While I was away over the Easter holiday, I read Newsweek editor (and On Faith co-moderator) Jon Meacham’s cover story on “The End of Christian America,” but somehow I missed Newsmax magazine’s cover story entitled “Will He Return?” He, as in Jesus.
Both Easter-week issues reflected signs of the times: Newsweek on America’s changing religious and political demographics and Newsmax on conservative religious reactions to those changing demographics.
The Newsmax issue included commentaries by Bill O’Reilly, Ben Stein, Dr. Laura Schlesinger and other conservative culture warriors. “There is rising concern over the economy and national security, as well as downright open alarm at the leftist drift of our national government in the Obama era,” Tom Minnery, a Focus on the Family executive, told Newsmax.
The most interesting comment I saw came from Fox News Channel’s resident eschatologist, Glenn Beck:
“Some of the things that have caught my eye as far as end times: The fact that, for the first time, Russia and Iran have alliances–something that has to happen for end-times prophecy to be fulfilled; America’s weakened standing in the world. America is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, implying that it would be crippled or taken out of the picture in some way.”
The last book of the New Testament was written in the first century of the common era, about 1,400 years before the word America appeared for the first time on a map. So I don’t suppose it’s surprising that America is not mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps Beck was being facetious. He is working on a live comedy show.
Then again, this is the same guy who declared on CNN last year that August 22 “is the day that Israel might be wiped off the map, leading to all-out Armageddon,” and “could be the day that agnostics get down on one knee and start to pray, ‘Sweet Jesus, are you coming today?” Several weeks later, Beck was raptured to the Fox News Channel.
Beck is not alone in his End Times concerns. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 79% of American Christians say they believe that Christ will return to Earth someday. One in five believe he will return in their lifetime.
As Newsweek’s Lisa Miller pointed out last November, President Obama’s election has stirred up End Times conspiracy theorists. “The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they’re not nuts,” Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University’s law school, told Miller. “They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared.”
Those fears are finding expression in the popularity of apocalyptic populists like Glenn Beck. In entirely sincere enterprises like the Rapture Index (now at 164, it’s highest level since it was at 182 in September 2001). And in national surveys that show the declining number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians.
As Newsweek’s Meacham pointed out in “The End of Christian America,” while surveys show that America is becoming less Christian, that doesn’t mean we’re entering a post-Christian era. “A third of Americans say they are born again,” Meacham wrote. “This figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to-liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS (survey) authors to note that ‘these trends . . . suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more ‘evangelical’ outlook among Christians.'”
So, what do you think? Is America becoming less Christian? Or is Christianity in America becoming more conservative, reactionary and apocalyptic — in reaction to changing demographics, politics and times?