The decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem comes during a week during which I’m researching for a chapter in my next book examining how apocalypticism underwrites climate denial and war. Two big problems: (1) we don’t closely track how many Americans believe the world will end son (we really should keep better data on this!), and (2) this type of belief is a background ideological state that doesn’t necessarily influence policy opinions. But here are a few of the numbers we have:
(TL;DR version: somewhere between a fifth a little over a third of Americans don't expect a 22nd century)
In a 2010 Pew survey survey, 41% of Americans believed Christ will return in the next four decades (definitely 23%, probably 18%). 48% of all American Christians, 58% of white Evangelicals, 32% of Catholics, and 54% of all Protestants believed Christ will definitely or probably return in four decades, as did 59% of those with no college experience (compared to 19% of college graduates). Among all U.S. Christians, only 10% said Christ will definitely not return in the next four decades.
In a 2011 Pew global survey of Evangelical leaders, 54% of Evangelical leaders believed Christ will definitely/probably return in their lifetimes, and 61% believed in the Rapture. 67% of Global South leaders and 34% of Global North leaders believed Christ would return in their lifetime.
In a 2006 Pew survey, 79% of American Christians believed Christ would return to earth someday. Among those who believed this, 25% of Christians said this would happen in their lifetime, and 49% said it would not. Also among those who believe Christ will return, 43% expect the world situation to worsen before Christ arrives.
In a 2012 Ipsos poll, 14% of people worldwide and 22% of Americans believed the world will end in their lifetime.
In a 2012 PRRI survey, 36% of Americans (65% of white Evangelicals, 21% Catholics) believed natural disasters are evidence that we are living in the end times.
In a 2013 OmniPollSM survey, 41% (54% of Protestants, 77% of Evangelicals) believed we are living in the Biblical end times. (Caveat: this was conducted for a client who owns the original research, so I haven’t verified the methodology and data, but that 77% number would be huge if we could verify).
In a 2016 Lifeway survey of Protestant pastors, only 25% say the rapture is not a literal event. Pastors with master’s or doctoral degrees were four times as likely to reject the rapture as a literal event. Only 6% of pastors with no college degree and 16% of pastors with a bachelor’s degree rejected the idea of a literal rapture.
In a 2013 Lifeway poll, 18% of Americans believed the world would end in their lifetime, while 70% disagreed. By income, 30% of those in household making under $25,000 believed the world would end in their lifetime, while only 9% of those in households over $75,000 agreed. 24% of Americans 18-29 years believed the world would end in their lifetime, as did 15% of people over 65.
In a 2015 Brookings Institution survey, only 5% of American Christians and 12% of Evangelicals believed Christ would return in their lifetimes, but 79% of Evangelicals believed "that the unfolding violence across the Middle East is a sign that the end times are nearer.”
In the current data from Yale Climate Communications, 69% of Americans believe global warming is happening, 52% believe it is caused by humans, and only 48% believe scientists agree that global warming is happening.
In a 2017 CNN tracking poll, 70% agree global warming is happening, and 55% agree that it is caused by humans.
In a 2017 Pew survey, 74% of Americans agree the earth is warming (92% of Democrats, 52% of Republicans). 78% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans believe global warming is caused by humans. 21% of Republicans say there is no evidence for global warming because it just is not happening, and 22% of Republicans say there is no solid evidence to know whether the earth is warming.
- If you have additional data on apocalyptic belief in the U.S., I want it!
For the last year, I’ve been thinking on and off again about what to do with my dissertation on Christianity and populism. The dissertation itself would not make an excellent book as it is, so my options have been either to heavily revise it or else set it aside and pull it’s theoretical content into an entirely different format. For the last week, I’ve finally committed myself to the latter option.
Everywhere I go—in private conversations, at public talks, and all throughout the classes I teach—I find myself fielding the same questions on the perplexing “Why?” of Trumpism and white Evangelicalism. To every question like “Why don’t they understand the facts of X,Y, and Z?” I bring statistics, theory, and personal experience to explore the desire underwriting the (apparent) insanity, which is internally coherent. I want to say, for instance, that to fully understand why parents abuse their children with conversion therapy, you also want to understand how and why Evangelicals enjoy prohibitions on masturbation or sex outside of marriage; you can’t understand climate science denial unless you grasp just how many fellow citizens expect the world to end very soon; you can’t understand the attack on public education unless you know the early links between the rise of private schools and desire to re-segregate; you can’t understand the appeal of the obvious propaganda on Fox News unless you understand the decades spent curating a victim complex. I want a book that takes a perplexing topic and, by the end of the chapter, gives the reader the sense that they fully understand how that desire works.
