A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
The collective eye-roll over Sen. John McCain’s religious campaign ad attacking Obama’s supposedly grand ego truly misses the point. While many are able to find a laugh in the idea that Obama was sent to the Earth by the devil, there are frightening numbers of people who may be buying into the idea.
McCain’s seemingly innocuous ad called “The One” received a fair amount of media coverage. ABC News, The New York Times, and others derided the ad for “mocking” Obama as “Messianic.” A McCain spokesperson picked up on this, passing off the ad as a kind of TGIF moment:
“Our intention to use a little bit of humor. I think campaigns can be mind-numbingly boring and brutal without a little bit of humor, so we’re proud to use a little bit of humor at the end of the week, especially on a Friday.”
Bruce Wilson, co-founder of TalkToAction.org, a Web site dedicated to “analyzing and discussing” the religious right, was not amused.
While the media dutifully pointed out that the quotes from Obama used in the McCain campaign ad were actually jokes taken out of context, they failed to acknowledge the religious subgroup for which the ad was created.
In an analysis of the ad, Time Magazine got a little closer to the mark, pointing out the religious imagery with some degree of alarm. The article draws parallels between the ad and an underground Internet campaign to portray Obama as the Antichrist. The article also highlights language used in the ad similar to that of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in the Left Behind book series, written about a modern time manifestation of the Book of Revelations. In the wildly popular series, the Antichrist comes in the form of Nicolae Carpathia, a worldly junior Senator who enjoys widespread popularity and preaches an ethos of peace and world unity.
For those in the know, however, McCain’s ad reaches even further into popular eschatology, or theories about the end of the world. While Left Behind is popular and well-known, it is somewhat more sanitized than Rev. John Hagee’s version of the rapture. Head of the Texas-based Cornerstone Church, Hagee is also widely recognized as a leader in “dispensational Christianity,” a modern platform for explaining the existence of evil in an end-of-times narrative.
Hagee endorsed McCain in early 2008. Months later, McCain was forced to renounce the support of the televangelist, when some controversial sermons were publicized in which he said, among other things, that God sent Hitler to help the Jews release the promised land. McCain did not, however, return campaign donations from Hagee, and some posit that Hagee’s advice is reaching McCain though surrogates.
Key in both Hagee’s narrative and McCain’s campaign ad is the role of light and darkness. Just as those unfamiliar with the modern narrative of the rapture may be surprised to hear the Antichrist comes with a message of peace and unity, it may be equally strange for the uninitiated to think of the devil as an angel of light.
Part of the sinister way in which light is seen by Christian dispensationalists comes from distrust of the Enlightenment and the Illuminati conspiracy. The idea that humans can better themselves is seen as a direct affront to God’s powers; to think that anyone but God can improve on humans is considered evil.
In a March 23, 2003 sermon called The Final Warning, the Coming Crash and the New World Order, Hagee makes direct ties between light, the Illuminati conspiracy, and the devil:
“Out of European history then comes a group of people who are, who call themselves the Illuminati. They were a group of Satanists. The word Illuminati comes from the word illuminate which means to enlighten. The Bible says Satan is an angel of light. Satan is an angel of light.”
The Time article vaguely hints at the light imagery in the McCain ad:
“They’re not the cartoonish images of clouds parting and shining light upon Obama that might be expected in an ad spoofing him as a messiah. Instead, the screen displays a sinister orange light surrounded by darkness and later the faint image of a staircase leading up to heaven.”
The imagery is similar to that found on the covers of Left Behind books. But Wilson said the Time article did not fully examine the role of light, which he saw as the most important and obvious homage to dispensational Christianity in the ad.
“It was screamingly loud to me,” said Wilson.
Light plays a significant part in Hagee’s 1999 movie about the rapture, Vanished. The political figure identified as the Antichrist in this movie always appears before flashbulbs, spotlights, and on brightly-lit video screens. In contrast, Hagee himself appears in the film in a softly-lit police precinct, when the events are specified and humanized, and talks directly to the viewer as an omnipotent narrator.
The crowd scenes featured in several McCain ads also take on new meaning after having seen Vanished. The similarities between the widespread show of adulation for the Antichrist in Hagee’s movie and the crowds chanting “Obama” in McCain’s ads is unmistakable.
Another symbol that has been largely ignored by dissections of McCain’s ad campaign is the much-mocked “presidential seal” adopted, then unceremoniously dumped, by the Obama campaign. McCain’s campaign won’t let it die, however, and not for the jovial reasons it tries to pass off.
Among conspiracy theorists (including Hagee himself), the presidential seal is a strong symbol of Freemasonry and the occult. The Latin inscription on the seal is interpreted by some to mean “one world government” or “new world order,” which is seen as a prelude to the rapture. That the Obama campaign had, albeit briefly, adopted such a widely-feared symbol was an opportunity McCain’s campaign was not about to give up.
“The McCain campaign [was] very aware of this, which is why they were showing that emblem,” Wilson said. “That seal will really hit the psyche.”
To those who aren’t inculcated in eschatology, or the study of the “end of times,” the attempt to paint Obama as the Antichrist may seem like an innocuous and clumsy jab at the Democratic candidate for president. But the reach of Hagee and other dispensationalists is surprisingly broad.
Wilson said Hagee’s reach extends far beyond his massive San Antonio church, and estimated that the reverend’s sermons go out to more than 100 million households via podcasts and other distributive media in this country alone. Wilson also noted that Hagee’s book about the end of times, Day of Deception, has sold in the millions.
And that’s just Hagee. The runaway success of the Left Behind series spawned a feature film, and even a video game that puts the player in New York City killing off non-believers and a peace force similar to the UN. In addition to the over 65 million copies sold in the Left Behind series, the publisher has sold more than 10 million related materials, including calendars, greeting cards, and children’s items.
Reports of e-mail campaigns to portray Obama as the Antichrist are widespread, but generally only perceptible within the Evangelical and dispensational Christian communities. However, there are some overt references visible to anyone willing to do a simple Web search.
For instance, the conservative blog site RedState.com has several items for sale equating Obama with the Antichrist. T-shirts and mugs feature an “O” with horns, reading “The Antichrist” underneath. One bumper sticker appeals directly to Left Behind readers, touting an imaginary Obama/Carpathia ticket.
One T-shirt featured on the non-partisan printing site CafePress.com screams, “According To The Book Of Revelations, The Anti-Christ Will Be A Muslim Man In His 40′s With Christ-Like Appeal & Who Will Promise False Hope & World Peace. Say Hell No To Obama!” Another printing site sells an “Obama for Antichrist” T-shirt, with the postscript “Sorry, but the role of Messiah has already been filled.”
McCain may not be sitting up nights screen-printing offensive T-shirts or in any way supporting the hysterical groups that actively accuse Obama of being the Antichrist. Even Hagee himself told Glenn Beck that there’s “no chance” that Obama is the Antichrist. But McCain’s ad clearly reinforces latent fears of Evangelicals who are familiar with the conservative religious narrative pushed by Hagee and other dispensational Christians. What the rest of us should be afraid of is a presidential candidate who would align himself with a group that is against world peace and human enlightenment.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS