While sifting through photographs today, I came across this previously overlooked image taken during a walk through Morgan Arboretum in early December of 1993. I was living down-home in St. John’s, Newfoundland during those years, and would try to get to Montreal to see friends and immediate family as often as I could — when work and travel requirements allowed. Showing up in the middle of the week is not conducive to connecting with friends (just as well, for my outgoing introverted- self), so I’d sort myself out on revisiting familiar places.
The Morgan Arboretum is a jewel of a forest reserve I frequented while attending John Abbott College from 1976-78, and it holds particularly fond memories of long walks in the Fall, and skiing in the Winter.
I remember pretty clearly this particular late-afternoon when I started out on the trail. The light was low and long. The ground was starting to freeze, and puddles were freezing over, capturing the last colour of fallen leaves. I had my Pentax Spotmatic with me, and a few rolls of something or other… I don’t recall, but likely ASA 800 given the noise in this image.
I have re- rediscovered the Arboretum recently and did a series in the early Fall of this year. The photos were good, but not as evocative as this one, at least for me. The softness of the photo enhances the solitude of the moment. I remember that I had only seen others leaving the forest as I entered, and assumed that I had the whole place to myself for the hours I was there, chasing the light. – cPaul
We all know the origin of Valentine’s Day: Some guy named Valentine was working illegally as a priest – an illicit priest, if you will – he was secretly marrying people against the wishes of Roman authorities and for that he got his head cut off. And that’s why we honour him every year with Prix Fixe dinners and intimate grooming rituals.
But I have bone-chilling news for you all. That guy never existed.
Now, there were guys named Valentine who became saints, to be fair. Several of them. There was this guy, Valentinus, a Roman priest executed under the reign of Emperor Gothicus. Reportedly, Gothicus initially just imprisoned Valentinus with a wealthy Roman family, but when Valentinus converted the entire family to Christianity the Emperor decided to just kill everyone.
At around the same time we get Valentinus of Terni. Similar story: An early clergyman who gets himself executed by the Romans. Here’s a super-classy display of his alleged skull inside Rome’s Santa Maria Basilica. There was also a Valentinus who died in Africa.
And that’s about all we know. That’s not me talking, that’s the Bollandists: A team of monks who in the 17th century tried to dig up everything they possibly could on Catholic saints and found out that a lot of them had some pretty sketchy biographies. It’s even possible that two of the three Valentines I mentioned were the same guy.
Another tiny detail: The Romans didn’t really behead people. They would stab you, strangle you and of course crucify you, but … beheading? That’s more of a Middle Ages/Early modern period thing.
In fact, so little is known about the various St. Valentines that in 1969 the Catholic Church demoted him from having his own day. February 14th isn’t St. Valentine’s Day anymore, it’s Saints Cyril and Methodius Day.
So where do we get the idea of St. Valentine as someone secretly marrying people or passing love notes between imprisoned couples or whatever? Easy; people just made it up in the Middle Ages. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer noticed that St. Valentine’s Day seemed to be right around the time that birds started getting jiggy with each other, so he wrote it into a sexy poem. There’s also speculation that, just like Christmas and Easter, Valentine’s Day is a Christianized version of a pagan holiday. Specifically, Lupercalia, an ancient festival on February 14th in which people got naked in the streets, sacrificed animals and then were randomly paired with neighbourhood women for sex.
Imagine you’re a clergyman in the Early Middle Ages. You obviously can’t have naked blood orgies in your local parish, so you encourage people to instead spend their February 14th venerating St. Valentine, and maybe they can hold hands or engage in heavy petting if need be. And after a while of marking St. Valentine’s Day as the romance holiday, people start getting a little fast and loose with the facts around the holiday’s namesake. This is what online nerds would call “retconning.”
Now before you get too judgmental about Medieval Europeans’ loose respect for historical facts, I would direct you to the works of Mel Gibson.
So the St. Valentines, despite paying the ultimate price for their faith, are all remembered for something they absolutely did not do. But don’t feel too bad for them: We do this to saints all the time. I’m afraid Ireland never had snakes, so St. Patrick didn’t really have to banish anything. And here’s Nicolaus of Myra, a Greek guy who lived in what is now Turkey. Due to a baffling series of events, he became rewritten as this guy (Santa Claus).
