Before I Deconverted: I Had a Bout of Right Wing Evangelical End Times Political Paranoia

Late December 1994

During the Christmas season of 1994, I was a 16 year old high school junior and a deeply religious evangelical Christian. A young Christian minister, whom I deeply admired and who had grown up in my church as a teenager when I was in elementary school, came home from the midwest to Long Island for Christmas. He showed a small home gathering of people from the church a video of a speech distributed by the Michigan Militia. My mom and I were there.

The video was riveting and chilled me. In the video we were told that the United States was being slowly but surely subsumed by the United Nations, which in a short span of time would function as the One World Government to be ruled by the Antichrist as predicted in the Book of Revelation. Already there were unmarked black United Nations helicopters ominously patrolling our American skies on behalf of the usurper institution that would in a short matter of time reveal itself as the world’s ultimate power. Already, during the Gulf War the American forces were worrisomely being forced to identify as with the United Nations rather than the United States. A proud American soldier bravely defied orders that they only refer to their U.N. role and, on camera, had pointed to the American flag on his uniform and said that this is what he was fighting for. He had been rebuked.

1995 was going to be the beginning of a great tribulation and test for the church. Cops had reported that they had been warned that they were soon going to be asked to do something that was going to upset the citizenry. They were being prepared for armed conflict if necessary. The implication was clear. They were coming for the guns of ordinary citizens. Once they disarmed the average American as Hitler had once disarmed the average German, we would all be helpless against the U.N. takeover and the beginning of the end times. Soon new technology predicted by the Book of Revelation was going to be rolled out. We were going to have chips installed in our foreheads and hands because these were heat centers amenable to the use of scanners. There was no longer going to be any real money, just these chips. And we would need to have these chips to buy food.

We Christians were warned in the Bible that the mark of the beast would be placed on people’s foreheads and hands and that no one without it would be able to buy or sell. We were warned by the Bible to refuse the mark of the beast and to endure the persecution we would suffer for doing so.

Within the next year to a year and a half, a civil war was nearly certainly coming. We could see all the signs of impending government overreach. But there was hope if we resisted, and there was hope that enough citizens would rise up to do so. We could stave off the U.N. takeover. We could keep our guns (though I didn’t have any or any interest in having any). We could keep our liberty. But we had to organize and be vigilant.

I was completely taken in. After the video an older, typically sour and curmudgeonly man from our church expressed his doubts. But I took that to be a function of his reflexively skeptical disposition. A couple years prior a former medium who grew up around demonic séances had visited our church and he had expressed all sorts of skepticism then too. Now, as then, I was completely and immediately convinced by the frightening story being told to me from a wholeheartedly trustworthy source.

Over the next few days, the impending period of violent conflict weighed heavy on mind and heart. I felt like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 as I would sit in a parked car, look around me at an outwardly placid world on a sunny day, and in my mind have visions of the turmoil and destruction that would overwhelm it soon enough.

And all of us who remember the bloody American civilian uprising against the United Nations of 1995-1996 have memories seared in our minds. And all who were to young to witness it have the photographs and film footage that match my expectantly fearful imaginations of the cold and ominously sunny final days of 1994.

I knew I needed to use whatever means at my disposal to disseminate word about the conspiracies threatening to trigger the end times. Fortunately, I was already a pamphleteer of sorts. Through my church, I was the editor-in-chief and the most frequent contributor to what we euphemistically called a “journal” (which today would certainly have been a blog or a website instead). It was a somewhat ambitious little publication called The Point. It was filled with ruminations from pastors and lay Christians about all manner of theological and practical concerns. I devoted the bulk of my energies to meticulously crafting it visually, thematically, and textually every month.

So when I next met with my editor, an affable, somewhat cocky, silver haired engineer in his forties, I told him we had a major story to devote The Point to. I proceeded to tell him all about the video I had seen. With great earnestness and urgency I spelled out all the details of the conspiracy, the coming civil war, the prophecies that would be fulfilled (but which, curiously, we could prevent from being fulfilled if only we fought back).

And my editor just listened with an expression that gave nothing in particular away of what he was thinking. After I was done putting all the terrifying facts on the table, he cocked his head, squinted his eyes in puzzlement, and asked me, “So, I don’t understand. You want us to do a story on these people?”

