Opposites attract, Part II

Early 20th-century idealism was based on an overly optimistic assessment of human nature. As such it received support from some of the "modern" and "liberal" theologians and church leaders of the time. This view of human nature wasn't compatible with the Christian view, and was resoundingly demolished after the fact by the Neo-orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

But this idealism was also rooted in the eschatology of early 20th-century America. You can't get much more millennialist than the idea of a "war to end all war." This optimistic millennialism had competition, even in the 19th-century, from far more pessimistic views. The "premillennialists" did not believe that God's truth was marching on through human history, progressing toward Christ's millennial reign. They believed that this millennial reign would not come until after human history which, they thought, was doomed to end very badly.

This rabidly pessimistic eschatology — called "premillennial dispensationalism" — got a slight boost from the publication in 1909 of the popularizing Scofield Reference Bible, an "enhanced" translation with extensive footnotes explaining the secret, hidden meaning of the scriptures. But that wasn't what made PMD's popularity really skyrocket. That happened, again, with World War I and the youth of Europe lying dead by the millions. The PMDs pessimism suddenly seemed more credible. Scofield's footnotes were updated and republished in 1917 and have been a bestseller ever since.

I should step back here and say a bit more about "millennialism." You've probably heard the term a thousand times, with a thousand different explanations. The word comes from the 20th chapter of St. John's apocalypse, in which we read that Satan will be bound for a thousand years during which Christ will reign as king and all the martyred believers will come back to life and reign with him. Revelation 20:1-6 is a puzzling passage and we don't need to get into a lengthy discussion of its particulars here, but let me just point out that, despite the vast linguistic and cultural distance of the two millennia that separate us, the author of the book of Revelation would not have misread or misunderstood my idiomatic use of the Big Round Number "a thousand" in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Robert G. Clouse, a professor of history at Indiana State University, offers a nice summary of the main competing views of Christian millennialism (reprinted here):

The concept of the millennium and the apocalypse referred to in Revelation has been an important part of certain Christian sects, but it has held less significance for most Roman Catholic and Protestant groups. Believers in Christian millennialism differ about when Christ will return to earth, how the millennium will start, and the nature of the millennium. The three major types of Christian millennialism are premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism.

* Premillennialism stresses a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation. In the premillennial view, worldwide destruction and the return of Jesus Christ are required to save humanity and bring about a new era of peace on earth. This belief system — also referred to as catastrophic millennialism — generally expresses a pessimistic view of modern society and sees the world as fatally flawed.

* Postmillennialism, also referred to as progressive millennialism, interprets the Bible less literally than premillennialism does. Postmillennialists regard the millennium as a 1,000-year reign of Christian ideals that will end with the return of Christ. In this view, the millennium will not start suddenly through an apocalypse, but gradually through the efforts of human beings. Postmillennialists believe that through social reform and by upholding Christian ideals, the kingdom of God will be built on earth and Christ will return. Christ will then defeat Satan in a final battle, as referred to in the Book of Revelation. Some postmillennialists believe the millennium has already started.

* Amillennialism, the predominant view for much of Christian history, is the belief that biblical references to the millennium are strictly figurative and that there will be no earthly millennium.

Discussion of such categories can be a bit misleading. Prophecy enthusiasts tend to obsess over the dispute between pre- and post- millennial views. This is a bit like trying to divide the world into two factions based on whether they side with Dean or Logan as Rory's ideal love interest. While it's true that several million people may indeed A) watch Gilmore Girls and also B) have a strong opinion about such matters, most people don't and so can't be forced into either of these factions. Such people might be categorized as a third faction, "a-Roryists," but this overstates their investment in the topic.

So let me underscore Clouse's observation that "amillennialism" is "the predominant view" among Christians, but also qualify that to point out that most amillennialists don't spend very much time at all considering themselves amillennialists. As a category, it's only really meaningful for the minority embroiled in the parochial dispute between the pre- and post- factions.

Just because these factions represent a minority, however, does not mean they have not been enormously influential — particularly in America.

The progressive spirit of postmillennialism has informed many movements for social change, including the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage and the temperance movement. Prohibition was the high-water mark of this postmillennialist influence, demonstrating both its ambitious idealism and its naive faith in inevitable progress. It also exhibited the abolitionist tendency of American millennialism. Note that the movement to end American slavery was not called something like "liberationism," but rather "abolitionism" — the goal wasn't only to free the slaves, but to abolish the sin of slavery, thus moving the world one step closer to the perfect, millennial reign of Christ. The intemperate Temperance movement, likewise, sought to abolish alcohol. This abolitionist tendency is no longer firmly connected to its postmillennial roots, but it lives on in American Christianity (see also: Abortion).

The failure of Prohibition, like World War I and the coming of the Great Depression, dealt a severe blow to the relentless optimism of postmillennialism and, beginning in the early 20th century, pessimistic, catastrophic premillennialism became ascendent as the influential minority view in American Christianity and American society.

Pre- and postmillennialism can be viewed in the terms of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, each representing an unbalanced extreme. The post- view is unable to accept the things it cannot change — or even to accept that some things cannot be changed. The pre- view is convinced that nothing can be changed, that no amount of courage is worth the trouble because nothing can be fixed until Jesus comes back.