Anyway; it doesn’t matter where St. Valentine’s Day comes from. It’s a holiday celebrating love. Just buy your wife some candy, give her a backrub and try to be pleasant for a change.
Last spring, I started boiling two eggs for breakfast every morning—one for me, and one for the crows. A mated pair patrolled the rooftops around my Berlin apartment building; I’d begun luring them to my balcony with peanuts and other snacks. They loved not only eggs but also mealworms, cat food, cashews, chicken hearts, stale bread, cheese, and chunks of lamb fat; they barely touched liver, walnuts, vegetables, and dried fruit. In Germany, we were under a covid-19 lockdown. But the birds were free. They fascinated me with their distinct personalities and intelligent behaviors. The large male was a glowering bully who tipped my potted plants if I forgot to refill his plate. The smaller female was curious and sweet. She watched me as closely as I watched her, and learned to manipulate me by fluffing up her feathers; I always responded to this adorable display by rummaging in the refrigerator for treats.
“Wherever you go, crows are watching, making note of our habits, our weaknesses, our wasteful tendencies,” Charlie Gilmour writes in his memoir, “Featherhood,” which was published in North America this past January. The book begins as Gilmour’s partner, Yana, brings home an abandoned baby magpie—a beautiful black-and-white member of the corvid family of birds, and a relative to crows, jays, and ravens. Gilmour asks his mother for advice about caring for it. “The person you should really be talking to about this is your father,” she tells him. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, Gilmour’s father, the writer Heathcote Williams, published several long poems about animals; one describes his adopted bird, another kind of corvid called a jackdaw, which he took in shortly before meeting Gilmour’s mother. In “Featherhood,” therefore, the challenges of parenting a magpie become entangled with Gilmour’s lifelong quest to know his father, an infuriating and unwell man.
The British press heaped praise on “Featherhood” when it was published in the U.K., last year. Many compared it to Helen Macdonald’s memoir, “H Is for Hawk,” and to Ken Loach’s film “Kes,” from 1969, about a young, vulnerable boy who finds solace in caring for a kestrel. The Sunday Times called “Featherhood” a “work of magpie investigation that ranks among the best modern coming-of-age memoirs.” Having spent the year wondering what it would be like to raise a crow myself, I was eager to read it. But I set it down a little disappointed. It’s odd that so many stories about animals turn into tales about babies and parents. Why do encounters with wild lives so often domesticate our own?
Confession: I often listen to Conservative Talk-Radio. It’s a guilty pleasure that I picked up while frequently traveling for work in the Southern USA. My trips would involve long days and many miles in rental cars, clocking miles to the next city and set of meetings. That’s where I discovered the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Savage. Don’t get me wrong… They are not my “cup-of-tea”. Quite the opposite… I found that their racist, xenophobic and uber-nationalistic diatribes kept me enraged and road-weary alert.
In recent years, I started listening to recorded Michael Savage shows late at night, when I can’t sleep. It’s perhaps ironic that his Trump-loving, all other “Conservative talk show hosts” are idiot-pretenders, and “Liberals are insane” hysterics lull me to sleep. – cPaul
Rush Limbaugh is ailing. And so is the conservative talk-radio industry.
Rush Limbaugh, the most successful talk-radio host in history, is ailing. And so is the medium he helped revolutionize over the past 30 years.
Faced with aging and shrinking audiences, competition from newer technologies and financial problems for the biggest station owners, talk radio is in decline — both as a business and a political force. Once a leading platform for popularizing conservative candidates and policies, talk radio is on the verge of becoming background noise, drowned out by a cacophony of voices on podcasts, cable TV and social media.
The format’s crisis comes as its biggest star is battling to stay on the air — indeed, he is battling for his life. Limbaugh, 70, has been frank about his struggle with what he said last year is advanced lung cancer. “I wasn’t expected to make it to October, and then to November, and then to December,” he said on the air just before Christmas. “And yet, here I am.”
Limbaugh’s uncertain future confronts the talk-radio business, and conservatism generally, with the prospect of losing its most galvanizing figure. Since leaping from a local station in Sacramento to nationally syndicated stardom in 1988, Limbaugh has been the bullhorn behind every important conservative initiative, from the Contract With America in the mid-1990s, to the tea party movement of the Obama era to the ascent of Donald Trump.
“He will leave a huge void when he leaves,” Paul D. Colford, a Limbaugh biographer, said. “There is no one who has come up to replace him. There is no new voice out there. There is no one like him.”
