Book review: Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession
by Robert Fuller
Will the Antichrist never quit dogging us?
This is a fascinating peek into America’s obsession with the Antichrist, from the time of our founding as a nation until today. While the Bible speaks of antichrists in only two short books–First and Second John–and while these passages refer only to people who have already lived, fundamentalist churches 2,000 years later still anticipate the arrival of a demonic force akin to Revelation’s Beast of the Sea. This “Antichrist” may take the form of an organization, like the Catholic Church, or a person, like Mussolini, depending upon whoever is in the news at the time. In latter times, the Antichrist has been discovered in computers, bar codes, rock music and the Susan B. Anthony coin.
Fuller is an oft-published professor of religious studies at Bradley University, and his writing style is precise and engaging. He carries us through dozens of America’s apocalyptic enemies, so-named the Antichrist by vigilant stalkers of the Beast, going clear back to King George III in 1777. Yankees, Masons, liberals, communists, Catholics, unions, feminists, socialists, modernists, few people have escaped demonization by various clergy in the cosmic war of good versus evil. Popes, world leaders, diplomats and too-liberal preachers are identified by name. Just wars are fought under the banner of God, spurred by apocalyptic lyrics such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Entire nations are portrayed as evil empires, even from the presidential pulpit, compared to the “Gog” of Ezekiel and Revelation. Charles Taylor solved the sinister mystery of Gog: Gromkyo, Ogarkov and Gorbachev, with that birthmark on the latter’s head surely disclosing his beastly identity.
Beware anyone preaching tolerance, advocating pluralism, striving for universal brotherhood, saving the whales, or hoping for world peace. Fuller rightfully observes in the final line of his book that “this relentless obsession with the Antichrist appears to have done more to forestall than to signal the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth.”
Written before the turn of the century, Fuller’s book surely struck a chord with readers mystified by the manic draw of the millennium end. At the time, over half of adult Americans expected the imminent return of Jesus, accompanied by the fulfillment of cataclysmic biblical prophecies including the appearance of Revelation’s Beast. The whole obsession would be comical to me, had it died before my own lifetime, but when Fuller got to the 70’s the tone turned somber. I remember the panic over communism, the demonization of Kissinger, and Gorbachev’s antichristic delusion that peace was possible. I remember counting the letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan to reach 666. I remember when Greece became the tenth member of the EEC, completing the ten horns of Revelation’s beast. Had the rediculousness ended with the printing of 2001 calendars, I could write it all off as the nonsense of a prior age, but it hasn’t. Our newest president has far and wide been the subject of this same religious madness.
The Antichrist may never fade away, but thank goodness for reasonable studies like this one to help us understand and cope with this odd cultural phenomenon in the United States. A must read.
Oxford University Press, © 1995, 232 pages