The two views can also be viewed in the terms of what Niebuhr regarded as the most grievous of sins: pride and despair. Postmillennialism suffers from pride. It is idealistic but naively optimistic — about the perfectability of human society and human nature, about the potential for unambigously good outcomes, about the inevitability of progress. Premillennialism suffers from despair. It is all too willing to give up and await its deus ex machina happy ending. Postmillennialists are certain that the world is getting better and better, becoming more and more like heaven until finally Christ himself will arrive to declare a heavenly kingdom on earth. Premillennialists are certain that the world is getting worse and worse, becoming more and more like hell until finally Christ himself will arrive and send it there personally.

(Again, these views are not the only options. Nor are they the only resources for hope or humility. Since we've been talking so much about Niebuhr, you might want to consider, as an example of a different approach, the movement led by one of Niebuhr's students, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.)

But let's get back to my particular concern here. I'm trying to reconcile two apparently irreconcilable things.

The foreign policy of the Bush administration appears to be shaped by two major influences: 1) the millennarian optimism of PNAC, and 2) the premillennial pessimism of the Republican religious right. How are these things in any way compatible?

  • JS Bangs

    Perhaps the idea of the remnant helps here. In fundie premil theology, the world may be becoming apostate, but the fundies represent the beacon of truth that must not go out.
    In fact, with a little thought, it’s quite clear that this contradiction is present in all premil thought. Their premillenialism says that world should be getting morally worse and progressively apostate, but their revivalism implies that it should simultaneously be possible to gather large numbers of converts and see revival. Their church is simultaneously a lonely light in a sea of hostile darkness AND a conquering army spreading the truth wherever it goes. Transpose these ideas to foreign policy, and you have Bush. Perhaps evangelicals/fundies resonate with Bush’s foreign policy because it follows their own split thinking about the Church.

  • the opoponax

    i don’t think the problem with PNAC is that its goals are overly optimistic, but that its goals are self-serving and morally wrong. the US has no right to assert our own ideals, culture, economic models, or forms of government on other sovereign nations. it is immoral to use the military to accomplish such. it is also disingenuous to claim that the current administration is doing what it is doing in the name of those goals, even if one could justify them.
    i mean, hell. i think the goals of, say, Greenpeace, are overly optimistic. but i wouldn’t put them in the same league as PNAC at all.

  • bulbul

    This is a bit like trying to divide the world into two factions based on whether they side with Dean or Logan as Rory’s ideal love interest.
    I’m an “anti-Jessian” myself…

  • forestwalker

    –”The foreign policy of the Bush administration appears to be shaped by two major influences: 1) the millennarian optimism of PNAC, and 2) the premillennial pessimism of the Republican religious right. How are these things in any way compatible?”
    That’s the grassroots American conservative schizophrenia I pointed to in the comments of the last post. For the average Joe on the street who supports the administration holding these two things in tension is becoming increasingly difficult. As for the administration itself, the only explanations that I can come up with are (1) neoconservatives really are accurately described by ‘postmillennial optimism’ and are cynically manipulating the largely premillennially pessimistic conservative working class; or (2) neoconservatives are about nothing but power and are cynically manipulating everyone: postmillennial and Liberal optimists AND premillennial pessimists.

  • Drocket

    I gotta go with forestwalker’s option 2: Neoconservatism is about aquiring money/power for the elite few at the top. That’s it. Everything else is smoke and mirrors designed to sucker people into working for them. Taking them seriously as an ethical/moral/religeous philosophy is ultimately a waste of time. You may as well examine the philosophical underpinnings that lead to the Enron scandal – there aren’t any, its just greed.

  • bulbul

    1) the millennarian optimism of PNAC
    Now I understand why all those marxists wholeheartedly embraced neoconservativism: milleniarism sounds so much like Marxism-Leninism.
    I gotta go with forestwalker’s option 2: Neoconservatism is about aquiring money/power for the elite few at the top.
    I’d have to agree. But there’s one thing we must add: neoconvervatives see the whole world as theirs to take.

