In this week’s eSkeptic:
The Rise of Bat Boy
In the pantheon of American monsters, only one truly dominated the newspapers of the 1990s. Checkout lines everywhere were haunted by the bald-headed, wide-mawed visage of Bat Boy.
What was Bat Boy, and where did he come from? The MonsterTalk team interviews cartoonist Tye Bourdony, a former employee of the Weekly World News. Bourdony shares his insights about Bat Boy and the rise and fall of the famous tabloid paper.
In this week’s eSkeptic, we present an excerpt from Tim Callahan’s book Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (1997). The book covers all the major biblical prophecies (especially those concerned with the end times) and examines the paranoid style of conspiratorial thinking that has lead to a cornucopia of theories about who is really running the world, determining the fate of nations, establishing the power of economies and everything from assassinating world leaders to controlling Snapple. In this excerpt from the final chapter of his book, Callahan links biblical prophecies of the end times (the “mark of the beast” and all that) with modern global conspiracy theories that involve black helicopters, Hong Kong Gurkhas, militia, and the so-called “New World Order” which are supposed to signal that the end is nigh. (This excerpt can also be found in Skeptic magazine volume 4, number 3 from 1996.)
The End of the World
and the New World Order
Black Helicopters, Hong Kong Gurkhas, Global Conspiracies & the Mark of the Beast
by Tim Callahan
As I write this introduction to the excerpt from my new book on Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment?, the movie Independence Day set a new record of $96 million gross on its opening weekend. The movie opens with a youthful technician in the SETI program headquarters checking the monitors for signs of extra terrestrial intelligence, while his boom box blasts the rock song “It’s the End of the World.” For the erstwhile Earthlings in the movie it almost was the end of the world as the space aliens were not exactly the friendly types depicted in ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and other Sci Fi blockbusters.
Why are we so fascinated by “end of the world” stories? Sure, Independence Day owes some of its success to a huge marketing campaign that began on Superbowl Sunday seven months before (telling viewers this would be their last Super-bowl Sunday party); and to the spectacular special effects depicting the explosion of the Empire State Building, the White House, and other national monuments. But there is something deeper here, that goes to the heart of our psyche — the belief that one way or another we are doomed. Sci Fi authors and film producers are simply capitalizing on a theme that has been with us since biblical times.
In Skeptic, Vol. 3, #2, I wrote a review of Hal Lindsey’s book Planet Earth — 2000 A.D., in which I showed that as we approach the big millennium date doomsday warnings will proliferate in pop culture. Lindsey (like all doomsayers) was cautious, however, hedging his prediction with alternatives for 2007 or even 2048 (when he will be long gone), just in case 2000 comes and goes without incident. In my book I review all the major biblical prophecies, especially those concerned with the end times.
Modern Technology & Other Signs of the End
The Bible, especially the book of Revelation, is filled with allegorical stories and symbolic tales. The problem is in interpretation. Are these stories prophetic warnings for us, or social commentary for the readers of the time of their writing? Fundamentalists and conspiratorialists try desperately to stretch apocalyptic writings (that were about the politics of their time) to fit modern times. They also try to fit poetic pictures of destruction into modern technology. The most obvious of these is the idea that fire raining down from heaven means nuclear-armed missiles. Another is the idea that the phrase “every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7) refers to the return of Christ being seen worldwide on television.
Hal Lindsey has speculated that the demonic locusts, the plague of the fifth trumpet, represent helicopters. Here is the actual description of the locusts from Rev. 9:7–10:
In appearance the locusts were like horses arrayed for battle; on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails.
In that their wings make a rushing noise, that helicopters could be said to look as if they have stinger-like tails, and that the locusts’ armor could be said to be a description of the metal skin of helicopters, the locusts could be stretched to fit these modern machines, if one uses a good deal of imagination. Hal Lindsey apparently took the locusts with faces of men as being the crew of the helicopters as seen in the cock-pit from without. Just how it is that military helicopters would torture, but not kill, for five months is not explained. On the other hand, locusts commonly live for five months, and the prophet Joel’s locusts were also like horses (see Joel 2:4–9). It is also hard to figure how they could have come out of the smoke from the bottomless pit (Rev 9:3) or why their king would be Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11).
Even if helicopters do not work that well in fulfilling the imagery of Revelation, they do figure in conspiracy theories. Listen to any fundamentalist radio station for a while and you will hear reports of ominous black (i.e. unmarked) helicopters harassing good conservative folks. Supposedly they were hovering over the Branch Davidian compound in Waco just before the tanks went in. People have claimed that the helicopters are often filled with men wearing unusual uniforms, hence the speculation that they are carrying foreign troops and that these are trial runs for the U.N. takeover of the U.S., eventually instituting the world government that will be ruled by the Antichrist. Among the people who claim to have been buzzed and harassed by low-flying black helicopters are Christians who are home-schooling their children to keep them out of the secular school system. Despite the popularity and availability of video cameras and despite reports of repeated harassment, none of these sightings have ever been substantiated. This last minor fact has not reduced the fears concerning the infernal machines in the least. If anything, the ability of the black helicopters to avoid detection has added to their satanic mystique.