And I paused a bit stunned. He wasn’t even hearing my terrible warning about an impending apocalypse. He was hearing me describe what were simply the preposterous paranoid delusions of people. And he had enough respect for my intelligence to simply assume that I, of course, did not believe the nonsensical propaganda I was describing having been exposed to. He was not merely skeptical of what I was saying. None of it registered as even possibly true. None of it was even in principle believable to him. It was utterly beneath believability.

And that unhesitating certainty about what was credible and what was not just pulled the scales off my eyes. I became suddenly embarrassed that I had been taken in by such foolish delusions. Fortunately for me, the far right conspiracy fever that I had gotten into my system was relatively small enough and weak enough and easily enough overcome by my abilities to build up a natural skeptical resistance, that I was that day effectively inoculated against (it seems) all such future contagions. Also fortunately for me I had encountered the kind of skeptic who could, with just a tilt of his head and expressions of utter bewilderment, make me realize that what I was believing was not just doubtable but unbelievable, for all intents and purposes.

As he stared at me, confused, waiting for an explanation, I blew off the whole story and the idea that we should publish anything about it with some sort of cover explanation for why I had brought it up.

The following May, my mom and I stopped into our hotel room in the middle of a cheery sunny day at Disney World to see horrifying news footage of a demolished federal building in Oklahoma City. It was a terrorist act by a man with ties to the Michigan Militia. We looked at each other knowingly. The young Christian minister who had exposed us to the Michigan Militia’s propaganda conspicuously stopped doing so and would go out of his way in subsequent years to stress that he was never affiliated directly with them and in fact had loyally belonged to a state run guard the whole time.

Your Thoughts?

Before becoming an atheist I was a devout Evangelical Christian. I am slowly telling the story of my former life as a believer, how I came to deconvert and become an atheist, what it all meant and where I went from there personally and intellectually. Below are links to all the pieces I have written so far.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

When I Deconverted: I Sure Could Have Used The Secular Student Alliance

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

Meta:

Why I Write About My Deconversion

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I had a little chuckle over that. I hope you are able to look back and laugh at your former self. You are fortunate to have been talking to an editor with some common sense.

    When I look back at my theist days, I realize that I had it easy. I was a devout member of a conservative Church, but I think it would be most accurate to say that I was a liberal Christian in spite of that. I suppose it was because I was a science enthusiast, so I could see that the Bible had plenty of errors. Thus I took inerrancy to apply only to matters of theology, not to matters of history or science. For example, I always took the Adam and Eve story as a fable.

    I never took the end-times stuff seriously. Reading the Bible myself, it seemed pretty clear that the apostles expected the second coming to be within their lifetimes. So either it had already happened and nobody had noticed, or it was all a big mistake and was never going to happen.

  • Carys Birch

    My dad is fighting a losing battle against this conspiracy mentality in the church I grew up in. I’m not sure how he has the energy to continue trying to convince people with that little grasp of reality. It’s poisonous.

  • John Moriarty

    a salutary lesson in epistemology, or how to not swallow a brick.

  • Laurent Weppe

    So, I don’t understand. You want us to do a story on these people?

    You know, I wonder if your editor did not, in fact, realize that you had been caught in the apocalyptic narrative and decided to throw you a lifebuoy before you drowned yourself in the conspirationist swamp.

  • James Thompson

    When I was in high school, I did not realize that sincere people could be sincerely wrong.

    When I got to college and took a course on New Testament that talked about historical and textual criticism it was a real eye opener. I suddenly realized all of the preachers I had been listening to, were either lying or ignorant.

    I also was in an environment where BS was not tolerated, people would call you out on any assertion you made.

    I remember saying things to profs and getting the same treatment your editor gave you.

    The black helicopters had been invented yet, but I was full of the Hal Lindsey stuff and all sorts
    of Christian crap.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    When I was in high school, the Left Behind stories were really big in the Christian world, and there was some anti-UN sentiment from that but nothing this cooky!

    I’ve always been one to read the book before seeing the movie, and when it came to the Left Behind series, I wanted to read Revelation before I read the books. In 9th grade and had no concept of different genres in the Bible, and I was very literal-minded–meaning when Revelation mentioned a pale horse, I imagined a horse. With the exception of rapture fear, the end times paranoia failed to influence me, but that was mostly due to a lack of imagination.

  • smrnda

    I once attended a local evangelical church for a few months as a sort of experiment. The place didn’t seem all that extreme, the pastors never brought up any end times conspiracy, but I notice that quite a few people were totally persuaded a One World Government was going to sweep in any moment.