I want this book to feel like a departure from my prior work in it’s style and content. I read Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind this year, which was a really brilliant and accessible history of conservative thought. Ever since, I’ve imagined taking a similarly clear approach to explaining the conservative religious mind. I want to take my first-hand experience and cross it with my theoretical influences to describe the mind that is at once hostile and submissive, assertive and revanchist, pious and nihilist. I want to write a book not on Evangelicalism and Trumpism per se, but instead I want to describe the disposition that blurs the lines between the two: the counterintuitive enjoyment derived from submission, repression, and aggression.
Rather than the theoretically-heavy nature of my prior work, I want this book to be full of original research and reporting, history, statistics, and stories that lend a sense of understanding what these movements desire. My double-full-time teaching schedule will mean this project is written over months instead of weeks, but during the last week I’ve written about 10% of a rough draft (breaks are, after all, a chance for extra work). This is my working title and chapter outline.
Turmoil & Resonance: What Does the White Evangelical Want?
Introduction: Shame, Aggressiveness, and Turmoil
(1) Against Future: Apocalypticism, Climate Denial, and Wall Street Resonances
(2) Against Knowledge: The Rise of Alternative Education, Re-segregation, Assaults on Public Education, and the Erasure of Critical Thought
(3) Against Sexuality: Purity Culture, Heterosexism, and Nostalgia
(4) Against Reality: Persecution Complex and Propaganda Machines
(5) Against Society: Populism and Fascism
In preparation for my upcoming book event on Nov. 9th with CRI, Carl Raschke has posted an interview with me about why I wrote The Cynic & the Fool. I discuss why I wrote the book and how odd it feels to have written a book in 2015 that seems to be about everything happening in 2017.
I think I have some great tangents about how pictures of Luther were once used as preventative fire insurance magic back in the 16th century, and I discuss writing as an older millennial today along with the sense of low-grade intergenerational economic conflict wrapped up in the millennial experience today.
While preparing for my upcoming event (Denver, November 9th) on The Cynic & the Fool, I came across this section. I even added a footnote just before publishing in order to clarify the timeline. It reads like such a transparent and uncreative allusion to a certain somebody, who declared his candidacy a day after I finished the book’s rough draft, but I was just trying to think through all of the most absurd things a conservative politician in the US could get away with pretending to believe.
Josef Gustafsson and I talk about why I wanted to follow God Is Unconscious by writing a more accessible book, and I explain just how much the timing of this book surprised me given the right-wing populist turmoil which came to life a single day after I finished my first draft. We discuss the Deleuzian desiring machine, the war of affects and religion, and the current political crisis.
I'm tremendously excited to say that my new book, The Cynic & the Fool: The Unconscious in Theology & Politics, is available now! Order through the online global behemoth, directly from the publisher for the lowest price, or better yet through your local brick and mortal bookstore.
Ever since publishing God Is Unconscious, I’ve wanted to release another book without the jargon—something more accessible for those who don’t have unlimited time to read philosophy. I wanted to take some of the material from GIU, import the research I was conducting for my dissertation, and pay more attention to story and examples. I wanted something any of my students could read. The timing of when I wrote C&F, especially with how the political landscape has since shifted, has been extremely odd. I aim to keep oscillating back and forth between the academic and the accessible during my career, and I’m thrilled to have a more accessible book out now.
The questioning of religion is the beginning of a flood, one that cannot be contained and will soon drown every theological, political, economic, and cultural orthodoxy that pledged its allegiance to a sinking cause. We are in just such an era of revolt, and those with eyes to see are learning to interrogate motives. When we are told of an idea that cannot possibly be true, the most immediate question is this: does the speaker so very foolishly believe their own words, or is the person a cynic who knows perfectly well how they manipulate the truth? As individual personalities transform into a collective drive, the aftermath is a brutal mix of motives, fictions, and anxieties.
The Cynic & the Fool explores theology and politics through the lens of our unconscious motives, our clever repression, and our deceptive denial. In nine chapters interspersed with nine parables, DeLay unites psychoanalysis, philosophy, and theology together for an accessible yet critical theory of culture. There could not be a more crucial moment to settle these questions. Why do we feel such anxiety over the most abstract orthodoxies, what conflicts of interest are we facing, and why we are commanded to see the world a certain way?