  • Doctor Science

    Mrs. Robinson has just put up a post in her Tunnels and Bridges series at Orcinus that IMHO answers Fred’s question.
    Mrs. R. is talking about a certain sort of authoritarian:
    They call them “Rules Lawyers.” This is the guy (and it’s usually a guy — female versions exist, but they are truly rare) who has memorized every rule in the book, and comes to the game prepared to explore every loophole, argue every detail, and punish every infraction. (Can you say “anal retentive?” I knew you could.)
    A lot of very bright people are drawn to fundamentalism and other authoritarian systems because they’re committed Aristotelians, on a similar lifelong search for Ultimate Truth. Fundamentalist literalism offers just the kind of hard-and-fast, black-and-white “here’s the book — now go live by it” pre-packaged Truth they’re looking for. Their intense fear of ambiguity motivates these people to become tremendous scholars, giving hours a day to their studies. Over the course of years, they absorb the system chapter and verse, can quote it at length, and know all the standard (and even some esoteric) defenses against those who might question their interpretation. The more knowledge of the closed system they have, the more secure they feel.
    . . . While these people almost never return to an authoritarian belief system once they’ve left it, their burning desire to find Ultimate Truth may not leave them for years, if ever. In the meantime, they’ll be extremely susceptible to latching on to other authoritarian systems that promise them the certainty they seek.
    Neo-cons and millennialists are both getting that sense of pre-packed certainty, the reassurance of believing in a detailed, all-encompassing authority. What they also have in common that is extremely emotionally important is a *narrative*. They both are telling stories about the future, stories full of corroborative detail.
    I think a desire for narrative is much more important than whether the narrative is pessimistic or optimistic, pre- or post-millennial.
    What I also see here is the tension between conservatism and authoritarianism. They’re both based on feelings or psychological needs, but they’re not the same ones. Conservatism is about the status quo, not changing stuff, having things be the way they used to be or at least not much different. Authoritarianism is about certainty, about firm lines and strict rules and harsh punishments. Although they often go together, they don’t have to: if the status quo is messy and relaxed, authoritarians won’t be happy, while the authoritarian drive to *make* things be a certain way won’t please conservatives.

  • bulbul

    Conservatism is about the status quo, not changing stuff, having things be the way they used to be or at least not much different.
    That’s certainly the way it was, but is it really like that now? Does “conservative” really mean all those things?
    Also, I suspect there is a difference between “not changing stuff” and “having things the way they used to be”.

  • J

    Just to spice things up, let me say that the post/pre/amillennarian controvery isn’t even necessarily limited to Christianity: It exists in a lot of religions, possibly, dare I say it, because they have been deeply influenced by Christianity.
    Modern Islam has pre- and postmillenialism in spades, except that they’re fused into a single worldview: Although modern Muslims believes that Jesus (yes, Jesus) will return at the end of time, they view it as their duty to try and establish a perfect (read ‘Islamic’) society on earth beforehand. Of course, this view is about as new to Islam as it is to Christianity: Before the 19th century, the historical Muslim view was that an Islamic society would be good–better than any alternative–but by no means perfect. And Muslims also historically believed, like Christians, that the end of time would not be something human beings could discern but would rather “come like a thief in the night”.
    To speak more of what I actually know, as a[n] [ethnic] Jew, the whole issue is sited less over questions of ‘the end of the world’ and more about the re-founding of the land of Israel. Genuine Jewish ‘amillenialists’–the almost totally secular founders of Zionism–believed that Jews needed a land of their own so badly that they’ve got to found it right now themselves, gosh darnit.
    Whereas the black-coat people–particularly the Satmar Hasidim–were definitely of the postmillenialist bent: “We should do nothing,” they said, “Only God himself can/will recover the land of Israel for us.”
    Of course, this latter viewpoint is sort of on the rocks now that Israel has existed in time and space now for 50-some years. Occasionally you see–in a deeply paradoxical image–small groups of Hasidim at anti-Israel protests in the United States and elsewhere, but most Hasidic rabbis and their followers have embraced Eretz Y’israel wholeheartedly, or at least grudgingly gone along, deciding that maybe God worked through the Zionists, dirty secular folk though they may have been.

  • Doctor Science

    That’s certainly the way it was, but is it really like that now? Does “conservative” really mean all those things?
    um, what do you mean by “really mean”?
    I think that all the various things that have been called “conservatism” over the centuries do have something in common, which is the desire for stability and for things to stay the way they are (or the way you think they are). In politics, this normally means the status quo: power should stay in the hands of the powerful. It also goes along with sayings like “tried and true”, “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream”, “if it’s not broke don’t fix it”.
    I think all the “isms” that are called “conservatism” are post-facto constructs, to provide a rationale and coherence for what is basically an emotional attitude.

  • hf

    For a second I favored forestwalker et al’s position, the view that the PNAC just happened to use the others. But then I recalled that post-milleniallists often seem to attack as “America-haters” anyone who doubts the perfect goodness of our foreign policy. I think that what JS Bangs describes must play a role for some W fans.
    J, help me out here: why do you see a problem or paradox with these protests? Why would Jews “need” a land of their own? From where I stand, it hasn’t made them the slightest bit safer. They’d literally have a better chance of survival in Germany today.

  • bulbul

    um, what do you mean by “really mean”?
    I was actually asking for your definition of “conservative”. Consider me satisfied :o)

  • bad Jim

    Are the neocons in any useful sense really post-millennialist? Are they idealistic at all?
    Their goal is strictly that of advancing and ensuring American supremacy in the near term, not the general improvement of humankind. Evidence for their short-term focus is their emphasis on control of the Middle East and its dwindling supply of oil, which we cannot continue to consume forever.
    Their alliance with the apocalypse enthusiasts, like their purported enthusiasm for secular democracy, are utterly cynical. Both are merely means to an end.
    If their concern was the future of humankind, they’d adopt a longer time horizon and advocate the development of renewable resources instead.