From his earliest days on the air, Limbaugh trafficked in conspiracy theories, divisiveness, even viciousness (“feminazis” was one of his infamous coinages). He created what Columbia University historian Nicole Hemmer calls a kind of “political entertainment” that partially supplanted traditional conservatism and was crucial to Trump’s political ascendancy.
In the world of science, there’s so much to be excited about right now. But I’m especially intrigued by a set of experiments that may, eventually, raise human consciousness. I mean that literally: The goal of this research is to understand what exactly “consciousness” is and how it works. Which animals have it? Why do people sometimes lose it?
Could artificial intelligence ever make our machines self-aware? But I’m also talking about raising consciousness in a meta-sense. The way these studies are being conducted could point us to a better approach for doing research in science and other fields. And, in this seemingly post-truth world, it even hints at a way to settle some of our other conflicts with intellectual integrity.
The method is called adversarial collaboration. In science as in life, people usually have lots of theories about stuff. Logically, those can’t all be true at the same time. And yet many theories live on indefinitely in the safety of their intellectual silos. So the solution is to invite proponents of conflicting narratives to identify some point of contradiction that can be tested.
This notion isn’t totally new. In 1919, Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer, used a solar eclipse to test two conflicting theories — Isaac Newton’s notions about gravity and Albert Einstein’s on general relativity. (Einstein’s won). But there’s been no large-scale research of this kind with the active participation of dueling scientists.
The Templeton World Charity Foundation wants to change that. The nonprofit funds research on some of humanity’s biggest questions, especially those at the intersection of science and spirituality. That includes consciousness.
Several years ago, I was sitting on a flight to San Francisco, when my seatmate, a man a little older than me, struck up a conversation. Perhaps you hate it when that happens; I love it. In addition to being an extrovert, I’m a social scientist, so I’m always fascinated by what I can learn about people through conversations. Have you ever wanted to know how I come up with column topics? Now you know.
The man told me he was on his way home from seeing his family in Minnesota, where he had grown up. As an adult, he had pulled up stakes, left the bone-chilling winters behind, and moved to Northern California, where he had no connections at all. He raved about the professional opportunities and great weather where he now lived, comparing them favorably to the landlocked, snowy place in which he was raised.
Something in his words sounded tinny and hollow to me. I pondered this for a moment, and then asked him, “Do you ever miss Minnesota?” He didn’t answer for a minute or two, and looked away, and I noticed that his eyes had become shiny. Softly, he said, “Minnesota will always be my home.”
Perhaps you can relate to my seatmate: feeling out of place, and as though where you live is not truly your home. That might be especially true today, when so many people have been involuntarily displaced by the pandemic or are stuck in living situations not of their own choosing.
But this upheaval could also provide an opportunity. As the economy changes, and quarantine has revealed that many jobs can be performed remotely, you might find yourself with more geographic flexibility than you have had in a long time. If you’re uncomfortable with the status quo, this time when life has been paused might be just the impetus you need to make you consider a change of place. This year could be the chance for you to move to the place where your heart resides.
There is a word for love of a place: topophilia, popularized by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in 1974 as all of “the human being’s affective ties with the material environment.” In other words, it is the warm feelings you get from a place. It is a vivid, emotional, and personal experience, and it leads to unexplainable affections. One of my fellow Seattle natives made this point to me when he said he hated the rain in Boston but not Seattle. Why? “Only Seattle rain is nice.”
In his book A Reenchanted World, the sociologist James William Gibson defines topophilia as a spiritual connection, especially with nature. Oladele Ogunseitan, a microbiologist at the University of California at Irvine, demonstrates topophilia by showing that people are attracted to both objective and subjective—even unconscious—criteria. My friend’s affinity for the “Seattle rain” is probably fueled by what Ogunseitan calls “synesthetic tendency,” or the way particular, ordinary sensory perceptions affect our memory and emotions. If the smell of a fresh-cooked pie, the sound of a train whistle at night, or the feeling of a crisp autumn wind evokes a visceral memory of a particular place, you are experiencing a synesthetic tendency.
