evidence that McCain is out of touch, while in reality the ad is very much in touch with the preoccupations of its intended audience.

  2. The apocalypse… it’s coming, God is behind it and yet it has to take place in a very particular way or it won’t happen. Strange that God is all powerful and yet we mortals must play our parts or he can’t do what he is seems to want to do, according to several of the legion of His interpreters.

    Why doesn’t He announce for all the world to hear (in the appropriate languages of course): “It’s over folks, you blew it. I will now read a list of names. Will the following people please go to their rooftops or step outside so I don’t have to pull them up through the ceilings of the rooms they may be in or the roofs of their cars. (a short pause and then the list begins) Rev. Hagee…” and so forth.

    What I am waiting for is a really really amazing proof of the power of God: He appears to all of us at the same time and says, “Forget all that stuff in the Bible. People just like you wrote it and they got me wrong. To bring an end to the confusion of a million and one interpretations, here is what I want each of you to do in plain language…now listen up!”

    He would then annunciate the Golden Rule and disappear.

    Within five minutes, the world would be back to normal.

  3. I think this shows how out-to-lunch the McCain campaign is. If they can convince the end-timers that Obama is the Anti-Christ then they will come out and vote for him, to nudge along the narrative so that they can get to the tribulations and float up to heaven.

    They really can’t get anything right.

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