How does our vision of “the end” shape our politics?
Having established that the Christian world view is one of linear time, with a conscious, purposeful creation at the beginning, a world view that leads, or should lead according to Gary North, to embracing “dominion religion” and rejecting “power religion”, I’ll today attempt to tackle the question: What’s “the end” going to be like? After all, if Christians “know” (i.e. believe) what the beginning looked like, do they have a similarly clear vision of the end? Well, yes and no. There are various visions/ideas about how it’s all going to end. However, it’s important to be aware of these variants because they, or in some cases today their secularized versions, also shape our politics today.
There are three basic Christian “end time” visions, based on various interpretations of the Book of Revelation. They all hinge on the question under what conditions the “millennium” will start (or has started). The millennium, mentioned in chapter 20 of that book, is usually considered to be a long (some literally say a thousand year) reign of Christ (either directly or through the church) before Judgment Day, i.e. the end of the world. At least the end of the world as we know it – there is mention of “a new heaven and a new earth” later in that same book. According to North, which version of millennialism we adhere to has a profound effect on how our societies are constituted: There is a “significant relationship in Western history between millennial speculation and social change”. These three basic versions are: premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism. North is a postmillennialist of a certain kind.
Premillennialism, says North, “teaches that Jesus Christ will return to earth in history to set up a visible kingdom that will last one thousand years. Then will come the final judgment. This is a literal interpretation of the prophecy in Revelation”. This belief leads to political passivity: Whatever tyranny we live under, one day, Jesus will give the bad boys and girls hell. It may lead to a willingness to “save” people before the end comes (from their own sinfulness), but there is no impulse to improve things for society as a whole.
The next basic group are the amillennialists: They believe that the “millennium” has already begun, namely at the first Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Easter) and contend that the “millennium” is not to be understood literally as a thousand years, but symbolically as a “long time”. The millennium will end at Judgment Day and there is nothing we can do to accelerate its coming. North adds that amillennialism creates a society where “[t]here will be no meaningful progress in history, except for ecclesiastical progress. This limited form of progress will not be accompanied by a widespread acceptance of the gospel. There will, if anything, be an increasing rejection of the gospel over time. There will at best be improvement in Christian creeds, Church order, and family government. This view is held by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and modern Continental (Dutch) Calvinists on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Regarding the third version, postmillennialism, I’ll quote North extensively (like all other quotes from him in this instalment, it is from his book “Millinarianism and Social Theory”, Tyler, Texas, 1990):
“Postmillennialism has features of both premillennialism and amillennialism. It shares with amillennialism a commitment to historical continuity. Both views insist that Jesus will not return to earth physically to establish a millennial kingdom. It shares with premillennialism a commitment to the earthly fulfilment of many of the Old Testament’s kingdom prophecies. Postmillennialism’s hermeneutic (principles of biblical interpretation) is neither exclusively literalistic nor exclusively symbolic.” North continues: “Like amillennialists, postmillennialists interpret symbolically the one thousand years of Satan’s bondage, with “millennial” referring to the entire era between the ascension of the resurrected Christ to heaven and the final judgment. Yet, like the premillennialists, some (though not all) postmillennialists also take the one thousand years literally: a unique era of spiritual and cultural blessings within the overall millennial era, blessings which God will grant because of massive, worldwide conversions to faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. The basic postmillennial point is this: there will be a long era of earthly millennial blessings in the future. Jesus will return bodily to judge the world postmillennially: after the era of millennial blessings is over.”
North then makes a distinction between two camps of postmillennialism: pietistic postmillennialists and covenantal postmillennialists. “The former view is the postmillennialism of Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revivalism, and late nineteenth century American Presbyterianism. It is not tied to a specific view of law and society.” Covenantal postmillennialism, on the other hand, “is the postmillennialism of the New England Puritans and the modern Christian Reconstruction movement. It defends the continuing authority of biblical law and its cultural and civil sanctions. It sees the expansion of God’s kingdom in history as an outworking of widespread conversions to saving faith in Jesus Christ, coupled with an extension of the Old Testament civil case laws. It proclaims a kingdom established by God in history, but judicially and representatively: through saving faith.”
