Apocalypticism: The belief in an approaching confrontation,
cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which
a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations.
From a Greek root word suggesting unveiling hidden information or revealing
secret knowledge about unfolding human events. The dualist or demonized version
involves a final show-down struggle between absolute good and absolute
evil. In Christianity there are competing apocalyptic prophetic traditions
based on demonization or liberation. Central to Christianity, the tradition
also exists in Judaism, Islam, and other religions and secular belief
structures. Believers can be passive or active in anticipation; and optimistic
or pessimistic about the outcome. Sometimes used similarly to the term
Millennialism: A sense of expectation that a significant epochal
transformation is imminent, marking either the end of a thousand year
period, or signal its beginning, or both. Two major forms of millennialist
response are passive waiting versus activist intervention. Can involve
varying degres of apocalypticism. In Christianity, the idea that the
Second Coming of Christ marks a thousand year period.
Aggressive Apocalypticism: The merger of conspiracism with apocalypticism often generates aggressive forms of dualism. Apocalyptic Aggression occurs when demonized scapegoats are targeted as enemies of the “common good,” a dynamic that can lead to discrimination and attacks.
How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence
Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism
by Chip Berlet
This extensive overview provides an introduction to the way in which
apocalypticism and millennialism influence a variety of right-wing
political and social movements, especially in the United States. If
you are looking for an explanation of why so many on the Christian
Right are so strong in their support of the state of Israel and its
policies, this is a good place to start.
Read the article
Articles of Interest
The Left Behind Series
Official webpage: http://www.leftbehind.com/
Off-site articles written on the series
If premillennialists are waiting for the Rapture, why should they
bother getting involved in secular politics?
In 1980 Tim LaHaye published
a book, The Battle for the Mind, which amplified
humanism articulated by popular theologian Francis A. Schaeffer.
The LaHaye book is dedicated to Schaeffer (1980, p. 5).
LaHaye writes in a chapter entitled "Is a Humanist Tribulation
Necessary?" that the "seven-year tribulation period will
be a time that features the rule of the anti-Christ over the world." LaHaye
explains that this "tribulation is predestined and will surely
come to pass." LaHaye claims there is another potential period
of tribulation, however, that he dubs the “pre-tribulation tribulation—that
is, the tribulation that will engulf this country if liberal secular
humanists are permitted to take control of our government—it
is neither predestined nor necessary. But it will deluge the entire
land in the next few years, unless Christians are willing to become
much more assertive in defense of morality and decency than they have
been during the past three decades."
LaHaye warns that adultery, pornography, and homosexuality "are
rampant" and reminds readers of "Dr. [Francis] Schaeffer’s
warning that humanism always leads to chaos" (1980, pp. 217-218).
More about Schaeffer and LaHaye:
Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell,
1980). Dedicated to Francis Schaeffer.
Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Public Schools: Humanism’s Threat
to our Children, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1983).
Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Family, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1982).
Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, revised, (Westchester,
IL: Crossway Books,  1982).
Francis A. Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to
the Human Race? Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1979)
Theory of Apocalypticism
and Millennial Pinball with Y2K
Shapes Survivalism in the US Christian Right, Patriot
and Armed Militia Movements, and Far Right
of Apocalyptic Outcomes
Critique of the FBI and ADL Reports
Studies of apocalyptic millennialism, demonization,
Paul Boyer. 1992. When Time Shall Be No More:
Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge,
MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.
Stephen D. O’Leary. 1994. Arguing the Apocalypse:
A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. New
York: Oxford University Press.
Charles B. Strozier. 1994. Apocalypse:
On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America.
Boston: Beacon Press.
Robert C. Fuller. 1995. Naming the Antichrist:
The History of an American Obsession.
New York: Oxford University Press.
By Christian critics
Dale Aukerman. 1993. Reckoning with Apocalypse:
Terminal Politics and Christian Hope. New York: Crossroad.
Gregory S. Camp, 1997. Selling Fear:
Conspiracy Theories and End–Times Paranoia.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Richard Abanes. 1998. End-Time Visions:
The Road to Armageddon? New York:
Four Walls Eight Windows.