  • mds

    Isn’t the PNAC / premillenialist axis similar to the Dominionist / premillenialist one? Dominionists, in fact, seem to be in both the PNAC and explicit postmillenialist camp: conquer the world for Christ by exterminating or converting the heathen filth, bringing about the Kingdom of God. So perhaps the presence of so many Dominionists in the fundamentalist hierarchy acts as a step-down transformer between the nominally incompatible worldviews of neoconservatives and premillenialists. Remember, various people have worked very hard over the past few decades to transform conservative Baptists from supporters of separation of church and state, to a bunch of whiners about persecution who need to “Reclaim America for Christ” at the ballot box instead of at the tent meeting.

  • histrogeek

    I think that the neo-con post-millenialists and the fundie pre-millenialists have two major points of intersections where their goals are so closely aligned that any eschatological differences get ignored.
    1) American exceptionalism- Reagan’s “shining city on the hill”. Pre-mils see America as the last bastion during the Tribulation. Since America isn’t in Revelations, they can add this blazingly non-literal section in. Post-mils see America as the fountainhead of goodness and light that will pour over the world (naturally supporting American imperial ambitions). Both groups see America as so special that the opinions and practices of other nations just don’t matter, since they are either catspaws of the Antichrist (premil) or morally suspect pagans to be converted (postmil).
    2) The Middle East- Premils of course are notorious for seeing every twist and turn in Mid East events through an apocolyptic lens. U.S. involvement in the Middle East is a way of jump starting the end of the world (not surpisingly the medeival Crusades had the same fantasies). It’s more proactive than just kicking back and waiting for things to happen. Postmils see the Middle East as the most important unconverted area since it is conspicously outside the global economic and political system. (Ouside of energy, the Middle East provides little of substance and even the energy sector is archaic in terms of its organization, a combination of feudal ownership and colonial concessions.)

  • Mary Jones

    I should step back here and say a bit more about “millennialism.” You’ve probably heard the term a thousand times, with a thousand different explanations.
    Cute. Really. (Please tell me I’m not the only one?)

  • pfc

    I like this sentence: “It is all too willing to give up and await its deus ex machina happy ending.” It seems impossible to get any more deus ex machina than the Rapture.

  • Ken

    Scofield Reference Bible, an “enhanced” translation with extensive footnotes explaining the secret, hidden meaning of the scriptures.
    “Secret, hidden meaning”?
    The Secret Hidden Meaning That Only We REALLY Know?
    Dude, isn’t that the very definition of Gnosticism?
    Over the course of years, they absorb the system chapter and verse, can quote it at length, and know all the standard (and even some esoteric) defenses against those who might question their interpretation. The more knowledge of the closed system they have, the more secure they feel.
    Hasn’t encouraging that Rules Lawyer attitude been part of Islam from its beginning?

  • Ken

    Isn’t the PNAC / premillenialist axis similar to the Dominionist / premillenialist one? Dominionists, in fact, seem to be in both the PNAC and explicit postmillenialist camp: conquer the world for Christ by exterminating or converting the heathen filth, bringing about the Kingdom of God. So perhaps the presence of so many Dominionists in the fundamentalist hierarchy acts as a step-down transformer between the nominally incompatible worldviews of neoconservatives and premillenialists.
    Totem to Temple blog had a series of essays on this a year or two ago.
    The Theonomists (the original Dominionists) were Postmil; their belief was to win hearts and minds over centuries; when enough people had been converted, they would voluntarily institute a Theonomist Theocracy, bringing about the Millenium.
    According to TTT, what happened after the Sixties was that some Premils went Theonomist/Dominionist. Since Christ WOULD return tomorrow at the latest (don’t be Left Behind), they collapsed the time-frame and went for a collapsed and intensified last step first — THEOCRACY NOW! CLEANSE AMERICA! THEOCRACY NOW! (Never mind that if The End is coming tomorrow at the latest, what does it matter?)

  • hf

    Hasn’t encouraging that Rules Lawyer attitude been part of Islam from its beginning?
    Has it?
    By the way, I seem to have reversed the pre and post terms despite seeing them before. I blame J.

  • Doctor Science

    Hasn’t encouraging that Rules Lawyer attitude been part of Islam from its beginning?
    Absolutely not. The Quran itself isn’t a Rules Lawyer-type document: it’s not full of rules, it’s full of poetry. It took hundreds of years for Islam to develop enough law for Rules Lawyers to have something to play with.
    Rabbinic Judaism is notorious for producing Rules Lawyers, but then it has about a thousand years’ head start on other RL-type systems.

  • mds

    (Never mind that if The End is coming tomorrow at the latest, what does it matter?)
    If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree… and string up a secularist on it.