North is a “covenantal postmillennialist”. That means he believes that Christians need to work to expand the kingdom of God “in history”, i.e. on earth (and presumably wherever else our human endeavour takes us). Crucially, Christian Reconstructionists like North believe it is insufficient to convert individuals for their personal salvation. The goal must be a transformation of society’s institutions in accordance with biblical law. In order to pre-empt misunderstandings: North and his followers are clearly against using state power to implement this goal. It must be a bottom-up transformation, which however only works if conversions are made not solely with the individual’s benefit in mind. Only when all humans (or at least a huge majority) and their institutions are, so to speak, converted to Christianity, including the “Old Testament civil case laws”, will there be a “long era of earthly millennial blessings”, which will end on Judgment Day.
In other words: Christians are called not to passively and meekly sit on their hands waiting for kingdom come, but to actively work for its accomplishment. This is the gold standard of the protestant work ethic: work brings progress, not only for the individual, but for all society, *IF* in this work biblical laws are adhered to. As far as I know, North has not actually spelt out that he thinks the escape from the Malthusian trap, beginning around 1800 in North America and Western Europe, was mainly due to a long term and widespread belief in a purposeful creation, a world view with linear time AND adherence to the most basic and important of biblical laws, e.g. the Ten Commandments. But this is what he seems to believe.
So what has this got to do with the modern world and the loss of freedoms therein? A lot.
Freedoms are being lost on a daily basis. Every perceived “turnaround” of this trend since the late 19th century (e.g. “return” to the gold standard, Thatcherism) has been a false dawn: freedoms continue to be lost. The reason is that the enemies of freedom have got a lot of dynamism. They do not believe in defeat. They believe they are on the road to victory, that history is on their side. Forever. That is why, when they lose office, they don’t lose power. They know where else it lies, and the cling to it there. They are striving towards something. They may not always be conscious of this – indeed, most of them have never spelt out exactly what they are aiming at. However, if they were asked, or if their life depended on formulating what they really, really want, they would describe some sort of heaven on earth, of some all-encompassing “equality”. The remarkable thing is: even though they are, for all intents and purposes, atheists, they believe in something bigger than themselves. THAT is what makes them so strong.
The ironic thing is this: those who are actively chipping away at our liberties in the West are, essentially, postmillennialists minus Jesus, a creator God, and Old Testament Laws, plus their own version of heaven on earth and their own laws. This was easier to see as long as old style atheist Marxism was still en vogue. Today it is less obvious. The reason for this is that old style Marxism had a clear world view of “linear time”. History was “inexorably” moving toward communism (but needed work to be done, hence the “concentrated” form of work prevalent in those societies). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, things have become less clear.
Take environmentalism. On the one hand, it’s linear. It wants to, and believes in, “progress” towards a heaven on earth. However, even though its view of time is linear, objectively it seems to want to move “backwards” along this line, towards re-establishing a wilderness. Or, in biblical terms, a return to “paradise”. This theory holds up even when looking at the wider “progressive” agenda, where environmentalism is mixed with egalitarianism and genderism. Because in paradise, before the creation of Eve, there was no difference between the sexes. And significantly fewer people than today. So “they” (Adam) were all equal.
So, if enviro-egali-genderism is moving “backwards” along the timeline, it performatively expresses a belief in a circular world view. It may not realise that, but that’s what it is.
The reason I am laying all this out is this: 1. In order to defeat an enemy, one has to understand him. 2. More specifically: The modern enemies of freedom are so successful precisely because they have emulated the eschatology of “covenantal postmillennialism”. In other words: power religion has adopted the strategy and vision of dominion religion – without God. And so, even though they still believe they are on a progressive time-line forwards, they are in fact conceptually in circular mode. 3. Enviro-egali-genderism (or, as it is more commonly called on this site, GramscoFabiaNazism) is THE modern manifestation of “power religion”. Adopting another version of power religion (Thatcherism, neoconservatism, UKIP, constitutional limitation of the state) will NOT result in more freedom. In fact, it will end up with a net loss of liberties. Remaining in “escapist religion” mode (dreaming of freedom, “seasteading”, “finding [individual] freedom in an unfree world”) won’t cut it in the long term. One day, the buggers will come for you too. Or your children, or their children. Or, if you don’t have children, then your liberty-friends’ children (i.e. those of the next generation who are most likely to understand the value of freedom).
Gary North is a “covenantal postmillennialist”. He is self-consciously a puritan of a kind. We have read a lot on this site about how the current enemies of freedom are also intellectual descendents of the puritans, godless though they now may be. This fits the theory of irreconcilable “power religion” – “dominion religion” duality. And: It may take one (puritan) to know, and defeat one (puritan).