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End times and presidents

Claude Fischer, professor of sociology | March 16, 2012

The heated controversies around President Obama – the questioned birth certificate, the supposed Muslim connections, his seeming foreignness – have generated more than a whiff of fire and brimstone., the website devoted to fact-checking common rumors, felt compelled in 2011 to fact-check whether the president was the antichrist. They decided he was not.


FDR (LC-USZ62-87317)

The concern on the religious right about a president’s satanic connections is not new. Historian Matthew Avery Sutton, in the Journal of American History (here; and podcast) describes the rise of similar suspicions about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. Given the events of the day, the suspicion probably fit FDR better then than it does Obama today. Sutton also argues that the connection that developed in the 1930s between millennialism – anticipating the End Times – and politics lay the groundwork for today’s religious right militancy.

Global anxieties

Protestant fundamentalism arose in late 19th- and early 20th-century American cities in reaction to modern trends such as Darwinism and women’s movements. (Fundamentalism is not really the “old time religion.”) Fundamentalists were much concerned with preparing for Christ’s return. Ministers interpreted certain biblical texts as foretelling a period of global political unrest that would bring forth redemption: Evil empires would emerge in the East; Jews would return to the Holy Land; a promising but ultimately false leader, the antichrist, would arise; true Christians would be “raptured” to Christ’s side in heaven; and after the battle of Armageddon Christ’s forces would triumph and bring in the glorious millennium.

The 1920s and ‘30s seemed full of signs. World War I had devastated nations and England had retaken Jerusalem from the Muhammadans. The Depression wreaked suffering. Evil empires arose in the East — Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, and notably Mussolini in the capital of Catholicism, Rome. Jews fled the Nazis to return to Palestine. (A Boston minister said that Hitler was “an instrument in the hand of God” for this purpose.) The end of days drew nigh.

FDR’s moves inflamed these visions. He was utopian; he was building another strong nation-state and expanding his personal power (including eventually running for third and fourth terms); he took anti-traditional stances such as opposing Prohibition; he recognized the Soviet Union; and he tried to join the World Court. It didn’t help that in the initial balloting of the 1932 convention that nominated him he got 666 votes (a number associated with the antichrist). If he was not the antichrist, his moves seemed to support the antichrist, perhaps Stalin or Mussolini.

For the deeply believing, working against FDR became part of the resistance to the antichrist. Even if their efforts failed and the apocalypse came as was foretold, at least the believers would have been tested and found worthy of salvation. (The same Boston minister said, “We labor as though Christ would not come for a millennium. We live as though he were to come to-night.”)

Lasting anxieties

Obama as Satan gaphic

Free Republic blog

Protestant fundamentalists and their ministers were not initially political and, when political, were often Democrats. Opposing FDR, Sutton argues, changed that; it initiated alliances of fundamentalists with secular conservatives and with businessmen hostile to the New Deal — although leading evangelists such as Billy Graham took care to stay bipartisan. In the late 1970s, a new generation of fundamentalist ministers, younger but still rooted in the earlier experiences, sealed the political realignment by energetically supporting the Republican party. Ronald Reagan, by the way, had a serious interest himself in End Times prophecy.

Sutton concludes that the fundamentalists of the 1930s “maintained both that the rise of the antichrist was immanent and that it was never too late for revival. Every generation since has heeded this message. While most fundamentalists never really believed that Roosevelt was the antichrist, they felt sure that he had moved the United States one enormous step closer to Armageddon.”

We are not, right now, in the sort of multiple global crises that surrounded FDR’s presidency. And Barack Obama has, compared to FDR, barely expanded the role of the state; he is hamstrung by the Supreme Court and the House. Yet, the sort of polarization and politicization of religion that Sutton says started during FDR’s time seems to have accelerated so much that from his first days in office Obama has had to deal with the view among a militant group that he is the embodiment of a satanic force.

Cross-posted from Claude Fischer’s blog, Made in America: Notes on American life from American history.

Comments to “End times and presidents

  1. Bible Prophecy is very clear on the subject of the end-time antichrist. In the book of Daniel he is described as the little-horn in chapter 7, the king of fierce countenance in chapter 8, and the king of the north in chapter 11 and 12. In the book of Revelation He is said to be the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit. In other parts of the Bible he is called the man of sin (2Thess. 2:3-4)and the antichrist (1John 2:18).

    Since the antichrist is to rise in the last days, and will have no successor, but will be destroyed at the Second Coming of Christ,he must of necessity emerge from the city of Rome. From the parallel prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 we are told that Rome will be the final world ruling kingdom leading up to the end o the world.

    Furthermore, in Revelation 17 we are told about a woman that sits on seven mountains. The woman is obviously a symbol, thus the interpretation of this symbol is that city that reigns over the kings of the earth (Rev. 17:18). Since Rome is the only city that sits on seven mountains, by definite application we conclude that this woman is a symbol of Rome. Therefore, this city will be the seat of the antichrist power.