  • Kristin

    I recently ran across this in an article for my thesis: “In 1967, bowing to pressure from evangelical critics, a revised edition of the Scofield Reference Bible was published without some of the more controversial of the original annotations.” Can anyone here with more knowledge of this than me tell me what some of the annotations are that they took out? I can’t imagine anything much more controversial than what made it into the modern version!! I have yet to locate the 1909 or 1917 SRB.
    Also, can someone explain Gnosticism in a quick and dirty paragraph or two. I have seen articles claiming that pre-mill dispensationalism adheres more to Gnosticism than Christianity, but I fail to see the connections they’re making, possibly because their view of PMD is different from the PMD I was raised in, and now, to understate the case significantly, question.
    “A lot of very bright people are drawn to fundamentalism and other authoritarian systems because they’re committed Aristotelians, on a similar lifelong search for Ultimate Truth. Fundamentalist literalism offers just the kind of hard-and-fast, black-and-white “here’s the book — now go live by it” pre-packaged Truth they’re looking for. Their intense fear of ambiguity motivates these people to become tremendous scholars, giving hours a day to their studies. Over the course of years, they absorb the system chapter and verse, can quote it at length, and know all the standard (and even some esoteric) defenses against those who might question their interpretation. The more knowledge of the closed system they have, the more secure they feel.” – Doctor Science quoting Mrs Robinson.
    I thought that Catholics- decidedly post-mills were committed Aristotelians. This seems like an unclear distinction.
    One more thing, can someone help me with quoting another post? I can’t get mine into italics. Thanks in advance to anyone who can answer this diverse (and probably stupid) set of questions.

  • Joe_M

    Look up Leo Strauss, for an enlightening view of neoconservatism: the idea that morality is a convenient fiction.
    Probably the two most important documentaries I have recently seen are “The Power of Nightmares,” and “The Century of the Self,” both by Adam Curtis of the BBC. Watch them in their entirety and then tell me what you think.

  • Doctor Science

    Having just read What Is Gnosticism? by Karen King, I’ll give it a whirl.
    “Gnosticism” is the name now used for a number of Christian variations in the early centuries of the Common Era (AD), but it seems likely that no-one ever called themselves a “Gnostic”, which basically means “know-it-all”.
    Elements usually associated with Gnosticism include:
    1. True knowledge and wisdom should only be available to an elite, who are gradually initiated into deeper levels of understanding. This is what Ken was referring to: “the secret, hidden meaning that only we know.” This may be associated with actively lying to the uninitated, for their own good *of course*.
    2. The physical world is fundamentally evil, therefore Christ could never have been really incarnated. (=docetism) Only the spiritual realm can be called good or real. (=Platonism)
    3. “Gnosticism” is also associated with a plethora of story-telling: elaborate hierarchies and geneologies of angels and half-angels, stories about Adam and Cain and Lilith and innumerable pseudo-Biblical characters, emanations of God (“Aeons”) — a bewildering whirlwind of names and events outside history. This aspect always reminds me of Revelations, The Book of Mormon, certain Japanese anime, and Scientology — it gives me that same fevered feeling that someone should have gone easy on the mystical mushrooms.

  • Duane

    One more thing, can someone help me with quoting another post? I can’t get mine into italics. Thanks in advance to anyone who can answer this diverse (and probably stupid) set of questions.
    Kristin, simply cut and paste the desired quote into your own Comments box, then prepend it with less than symbol, letter i, greater than symbol and append it with less than symbol, forward slash, letter i, greater than symbol.

  • forestwalker

    –Look up Leo Strauss, for an enlightening view of neoconservatism: the idea that morality is a convenient fiction.”
    Click here and scoll down to August 23, “The Neocon Nightmare World,” for a good introduction to Strauss and the congruence of his ideas and neoconservatism.

  • forestwalker

    And here’s an excerpt from that essay that speaks directly to Fred’s question in this post:
    “Until reading Drury’s book, I thought that the alliance between the intellectually sophisticated neocons and the simplistic religious-right extremists like Falwell and Robertson was a marriage of convenience engineered for short-term political gains. But Drury makes clear that the neocons believe that the religious right is essential for continued American dominance because it provides the requisite myths that justify American supremacy.
    “The neocons themselves don’t believe in the myths of religion–they are philosophers who have transcended the need for such childishness. Like the nihilists on the cultural left, they believe that philosophy necessarily leads one to understand that there is no God, that there is no truth, that there is only the void. But the few, the true philosophers, can confront the bleak truth of this metaphysical nihilism. And the truly great philosophers are the creators of the great metanarratives that inspire great cultures…. The arrogance and cynicism of this kind of thinking is beyond comical. You have to be a madman to take it seriously, and yet these guys surround Bush and are directing policy.
    “This is why in my opinion Straussian neoconservatism is just as decadent as the left-leaning philosophies of Foucault and Derrida. Both left and right are nihilistic at their root; the difference lies in that the the Straussian rightists see themselves as socially responsible because they understand that society needs its myths and illusions and should not be disabused of them. They oppose the cultural left, which wants to evangelize its nihilism.”

  • Kristin

    Thanks everybody for helping to answer my questions.
    Doctor Science – I can see #1 and part of #2 – but three doesn’t mesh with what I was taught, necessarily. I did often hear in church about the fall of Lucifer/Satan and then there’s Christ’s descent into Hell to reclaim the keys to “death, hell and the grave,” but the Bible is fairly mute on these (at least the Bible outside the apocrypha). Is anyone familiar with where these passages come from, or are they gnostic stories (and therefor not solo scriptura – I know my spelling is horrendous). I’m wondering at seemingly incompatible teachings myself, here.