    It seemed to be a belief completely immune to reason or evidence – any evidence, no matter how shaky, of the impending New World Order was totally persuasive to the rapture bunnies, and even the absence of any clear oppressive behaviors towards American Christians was just lulling them into a false sense of security. Part of this might just be the whole persecution complex that goes with Christianity – if you aren’t really being persecuted, you have to somehow believe you are or will be soon.

    Something I brought up with someone was that we were further away from a One World Government now than in the past. It was only a few hundred years ago when most of the world was dominated by a small number of imperial powers – political power was certainly more concentrated into the hands of a few in those times rather than the present. I’m thinking the disbelief in this is just a too Americanized or Westernized perspective on things.

    On myself, the people I worry will rise up and oppress me are the gun stockpiling nutcases who are convinced the end of the world is due. I’m sure that if they could, they’d deny me basic human rights and impose their beliefs on me and have the nerve to call it ‘freedom.’

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    And that unhesitating certainty about what was credible and what was not just pulled the scales off my eyes. I became suddenly embarrassed that I had been taken in by such foolish delusions.

    Many people say (and they’re not wrong) that ridicule is inferior to reasoned argument as a means of persuasion. But the editor, albeit completely politely and probably unintentionally, ridiculed what Dan was thinking, and by that mere act refuted it in Dan’s mind. Reasoned rebuttal must still take place, somewhere, sometime, of course — but just saying (a la Dawkins’ recent meme) “You don’t *really* believe that, do you?”, accompanied by an appropriately raised eyebrow, forces the hearer to justify the belief *to themselves*, and thus often to realize that no, they can’t.

  • k

    I always read Left Behind Fridays at Slacktivist. Your story reminds me of that, I’d suggest taking a look if you don’t already read them.

    You had a lucky escape.

  • Kyle S

    Dan OMG we really need to interact more. My story isn’t exactly like yours but this blog post brings back so many memories of my life in the 1990s. I only regret that I didn’t browse and find this post around the time it was written.

    I’m an atheist and flaming liberal now, but 20 years ago I was a hardcore right-winger and fundamentalist Christian. I wasn’t raised on it (fully) as a child. My parents had the beliefs (at least they mentally assented to the precepts) but we as a family didn’t start attending church until just after the end of my junior year in high school. My great aunt was a member of a Southern Baptist church in town, as was a guy for whom my mom was a secretary, so that’s the one we started attending.

    I did the “walk to the alter” a couple of months before graduation – in 1988. When I started attending a community college the following autumn, there was the leader of the Baptist Student Union who was there to “disciple” me and help me get grounded in the basics of born-again Christianity. Two years later I started attending a larger state university and was a supremely active member of it’s Baptist Student Union. I also joined that campus’ chapter of the College Republicans. Then in 1991 I met two guys who were, for about a decade, my two best friends. We palled around a lot, doing things just as friends like bowling, shooting pool, watching movies, or watching sports. The 3 of us also bought hook, line, and sinker, into the conspiracy theories about the “New World Order”. We discovered a “patriot” radio station based in a small town not too far from the university, but that was aired in many parts of the state and that was picked up on short-wave radio nationwide.

    I was never involved in a militia. I wasn’t a member of the John Birch Society, but for several years I had a subscription to its flagship magazine – the “New American”. I was in the wedding party of each of their first weddings (groomsman for one, best man for the others). They were groomsmen in my wedding (which took place about a year after I quit evangelical Christianity pretty much cold turkey).

    The churches I attended (all SBC ones) weren’t rife with people who bought into the CTs about one-world government, but I wasn’t exactly shy about promoting the idea. I found homes for dabbling in radical right-wing politics in a pastor of a “Bible Church” and talk-show host named Bob Enyart, who still has the same roles to this day. Enyart believes that James Dobson sometimes is too soft on the LGBT community, believes that they should be executed (as well as adulterers), and that even advocating for abortion should be a capitol crime. One day in the fall of 1997 I, along with some of Enyart’s followers, conducted a demonstration in front of the residence of a doctor who provided abortions, as well as in front of U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette’s house. I also was an avid listener of radical anti-abortion activist Randall Terry’s radio show. So my fundamentalist Christian life was a sort of goulash of several memes, sometimes not entirely consistent with one another.

    That’s all I care to share now, but I’ll be glad to share more. I prefer, if it’s OK with you, to dialogue with you about it in a private FB chat.

    Take care.


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