    Any prognosis that does not conform to the clear biblical instruction on this subject is speculative at best.

    Steve Sterling

  2. A fantastic article! I’ve been trying to explain to my fundamentalist friends that their wild speculations about Obama are not historically unique, and this article is succinct, respectful, and informative. Thanks a bunch!

  3. Dear Claude,

    I actually HAVE lived through “armageddon” one of those killer tornadoes that ripped through Alabama last year. I also have come into contact with the conviction among educated people in my life for the past 14 years that they really don’t have to give a shit, they can poot all over anyone they want, and get paid for it too!

    Maybe you’re used to that in the academy. It’s one reason I left after getting advanced to candidacy there at B. But then I discovered that I lived in a place that rewards heartlessness, corruption, vicious backstabbing hatred – Birmingham, AL, that began with the total desecration of native american sacred ground and the legacy goes on and on.

    So, now I am one of those people who believes in “armageddon.” But as an environmentalist, I’ll tell you the ultimate outcome of that armageddon is our extinction as the destructive species we have become.

  4. Professor Fischer, that picture of Obama as Satan which you included seems far off the mark to me — that weak passive leader as Satan — no way! As for Roosevelt, I remember relatives who did not believe in Satan or devils ( may we ever achieve such sanity again) — they “used to say” “He sold us down the river!” A classic remark stemming from subjective social class. Oh, well, maybe we’ll all wise up someday

  5. Prof. Fischer, a most provocative perspective. Indeed, when one reads the “Sermon on the Mount” all three leading republican candidates must be considered false prophets. They attack the Golden Rule and proclaim their religious beliefs to such incredible extremes that I have to think that Jesus would consider punishments similar to those he handed down for adulterers for them, in fact Newt would most certainly lose his eyes or hands.

    This is very sad testimony on how far we haven’t progressed as human beings. Over the past few years I have posted hundreds of comments on Berkeley Blog in an effort to find out how we can survive in, and adjust to our changing world because the Durant’s history series concluded that we must meet the challenges of change or our civilization shall most certainly decline.

    The best answer I have found to prevent decline is higher education for all but the current state of civilization proves we have failed to achieve that even with the higher education we have already because our states of immorality and poverty are out of control, threatening even our survival.

    The paramount imperative that the Durants came up with, the greatest lesson in history, is that for humanity to truly survive we must find a way to apply the Golden Rule to nations, something that is further from our grasp than at any time since WWII as proven by United Nations failure to bring us anywhere close to Peace on Earth.

    Also, Socrates taught us several other imperatives that must be applied to perpetuate our survival and adjust to the changing world:
    1. Passion for Truth
    2. Uncompromising Morality
    3. Lifelong Inquiry
    I have personally endeavored to practice the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and Socrates on the Berkeley Blog but I have failed to even communicate.

    So I now wonder if Socrates accepted the only real choice for his levels of truth, morality and inquiry because we have continuously proven that there is no way we shall enable ourselves to survive ever since?

    Indeed, the sort of polarization and politicization of religion has accelerated so much that we must all learn to deal with false prophets that are trying to control America and the world.

  6. Most of the People who call Obama and other prominent leaders The Antichrist do so because of political gain: None of them Matches the Bible’s description of the Antichrist. It’s high time people stopped playing politics and read what the Bible says about the Antichrist:

  7. Dear Professor Fischer,

    Thank you for your insights on these “interesting times” we live in…

    Fifteen years ago, I was experiencing the most traumatic time of my life (after my ex-husband abandoned us when I was 9 months pregnant); the inspiration that kept me going was when I began to read the Bible, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. I listened to a Pastor who has a very deep understanding of the symbols referred to throughout the scriptures. He explained the Hebrew and Greek roots of many terms in the “letter from G-d” (Bible) to all of us.

    Basically, my Pastor warns that many Christians will be deceived – even though the New Testament clearly warns that first to return to earth is the fake “instead of” (in the Greek: ‘anti’) christ. This is the generation of the “Fig Tree” referring to Israel’s re-establishment in 1948; Christians will be tested on depth of Bible knowledge and eschatology. Throughout the New Testament, in the books of Matthew 24:5; Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, it warns Christians (“maidens in the field”) NOT to be misled in search of Christ whenever someone says that He has returned to earth, but to stay put and continue doing your work in the field. Otherwise, if a Christian follows the fake first ‘christ’ unwittingly, then when the true One does return, He will find that person is no longer a spiritually virgin bride. Matthew 24:23-24 “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