It is worth reflecting on your strongest positive synesthetic tendencies—and the place they remind you of. They are a good guide to your topophilic ideal, and thus an important factor to be aware of as you design a physical future in line with your happiness. It is notable that one of the world’s most famous happiness experts, Tal Ben-Shahar, left a teaching position at Harvard University several years ago, where he had created the university’s then-most-popular class, to return to his native Israel—because he felt the pull of his homeland.
Topophilia might not be associated with your childhood home, however. For me, all synesthetic tendencies take me not to Seattle but to Barcelona, the city where I lived in my 20s, where I got married, and the only place I have returned to year after year (except for 2020, due to the pandemic). In my life here in the United States, smells and sights will sometimes remind me of my neighborhood in Barcelona and the first home my wife and I shared there. The sound of the Catalan language (the native tongue of Barcelona, which I learned as a younger man) is like music to me.
Tony Rice could seemingly do it all: sing, compose, play spot-on rhythm. But it was his guitar solos that just astounded audiences and fellow musicians alike. He was idolized by bluegrass and acoustic music fans in large part because he was determined never to let them down.
David Anthony Rice was born in Danville, Va., on June 8, 1951. His father was a welder and the family moved to Los Angeles, where the youngster got into bluegrass. His first big influence was guitarist Clarence White and the Kentucky Colonels.
At the age of 19, Rice moved back East to play professionally, eventually joining banjo player J.D. Crowe’s band, the New South. In 1975, they released the landmark album, J.D. Crowe and the New South. Its progressive sounds marked a dramatic shift in bluegrass and the album became so iconic among fans that it was known simply by its record label catalogue number: Rounder 0044.
Tony Rice could seemingly do it all: sing, compose, play spot-on rhythm. But it was his guitar solos that just astounded audiences and fellow musicians alike. He was idolized by bluegrass and acoustic music fans in large part because he was determined never to let them down.
It was during this period that Rice first heard the music of mandolinist David Grisman, who was pushing boundaries even further. So Rice moved back to California to join Grisman’s Quintet in San Francisco. This is when the guitarist truly stepped out as a leading voice in new acoustic music. The musicians studied improvisation and chord theory with jazz guitarist John Carlini and Rice grew exponentially. (In 1995, the two released one of the most beautiful guitar duo albums ever recorded,
He eventually left Grisman to form the Tony Rice Unit, which played everything from jazz to bluegrass.
Hypnosis, now going virtual, is gaining more acceptance from doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs. But potential patients remain skeptical.
Betsy Morris | The Wall Street Journal
Kelley Cutler was deeply skeptical when she took part in a month-long pilot test of Reveri Health, a new digital hypnosis program, at Stanford University last year. The San Francisco social worker needed help quitting smoking, and only joined the program at her doctor’s urging.
“I was thinking it was nonsense and was never going to work,” says Ms. Cutler, 44, who had smoked for 25 years. Her first hypnosis session, which took place in person with a clinician, was so anxiety-producing that she had to have a cigarette afterward.
Reveri Health, one of a new generation of hypnosis programs and apps that make the practice easily accessible at home, then required her to take part in interactive, self-hypnosis sessions at home for a month. After two of the digital sessions, she was shocked to discover that she no longer felt like smoking. “The craving was really gone,” she says. “I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense.”
She hasn’t had a cigarette since. “This hypnosis is some crazy-ass voodoo,” she says. “And I mean that in a good way.”
Hypnosis is no longer considered crazy in the medical field, doctors say, but many patients, like Ms. Cutler, still are leery. The practice has increasingly gained acceptance in the medical community, and in the last two years, the research into how and why it works has accelerated, with new studies on the use of hypnosis to alleviate anxiety; ward off pain; and successfully inhibit the fear circuitry structures in the brain.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors have started to take notice, creating new apps that aim to popularize hypnosis in a similar way to meditation, which until recently was also considered fringe. A safer alternative to medications like opioids, hypnosis can be a helpful tool for combating the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, doctors and researchers say, especially as it can be done successfully via recording or over Zoom. But while many people are in need of stress relief right now, hypnosis still has a strong stigma that often prevents them from trying it.
“People either think it’s ridiculous or dangerous,” says David Spiegel, a clinical psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-founder of Reveri Health. “Because it’s hypnosis, people just don’t take it seriously.”
A charismatic pastor helped build a megachurch favored by star athletes and entertainers — until some temptations became too much to resist.