Paul Thigpen. 2001. The Rapture Trap:
A Catholic Response to a Deceptive
Doctrine. West Chester, PA: Ascension
More extensive Bibliographies
Apocalyptic, Conspiracist, Populist, and Racist Texts -
Visit the Center for Millennial Studies
to Revelation, Apocalyptic and Millennial Websites and Materials
by Prof. Felix Just, S.J. - Loyola Marymount University
Frontline - The Apocalypse
End Times as a Growth Industry
A reading list by Chip Berlet for Frontline
Apocalyptic Millennialism: An Overview
What do the Heaven's Gate suicides, the Weaver family shootout, the Branch
Davidian conflagration, the Montana Freeman standoff, terrorism against
reproductive health clinics, armed militias, theocratic sectors of the
Christian Right, and attacks on gay rights have in common?
The apocalyptic worldview in the US is greatly influenced by religious
and secular interpretations of the prophecies in the Biblical book
of Revelation about the coming of a new millennium. Fundamentalist
Christians expect that the end of time is preceded by a cataclysmic
battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. When evil
is vanquished, true believers enter a Millennium of peace and harmony
under God's rule. This period marks the return of Christ.
The prophecies in Revelation have been adapted by many other spiritual
and secular philosophers and movements. Popular culture, including films
such as Rambo, Mad Max, the Terminator series, and Red
Dawn, reinterpret the vision while obscuring its origins. The film Apocalypse
Now and the TV series Millennium name the myth while secularizing
and mainstreaming it as a paradigm. Law enforcement abuse of power against
the Branch Davidian's in Waco, Texas and other dissidents creates cascading
echoes of apocalypse throughout the society.
The Heaven's Gate group merged prophetic themes with the dynamic of
manipulative demagoguery in the setting of a totalitarian group with
a charismatic leader. Three roots of key prophetic visions in the Heaven's
Gate group came from:
The Christian Bible, especially the book of Revelation.
The prophecies of Nostradamus.
A common science fiction theme is the idea that more advanced life forms
and beings with higher consciousness arriving from outer space will visit
Earth and select humans for travel or transformation. Some of the ideas
propounded by the Heaven's Gate group seem borrowed from this genre.
A typical example would be the book Childhood's End by respected
science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Many people in the UFO movement
embrace these fictional ideas as fact.
The Prophecies of Nostradamus
Nostradamus was a sixteenth century prophet who utilized astrological charts
and visions to write a pre-history of the world making predictions about
world events centuries in advance. The language is obscure and ambiguous,
with many published commentaries claiming to unravel their meaning. One
major prediction was the arrival of a great comet. Examples of commentaries
currently available include Henry C. Roberts (updated by Robert Lawrence), The
Complete Prophesies of Nostradamus, 1994 (1947); Stefan Paulus, Nostradamus
1999: Who Will Survive [A Comet is Hurtling Toward Earth...], 1997;
and Jean-Charles de Fontbrune, Nostradamus: Countdown to Apocalypse,
1985 (1983). A contemporary version of the comet prophecy is Tom Kay, When
the Comet Runs: Prophecies for the New Millennium, published in February
The Christian Bible & the Book of Revelation
The roots of a remarkable number of myths, metaphors, images, symbols,
phrases, and icons used by many mass movements are contained in the few
pages of prophecy in Revelation. The themes in Revelation influence diverse
current right wing movements such as the new Christian electoral right,
Protestant and Catholic theocratic groups, survivalism, the patriot and
armed militia movement, Christian patriot constitutionalists, and the Christian
Identity religion. While not all practitioners of Christian Identity embrace
racism and naked antisemitism, many believe there are two races on the
planet, with White Christians having a more advanced status eligible for
the rapture. This is the view of Aryan Nations, for instance. An offshoot
of Christian Identity is Dualism, preached by the late Aryan Nations supporter,
Bob Miles, who believed that White Christians were seeded by an advanced
alien race from outer space. The vast majority of practicing Christians
reject these interpretations, and the First Amendment guarantees the right
of fundamentalists Christians, and all spiritual and ethical movements,
to hold their beliefs without interference. How to defend the right to
hold beliefs while protecting society from actions that are harmful will
be a challenge as we approach the new millennium.