Another report of foreign troops being brought in to take away our rights was the assertion that the federal crime bill of 1994 had in it a provision for bringing in foreign police — specifically from Hong Kong — to enforce laws in America. The idea was that, unlike American cops, the foreigners would not have any compunction about firing on a crowd of American citizens. There was even one report that the police being brought over from Hong Kong were Gurkhas, troops with a legendary reputation for savagery.
Reality was something else again. While there are about a thousand Gurkhas stationed in Hong Kong, they are used for border patrol only. Members of this elite corps of the British army are not so much noted for savagery, but rather are famous for their honesty, trustworthiness, sense of personal honor, and most of all for their valor. Since 1911 Gurkhas have won 13 Victoria Crosses, the British equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The likelihood that these elite troops, so fiercely loyal to the Queen, would be loaned out to the U.S. to kill Americans is nil. However, there is just the smallest grain of truth to the rumor that the government was going to bring in Hong Kong police. On page 843 of HR 3355, section 5108 directed the Attorney General, the heads of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), along with the Commissioners of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Customs Service to recruit former Royal Hong Kong Police officers into Federal law enforcement positions. The true story is this. Hong Kong is shortly due to revert to the People’s Republic of China. Thus, the officers of the Royal Police will soon be without either a job or a home. The fact that the INS was involved in the recruitment plan should tell anyone that these officers would be brought in as naturalized citizens. Since Hong Kong is an international port, its police are experienced in coping with black market goods and drug smuggling, hence the participation of the FBI, the DEA, and the Customs Service in the recruitment program. This is a far cry from bringing in foreign police for crowd control. In any case, this recruitment plan was dropped from the final version of the bill.
Another horror story of the impending world government is that they have already subverted our money, planting occult symbols on dollar bills that hint at the drive to a globalist dictatorship. This was done during the (infamous) Roosevelt administration. The symbol in question is the pyramid with an eye on the back of the dollar bill. Below it is the Latin inscription Novus Ordo Seculorum, which translates as “New World Order.” Or does it? What we have here is a compound error made up of bad Latin, bad spelling, and poor history. Those readers who, like myself, took some Latin in high school, might remember that the suffix “orum” is the genitive plural for nouns in the second declension. Seculorum would have to be plural and mean “of the worlds,” which seems a rather clumsy phrasing. It certainly would be if in fact the word in question was “seculorum.” Actually, in their desire to read an apocalyptic conspiracy into our currency, the millenarian crowd has added the letter “u” between the “c” and the “l” of the word printed on the dollar, which is seclorum or “of the ages.” Thus, far from saying “New World Order,” Novus Ordo Seclorum reads “New Order of the Ages.” Since this symbol and motto are on the back of our country’s Great Seal and were put there when the nation was being founded, they represent the revolutionary sentiment that by dispensing with kings, whose rule was autocratic and based on force, and replacing that system with a republic based on reason, balance of powers, and self rule, the founders of our nation were creating a new order for the ages.
Another phrase to be found on the back of the dollar bill, in fact one more prominently displayed than the Latin motto as well as being written in English is: “In God We Trust.” For some reason this phrase and its obvious implications seem to be consistently overlooked by conspiracy theorists.
Other excursions into modern monetary subversion involve credit cards, bar codes, and other technologies that could potentially be a modern version of the Mark of the Beast. The most technologically sophisticated of these would be a computer microchip inserted under the skin either in the forehead or the back of the hand. Such technology is actually available and has been used to locate sheep and cattle grazing on range-lands. However, such solid state electronics are extremely vulnerable to electromagnetic fields, such as those generated by television screens. Sitting too near the boob-tube could erase the Mark of the Beast from many a couch potato.
There are, of course, other technologies that suggest themselves as potential Marks of the Beast. Whole books have been written on how the bar code is a prelude to it. The cashless society is another concept that fits into the idea of having to take the mark if one would buy or sell. Thus, credit cards in general and Visa cards in particular are candidates for the Mark of the Beast. In the case of Visa cards, we have a dubious excursion into numerology, which should, like astrology and palmistry, be anathema to fundamentalist Christians. The basic scheme of numerology is that every letter in the alphabet is assigned a number from one to nine as follows:
— — — — — — — — — — — —
A : B : C : D : E : F : G : H : I
J : K : L : M : N : O : P : Q : R
S : T : U : V : W : X : Y : Z
Then the numbers of each word or name analyzed are added up. If a two or three digit number results, those numbers are added in a column until a number from 1 to 9 is reached. These nine numbers have specific psychological characteristics assigned to them, much as do the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Applying this system to the word VISA, we get the following
In the original numerological system, 6 stands for natural harmony as in the six colors of the spectrum. However, in order to make the Visa card come out as the Mark of the Beast, those fundamentalists who indulge in this sort of non-sense substitute biblical symbolism wherein 6 is the number of imperfection. Thus, by extrapolation, 6 means the same as 666. And voila! we have the Number of the Beast!
