Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison. Heinrich Heine, Augsberg Gazette, 1842
When I was in about grade four, there was a story on the front page of our local newspaper, with the headline The World will end Tomorrow.
It was a spoof article, discussing the predictions of a man who used numerology to calculate that our end was not just near, but imminent. (That was about 45 years ago).
I remember my dad reading parts of it out loud, and laughing between the paragraphs. But not everyone found it funny.
At school the next day, our 'lay' teacher, (I use the term because I attended a Catholic school, where the teachers were mostly nuns) began to prepare us for the end of days. Literally.
She had us clean out our desks and began telling us horrendous tales. The only one I remember had something to do with the Communists coming to put sticks through our tongues.
My parents weren't the only ones to visit the school the next day, and that teacher was immediately removed.
But what I remember most about that incident, was her genuine fear. She had lived in Holland under the Nazis, and it clearly left scars.
Fear can be a very powerful motivator. It helped to keep George Bush in office and it's made a lot of so-called Evangelists very rich. But it also brought William Aberhart, the founder of the movement now spearheaded by Stephen Harper, to power.
William "Bible Bill" Aberhart and the Politics of Fear
When you read stories of William Aberhart, founder of the Canadian Social Credit movement, that bred the new Conservative Party of Canada, you might wonder how he was able to not only gain power but hold onto it for so long. His views were pretty extreme and he kept none of his promises.
It was fear and the need to find a saviour who would make it go away.
The University of Alberta describes the times on their history site:
It was a made to order, catastrophic world, just waiting for the man who Time magazine referred to then as the 'Messiah' (1). According to author and journalist Gordon Laird:
Alberta’s drought in the early 1920s paled in comparison to Alberta’s 1930s Armageddon-like world. Drought, hordes of grasshopper infestations, wind storms, and fires left much of southern Alberta a barren landscape. When rain did fall, the eroded or fire-scorched land could not absorb the water, which caused major flooding. People abandoned their homes. Towns disappeared. People living hand-to-mouth were on the move.
In both the 192os and the 1930s, people who preached cure-all salvation were also firmly wed to the idea of apocalypse. Just as Aberhart continually warned lapsed Christians they would "be left behind at the Rapture to face the branding irons of the Antichrist," evangelicals of all stripes develop a symbiotic relationship with crisis, real and imagined. And crisis tends to legitimize authority and inhibit questioning. As previous puritanical movements have proven, the proposed solutions to a crisis are often worse than the original problem. (2)"Bible Bill's" radio broadcasts were a mixture of righteous indignation and end of times prophesy, that found a growing audience of those looking for salvation, in both heaven and on earth.
And Aberhart's warnings came from on high. Well not really from on high, but from a man by the name of Cyrus Scofield.
Bill had taken Scofield's correspondence Bible study course, based on his immensely popular Reference Bible. According to Wikipedia: It was largely through the influence of Scofield's notes that dispensationalism and premillennialism became influential among fundamentalist Christians in the United States.
And one of those fundamentalist Christians, who like Aberhart, follow Scofield's words to the letter; is John Hagee.
Fast Forward to Stephen Harper and the Politics of Fear
When the Reform Party was just a glint in Preston Manning's eye, he studied the success of William Aberhart, and referred to the Social Credit movement as:
As Manning's disciple, Stephen Harper also tapped into the success of the movement, as a means to gaining and holding onto power, based in a large part on blind faith.
... the political equivalent of a prairie fire. It's generic name is "democratic populism" and faith in it's potential lies at the heart of my own political life and the formation of the Reform Party of Canada. (3)
And according to Marcie McDonald, author of the book The Armageddon Factor, when he was speaking at the Civitas Society:
... he outlined plans for a broad new party coalition that would ensure a lasting hold on power. The only route, he argued, was to focus not on the tired wish list of economic conservatives or “neo-cons,” as they’d become known, but on what he called “theo-cons”—those social conservatives who care passionately about hot-button issues that turn on family, crime, and defence ...Arguing that the party had to come up with tough, principled stands on everything from parents’ right to spank their children to putting “hard power” behind the country’s foreign-policy commitments ..." (4)And it wouldn't be long before that "hard power" promise would be put to the test: According to Dennis Gruending, when speaking of Pastor John Hagee (the modern day voice of Cyrus Scofield), and his Canadian counterpart Charles McVety:
When hostilities broke out between Israel and groups in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, he [McVety] emerged as the Canadian chair of a group called Christians United for Israel, an offshoot of the Christians United for Israel - America. That organization included prominent evangelicals such as the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as well as Reverend John Hagee. He is a prominent Texas televangelist and author of Jerusalem Countdown, a book predicting that the world will soon end in Armageddon.So if you try to view Harper's actions through a conservative lens, you might find them confusing. But if you view them through the eyes of William Aberhart and the original Social Credit movement, you would see that they are based on the principles of the original crusade.
Hagee was guest speaker at an Israel support rally that McVety organized at his college in Toronto. At about the same time McVety also appeared on television news to say that that the fighting in Lebanon created conditions that resembled end times as predicted in the Bible. (The belief in end times is common among Christian reconstructionists).
McVety made common cause with several Canadian Jewish organizations lobbying the Harper government to take a pro-Israel position in the conflict. The prime minister did not disappoint, when he described an Israeli campaign that took 1,000 Lebanese lives as a “measured response” to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.
Gordon Laird stated that: Just as Aberhart continually warned lapsed Christians they would "be left behind at the Rapture to face the branding irons of the Antichrist," evangelicals of all stripes develop a symbiotic relationship with crisis, real and imagined.
Another rapture-ready modern day prophet, with ties to Stephen Harper is Tim LaHaye. In fact much of the current dispensationalist belief comes from a series of books he co-authored as the 'Left Behind" chronicles.
LaHaye is also one of the founders of the Council for National Policy, where Harper delivered his 'I really hate Canada' speech in 1997.
A person's religious beliefs are private, and have no bearing on whether or not they can be a member of our government. However, when that person tries to govern from the old testament, and works to accelerate prophesies, then we have a problem. As Marcie MacDonald asks:
Do we really want to wait to find out?
What does it mean if and when a believer in the infallibility of Biblical prophecy comes to power and backs a damn-the-torpedoes course in the Middle East? Does it end up fuelling overenthusiastic end-timers who feel they have nothing to lose in some future conflagration, helping speed the world on Hagee’s fast track to Armageddon? (4)
1. Messiah, Major, Money, Times Magazine, September 2, 1935
2. Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, pg. 44
3. The New Canada, Preston Manning, 1992, MacMillan Canada, ISBN: 0-7715-9150-0, pg. 6
4. Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right, Walrus Magazine, October 2006