  • Angelika

    Kristin: Is anyone familiar with where these passages come from
    About the fall of Satan I heard Isaiah 14 12-13 cited:
    12 How you have fallen from heaven,
    O morning star, son of the dawn!
    You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
    13 You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to heaven;
    I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
    I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
    However, if the chapter is read in context it is part of a prophecy against Babylon, Verse 3 reads:
    3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
    How the oppressor has come to an end!
    How his fury has ended!
    so to interpret the verses 12-13 as about Satan is a bit far-fetched in my opion, unless at that time Satan was posing as king of Babylon. (There might be better citations, that is the one I was given by people talking about Satan.)
    The citation of Christ going down to hell is much clearer and ccan be found in 3. Peter 1:
    18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
    It doesn’t say very much about the people who died after the flood, but since the part is mostly about the baptism so the author probably didn’t bother to elaborate on the prison.

  • forestwalker

    Kristin,
    –”three [Gnosticism is also associated with a plethora of story-telling] doesn’t mesh with what I was taught, necessarily”
    The specific stories they told, no. But PMD’s share the gnostic practice of greatly expanding upon the traditional Story or traditional understanding of Story to create a narrative that is ‘secret knowledge’. Think of the prophecy charts, the linking of current events with imagery from Revelation, heck the whole PMD narrative and obsession with understanding prophecy.

  • bulbul

    Modern Islam has pre- and postmillenialism in spades, except that they’re fused into a single worldview: Although modern Muslims believes that Jesus (yes, Jesus) will return at the end of time, they view it as their duty to try and establish a perfect (read ‘Islamic’) society on earth beforehand.
    I’m sorry, most of it doesn’t ring a bell. Except for the Jesus part.
    If you’re looking for millennialism in islam, look no further than the concept of qiyamah. Essentially, a horn is sounded first, then all people (including the jinn, ghoul and maybe even animals) are gathered and judged. But before that, Jesus returns preceded by Imam Mahdi. Together, Mahdi and Jesus will defeat ad-Dayyaal (essentially, the Antichrist, whose description is quite similar to the one in Revelations) and they will establish a kingdom where Jesus will rule as a king. Or something like that, the sources are not clear on certain particulars.
    Of course, this view is about as new to Islam as it is to Christianity
    Not so much. Most of what I described comes either from ahadith or al-Ghazali, i.e. 7th-12th century BC.
    The problem with millenialism in islam is that most Sunnis don’t assign much importance to the issue. The Shiites are a different story, though claims equating the Twelver shiia to American premillenialists are grossly exagerated.

  • Kevin

    Bulbul, that’s 7th-12th century C.E. (not B.C.), right? Al-Ghazali lived in the 11th century of the current era. Still, that’s considerably older than (at least some forms of) Christian millienialism.

  • Evan

    Thank you so much for explaining “premillenial”, Fred. Could you do the same for “dispensationalism”, next?

  • LL

    Team Logan!
    Thanks to Fred for the explanation, even though listening to/reading people debating/discussing the various religious doctrines (to me) is like listening to/reading people debating Captain Kirk vs. Picard or something similar. I think the greatest lesson to be learned from all religion is the perils of not knowing when to quit. It’s one thing to suggest handy dandy rules to living a great life, it’s quite another to enforce them, yet religion persists in trying to enforce them, and in doing so, betrays almost every principle it supposedly holds. Love, compassion, the Golden Rule, etc. Wouldn’t want to lead by example and just let people make up their own minds, that might give them the idea they should have a choice. Religion is a way for the powerful to control the weak without having to go to a lot of effort. Just tell ‘em God said it and a horrible everlasting torment awaits those who don’t obey and they’ll do the work for you, whether that means tithing or voting Republican or blowing up a bus in Israel.

  • forestwalker

    Kristin,
    –”I did often hear in church about the fall of Lucifer/Satan”
    I believe the source for this is the (non-canonical) Apocalypse of Enoch. But Jesus himself quoted it, so go figure.
    –”and then there’s Christ’s descent into Hell to reclaim the keys to death, hell and the grave”
    This is from the earliest creeds of the church. It seems non-Biblical to us in the literal-minded West. If viewed from the early church’s perspective of the Atonement (and of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection), though, it takes on a different meaning. It’s not describing a literal happening but metaphorically speaking of Ransom Theory and Christus Victor.

  • bulbul

    Bulbul, that’s 7th-12th century C.E. (not B.C.), right?
    Of course, sorry about that.
    Still, that’s considerably older than (at least some forms of) Christian millienialism.
    The things is, some of it is just plain eschatology. The Shi’ite doctrines come closest to modern millenialism. And while most muslims share a large number of those beliefs, they would best be described as amillenialists.

  • hf

    You left out the most interesting feature of Gnosticism, to my mind, and its most obvious point of similarity with pre-millenialism. Many people through the years have charged other “Christians” with following Satan. Few ever seem to realize that certain Gnostics said it first. Or that the Gnostics extended the charge backwards, calling the “God” of the Old Testament false and evil, and saying that Christ came to free us from this devil.
    Kristin, it sounded like someone called Aristotle a point of similarity between pre- and post-ers, not a distinction. Also, much of the story of Satan comes to us from Milton, though he did have some passages and traditions to point to.

