There’s been a lot of buzz about NBC’s mini-series “Revelations,” a sort of mainstreamed version of the Left Behind novels. The Washington Post’s TV critic Tom Shales pretty much buried the series as television drama. And in a more ideological corner of the media, The New Republic’s TV critic Lee Siegel tauntingly suggested that this saga represented the secular cooptation, and potential taming, of the fundamentalism so rampant in U.S. politics in recent years.I’m prejudiced on this subject, being sympathetic to Martin Luther’s view that the Revelation of St. John should be expelled from the canon of Holy Scripture as “fundamentally un-Christian.” And I’ve also been influenced by the New Testament scholars who tell us that Revelations was not a prophecy, but a classic apocalyptic text motivated by the incredible trauma of the Romans’ destruction of the Second Temple, at a time when Christians had not definitively separated themselves from Judaism.Still, the obvious fascination of American Christians with what can only be described as a predictive interpretation of Revelations is impossible to ignore.I’m not sure at what point the premillenial theology of The End Times, with its antinomian interpretation of Western Christendom as actively Satanic, escaped its pentecostal and adventist ghetto and began to conquer ostensibly postmillenial Calvinist turf in the major fundamentalist denominations, such as the Southern Baptists. Maybe it coincided with the decline of the confident, triumphalist Moral Majority and the rise of the pessimist, counter-revolutionary Christian Coalition, and more recenctly, its openly seditious cousin in the radio ministry of James Dobson.Lee Siegel views “Revelations” as the potential beginning of a secularly-induced cooptation and corruption of militant Christian Fundamentalism. I personally view much of contemporary militant Christian Fundamentalism as secularly motivated in itself, a misuse of Holy Scripture, including Revelations, to support a secular cultural conservatism that has little to do with the Bible or with Christianity. And the premillenial trend among historically postmillenial denominations may simply represent this same process of secularization, without any help from popular culture.Watch Revelations if you wish, but if you want to see a truly interesting presentation of premillenial theology set against the worst features of secular culture, rent a copy of The Rapture, Michael Tolkin’s bizarre and fascinating 1991 film, featuring Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny, which alternates between graphic couple-swapping sex and a very literal depiction of the The Tribulations, with a morally and theologically challenging twist at the very end.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.