The Layperson’s Guide to Lucifer, the First Illuminatus

For many who believe in a global clandestine cabal as nefarious and elaborate as the Illuminati scheme to destroy religion and establish a one-world government,[1] the conspiracy’s level of malevolence naturally implies an even fouler origin: the Devil himself.

The Illuminati conspiracy theory is possibly the most well known and widely adapted of its kind. Consciously and unconsciously, centuries of Illuminati paranoia has rooted itself deep into the American psyche, producing a robust myriad of modern iterations ranging from notorious conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ rants against the “globalist agenda,”[2] to CBN founder and doomsday preacher Pat Robertson’s predictions of an imminent Satanic “New World Order,”[3] as well as a never-ending list of alleged celebrity memberships—not to mention an extensive pop culture resume.[4]

George Johnson—in his still disturbingly relevant classic, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics—describes a pervasive Illuminati legend developed through decades of folklore, which has influenced American right-wing conspiracy theories across all political and religious factions.[5] For a certain subtype of conspiracists, this omnipotent organization has roots in the Christian tradition’s conception of pure evil; the Illuminati’s ambitions to simultaneously secularize the planet while concentrating all power in the hands of an international elite is a clear sign that only the ultimate supernatural villain could be behind the wheel, sending humanity on a collision course to straight to hell.

As is a common practice among conspiracy theorists (and arguably all human beings), the desire to uncover secret patterns that may apply a sense of order to our seemingly chaotic existence leads to leaps of logic, which in turn often blend together otherwise independent, even contradictory ideas. The Illuminati legend is the perfect example of this phenomenon; its diverse adaptations have brought together religious fundamentalists and ardent atheists under a common belief: the Illuminati threat is powerful and unmistakably evil.

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Fact-Checking the Netanyahu/Trump Press Conference and an Explanation of the Jewish Settler Movement’s claim to ‘Judea and Samaria’

This morning’s joint press conference between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump was packed with a mix of salient foreign policy revelations[1] and awkward jokes about Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.[2] It marked a clear departure from the often turbulent,[3] yet hardly obstructing[4] and exceedingly financially generous[5] Obama-era relationship with Israel’s hard right head of state. Although Trump has recently moved to moderate his earlier statements supporting Jewish settlement construction,[6] the already well-formed personal friendship between the two leaders and their alignment on various political issues—including national security strategy, Iran, the “unfair” UN,[7] as well as a fondness for walls—suggests the bond between the US and Israel may be stronger than ever.[8]

This is good news for Netanyahu’s far-right friends within the Jewish settler movement, a growing[9] group of largely Israeli and Israeli-Americans living on illegal[10] towns and rogue outposts in the West Bank,[11] an area captured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967 and which has remained under military occupation for almost 50 years.[12] Today it is home to approximately 3 million Palestinians,[13] 550,000 Jewish settlers,[14] and an unknown number of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers stationed at military checkpoints and watchtowers sprinkled throughout the territory, including within settlement blocks, where they serve as guards.[15]

The language one uses to describe this disputed area is highly informative of their political, even religious leanings. For instance, for many Palestinians residing in the cities and villages west of the Jordan River (and in the Gaza Strip), this land is “Palestine,” their promised share of the larger historic Palestine that will one day be part of a two-state solution. For moderates respecting the neutral definition of the area as a still-to-be-determined not-yet-quite-a-county, the term “West Bank” is considered most PC, although its etymological objectivity is debated. Some instead prefer “Occupied West Bank” or “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” However, for hardcore Zionists holding to the belief that all of Israel—including the area west of the “Green Line”—is the God-given gift to the Jews, this land is “Judea and Samaria,” reclaiming its biblical name and hoping for its ultimate official annexation by the state of Israel. This term is also used in an official capacity by the government of Israel.

Pertinent to a discussion of Netanyahu’s remarks during his first press conference with our Dear Leader is some background information on the settlers’ biblically-based claim to “Judea and Samaria.” After all, Mr. Netanyahu evoked this notion while responding to a question on whether or not there was room for the two-state solution in a Trump-brokered peace process, stating,

“Jews are called Jews because they are from Judea. This is our ancestral homeland. Jews are not foreign colonists in Judea.”[16]

It’s clear from the start that fact-checking this claim will not provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to its validity; that just isn’t possible with such deeply-rooted religious convictions that are based on ancient historical evidence. I hope that this post will instead draw attention to some of the divisive rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, informed through the context of the religious ideological foundation of Israel’s settler movement, a dominating force placing enormous pressure on the leadership bodies of both the Israel[17] and the US.[18]

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OPINION: President Donald Trump, False-Messiah in Chief, Harbinger of the End Times

The rise of Donald J. Trump has been attributed to a variety of identity-driven frustrations spilling out of the dark depths of the American political right,[1],[2] but Trump’s loyal supporters did not always include the heavy-hitting Republican demographic bloc of white Christian Evangelicals, estimated to make up one-third to half of the party’s active voters.[3],[4] As Trump’s political prospects steadily increased, and while many Evangelicals grew fatigued from his unrelenting vituperation of their preferred candidate, Ted Cruz,[5] they grew to embrace Trump’s message,[6] and later the man himself, voting overwhelmingly for him and now-Vice President Mike Pence in the general election.[7]

Two days ago I witnessed President Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s speech was disturbingly nationalistic, hostile, and devoid of historical perspective. The crowd’s ecstatic response to his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism”[8] certainly caught my attention as the line garnering the loudest applause. But today, that is not what haunts me most. Rather, I keep returning to the comment made by (noted Islamophobe)[9] Rev. Franklin Graham directly after Trump’s speech. The reverend said, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”[10]

Graham’s statement suggests divine intervention, or at least approval, at Trump’s ascent to power, a common theme applied to both Democratic and Republican presidents throughout history. George W. Bush was also thought by many to be directly anointed by the Lord and was said to have embraced the grandiose attribute dangerously in his role as Commander and Chief of the US military, employing a “messianic militarism” internationally.[11],[12] Not unrelated, Barack Obama was commonly believed to be the Antichrist[13],[14] (by approximately 20% of registered Republicans, according to one poll),[15] but so was Ronald Wilson Reagan, whose three six-letter names was thought to be a sign of the beast.[16]

So which will it be for Donald Trump: good or evil? I imagine that among many Christians strongly adhering to some form of End Times theology, he will embody one archetype or the other, conveniently conforming to a pattern of events corresponding to whichever prophetic fantasy the believer already prefers. For me, Trump is at once definitely human in his dopey egotism and yet frighteningly threatening—not the second coming of Christ by any means, but nonetheless just as suited to bring about a catastrophic apocalypse.

A quick disclaimer before I begin: this post is not meant to serve as a fact-check to any one’s religious or spiritual beliefs. I consider that practice—trying to argue for one religion over another, or the existence of the divine—to be needlessly anti-social and entirely futile. This piece will not meet typical standards. Instead, it is meant as an illustration of the absurdity of absolute, fundamentalist beliefs in general. These beliefs, not based in facts but reinforced through a biased approach to interpreting significant events, can make us intransigently hateful, with the added severity of the perception of some sort of moral, divine mandate encouraging us to fight on. Furthermore, as we must now confront the reality that Trump’s fascist-style campaign promises and anti-media attitude will now be the official voice of the White House, it is more important than ever to recognize the absurdity and danger of idolizing our political leaders. And of course, it’s always fun to heckle DJT.

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