  • PepperjackCandy

    1. True knowledge and wisdom should only be available to an elite, who are gradually initiated into deeper levels of understanding.
    That’s the definition of gnosticism that I’m familiar with, but I’ve heard people more recently defining it as more in like with the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of “gnosis” — Intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths . . .. Like anyone can come to these conclusions after contemplating his/her navel for a while (or years, or decades, or whatever).
    I’m confused. Can anyone enlighten me?

  • hf

    The second certainly fits what I’ve heard from Gnostic-minded people. I’ve also seen some of them say that ancient Gnostics encouraged people to derive their own theory of the universe. I can’t really confirm or disprove all this.

  • Doctor Science

    PJC — I haven’t heard “gnosis” defined that way, but it may be coming out of the modern Gnostic religious movement, which is a 20th-century creation. It may be that these modern Gnosticisms de-emphasize the importance of occult wisdom, and believe instead that true gnosis (in the form of Sophia=Wisdom) requires mostly that the seeker be properly spiritually prepared.
    One of the points I got from King’s book, which I cited above, is that when scholars of early Christianity use the word “Gnosticism” they are reifying, acting as though there must have been a single movement corresponding to that single term. What 20th-C gnostics do is try to re-create that reification: to put together a real modern movement that corresponds to the ancient term.
    Doctor Science – I can see #1 and part of #2 – but three doesn’t mesh with what I was taught, necessarily
    What you were taught where & when? When you were taught about Gnosticism, or when you were taught about Christianity?

  • Hagsrus

    MDS: If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree… and string up a secularist on it.
    Why?
    And it would have to be a fair-sized tree to serve as a gibbet, so obtaining and planting it could be time-consuming, considering you’d have to get it done before tomorrow, or the end might come upon you in the very act of murder.

  • Kristin

    Doctor Science What you were taught where & when? When you were taught about Gnosticism, or when you were taught about Christianity?
    What I was taught about Christianity – although, thinking back on it, perhaps it was because I was in the peon level of the heirarchy.
    I grew up in an Assembly of God Church in the South – and while the genealogy of Christ was important (usually Matt. 1) – the heirarchy of angels, etc did not figure into teaching – As for extra-biblical stories, besides the two I mentioned that I did not find explicitly stated and the Bible (though what most literalists find in the Bible is hardly explicit) – I can’t remember any stories like the one of Adam and Lilith. Does this make sense? The more I research, the less I know.
    I am getting some extreme answers from my recent interviewees.
    Do I believe the Rapture, Tribulation Period, judgments, killing & resurrecting of the Antichrist, the two witnesses, Christ’s Second Coming, etc. are true? Absolutely, those are all things I can find in my Bible, which I believe to be the true Word of God. God cannot lie, so everything in His Word is true.
    This is a typical response – I asked if anyone could pick up a Bible, read it through, and come to the same conclusion as LaHaye and Jenkins and other PMDs do, and this repsondent said that the fiction and “non-fiction” of PMDs were divinely inspired, so yes, if God opened up his Word to them, then the same conclusion could be reached. What I’m getting at here, is that the brilliance of these rhetorical appeals are appeals directly to authority – you’re either in or you’re, literally, fired.

  • Angelika

    - I can’t remember any stories like the one of Adam and Lilith.
    Me neither, it’s not in any part of the Old or New Testament I’ve read so far. – I guess the Gnostic people drew heavily on sources outside the new commonly used Bible canon (in their time there wasn’t a canon defined yet, anyway) and probably made up a few stories as well, just to explain a certain point – not necessarily claiming these stories were true.
    I asked if anyone could pick up a Bible, read it through, and come to the same conclusion as LaHaye and Jenkins and other PMDs do, and this repsondent said that the fiction and “non-fiction” of PMDs were divinely inspired, so yes, if God opened up his Word to them, then the same conclusion could be reached.
    Funny though, that people very deeply envolved with Bible-reading in former centuries didn’t come to the same conclusion. I grew up in a Lutheran Church, and while I think it’s safe to assume Dr. Martin Luther read the Bible quite thouroughly in the process of translating it, the idea of rapture never turned up anywhere in his teaching.

  • Beth

    Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
    Genesis 2:21-22 “So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”
    So when was woman created, on the sixth day with man, as described in the first passage, or sometime after Creation Week, as described in the second? There are a couple of theories that seek to resolve this contradiction. One says that God created on one human on the sixth day which was both male and female. Later on he separated this hermaphroditic creature into two separate beings, one a man and the other a woman.
    The other theory says that God created one woman on the sixth day and another later on. That is the source of the Lilith myth. She was the original woman, but she fought with the man and with God and finally left, so god had to create a new woman (Eve). So while Lilith isn’t actually mentioned in the bible, it can be argued that there is textual evidence for her existence.

  • Kristin

    Who/what denomination advocates the 2nd explanation? It was never a problem to be reconciled in my fundamentalist church growing up – the Bible does not contradict itself, was all the explanation I got.