    I sent away for my Pastor’s free CD. It’s about the “Mark of the Beast”, wherein Revelation 13 is explained. The “Beast out of the Sea” symbolises political organisations / governments. And the one “out of the Earth” refers to military capacity and technology. The B. out of the Sea has “ten horns” (G-8 rich nations + China & India next to join the club); “a mouth like a lion” (symbolic of the United States and Britain jointly), “body like a leopard” (France), “feet like a bear” (Russia), and the “dragon gave it power and authority” (China). Could this be the United Nations’ Security Council? The United Nations represents the highest aspirations of wo-mankind, and in my past naive idealism I had wanted to work there. Now, it’s clear that the negotiations, or rather, politics going on behind-the-scenes at the U.N. is more often about stronger bully nations pushing around the little countries of this world. The U.N. Security Council deploys and directs military troops around the world who answer (strategically, tactically and operationally) only to the Security Council member states. These U.N. troops stationed worldwide are not accountable to the sovereign nation-states that they occupy.

    The world’s leading international bankers (e.g. House of Rothschild, Rockefellers, House of Habsburg, sovereign wealth funds and private equity) and foreign policy strategists (the CFR, Bilderberg Group, Trilateral Commission, Chatham House) also dictate from behind the scenes. Some conspiracy theorists believe that these powerful elites (Club of Rome, Olympians or Committee of 300) manipulate markets and economies to rise and fall, thereby causing chaos or wars from which they profit. The powerful hasten globalization and a ‘New World Order’ (socio-political and economic) which will serve their interests. Will the military forces of the United Nations, in effect the ‘planetary police’, be used to enforce the will of a coming global government directed by the power brokering elites?

    To quote World Trade Organisation Director-General Pascal Lamy: “We need coherent, interconnected political policies… Nothing else will do.” Lamy says the key question will be: “Can we come up with a global government that is up to meeting the challenges of our times.” According to Henry Kissinger, “The New World Order cannot happen without U.S. participation, as we are the most significant single component. Yes, there will be a New World Order, and it will force the United States to change its perceptions.” George Soros wrote in 2009, “Reorganizing the world order will need to extend beyond the financial system and involve the United Nations, especially membership of the Security Council.” In 1970, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, his book describing a global society: “The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities. It is likely that before long the social elites of most of the more advanced countries will be highly internationalist or globalist in spirit and outlook… The nation-state is gradually yielding its sovereignty… Further progress will require greater American sacrifices. More intensive efforts to shape a new world monetary structure will have to be undertaken…”[read: current global financial turmoil]

    The B. out of the Earth symbolises military ‘intelligence’, particularly since the military is always on the cutting edge of technology. For instance, you must already know that the internet was initially developed by the U.S. military (DARPA) back in the 1950’s Cold War days when Americans were fearful of an ICBMissile attack by the Soviets; so DARPA developed the internet as a coast-to-coast first alert information sharing network.

    It says in Rev. 13:13-14 that “miraculous signs and fire will come from the heaven to deceive men.” Not too difficult to accomplish considering all the technology that the Dept. of Defense, the Pentagon, Lawrence Livermore Lab, Los Alamos Lab, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program – jointly managed in Alaska by the U.S. Air Force and Navy, designed to “understand, simulate and control ionospheric processes that might alter the performance of communication and surveillance systems” using high frequency radio wave transmission), NASA, and the National Security Administration must have… Even without taking into account the capabilities of other industrialized countries, it probably would be quite easy to put on a satellite magic show to awe and amaze technologically unsophisticated folks.

    “Rich or poor, free or slave, cannot buy or sell without the mark on his forehead or on his right hand” (Rev. 13: 16-17). For those folks who hold money SO sacred as to revere it as their god, or who are afraid of losing their plastic or scared of getting mugged, it’s likely they might opt to implant a microchip so their financial info is easily scannable on their body. Currently a rice-sized “VeriChip” is available for medical and financial purposes, and VeriChip’s “XMark” tags human babies so they won’t be misidentified, switched at birth, and can be tracked if kidnapped. Now there are even newer types of radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies requiring no silicon microchip implant; RFID’s ability is to scan printed chip-less tags via wireless radio waves. This “mark” can be imprinted anywhere.

    There is speculation that the Beast out of the Sea (of peoples, multitudes, nations and languages – Rev. 17:15) is the Roman Catholic Church, and that taking the “mark” is acceptance of Sunday as the Sabbath. Sundown Friday to Saturday is the true biblical Sabbath day according to the Bible. But in 321 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine, a pagan sun-worshiper who later converted to Christianity, issued the first decree declaring Sunday to be a legal day of rest. About 336 A.D., the Vatican officially changed observance to Sundays for political and economic reasons. Refuse to follow the traditions of men by honoring a day not chosen by G-d. Worshiping on the counterfeit Sunday Sabbath is tantamount to a symbolic acceptance of a mark (belief) “in the forehead”, and not working with the “right hand.”