There are six key ways the predictions of Revelation influence popular
Omens and Signs of the Times
Revelation predicts the beginning of the end times will start a series
of signs warning that judgment is at hand. Believers watch for the signs
of the times and seek significance and meaning in natural events such
as comets, meteorite showers, alignment of stars and planets, floods,
earthquakes, volcanoes, crop failures, etc. The Branch Davidians believed
the end times were approaching and were studying the meaning of the seven
wax seals on a scroll mentioned in Revelation.
Apocalyptic Doomsday Cataclysm
Revelation predicts the end times will include great apocalyptic tribulations
and the wrath of God, causing much destruction including famine, natural
disasters, and plague. Believers prepare for the chaos of these times
in different ways. Some expect all is pre-ordained and they can do nothing
but live out their fate, others prepare for the hard times ahead, collecting
food and water, fortifying their homes, buying guns, and even moving
into communities of other believers for mutual protection. This is the
basis for the survivalist movement, and what motivated the Weaver family
and the Montana Freemen to withdraw to isolated locations.
Subversion and Countersubversion
Revelation predicts the betrayal of humankind by a world leader who unites
all nations in the end times before being exposed as Satan's agent. There
will also be a false prophet who spreads a global religion that supports
the world leader. In response, believers look for treason and subversion,
paying special attention to those who call for world cooperation and
international intervention by groups such as the United Nations. The
idea of a global communist menace was frequently seen as proof that the
Antichrist was based in the Soviet Union...the evil empire. This is the
basis for the Star Wars trilogy. It is also partly the basis for the
Montana Freeman rejecting government authority, and is influential in
many, though not all, armed militia groups.
Armageddon and Holy War
Revelation predicts a great final battle between good and evil with troops
clashing on the plains of Armageddon in the Middle East. Some believers
are preparing for this battle. Some have already fired the first shots.
Reign and Rule
Revelation predicts the faithful will experience a millennium of living
in God's kingdom, the new Jerusalem. Some say Christ will return at the
beginning to reign and rule, but others argue that the godly must reign
and rule for one thousand years before Christ returns. Believers argue
it is their duty to attack the forces of evil and clean up secular society
to prepare for the return of the Lord. Much of the violence against reproductive
rights clinics and attacks on gay rights is based on this interpretation.
These ideas are called dominion theology, with its most theocratic and
authoritarian version called Christian Reconstructionism.
Transcendent Ascension and Rapture
Revelation predicts that some of the faithful will be "raptured" by God
in a transformational ascension into the heavens where they will miss
some or all of the tribulations on earth. Some millennialist movements
in the past have set the date for the rapture, and some have even sold
their possessions and waited on mountaintops for the rapture to free
them from their earthy bodies.
The Choice is Ours
The millennium provides an opportunity for society to engage in a process
of renewal and reconciliation, as well as an opportunity for demagogues,
bigots, paranoids, and charlatans to spread messages of division and destruction.
If a totalitarian group turns outward its members can engage in scapegoating
with the most extreme outcome being homicide. If a totalitarian group turns
inward its members can engage in scapegoating with the most extreme outcome
being suicide. In a society where inequality and injustice is creating
deep divisions and tensions, we need constructive ways to channel anger
and alienation toward demands for social change rather than apocalyptic
withdrawal or aggression. In societies suffering from economic and social
stress, backlash movements take several form: racial or ethnic nationalism;
religious fundamentalism or spiritual alternative; and right-wing populism
and conspiracist scapegoating. These forms can blend and interact.
The more we all discuss the issues of millennial expectation, apocalyptic
thinking, and scapegoating, the more likely the outcome will be positive
rather than negative.
--Chip Berlet, 3/31/97
Scapegoating & Conspiracism
Ok to download, copy & print:
Please read our Terms & Conditions for
downloading, copying, printing, & linking.