(I will concede two items. First, while they do look for satanic conspiracies in many innocent aspects of the mundane world, very few fundamentalists involve themselves in interpretations as arcane as the numerological value of the Visa card. Second, the fear of some form of mandatory identification card and its misuse by a centralized government, even on the national level, is a reasonable one. While I like the convenience of my charge cards, untraceable cash transactions, which cannot be monitored by either a government or a corporation, constitute a democratically sound safeguard against intrusions into one’s privacy. It is when these entirely valid concerns are linked to paranoid millennial fantasies that bizarre interpretations result. If we must interpret every universal identification system in apocalyptic terms, then every American citizen, upon being assigned a social security number, has taken the Mark of the Beast.)
So far I have dealt with supposed symptoms of the satanic New World Order. Let us now look at the institutions millenarians and others of their ilk see as the movers behind this globalist conspiracy.
Those who see the world in terms of a system under Satan’s control, who see themselves — as many fundamentalists do — as being under siege, not only see a satanic pattern in world events of today, but see them as entrenched in history as well, particularly in the events of the twentieth century. They also see the Satanic conspiracy as having so pervasively infiltrated our system that virtually no one in power is untouched by it. For example, John McManus, present head of the John Birch Society, said that not only was the Reagan administration thoroughly infiltrated by agents of the New World Order, and the public brainwashed by the “liberal media,” but that William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh were both brainwashed by the New World Order (Live From L.A. KKLA November 29, 1993). Since not even Rush Limbaugh can be trusted, it is not surprising that McManus also pointed out that the heads of CBS, NBC, ABC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and the National Review are all members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), seen as one of the chief architects of the New World Order.
Besides media heads, who else is a member of the CFR? According to Gary Kah in En Route to Global Occupation (as well as other sources), former and present members of the CFR include Adlai Stevenson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Volker, Lane Kirkland, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Nelson Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, Alan Greenspan, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George Bush, Richard M. Nixon, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Donna Shalala, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and many others. That people whose political beliefs cover such a broad spectrum are all members of the CFR should tell anyone that the organization, in actual fact, has no particular political leaning of its own. In short, the membership is too broad, varied, and extensive to be an indicator of any significance. Rather than revealing an entrenched conspiracy, this partial membership list indicates a prestigious organization that people prominent in politics, education, the media, and finance frequently join. Kah even admits that Dukakis only joined the CFR after his unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
Other organizations high on the enemies list in this basic conspiracy scenario are the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome, the Bilderberg Group, and lesser organizations such as the Aspen Institute. All of these share with the CFR the qualities of being unofficial advisory bodies with distinguished membership rosters.
Official government and international organizations in the supposed conspiracy include the Federal Reserve System (FRS) and, of course, the United Nations, the world government itself. Facts have little credibility in the minds of conspiracy addicts when it comes to the major players in their cherished scenario. That the UN is unable to control or bring into obedience one warlord whose clan controls one section of one third-world city would seem to make it a paper tiger. The same is true of the European Community, the other major contender for the role of Empire of the Antichrist. That the EC was either unable or unwilling to intervene effectively in Bosnia, its own back yard without American assistance, makes it a bit of a dud as the Neo-Roman Empire. Conspiracy theorists counter that the U.N. and the EC are allowing the conditions in Bosnia and Somalia to deteriorate for various reasons of their own, among them being a draconian program of population control. Of course, if either of these two institutions were to intervene effectively, these same theorists would use those events as evidence of the growing power of the UN and the EC. Thus, their belief is confirmed regardless of what happens, a sure sign of intellectual self-deception.
As Michael Howard points out in his 1989 book The Occult Conspiracy: “Conspiracy theorists regard the UN with suspicion because of the alleged involvement of the CFR in its creation” (Howard 1989, p. 167). The Council on Foreign Relations was formed when the United States failed to join the League of Nations, which had been set up after World War I chiefly by President Woodrow Wilson and his special advisor Col. E. M. House. In 1919 Col. House met with members of a British group called the Round Table that was the brain-child of 19th-century diamond and gold magnate, Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was obsessed with the vision of a world government based on British values, and had set up the Round Table as a means toward that end. (This, of course, makes Rhodes scholars suspect as agents of the New World Order.) Members of the Round Table agreed to set up a non-governmental advisory body aimed at influencing nations toward peaceful resolution of conflicts. In England it was called the Institute for International Affairs (IIA); in America it became the CFR. An unofficial Anglo-American advisory group or think tank hardly fits the role of end-time bogey. However, the CFR does have a strong internationalist bent. In many ways the organization’s lack of ideology has been used against it. As Howard puts it (p. 166):
In the eyes of their opponents the CFR is currently dedicated to destroying the sovereignty of the United States, reversing the democratic process which instigated the 1776 American Revolution, promoting internationalism and the foundation of a world super state embracing both capitalism and Communism in a new political order. The evidence for this seems to be largely based on the neutral stance adopted by the CFR in American politics.