Ruth Graham | NYT
In the summer of 2017, the singer Justin Bieber abruptlycanceled the remainder of a concert tour that had taken him across six continents in 16 months. Mr. Bieber cited fatigue; his fans fretted. But on the tabloid website TMZ, a more hopeful narrative quickly emerged. The 23-year-old singer left the tour because he “rededicated his life to Christ” thanks to a pastor named Carl Lentz, leader of the New York City branch of the global megachurch Hillsong. The pastor and the pop star were inseparable, the gossip site reported. Two days later, the site reported that Mr. Bieber saw Mr. Lentz “as a 2nd father.”
That year Hillsong and Mr. Lentz became a fixture on TMZ, always in flattering items citing unnamed sources. One article reported that at Hillsong, “Justin worships in total peace, and at least feels he’s treated like a regular person.” In another, TMZ said it “got our hands on some video” of Mr. Lentz dunking a basketball in what appeared to be a near-empty gym. “If that doesn’t get you to church nothing will,” the site concluded.
To read the rest, click on the photo above (I had issues with embedding the link).
Establishing the First Centre in the World, Dedicated to all Things J.R.R. Tolkien
There is no centre devoted to Tolkien studies anywhere in the world – a remarkable fact considering the writer’s importance and continuing popularity. Purchasing Tolkien’s former home would be a fantastic place to establish such a Centre. An effort to do so is being undertaken by the cast of The Lord of the Rings movies.
If the former home is secured for Tolkien fans, it will be renovated so that guests can experience what it would probably have been like to call on the writer in 1940. Upstairs the bedrooms would reflect the depth of cultures that he invented and the garden would be restored to a beauty of which both Tolkien and Sam Gamgee would be proud.
People would then be able to be a guest at the Centre by booking into its program of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events, or by joining in virtually with an online program. – cPaul
Dec 2, 2020
Sir Ian McKellen, Annie Lennox, Martin Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Sir Derek Jacobi and Others Join with Author Julia Golding for Crowdfunding Effort to Try and Save J.R.R. Tolkien’s Famed House
Tolkien Fans Can Help Save 20 Northmoor Road Starting December 2!
OXFORD, ENGLAND (December 2, 2020) – Ian McKellen, Annie Lennox, Martin Freeman, John Rhys- Davies, Sir Derek Jacobi and a host of others have joined with award-winning author Julia Golding to launch a crowdfunding campaign to try and save 20 Northmoor Road, the Oxford house in which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in advance of its being put on the market for sale.
The initiative, Project Northmoor, aims to purchase the house and set up a literary center in honor of Tolkien, one of the most beloved literary writers of the Twentieth Century.
McKellen, the famed actor who earned an Oscar nomination for his role as wizard Gandalf in the 2001 film, The Fellowship of the Rings, is helping to gather a new fellowship of funders to purchase the house. The crowdfunding campaign begins on December 2nd at www.projectnorthmoor.org.
To kick off the project, McKellen and a host of celebrities and others associated with the Tolkien universe have come together for a special video, to launch here – also on December 2. Appearing the video are music legend Annie Lennox (who wrote and performed the Oscar winning theme “Into the West,” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Emmy Awarding-winning actor Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy), actor John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Sir Derek Jacobi (Tolkien, Farmer Giles of Ham), and illustrator John Howe (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit). Other notables including Lord Rowan Williams of Oystermouth (a former Archbishop of Canterbury), Joseph Loconte (author of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and the Great War), Chris Broadway (aka Quickbeam, TheOneRing.net), and more.
The period house, which is an hour’s drive from London, is largely unchanged since it was built in 1924. It features six large bedrooms upstairs, one bedroom on the ground floor and a spacious garden. The Tolkien family moved there in 1930 and stayed there for 17 years, during which time JRR Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and where he also hosted C.S. Lewis.
With the support of volunteers in the U.S., Golding has seized on this once-in-a-generation opportunity and negotiated a 3-month fundraising window with the current owner. The aim is to buy it using crowdfunding to include Tolkien fans from around the world. The funding target is $6 million USD ($4.5m pounds), of which $5.3 million USD is to pay for the house. The remainder will go to the necessary renovations to comply with building regulations, start-up costs of the charity, with additional funds going towards developing the literary programs. The operation will be financially self-sustaining once established.
“To raise six million dollars in three months is a huge challenge,” says Golding. “However, we need only to look at Frodo and Sam’s journey from Rivendell to Mount Doom, which took that same amount of time – and we are inspired that we can do this too!”
