There is a strange alliance between the Reagan administration and a religious right which expects the annihilation of most of mankind in Armageddon.
This alliance has taken shape over the past twenty-five years with the emergence of right-wing foundations, institutes, caucuses, and think tanks. John S. Salorna's book Ominous Politics identifies the corporations that bankroll these organizations, often under the coaching of Richard Scaife, heir to the Mellon fortune with large assets in Gulf Oil. Scaife has financed New Right enterprises to the tune of $144 million between 1962-84, including two of the most powerful and committed rightist ones, the Heritage Foundation (founded by Joseph Coors and Paul Weyrich in 1973) and the Committee on the Present Danger, founded in 1976. Behind this labyrinth of New Right organizations stand masterminds such as Richard Vigueri, Paul Weyrich and Terry Dolan. Their National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) has been second only to Senator Jesse Helms' National Congressional Club in supporting Reagan's presidential campaigns and in targeting "undesireable" (usually liberal Democratic) senators for defeat.
All this is well known. What is not quite so well known is that many of these supporters are committed to a religious right wing ideology. Many conservative American Christians are offended by the New Right political-Christian alliance. However, that alliance, embracing conservative Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and some 80 million so-called "born again" Protestants, is a power base with influence throughout the whole Reagan administration.
Those in this alliance who wield most of the power from the religious side affirm that ours is the final generation and that the next major event will be the Rapture of his saints by Christ, followed by the tribulation, the Battle of Armageddon, and the return of Christ.
In addition to the Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart, whose combined audience exceeds 100 million weekly viewers, there are dozens of equally influential, though less visible figures, such as Ed McAteer, who founded the Religious Roundtable in 1970, Howard Phillips, Terry Dolan, Paul Weyrich, Richard Vigueri, and Timothy La Haye, who recently founded The American Coalition for Traditional Values (ACTV). Pat Robertson is in the race for the presidency.
This group also has extensive staff connections within the Reagan White House. Terry Dolan's brother Anthony was for some time chief speech writer for the President. His sister Maiselle is also on the White House staff. A Vigueri associate, Morton Blackwell, is White House religious affairs adviser. Senator Jesse Helms even organized a "Shadow State Department" and last year President Reagan asked Jerry Falwell to address the National Security Council. Many of Falwell's visits to South African Prime Minister Botha and others have presumably been on Reagan errands.
The religious circle about the President is a not a denomination but a theological camp called dispensationalism. Its devotees believe that, from the beginning, God had seven game plans for the history of the world. The period from the death of Christ until his return constitutes the sixth dispensation or game plan, in which we happen to live near the close. The founding of the State of Israel on May 14,1948 signalled that the seventh and final age, the millennium, was about to dawn. The remaining crucial features of this creed are that God will return momentarily for his saints (the Rapture) seven years before he returns with his saints to terminate the Battle of Armageddon and inaugurate the millennium, and that God has one program for Israel and another for the church.
A particularly astonishing tenet concerns the Antichrist. A world statesman renowned for his deceptive ability as peacemaker, he will lead a ten-nation European Confederacy that will constitute a new Roman Empire. Exactly halfway through the seven- year tribulation he will commit an abominable sacrilege in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as the final trigger of the Battle of Armageddon. The capture of the old city and the Temple Mount by the Israeli forces in the 1967 war, making the rebuilding of the temple a physical possibility (if only the Mosque of Omar weren't standing in the way), set dispensationalists into a new frenzy of anticipation.
One of those caught up in that frenzy was Ronald Reagan. Coached by his unofficial chaplain Donn Moomaw and then by Hal Lindsey, the sensational author of Late Great Planet Earth, Reagan evidently began to view current events within the framework of this bizarre scenario. He has referred to it at least a dozen times. In an October 1983 telephone conversation with American-Israel public affairs committee director Thomas Dine, published in the Jerusalem Post, Reagan referred to the signs of Armageddon and confessed "I find myself wondering if we're the generation that is going to see that come about."
Again, when journalists pressed him about such beliefs at the conclusion of his televised debate with Walter Mondale the same fall, he hedged about the date for Armageddon but in no way denied the concept, Moreover many of his closest confidants have left no doubt that the president has talked repeatedly of his belief in an imminent Gog-Magog war involving the Soviet Union. The dispensational version of that war begs with a pan-Arab attack on Israel, leading to a Soviet, Syrian and Iranian attack and the arrival of a ten-nation Western force and 200 million Red Chinese.
It is disturbing that the fate of the earth is in the hands of a man surrounded by people who would dabble for even ten minutes with such delusions. Furthermore, recent studies verify a rising belief in the Devil in America. They also show a striking correlation between intolerance and belief in a personal devil.
Dispensationalists live in a black and white world in which Soviet forces are the legions of Satan -- "an evil empire," to use the President's own words. The only way to fight off Satan is to declare war against immorality and secular humanism on the home front, and to arm to fight a pre-emptive nuclear war with the Soviets on the battle front. Uncompromising resistance to communism, above all in Central America, is also imperative.
Just as in the Old Testament the acknowledgement of God's power by his enemies is a form of conversion, so to destroy the enemy is a form of salvation. As Robert Jewett writes in The Captain American Complex, "There is something distinctly American about the belief in the efficacy of bombing." After all' Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved a million American lives. We have here an alternative theology -- by no means new but reappearing in a hundred Westerns, in Rambo, and in Star Wars -- that atonement comes through violence. Nuclear holocaust is redemption on a grand scale.
The embrace of such a paralyzing, despairing creed by 30 or 40 million Americans is the flip-flopping of a shallow, immoral religion of affluence and supremacy (once the going got tough) into peevish pessimism. This is the predictable outcome of all the dishonesties of the American Dream.
What this kind of thinking ultimately produces is a sense of hopelessness about the value of human responsibility. Peacemaking in the end becomes both futile and blasphemous.