Formerly, the CFR was viewed by its critics as being an elitist right-wing power group and was even accused of financing Hitler’s rise to power. No support has ever been found for this claim.
Next to the CFR, the Trilateral Commission is perhaps the most anathematized international advisory group in existence. Founded in 1970 and having a membership drawn from Japan, Europe, and North America, its stated goal is to “encourage closer cooperation among these three democratic industrialized regions” (item 15479, Encyclopedia of Associations, 1995). The Club of Rome has a broader appeal, being concerned with issues as varied as environmental degradation, overpopulation, economics, etc. The Bilderberg Group was originally founded in 1954 as an anti-Communist organization, but softened its stance in the wake of detente.
All of these organizations have properties that lay them open to attack from the more paranoid among us. First of all, since they are composed of an international elite, there is the suspicion, no doubt somewhat justified, that their members think that they know better than the common man or woman how the world ought to be run. Second, since they often discuss sensitive issues, they often keep their meetings secret. This implies covert operations and clandestine plots. Third, given that all of these organizations wish to draw upon people influential in the worlds of finance, politics and media, there is considerable overlap of membership among them. This gives the appearance of an international conspiracy. Certainly the potential for elitism and conspiracy exists among these organizations, but the varied political views of the members would tend to act as a safeguard against such an occurrence. Howard gives this word of caution with regard to such organizations (p. 163):
In general, as far as it can be detected at all by those who are directly in contact with its working, this influence can be characterized as benign. However, the unpalatable fact must also be faced that in some instances the pursuit and exercise of power in the political arena can have a corrupting effect, especially when it encounters the inherent weakness of human nature.
Probably the greatest weakness of human nature seen in these organizations is in their inherent failure, because they are so much a part of the established system, to comprehend or anticipate what might variously be called novelty, chaos, or serendipity. As two examples of this failure to comprehend the curves thrown us by reality, consider that it was the professionals who got us into Vietnam. Consider also that the experts were caught just as flat-footed as the rest of us at the break-up of the Warsaw pact and the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Federal Reserve System (FRS), along with any international banking system, is another source of paranoia for the conspiracy crowd. Any control or manipulation of the money supply is assumed to be part of a monetary conspiracy inimical both to individual freedom and national sovereignty. McManus has claimed that our national debt is being deliberately increased to put us in hock to international bankers as part of the plan to destroy our national sovereignty and create the New World Order. The FRS, or the Fed, created by congress in 1913, has the function of controlling the money supply, which it does by buying and selling government bonds, regulating the rate at which commercial banks borrow money from the Federal Reserve Bank, and regulating the requirements as to what percentage of commercial banks’ assets are held in the Federal Reserve. If the Fed buys government bonds, reduces the discount rate to commercial banks, or lowers their Federal Reserve requirements, the money supply is increased, interest rates fall and inflation increases. When the Fed sells bonds, raises the discount rate or the Federal Reserve requirements, less money circulates, interest rates rise, and inflation is reduced. Obviously businesses are affected, often much against their will, by the policies of the Fed. Hence, it is not always well thought of, and among conspiracy theorists it has become viewed as an agent of the New World Order, this despite the fact that its present chairman, Alan Greenspan, was a protégé of the late Ayn Rand and is strongly influenced by Libertarian economic theory.
Templars, Freemasons & the Dreaded Illuminati
It is understandable that those who see the world as rushing to its final doom are likely to see any group urging international cooperation as being an instrument of the Antichrist. Instead of seeing the CFR and the Trilateral Commission as idealistic and somewhat elitist brain trusts, millenarians see them as a network of semi-secret societies wielding power illegitimately, not merely to influence but to control sovereign national governments. But whence came these powerful shadow regimes? Conspiracy theorists trace them all the way back to the Knights Templar, who, starting out as crusaders and protectors of pilgrims, supposedly fell under various influences including pagan mystery religions and the Assassins of Alamut. Having become corrupt and rich, the Templars tried to control the wealth of Europe but were valiantly stopped by Philip the Fair of France (1268–1314). Upon being put to the question the leaders of the Templars revealed that they worshiped a goat-headed idol called Baphomet, which they anointed with the blood of unbaptized babies, and that they ritually defiled crucifixes and practiced sodomy in their secret rites. Gary Kah and other conspiracy theorists report this story with evident relish. The Templars, after all, make wonderful foils. As the first internationalists whose wealth and banking system made them the creditors of and potential powers behind the governments of rising national states, they resemble the picture the theorists in their paranoia have painted of the CFR, the FRS, the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds. That they were secretly practicing satanic rites confirms the theorists in their assurance that their modern counterparts are part of the Kingdom of the Beast. All of us who grew up reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe are predisposed to believe the worst of the Templars from the start. After all, Bois-Gilbert and the other heavies in the classic were all Templars.