    Man’s number: 666 sounds a lot like “sex, sex, sex” – (immoral) “shin” in Mandarin, which also sounds like “sin” in English. In the Book of Revelation, the 6th seal, together with the 6th trumpet and 6th bowl judgments befalls earth during the upcoming Tribulation Period (our savior Jesus Christ will return during the 7th trumpet). But perhaps it’s a reference to the antichrist, who will appear on earth in a prosperous and peaceful way (Daniel 11:21-11:24). If a person chooses to accept the mark of the beast, then s/he will be worshiping satan and breaking the first of the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7)

    Every person will be required to choose between two options. Please carefully consider these choices:
    1. Get the mark of the beast – You will be worshiping the beast. The beast is satan claiming to be G-d. You will be able to buy and sell. You can keep your job and your house. But soon you will receive the full wrath of G-d, poured out without mercy.
    2. REFUSE the mark of the beast – You will not be buying or selling with marked money, but will need to barter. You could lose your job, your house and perhaps even your life. But G-d will have mercy on you if you believe in Him and worship Him, you will live again, forever.

    Naturally, I wanted to know the rest of the story. So I read over to Rev. 17 & 18. It’s about 3 cities in current times referred to as “harlots” or prostitutes: A “great harlot who sits on many waters…the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (not Rome) San Francisco, the gay mecca, gets stranger all the time; the Gay Pride parades are more extreme with each successive year (even to a progressive bleeding heart like me). I have gay friends, but give me a break, being “out” is totally different from the IN YOUR FACE Fellini-esque circus-like contortions and promiscuity flaunted during Gay Pride week. The second city is in the desert: “Mystery Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots, and of the Abominations of the Earth…her cup is filled with abominable things…in her heart she would not repent even though she sits as a widow surrounded by gold, pearls, jewels….”: Las Vegas, where they try to corrupt children by promoting the Mafia-run tinsel town as a family experience. And the third place is modern-day Babylon (not the one in Iraq). Consider those neat programming languages which ‘babble-on’: COBOL, Perl, SQL, C++, Java, Python, HTML, XML… Could modern-day Babylon be Silicon Valley?? I’m no neo-Luddite, but do wonder where all this artificial intelligence and nanotechnology is headed ultimately – perhaps Star Trek’s Borg robotic dystopia isn’t that far-fetched?

    So, is California IT…. Not tomorrow, but soon, certainly within our lifetime, we will see “merchants wailing at the sight of the downfall of all the luxuries that it once held” (Rev. 18:11-18:19). After all, everyone living here knows that it’s a ticking time bomb; who can predict when the next Big One will rock & roll everything away… “Come out of her, my people…” (Rev. 18:4)

    Then there’s the hoax of the “rapture” theory. Baloney. Nobody is flying up into the sky to meet the Savior. We’re all staying put right here on the ground (law of gravity). “Rapture” is mentioned NOWHERE in the Bible. It’s an idea that a delirious Margaret MacDonald conjured up in the 1830s, and then popularly spread by John Darby. But it’s a dangerously misleading and alarming belief, because a lot of good but misinformed Christian folks truly, deeply believe the Christian pop culture books like The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and movies like the “Left Behind” series, based on this easy-way-out of troubled times to come “rapture” notion. G-d needs soldiers in the upcoming fight between good and evil during Tribulation times, not run-away “fly-aways.”

    So please be forewarned and wise up dear brother, sister of mine. Remember that the antichrist comes first. The faithful are not truly “saved” yet because we will be tested on our knowledge and understanding of G-d’s letter. Antichrist / Diabolos / Iblis / Belial / Maitreya / Ba’al / Lucifer will be an extremely powerful and charismatic spiritual-political leader, deceptively pronouncing that he is the savior returned to earth and promising to bring justice, sharing and “peace to earth” (yeah, sure ), and claiming that he’ll “save” the souls of all those who follow him. Unfortunately, many fooled believers will be tricked into worshiping his name and accepting his mark, or will follow him after he takes his illegitimate throne on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He’ll have control of technology, military coalitions, and have a powerful influence in the United Nations; amazing people with his “wonders” in impoverished countries, in bible-belt middle America, in jaded Europe, wherever there are superficially born-again believers. This globe is ripe for satan’s pickings.

    Our true Savior won’t be coming back to this decadent earth until after the upcoming trial period (Rev. 13:5). Let’s keep His faith for there is hope for us, after those who actively choose to worship antichrist are defeated (Rev. 19–20).

    I wholeheartedly pray that good folks like you will pass the upcoming trial period. May G-d bless you and yours. Love, faith, prosperity and wisdom always be with you ~ Shalom, Joyce

    P.S. A favorite book was by your wife, Habits of the Heart.

    I wonder if you’ve heard the speculation that the antichrist is Prince William (Windsor / Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, claiming to be Jewish and a descendent of Jesus through the bogus Merovingian lineage)?

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