“We cannot achieve this without the support of the worldwide community of Tolkien fans, our fellowship of funders,” said Ian McKellen.
As a charitable venture, the mission of Project Northmoor is to promote Tolkien’s work, allow a diverse range of fantasy writers and artists to come together to write, learn and create, and preserve the fascinating house for future generations to enjoy. The facility would also have an engaging online presence to bring into the house’s programme those who cannot travel to Oxford.
“Unbelievably, considering his importance, there is no centre devoted to Tolkien anywhere in the world,” said John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played both Gimli and Treebeard in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. “The vision is to make Tolkien’s house into a literary hub that will inspire new generations of writers, artists and filmmakers for many years to come.”
Fans may donate to the Project Northmoor crowdfunding campaign at: www.projectnorthmoor.org, starting December 2 and going through March 15, 2021. If the campaign to purchase the house is successful, donors will have an array of benefits: from having their name listed in the Red Book of funders that will sit in Tolkien’s study, to being invited to VIP events and even overnight stays – depending on the level of donation.
To donate or for more information: www.projectnorthmoor.org
For interviews please contact: Chris Roslan Roslan & Associates Public Relations (212) 966-4600 ext 101 email@example.com
In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel “Station Eleven,” survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic do their best to rebuild their lives in northern Michigan. Some of them build an apocalyptic cult premised on the idea that the epidemic was a judgment from God that spared those who were worthy. One of the characters, Tyler Leander, takes the title of “prophet” and builds a militant, Christian-infused apocalyptic movement – a movement that in the book, of course, fails.
A similar strand of “prophetic” Christianity is alive and well in America, and we, too, are in the midst of a pandemic that with an ever-increasing death toll could easily be described in apocalyptic terms. Further, as I have written before, President Donald Trump certainly seems like he is the apocalyptic figure that evangelicals are looking for, and his personal failings fit into a preexisting Christian apocalyptic framework. But as I look around, waiting to see our own Leander emerge from the ranks of Trump’s evangelical supporters, it’s apparent that none of them are showing up. It’s not like apocalyptic preachers don’t have plenty of apocalyptic events to choose from this year if the coronavirus isn’t sufficient: murder hornets in the Pacific Northwest; a derecho of unimaginable strength in Iowa; wildfires raging across the western half of the country, a strain of avian flu – separate from the coronavirus – found in a turkey farm in South Carolina, hastily suppressed. If none of these portends the apocalypse for today’s evangelicals, it isn’t the events themselves or the eschatological theology that’s stopping them from taking them that way – it’s what interpreting them in such terms would mean. Simply put, the pandemic is not the apocalypse they are looking for.
The Trump administration has left its apocalyptically inclined evangelical allies in an eschatological bind: They have an apocalyptic leader and an apocalyptic scenario, but they themselves are fully in power . . . or at least they have been. According to evangelical teaching, the apocalypse traditionally begins with a time of persecution of the true church – at which point, the Four Horsemen, of whom one may be Pestilence, emerge. If the pandemic is apocalyptic, in evangelical thought, it is part of the “Great Tribulation.” But for that to come about, an ungodly ruler must be in power, which means if the moment we’re living through is the “Great Tribulation,” Trump is not the apocalyptic hero but one of the villains – and they are following the wrong leader. That could, of course, all change once Biden’s victory is finally and irrevocably clear. But for the time being, these assumptions speak to the relative absence of apocalyptic alarm among evangelicals – and, perhaps, help explain their reluctance to take the pandemic seriously.
The last great disease outbreak that became presidential news before 2020 was the horrific Ebola outbreak in 2014, where Trump accused the president of being a “psycho” for not stopping flights, and Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s most ardent evangelical defenders, wrote a book claiming that ISIS and Ebola were the countdown to the apocalypse. He wasn’t the only one who linked Ebola and apocalypse together: Franklin Graham, another Trump supporter, wrote that the Ebola outbreak was a sign of the end times; the writer Sharon K. Gilbert, who appears to be supportive of Trump, wrote the nonfiction “Ebola and the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse,” linking it to Revelation 6:8: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Even more directly, James Hagee, another Trump supporter, said that Ebola was God’s punishment for Obama’s “dividing Jerusalem.”