  • Ray

    Of course the simplest way to ‘resolve’ the contradiction is to realise that the text is fucked. There’s a mistake there, just like the mistake over when the animals were created, and trying to retcon it is like trying to make sense of the “batteries” comment in the Matrix.

  • Beth

    The foreign policy of the Bush administration appears to be shaped by two major influences: 1) the millennarian optimism of PNAC, and 2) the premillennial pessimism of the Republican religious right. How are these things in any way compatible?
    PNAC millennarian optimism: The world will be a wonderful place if we can secure our place at the top and arrange things according to our plan.
    religious premillennial pessimism: The world is a dung heap and there’s nothing we can do about that, so why not make things more pleasent for ourselves (and, obviously, the most pleasent place in a dung heap is at the top), especially if we can win a few holy brownie points in the process?
    The ultimate goals are very different (create a new world vs. endure/encourage the death of the old one), but the intermediate goals are the same.
    We see an extreme form of this in the marriage of Cristian Zionists and the Israeli right. The former seek Israel’s destruction in a great war and the latter seek Israel’s security by defeating its enemies, but both believe the way to achieve their goal is by increasing Israel’s military strength and militancy, and they are allies in that quest.
    ————————
    Who/what denomination advocates the 2nd explanation?
    Well, Gnosticism for one. I think this is an issue for Kabalists too, but I don’t know which explanation they adhere to. The Lilith story has also been taken up by non-believers, traditionally as a symbol of female evil (Lilith as succubus), and more recently as a symbol of female strength and independence (see, the Lilith Fair).

  • wintermute

    I recall hearing about a Jewish sect who believed that Adam had a third wife. Or rather, a second, as she came before Eve.
    The theory being that the only reason for God to have made Adam fall asleep before creating Eve was that he’d tried it while Adam was awake, and he’d been squicked out by the whole thing…
    I think I got this from Gaiman’s Sandman, so it must be true, right?
    Anyone know if this is true or not?

  • Skyknight

    I remember that the “Old Testament God=evil incarnate” bit was taken up by Marcion. Of the whole idea of how the physical world is inherently corrupt and unsavable, it seems that either Irenaeus or Tertullian (I forget which) objected on the grounds that a single wildflower should have convinced Marcion otherwise. Of course, I imagine that Marcion’s response would have been that there’s still a problem–the wildflower is doomed to die and decay (the usual Gnostic term for the physical world was “hyle”, or wood–perhaps a reference to that selfsame process of decay. The spiritual world, meanwhile, was variously “pneuma”/air/spirit or “pleroma”/fullness). It doesn’t matter how much beauty/delight/etc. is in the physical world–that beauty will die at some point, therefore it’s rendered worthless.
    According to Valentinian Gnosticism, the Demiurge (i.e. Creator, Hebrew God) was actually a creation of Sophia (“wisdom”), without the authorization of God (so in this, she’s called Sophia Prunikos–”prunikos” meaning “prostitute” or thereabouts). Somehow, Demiurge got trapped in a mire of darkness, and was completely unaware of God (or Sophia, for that matter). Therefore, it believed that IT was the highest being, and that therefore what it did MUST be right. Of course, the Gnostics saw this as impiety incarnate (never mind that Demiurge wouldn’t have much reason to believe otherwise. It’s supposed to accept that God and the aeons are higher than it, just on their say-so?!), the villainy compunded by Demiurge being obsessed with keeping the other entrapped souls in its creation (and if you go off my previous parenthesis, its motive may be that, since the aeons are being rather uncooperative about proving their grandeur, it’s afraid of what will happen to those other souls if the aeons get their hands on them).
    Remarkably, from what little I know, the Gnostics saw Heaven as being…well…stagnant–little transpired other than basking in and adoring God’s presence. Although, I suppose that if you think that something is perfect, than any change necessarily involves degradation…Hence the belief that the creation ought never have come to be. Suffice to say that in some Gnostic methodology, the serpent of Eden is actually seen as an agent of the REAL God, imploring Adam and Eve to disobey the “unrightful” Creator and become like unto God/aeons/etc., as they would have been in the first place if Demiurge hadn’t gotten their souls mired up in the Hyle…
    {sigh} Not that this was the only strangeness of the time. The Book of Enoch seems to have it in for most human knowledge. One of the main Grigori, Penemue, is castigated for teaching humanity literacy. The charge? To paraphrase (because this is from memory), humans were not meant to consign their good deeds to paper, but rather to be like the angels–that is, performing good spontaneously. I’m not sure if this is meant to be a blanket blasting of literacy, or just deeds and contracts (the text DID say “the secrets of paper and ink”; perhaps the emphasis was on “secrets”), but it’s still an odd thing to rank with warfare (teaching of Gadreel) and black magic (Kasdeya). And THEN there are all the other Grigori (whether they’re in Enoch or not, I don’t know) who taught a wide variety of knowledge to humanity, and presumably held to blame for that (e.g. Ezekeel, who taught meteorology). I’m starting to wonder if the Enochians thought free will was somehow evil–in which case, to what end did they think God gave it to humanity?


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