The Common Good

Eschatology or Bigotry?

A couple of weeks ago on Glenn Beck's talk radio show, a woman called in to suggest that because President Obama appears to be raising the tax rate to around the same as what it was under President Clinton; is exercising some accountability mechanisms with banks and car manufacturers; and has approached the nations of the world with humility, he is a prime candidate for the Antichrist. Such absurd and offensive speculation has been around for nearly 2,000 years; and, of course, there is a 100 percent failure record among those who would predict the time of the end of the world, along with the identity of the person who, dispensationalists allege, will lead us there.

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The general principle -- that those who make eschatological guesses tend to be socially bigoted and give the appearance of suffering from religious neurosis -- combines with this specific example of some people so outraged by Obama's election that they need to find a theological justification for their anger to produce some of the most debased public conversation I've ever heard. Glenn Beck's response to this woman appeared to endorse her religious terror, with mysterious allusions to people he says he has met and talked to and heard things from that he isn't ready to tell us about yet.

The sum: I don't know what Glenn Beck actually believes about the book of Revelation (for what it's worth, I happen to think it's an amazing book of metaphorical prose offering comfort to people being persecuted and naming the metaphysical core of the universe: that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, rather than a dimestore almanac of future events), but he's certainly happy not to challenge his listeners when they suggest that President Obama is in league with Satan. I know many of us feel like we say this every day: We need a better conversation in this country.

In Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak is at pains to develop the notion that human freedom is found in facing reality. This is not a new idea, of course; we need only remember 'the truth will set you free' to be aware that it didn't originate with Russian novelists. But Pasternak adapts an old Chinese proverb and announces his prophecy

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