But how much of this story is true? And how does it relate to modern times? The Templars were obviously quite powerful and somewhat corrupt. By the beginning of the 13th century, three crusading orders — the Templars, the Knights of St. John, and the Teutonic Knights — between them controlled 40% of Europe’s frontiers and as such exerted considerable influence in the courts of Europe. The Templars made money by ferrying crusaders and pilgrims to the Holy Land and importing spices from there to Europe. As their wealth increased, they became the bankers of Europe and they became increasingly lax in fulfilling their religious vows. They conspired with the Sultan of Egypt to thwart Frederick II’s crusade, and by 1254 were at open war with another crusading order, the Knights Hospitaler. When Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Levant, fell to the Moslems in 1291 the Templars were expelled from the Holy Land. Now they were no longer even nominally crusaders. In 1307 Philip the Fair found himself facing bankruptcy and owed the Templars large sums of money. Thus, he made common cause with Pope Clement V to destroy the order, whose increasing wealth and independence were alarming the Church. The Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, came to Paris that same year to discuss a new crusade. He was arrested, and Templar lodges and treasuries were seized throughout France. Pope Clement issued a bull ordering the arrest of all members of the order throughout Christendom. It was then that the Templars made their confessions either under torture or the threat of it. Considering that both the King of France and the Pope needed some criminal charge upon which to base the seizure of Templar treasuries, it is hardly surprising that the order was found to have become heretical. To this day it is unclear which charges if any made against the Templars were true. De Molay protested his innocence even as he was being burned at the stake in 1314.
The significance of the Templars is that there is a link between them and Freemasonry. Late in the Middle Ages powerful craft guilds flourished in Europe. But, as the result in the decline in the building of new cathedrals and the subsequent drop in guild membership, the masons began to allow men not involved in the trade to join as honorary members. These men became known as “free and accepted masons” or Freemasons. In some countries, after the fall of the Templars their remnants were absorbed into the Masonic Guilds. Much of the medieval tradition, however, was embellished in the 17th and 18th centuries when the Freemasons adopted the rites and trappings of various chivalric orders. Though the organization is not specifically Christian, it began with a distinctly Protestant, anticlerical bias. The Templars, seen as prototypes of Protestant martyrs, were taken as a chivalric ideal to aspire to. So it is in modern times that the Masonic club for teenage boys is called the DeMolay, and the Knights Templar is one of the advanced lodges in Freemasonry. Without going into a detailed history of the Masons, let me just point out that their system of secret lodges allowed for open discussion of politics in countries where voicing one’s opinion could result in imprisonment or death. In Latin countries Freemasonry tends to attract free thinkers and anticlericals. This fact plus the association of the Templars with the Masons has laid the latter open to all the charges leveled against the former, not only by fundamentalists but by European and South American dictators. In volume 22 of the Encyclopedia Britannica the true significance of the Masonic lodges is mentioned in a discussion of the history of Italy in the late 1700s (p. 223):
In the Italy of the old regime, there had been no representative political life. But the increase in the number of Masonic Lodges at the end of the 18th century demonstrated the desire for secret discussion of problems different from those that were agitating the academies and the agrarian societies. Not all the Freemasons became supporters of the Revolution and the French, but many of them did so. The moderate and constitutional demands of the Masonic Lodges began to be accompanied by more democratic demands, and there were in Milan, Bologna, Rome, and Naples cells of Illuminati, republican free-thinkers, after the pattern recently established in Bavaria by Adam Weishaupt.
But were the Illuminati really such radicals? Indeed they were, and they were justly considered a threat by virtually every government in Europe. And what were the Illuminist beliefs that were so threatening to the governments of Weishaupt’s day? Among them were such dangerous ideas as universal suffrage, equality of the sexes, and complete freedom of religion. Other Illuminist beliefs were of the utopian socialist variety. They included the abolition of social authority, private property and national states. Humanity, in the Illuminist vision, would live in anarchic harmony and universal brotherhood, and would enjoy peace and free love. This may make the Illuminati sound like a cross between Marxists and 1960s flower children, and is no doubt the image that so horrifies fundamentalist conspiracy theorists. But all such comparisons are doomed to error, because implicit in them is a disregard for historical context. To understand the Illuminati, one must understand the politics of Europe in the late 18th century, the time of the Enlightenment. In reaction to the excesses of the religious wars of the 1600s the intellectuals of the 1700s were rational, secular and anticlerical. The growth of science and rationalism provoked the thinkers of that day to question everything, and they found much that did not stand up well in the light of reason. Thus, in addition to being rational and secular, they were also democratic and egalitarian. And seeing the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the nobility and the state religions, they considered the abolition of private property a necessary step to change what was clearly an unjust social order. Despite the prevalence of democratic ideals in the philosophy of the time, most of the states of Europe were ruled by kings who were absolute despots. (Remember that the American Revolution was just starting the year the Illuminati came into being.) These powers naturally resisted the democratic flow of their culture tenaciously, so tenaciously in fact that it took the rest of the 18th century, all of the 19th century, and part of the 20th to remove them. Thus it was not until late in the 1800s that the French were free of both the Bourbons and the descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was not until the end of World War I that the Hohenzollerns of Prussia, the Hapsburgs of Austria, and the Romanovs of Russia were removed, and the empires of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks broken up. Indeed, we are still today dealing with the aftermath of the persistence of these monarchies.
