[ by Charles Cameron -- a notable shift in the portrayal of Antichrist, from European politician to Islamic savior ]
I have written before about the clash of eschatologies, and today I want to note what appears to me to be a significant turning point in popular Christian end-times thinking. Joel Richardson today posted this endorsement:
IMO, that’s huge.
[ edited to add: BTW, LaHaye seems to be thinking in terms of the Shia Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam -- the Sunni al-Mahdi would not be "the Imam of the Twelfth century". Richardson's view encompasses both. ]
Nicholae Carpathia is the Antichrist figure in the best-selling 1995-2007 Left Behind series of books, films and games, in which pastor Tim LaHaye presents his vision of the end times in fictional form, with the help of co-writer Jerry Jenkins.
Here’s how Wikipedia sums up Carpathia as he features in the series:
Former president of Romania, former Secretary General of the United Nations, self-appointed Global Community Potentate, assassinated in Jerusalem, resurrected at GC complex and possessed by Satan. Within the series, Carpathia is the Antichrist, and leader of the Global Community, a world government which he ultimately marshals against the followers of Jesus Christ.
LaHaye, in other terms, was working on the European Antichrist model that has been the staple of “soon coming” eschatology for decades. Indeed, in Revelation Unveiled (p 209) he wrote of the Antichrist:
Daniel 9:26 refers to him as the ruler of the people that will come, meaning that he will be of the royal lineage of the race that destroyed Jerusalem. Historically this was the Roman Empire; therefore he will be predominantly Roman.”
From Joel Richardson’s point of view, LaHaye’s endorsement is pretty strong evidence of the tide turning from the European to the Islamic model of the Antichrist. From my point of view, too, it’s a significant marker of that turning of the tide — but I also fear lest the rival messianisms of Christianity and Islam set up a howling feedback loop and polarize a situation where calmer minds…
Well, let me just point you — with a hat-tip to my friend Damian Thompson of the Telegraph — to this statement on the possibility of “reconciliation with Islam” by Justin Welby, the newly-announced next Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the world-wide Anglican Communion:
The confrontation between the different traditions of thought and forms of society that are represented by the Christian tradition and the Islamic world is one of the two most important issues of our age. It has the potential for endless conflict, vast loss of life, immeasurable cruelty, and even nuclear war. More than that, in the secularised North, all religious conflict is seen as justifying attacks on religion, including Christianity.
In addition, there is a growing tendency in political thought to see confrontation with Islam as inevitable, not as facing a religious system, but as facing a perceived mediaeval religious ideology. The Church can too easily be drawn into this, as a sort of partner, unwilling or even critical, but not providing an alternative to the tendency to say: “The great questions of the day will not be settled by resolutions or the votes of majorities in assemblies… but by Blood & Iron.” The costs of that error and sin are borne afresh every day by another soldier’s family in this country.
The formative influence in this pattern of thought in the last 20 years, and especially since 2001, has been Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations in which he argues that wars between civilisation groups rather than nation states are inevitable. This approach, which is followed by many other political scientists, has been taken up especially with regard to Islam, based on the long history of conflict between Christendom and Islam, going back to the 7th century.
Many Christian groups have almost welcomed this analysis, and seen in it the justification required to excuse many of the actions of “Christian” countries towards the world of Islam. Other have welcomed it as explaining the perceived and experienced threat. Within Protestant circles, revisionist theology has called for a syncretistic approach, in which the common values of the faiths are emphasised to the point where no distinctions can be recognised. This is also true amongst Anglo Saxon secular thinking, where it is not overtly atheist.
And yet, as I want to suggest, the Church has both the understanding and the means to face this great issue with tools and opportunities that can offer a genuine solution.
The understanding comes first. Christians understand the importance of the spiritual life, and thus should be able to relate to Islam in a way that the secular may find more difficult…