If a horrific – but limited – outbreak in Africa in 2014 under President Barack Obama, the first Black president of this country, was an apocalyptic event, certainly a global pandemic whose global death toll now numbers well over a million should qualify as well. But the idea of Christian apocalypse relies on a narrative of degeneracy. The world is so bad that it can only be redeemed by a millennial transformation through, say, cataclysmic warfare, or a society-ending pandemic, or whatever other apocalyptic event strikes the imminent eschatological fancy – something many modern evangelicals continue to focus on. Ebola certainly seemed to fit the bill. Covid-19 of course fits it even better. But Trump’s evangelical allies have subjugated theology to partisanship.
What apocalypticism we did get in the lead-up to the election was muted, at best. Pat Robertson claimed Trump would be reelected, and this would lead to war and the End Times, with no mention of covid-19. John Hagee claimed the coronavirus was a deliberate plot, with China, the media and liberal politicians supposedly conspiring to make it an issue to hurt Trump in November. We got the bizarre, incorrect predictions of QAnon and their never-coming “Storm” – and now Q has effectively accepted Trump’s loss, seeming to suggest it, too, is part of the “plan.” And we got a new wave of “Patriot Churches,” embracing the notion of Christian Nationalism and connecting it explicitly to Trump. We did not get a widespread narrative of the pandemic as the apocalypse.
Donald Trump pulled 75 percent to 80 percent of evangelical voters in 2020, according to early AP analysis. The rhetoric of spiritual warfare, of holy war, of sacral violence, is mostly being channeled into the false claim that Trump won the election – but in service of specifically Trumpian talking points, with Christian rhetoric being guided by partisan ideology rather than theological aims. Terri Pearsons, for example, called on God to cause Democratic legislators to switch parties to give the GOP control and hand the election to Trump, saying, “And I’m asking you to strip Nancy Pelosi of her position there and reduce that majority to a minority, in the name of Jesus. We ask you, and we agree together and declare that the House becomes a majority of righteous representation.” Trump’s Pentecostal allies weighed in, with Stephen Strang discussing “the massive voter fraud that seems to have taken place” and a “great war in the Spirit” to come and Paula White engaging in “spiritual warfare” to win the election on Nov. 4 then in a second service on Nov. 5 claiming the agendas against Trump’s reelection are of the Antichrist, against God’s “chosen king.” There are myriad other examples – George Pearsons talking about God intervening on Trump’s behalf, Eric Metaxas tweeting about divine retribution on “those who cheated,” Pastor Greg Locke tweeting about “evil elitists steal[ing] our election,” Kenneth Copeland leading a service laughing at length at the concept of Biden being president, and Michele Bachmann praying “Smash the delusion, Father, of Joe Biden as our president – he is not.”
It is only now that the results are clear – if still rhetorically contested – that the language of Trump’s allies can return to the eschatological. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, responded to an interviewed asking him why God would allow Trump to lose by saying, “it could be that Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris are a judgment of God on the United States.” Robert Jeffress, Trump’s stalwart ally, finally published an opinion piece entitled “Biden is president-elect – how should Christians respond?” In it, he writes, “Now, it’s always easier to submit and to pray for someone when he was our preferred candidate. But the rubber really meets the road when the person who takes office is not the one we supported. Paul didn’t give us any wiggle room – his command applies all the same, whether the emperor was the faith-friendly Constantine or the evil emperor Nero.” With that last note, linking Joe Biden to Nero, Jeffress pivots back to apocalypticism. Nero is seen as the first persecutor of Christianity, and in Late Antiquity had already been given an apocalyptic image of Antichrist. This remains a contemporary evangelical idea, of Nero as an Antichrist, with more to come. Now that Trump has lost, let the apocalypse recommence.
Ultimately, though, it remains the case that evangelical preachers have primarily been deploying the language of partisan rhetoric in the guise of Christianity, tempering and transforming their most ardent beliefs in the process. Why was the coronavirus not the apocalypse Ebola was? Because Trump said over and over again that it was not a crisis. If it was, they would have to take it seriously, split with Trump, and close their churches – which they will not do. The coronavirus is not the crisis they are waiting for – the crisis is what happens when the politician to whom you’ve harnessed your theology to loses. Just as Trump refuses to acknowledge his electoral defeat, that’s not something his evangelical allies are ready to deal with yet.
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Thomas Lecaque is an assistant professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.