As a graphic indication of how the battle lines were drawn, consider that as part of the Illuminist initiation ceremony the candidate was led into a room containing an empty throne, a crown, a scepter, and a sword, and was invited to take them up. But, he or she was told, if they did so they would be denied entry into the order. The crowned heads of Europe were not likely to take kindly to a secret society harboring such sentiments, nor were the established religious authorities. This, coupled with the anticlerical and anti-Christian bias of the Illuminati, made them even better foils than the Templars had been in the Middle Ages. Thus they were branded as atheists, Satanists, assassins and whatever else would feed a sensationalist, fear-mongering campaign. (I should point out that as Marxist as the abolition of property sounds, a variant of that principle — land redistribution — was practiced in America when, following the Revolution, the estates of Tories were seized, broken up, and given to landless families. Since most of the newly independent colonies still limited voting rights to property owners, this meant that the number of voters was increased significantly.)
Are the Illuminati still active? Are they the unifying power behind the CFR, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, and the Club of Rome? Are they the secret masters of worldwide Free masonry? For the most part the Illuminati were absorbed into other revolutionary groups. No doubt many joined the French Revolution or shifted in the 19th century from utopian socialism to Marxism. There is no evidence that they exist today.
On the other hand the influence of Freemasonry is such that men holding to its ideals were instrumental in creating one of the 20th century’s greatest powers, a power whose global influence and military might is greater than any known in the history of the world, a power viewed by many small nations as a distinct threat to their sovereignty. In fact, one of these nations has identified this power with Satan. This ominous power is the United States of America.
Most of the founders of our nation, including George Washington, were Masons. Such was the influence of Freemasonry that the back of the Great Seal, that symbol on our dollar bill that so terrifies conspiracy theorists, contains the pyramid with an eye in it, which is a Masonic symbol. Humanists and New Agers Not only were most of the founding fathers Freemasons, at least one, Benjamin Franklin, was a Rosicrucian. The Rosicrucians were supposed to have access to the teachings of Christian Rosenkreuz, who was born in 1378 and lived for over 100 years. He had supposedly learned esoteric disciplines held by the ancient Egyptians, the Pythagorean philosophers of ancient Greece and other occult wisdom. In reality, the earliest Rosicrucian writings date from 1614. This secret fraternal order may actually have been founded by the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493?–1541). While it attracted many of the intelligentsia of the 18th century, the Rosicrucian order never seems to have developed as an organization of significant political influence to match the Freemasons. It was a common belief in the 18th-century that ancient civilizations had held secret knowledge lost to people of their day. To some degree this was true in that, for example, the technology to make large panes of clear glass, lost since the fall of the Roman Empire, was not rediscovered until the 1600s. The supposed esoteric knowledge of the Egyptians, however, was more the stuff of which the legends of Atlantis were made. Fraternal orders used supposed access to ancient hidden knowledge as a means of self-validation. The Masons claimed descent from the masons sent by Hiram of Tyre to build Solomon’s Temple. Naturally, these Phoenician masons brought with them secrets of the ancient Egyptians. Thus, fraternal orders developed a quasi-pagan mythology as part of their ritual. Fundamentalists in general and conspiracy theorists in particular have seized on this, anathematized the Masons and Rosicrucians, and see in their rituals a pagan revival.
Another pagan revival or intrusion of occult influences is that popular pastiche of westernized eastern religion, astrology, warmed over 19th-century mysticism (theosophy and the like), revived paganism of dubious validity and general feel-good spirituality called the New Age movement. Of course, the phrase “New Age” is too close to “New World Order” to not provoke fundamentalist paranoia.
Both the pseudo-pagan rites of the Freemasons and the New Age movement excite millenarian fears as being the religion of the false prophet in Rev. 13:11–15. The facts that the New Age movement is patently silly, that the Rosicrucians have been reduced to soliciting new members through ads in pulp magazines, and that the mumbo-jumbo of Masonic ritual is nothing more than the usual hokum of fraternal societies have not blunted those fears in the least. And, since conspiracy theorists point out the great overlap in the ranks of professional politicians of Masons and members of the CFR, fears of the Illuminati are revived.
As an example of how absurd such fears of a pervasive sub rosa paganism are, I can offer my experiences with Masonic organizations, indirect though they were. Out of filial duty I attended a number of officer installations as my parents moved up the ranks as members of the Garden Grove chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic organization for women and married couples. Having met the other members of the lodge and heard their political and social views, I can safely say that, as staunch Nixon supporters in the Vietnam War years, these people were not Illuminist, neo-pagan revolutionaries. It is common at these installations for the newly installed officers to introduce the friends and family members who have turned out to support them. Many of these are from other Masonic women’s or couples’ organizations, such as Daughters of the Nile or the Amaranth. Like the officers they had turned out to support, these women were quintessentially Orange County Republican. Thus, when one of the matrons introduced one of her friends as “the High Priestess of my White Shrine,” momentary visions of these ladies indulging in pagan rites and child sacrifice dissolved in the face of their obvious middle-class conservatism.