"At a time when vicious partisan politics has replaced the wars of religion with their odium theologicum of bygone ages, Tad DeLay's Cynic & the Fool is a must-read for thoughtful people, regardless of their ideological persuasion. Through storytelling, personal anecdote, and frequent flashes of magisterial pedagogy, DeLay entices us into confronting the knotted tangles of our own 'political unconscious' and offers us hope that we will eventually know the truth and that it might free us, even if we are in a so-called 'post-truth' era." – Carl Raschke, University of Denver, author of Critical Theology
"Tad DeLay continues his remarkable and insightful exploration of Lacan's work and its intersections with theology in this new book. The term psychoanalytic theology would probably not arouse too much excitement except in the most arcane of circles, but that is the arena in which DeLay does his work, and it is marvelous stuff. Riffing from a Lacanian idea about the role of the cynic and fool in the political realm, he delves deep into the psyche of our times, to explore what he calls the 'dynamics of collective belief.' DeLay's gift is his ability to take complex ideas and open them up so that we can all see ourselves, and each other, a bit more clearly. This new work is courageous, challenging, and so worth the journey." – Barry Taylor, Affiliate Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary
"While The Cynic & the Fool offers the reader insights that feel timeless, its true power lies in its ability to offer a unique and penetrating analysis of our present age. This is a book that employs the best of psychoanalytic theory to reflect on larger, societal issues. It is a carefully crafted work that will prove invaluable to anyone wanting to wrestle with, and understand, the tumultuous times we live in." – Peter Rollins, author of The Divine Magician
The Cynic & the Fool: The Unconscious in Theology & Politics is available today.
Immediately after publishing God Is Unconscious, I knew I’d write another. I wanted something more accessible, more personal, and not for my academic fields alone. I was beginning dissertation research and had all this new information that I wanted more than just my committee to see. I would soon start teaching undergraduates, and I wanted a book any of my students could find helpful. So three months after GIU was published, I sat down to draft The Cynic & the Fool.
I organized the book around a simple question: when we hear a claim that cannot possibly be true, (1) is the false claim pouring forth from the misinformed yet honest fool, or (2) is the claim being twisted by a cynical nihilist who knows perfectly well how to manipulate and mislead? A quote was stuck in my head: “The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely…’Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’”
But I kept stumbling through examples which seemed perfectly irrelevant at the time. I explored how delusional news stories and conspiratorial thinking operate, though these were seldom in the public conversation. I covered theories of populism, fearing it was wasted page space since America hadn't had a genuine populist movement in decades. I wrote of the aggressive drive of white supremacy, the enjoyment of cruelty in American religion, and the theological investment we put in empty symbols, which leads us to praise hypocrisy as a virtue rather than vice. For the first time, I cautiously wrote of losing a job as a pastor when my understanding of LGBT persons matured. I wrote about economics, debt, and our repetitive demand for lower pay and fewer services. I explored how widespread apocalypticism ensures the world will burn not from the fire of heaven but instead from the heat of carbon. I wrote about the Evangelical-Capitalist resonance machine—how do we understand the former’s enjoyment in being the puppet of the latter? How can we analyze our crises when we not subjects who desire knowledge but instead subjects who blindly desire? I hesitated over so many stories, arguments, and examples I feared would seem unnecessary at best or indefensibly paranoid at worst.
I feel a mix of excitement and horror at my work now. I wrote that first draft in May 2015. A month later, a certain business mogul would declare his candidacy, and ever since this question—knave or idiot?—proliferates in the background of the chaos.
It happens like clockwork every time health care hits the news. My various social media feeds light up with "Actually, this should be the job of religious groups and charities, not the government." It’s a non-negotiable doctrine among the Fiscally Conservative Faith, in fact. The go-to examples are always collections for emergency funds or free health clinics run by religious groups, which, given the limited range of things a clinic can do, already tells you that the suggestion is rooted in naiveté, bad faith, or both.
