If for any reason you’ve recently been feeling complacent about global security, international relations and oh, you know, little things like the continued existence of the species, here to herald the end of all that comes Tonje Hessen Schei and Michael Rowley’s “Praying for Armageddon,” a glossy, persuasive and increasingly alarming documentary exposing the influence of the fundamentalist Christian lobby on US politics.
Loosely tracking the investigative sleuthing done by Lee Fang, a reporter at The Intercept, but also taking ample time with parachurch pastors, GOP politicians, Israeli and Palestinian observers and Mission: M25 — an evangelical biker gang who traverse the country on compact-car-sized motorcycles proselytizing and occasionally knighting one another with swords — Schei and co-director/cinematographer Rowley’s film can feel a little scattershot, as it lops off one of the Hydra heads of this malign movement, only for two or three more to sprout in its place.
However, the core thesis is abundantly, horribly clear: there are a growing number of people in positions of major power in US politics and broader society who are actively working to bring about the end of the world as we know it. It does not feel fine. While the definition of a Christian fundamentalist is someone who believes every word of the bible to be literally true, this bunch only ever seem interested in Revelations — as if the Good Book is a thriller and, impatient to see whodunnit, they went immediately to its last chapter, never bothering with the mellower stuff about turning cheeks and loving neighbors.
First off, we’re on the road with Mission: M25 leader Gary Burd, as he speeds through middle America to get to Lebanon, Kansas, the geographical epicenter of the U.S. Much of the extreme Christian right’s dogma accords deep significance to geographical or linguistic coincidences, such as the pastor who claims to his impressed congregation that “Bible” stands for “Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.” Like so much in “Praying for Armageddon,” it’s tempting to find such assertions laughable, until you remember that underestimating a political entity, on the basis of them being outlandish and easily ridiculed, hasn’t worked out so well in recent years. Zealotry will find evidence for itself everywhere. When Burd crashes his motorcycle and nearly misses the Lebanon gathering, the crash is not seen as a sign from God that he shouldn’t continue; his recovery, rather, is deemed divine proof that he absolutely should.
Burd suggests the embrace of Doomsday thinking is a reaction against the uncertainty of the times. “We’re moving into a time in our history when we don’t know what is going to happen,” he states. It’s one of those emptily ahistorical rhetorical statements that make little sense: When have we, as a nation or a species, ever known what was going to happen? But it’s no more nonsensical than Lauren Boebart proclaiming, when Fang doorsteps her in D.C., that “There are only two nations built to honor God: Israel and the U.S.A.,” or Ralph Drollinger, who ran the weekly White House Bible Study Group during the Trump administration, claiming the times are currently “alive with demonic powers once hidden.” Fang gets clarification on what those demons are, exactly: “The homosexual movement, the transgender [sic] back in our military, the abortion issue.”
But a crusade against progressive social ideals is to be expected from the extreme Christian right. (“Crusade” being a good example of a term that before might have been merely a colorful euphemism, but after “Praying For Armageddon” starts to be suspicious, a potential fundamentalist dogwhistle embedded in plain sight.) What is so much more frightening is how insidiously they are influencing geopolitics, specifically as it pertains to Israel, in order to create the conditions that favor Armageddon (predicted to occur on a large wide plain near Meggido, in the north of the country). Recent developments, such as Trump’s installation of a U.S. military base in Israel, are implied to be part of this master plan, and have certainly escalated tensions in the region. Footage of devastating airstrikes on Palestinian civilian dwellings proves that when you believe your mission is divine, you have no need to be humane.
Televangelist Pastor Robert Jeffress, a regular pundit for Fox News and head of one the nation’s largest parachurches, is one of Fang’s most fascinating interviews, mostly because of the serene, avuncular manner in which he assures us that “the end of the world is nothing to fear.” For those us averse to the idea, however, “Praying for Armageddon” is a compelling, sobering Revelation all its own, revealing the hitherto unimagined scale of a type of political insanity that would entrust the future to people who don’t want there to be a future at all.
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