What stretches credulity even further is the supposed link between New Agers and secular humanists, particularly since the latter generally hold the former in absolute contempt. The prime mechanism of indoctrination into this pagan/humanist world system is seen by millenarians and conspiracy theorists as being the public school system. The main tactics are seen as dumbing down students to make them manageable and desensitizing them to such horrors as infanticide. The system’s chief architect is generally considered to be the late John Dewey, whom they hold responsible for modern failures in education. The problem with this view is that Dewey’s model of permissive education hit its peak in the 40s and was dealt a death blow by the pressure to emphasize math and science at the expense of the humanities following the launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957. That the emphasis in science has not produced better educated students since then is a product of family breakdown, oversized classes, the encumbering of teachers with all sorts of baggage based on social agendas, the pervasive influence of television, and a host of other societal problems, none of which are demonstrably related to clandestine conspiracies.
As an example of fundamentalist fears that children are being desensitized to such horrors as infanticide, consider a brief article by fundamentalist author Berit Kjos (pronounced Chos) that appeared in a magazine called Media Bypass. Kjos told of a mother who was trying to restrict the use of a novel called The Giver in the classroom because it contained a scene in which a low birth-weight baby is efficiently done away with. The mother felt that it desensitized children to infanticide. Kjos (1995) says of the book:
Laura’s mother knew that The Giver fit into the flood of classroom literature that force children to think the unthinkable and reconsider the values they learned at home. It also models many of the pitfalls and supposed perfections of the utopian school-centered community documented in Goals 2000 and other blueprints for change prepared by the educational establishment.
And now for a dose of reality. I was so intrigued by Kjos’s article that I went to the library and read The Giver, which was the winner of the 1994 Newbury Award. The novel is about a futuristic society which is seemingly utopian. As the story unfolds it becomes more and more evident that the society is quite sinister. Old people, incorrigibles and problem babies are “released.” Up to the point of the climactic scene which Laura’s mother thought would desensitize kids to infanticide, “release” has by implication been a mystical letting go. When the hero actually views the “release” of a low birth-weight baby it turns out to be a horrific scene in which the baby is killed by lethal injection and disposed of down a garbage chute. Desensitizing? Hardly! The scene is traumatic. If anything it is likely to turn the kids into right-to-lifers.
Laura and her classmates were required to make their own decisions as to whether the society portrayed in The Giver was right or wrong, though how they could think it right is a bit hard to figure. Fundamentalists object to such exercises. This is curious since they are the first to complain about “dumbing down” in the school system. One would think that exercises that make kids examine why they believe what they believe would be the opposite of dumbing down. Yet, when it comes right down to it fundamentalists want their children taught by rote. This is fine as far as it goes. Multiplication tables, rules of grammar and proper spelling can and should be laid out in black and white terms. But children also need to exercise their minds. And here is the rub. People can only be taught to think for themselves by questioning the validity of ideas. People who question invariably start questioning the Bible or at least how their parents and other authorities interpret it. Since children who question things may end up questioning their parents’ premillennial beliefs, fundamentalists, when it comes right down to it, really do not want their kids to think.
The Importance of Conspiracy Theories
As part of the crisis that provokes the creation of a world government, Gary Kah sees the possibility of a Syrian attack on Israel, with a possible nuclear exchange as part of the hostilities. He cites the failed, or as he puts it, as yet unfulfilled prophecy of the destruction of Damascus in Is. 17:1 (that Damascus would be destroyed and never rebuilt) as possibly being fulfilled in this exchange, thereby validating both the prophecy and his scenario. That prophecies that clearly were not fulfilled are assumed to be awaiting fulfillment — some day — highlights the impossibility of falsification built into the fundamentalist scenario. There is in essence a basic dishonesty that pervades both millenarian prophecies and conspiracy theories. There may also be, among those who accuse the rest of us of being dupes or agents of a conspiracy, some hidden agenda of their own. Whether it is from sloppy research or sympathetic politics, Gary Kah has quoted extensively from so-called historian Nesta Webster to back up his assertion that the Illuminati/Freemasons are responsible for Marxism and everything else of evil in the world. Michael Howard says of Nesta Webster (1989, pp. 161–162):
Typical of these politically motivated conspiracy theorists was Nesta Webster who wrote a series of best-selling books in the 1920s exposing the so-called Jewish world domination plan. She claimed that the Jews, working through secret societies and the international banking system, were the eminences grises behind the revolutionary movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … Webster believed she was the reincarnation of a countess who had been executed in the French Revolution and was convinced it was her duty in this lifetime to expose the secret societies who had plotted the 1789 uprising … Webster revealed her true political colours in 1923. Her books had reviled Marxism as the modern cover for the “Jewish menace” and in that year she went a step further by joining the British Fascist Party….