Pretend these claims were made in good faith and run the numbers: 24 million people lose coverage, an average 2017 silver plan for a 40 year old costs $410/mo ($4920/yr), and America has a little over 338,000 churches in the US with a median size of 75 members (or mean size 186). We can only approximate since premiums between states and age groups vary widely, but here’s how those numbers balance out. Since "It's not government's job!,” if every single one our our 338,000 churches scraped together a mere additional $350,000/year from their average 186 members, it would barely cover just the 24 million who will lose coverage.
Of course, this ideal fantasy scenario only exists in 2017. By the time those 24 million are out, the collections would need to increase to a million or more per year to accommodate premium surges for older Americans. Then things would start to get bad. We'd hit the reality that the CBO’s 24 million estimate would be too low; this number would soar tens of millions higher once people realize churches would help with premiums. The CBO then blurts out a collective “Oh, Christ! We didn’t account for Christ!” I hope that 186 person church can start pulling together a few million in pocket change every year. Really, who doesn't have a few tens or hundreds of thousands in cash to give away? Surely every parishioner would gladly redistribute their income in a way that is completely fair and perfectly respectful of individual dignity.
Or instead of actually helping with premiums, churches could open more clinics and let the physicians among them (at least those who also follow the Fiscally Conservative Faith) volunteer an extra weekend; anyone with a condition not treatable there will surely die. Or they can scrape together emergency funds here and there when selective cases become catastrophic and lives are already in jeopardy, leaving anyone not already in their social network to die unnoticed, though still with an iPhone.
Or yet again, this is a really dumb idea that won’t be swayed by argument because tenants of faith are not swayed by arguments. It’s almost as if we don’t have ~30 examples of national health care systems from which we could draw to resolve this completely self-inflicted problem. It is surely a good thing for religious groups and charities to participate in the ways they can, but the messianic fantasy wherein they are the one true solution is narcissistic and cruel. At 17%+ of GDP, setting health care on the shoulders of religious groups and charities is like using a scalpel in a situation that requires a sledgehammer when you also have a sledgehammer.
Given the concerning National Prayer Breakfast comments, the EO draft on religious freedom, and the Muslim ban, here’s a bit of context which is probably common knowledge among historians and religion scholars but not widely reported elsewhere. As a political moniker, religious freedom is what Atwater called an abstraction: it has literally nothing to do with reinforcing freedom of religion.
“Religious freedom” mutated into a convenient code word during the 20th century. We stopped using Bible verses to justify slavery and abstracted out something more nebulous for the same function. Like similarly coded rhetoric—states’ rights, law and order, and small government at first, and later school choice and extreme vetting—it begins its new career as a politically-useful tool around race (school segregation, miscegenation laws, even zoning codes) and subsequently shifts to new themes as needed (the poor, oppressed Christian baker). By mid-century, Protestants from Southern California to the Bible Belt were already coalescing anti-communist, anti-black, and anti-union rhetoric under the banner of religious freedom: they effectively repackaged aggressive political, racial, and economic agendas to appear unquestionably innocuous. Those who are receptive to the whistle don't consciously experience it this way, and neither do they recognize it's more about resisting the 14th amendment rather than promoting the 1st. A PRRI survey found 10% of Americans believe businesses should be able to refuse service to African Americans *specifically* for religious reasons, and 16% said the same about LGBT persons (surely the number for anti-Islam views would be equally horrifying). The same survey found 80% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats believe religious freedom is being attacked. According to Pew, 47% believe a wedding cake baker should be allowed to deny service to same-sex couples for religious reasons. Rallying around religious freedom is a time-tested tactic that abstracts an issue so that old battles can be fought with less contested language.
Ever the more intuitive sloganeer of the two parties, the GOP perfected the art of abstraction during the Southern Strategy, the wildly successful effort to realign itself with racist southerners in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Goldwater loss. The strategy also took advantage of religious freedom concerns, which had been in heightened circulation as a racial tool for decades; this goes back well before the Christian Right sold its soul to Reagan. As his chief of staff put it, Nixon needed a way to target African Americans without appearing to do so in order to draw southern whites away from the Democrats. And they needed those whites since, as Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips told the NYT in 1970, they never expected the party to get more than 1 in 5 African American votes ever again. But if they didn’t want to end like Goldwater, they needed to get abstract. In 1981, this is how Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained Southern Strategy’s abstraction—also a great explanation of the totally-not-a-Muslim-ban:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N*****, n*****, n*****.’ By 1968 you can’t say ’n*****’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n*****."
For more reading, I highly recommend Darren Dochuck’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt and Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind.