The Long View: The End of the Age

This short review contains much of the material, in embryo, that I used to craft some popular lectures I have given on millenninalism. The basic distinction between kinds of millennial belief, its cross-cultural appeal, and the combination of wide popularity with elite dismissal. I can't imagine ever wanting to read this novel, but I learned a great deal from John's review of it. That was a big reason I kept going back to his site.

The End of the Age: A Novel by Pat Robertson Word Publishing, 1995 $21.99, 374 pp. ISBN: 0-8499-1290-3

Apocalypse Politics

According to Paul Boyer in his study of prophecy belief in America, "When Time Shall Be No More," the apocalyptic novel has been a feature of American popular culture since the 1930s. At any rate, it has been a feature of that portion of popular culture inhabited by certain types of Christians, particularly premillennialists. ("Premillennialism" is the variety of belief about the end of the world which looks forward to a literal Second Coming of Christ, followed by the reign of the Saints for a thousand years on earth, a period called the "millennium.") Not so long ago, popular eschatology (the study of "the Last Things") was off the radar screen of secular America entirely. Then, starting in the 1980s, the notion began to seep into elite consciousness that maybe the traditional secular scenarios for the future did not exhaust the views of history to be found in American culture. It wasn't so much the great commercial success of Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" that drew enlightened attention to the phenomenon. Despite their supposed fascination with the inner meaning of "popular culture," American elites ("agnostic Swedes ruling a nation of pious Hindus," in one famous formula), have an astounding capacity for overlooking popular enthusiasms until they blow up in their faces. It was not until President Reagan began talking along much the same lines that some people began to pay attention. In recent years, of course, militant millenarianism has indeed blown up in several spectacular and bloody incidents. The subject is no longer obscure. For a variety of reasons, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Traditional eschatology has sometimes provided the theme for works that found a wide audience in the post-WWII era. The film Rosemary's Baby in the 1960s is an example. Still, it is rare for an apocalyptic novel, one whose incidents include the reign of Antichrist, the Tribulation and the Descent of the New Jerusalem, to be pitched to a general readership. Certainly it is something of a novelty to see such a book written by a man who, as recently as seven years ago, was a reasonably plausible candidate for president of the United States. People interested in divining Pat Robertson's political agenda will have no trouble finding relevant material in this story. Not altogether incidentally, the book is even more interesting for the ways in which it alters the classical themes of the genre precisely to appeal to a wider Christian readership, and specifically to Roman Catholics.

The endtime scenario of popular American apocalyptic reached its mature phase just after the Civil War. It has been remarkably stable ever since. It involves a period of growing crisis, culminating in some universal threat or disaster. The chaos of the times affords a charismatic person the opportunity to seize control of the world by promising to restore order. This tyrant, who turns out to be no one other than the Antichrist himself, is often the current pope, or is supported by the pope. Before his period of misrule can begin, however, the true Church (various defined) is wonderfully withdrawn from the world in an event called the Rapture. Some people remaining on earth can still hope to be saved, but they must suffer persecution by the Antichrist, who will gradually turn his government into a religious cult, with himself as an object of worship. The period of his reign is normally coincident with the Tribulation, which in most narratives lasts seven years. By the end it, the Antichrist seems poised to snuff out the remnant of the Tribulation Saints. However, then the Second Coming occurs, the Antichrist is destroyed, and the Millennium begins.