That dishonesty which makes prophecy unfalsifiable and fails either by insufficient research or design to report the fascist anti-Semitism behind a cited author may not be entirely limited to that of an intellectual nature. It might well be cynically, cold-bloodedly monetary as well. While I cannot read the minds of those fostering millenarian fears and thus cannot absolutely prove a deliberate attempt to deceive on their part, there are ample motives that might lead them to fan millennial paranoia.
Consider Hal Lindsey. According to the back cover of his book, Planet Earth — 2000 A.D., he has authored 11 books. All of these are on the end-time and all are best-sellers in the Christian market. Their combined world-wide sales exceeds $35 million. In addition to this Lindsey has speaking tours, talk show appearances, etc. While I have no idea what portion of the sales go to him or how much of this money he devotes to charities, it is a sure bet that his celebrity status makes for a more attractive life than merely pastoring a local church would.
Then there is Don McAlvany, editor of The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor, another conspiracy theorist who mixes stories of implanted biochips as the Mark of the Beast with ominous predictions of impending economic collapse. He advises his readers to buy gold and silver as a hedge against the coming disaster. Interestingly enough, McAlvany is a dealer in silver and gold. Could it be that that his financial interests are to some small degree shading his prophecies?
While such end-times speculations as seeing the Mark of the Beast in the bar code, Visa cards, and implanted computer chips, or fears that Hong Kong Gurkhas will be imported into the U.S. for crowd control may seem harmless and rather silly, the avid adherence to the belief that these are the last days has serious consequences in that it motivates the way a sizable bloc of American voters views both domestic and foreign policy. In his book The Mind of the Bible-Believer, Edmund D. Cohen points out that it was extremely fortunate that the Soviet Union was run by atheists. Since they did not view the world as being fulfilled in an apocalyptic vision and did not believe that they had immortal souls that would survive a nuclear armageddon, they had a built-in reason to avoid an atomic war. Hal Lindsey has many times boasted that his lectures at places such as the Air Force Academy are always heavily attended and well received. Perhaps we should thank God that the Cold War ended before one of Lindsey’s enthusiastic listeners pushed the nuclear envelope too far.
Even with the end of the Cold War, there are consequences that voters holding the premillennial mind-set may plunge us into. Consider that their belief in the end-times has not been in the least bit shaken by the end of the Cold War and consider that the sweeping Republican electoral victories of 1994 were accomplished by a shift of only 2% of the voters coupled with a low voter turn-out. Since one of the voter blocs influencing that swing to the right consists of fundamentalist Christians looking forward to Armageddon, defense spending will likely not be based on rational considerations alone. Further, an aggressive, even bullying foreign policy could emerge, particularly in terms of our dealings with the Islamic nations and Russia.
While the influence of premillennialists may well prove a windfall for defense contractors, it could easily have a disastrous effect on how the government deals with internal issues. Consider the example of the infamous James Watt. As Secretary of the Interior, it was his job to enforce environmental regulations. As a premillennialist, however, it was his belief that there was no point in defending the environment since the world was going to end soon and the whole thing would be destroyed anyway. There is no end to the number of problems this rationalization could be applied to. Why worry about the problems of homelessness or drug addiction? The world is going to end soon. Why bother using our taxes to fund vaccinating school children? The world is going to end soon. Why bother reforming injustices? The Lord is coming back to institute a perfect society in a few years at most. Particularly when the financial benefits of more defense spending and less emphasis on environmental and social programs fit so nicely with the eschatology of the pre-millennialist voters, we will see how destructive are the fantasies woven by Hal Lindsey and others of his ilk.
- Cohen, E. D. 1988. The Mind of the Bible Believer. Buffalo: Prometheus Books.
- Howard, M. 1989. The Occult Conspiracy. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
- Kah, G. H. 1992. En Route to Global Occupation. Lafayette, LA: Huntington House Publishers.
- Kjos, B. 1995. “Serving a Greater Whole.” Media Bypass. June 1995.
- Lewis, D. 1993. Prophecy 2000. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press.
- Lindsey, H. with C.C. Carlson. 1970. The Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
- ___. 1994. Planet Earth-2000 A.D. Palos Verdes: Western Front Ltd.
- Lowry, Lois. 1993. The Giver. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
- McAlvany, D. S. (ed.) 1994. The Mcalvany Intelligence Advisor. August 1994.
- Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. Landman Isaac (ed.). 1941. New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc.
- Revised Standard Version. 1952. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons.
- Zondervan Amplified Bible. 1987. Lockman Foundation (eds.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
Skeptical perspectives on conspiracy theories
- 50 Greatest Conspiracies & Why People Believe Them
(CD $15.95) with John Whalen
- Why People Believe Weird Things
(paperback $17) by Michael Shermer
- Skeptic magazine Vol. 4 No. 3: Conspiracies
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