Seething over this Pope's demonstrated compassion towards the poor, his embrace of immigrants, and his exhortations to preserve the natural environment, the Republican Party has apparently settled on a strategy of, quite literally, demonizing him. In a stunningly wretched column truly worthy of the unofficial mouthpiece of the GOP, Fox News Channel's "Senior Judicial Analyst" and former Judge, Andrew P. Napolitano makes the breathtaking leap to linking Pope Francis to the Biblical Antichrist:
The pope has seriously disappointed those who believe the Roman Catholic Church preserves and teaches the Truth. The Truth is Christ risen and unity with Him. It is not a debate about the minimum wage or air conditioning.
Pope Francis is popular on the world stage, and the crowds love him. But if he fails in his basic duties as the pope, if his concern is more for secular than sacred, if he aids the political agenda of the atheistic left, he is a false prophet leading his flock to a dangerous place, where there is more central planning and less personal liberty.
Most people with a working familiarity with the New Testament will recognize the term "false prophet"
as articulated in the Gospel of Matthew:
"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time"
Likewise, in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas encounter a "false prophet" named Elymas Bar-Jesus whom Paul essentially renders blind, cursing him as a tool of the Devil:
'You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun."
Generic references to "false prophets" are also found in the Epistles of Peter and John. But there is a deeper, more sinister connotation
associated with the epithet, one which would be immediately recognizable
to Evangelical Christians who make up a significant portion of the Republican base. The False Prophet is an actual person described in the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelations:
One well-known New Testament false prophet is the false prophet mentioned in the Book of Revelation. The Apocalypse's false prophet is the agent of the Beast, and he is ultimately cast with it into the lake of "fire and brimstone" (Revelation KJV). He is also called the Beast from the earth and is an infiltrated agent of the Antichrist within the Church, sent to destroy and deceive the Christian faith.
The False Prophet of Revelations is the embodiment of evil and is generally perceived in Apocalyptic theology (to which many Evangelicals subscribe) as a leader on the world stage
, one who deceives the masses
through confidence and trickery:
The false prophet of the end times is described in Revelation 13:11-15. He is also referred to as the “second beast” (Revelation 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). Together with the Antichrist and Satan, who empowers both of them, the false prophet is the third party in the unholy trinity.
The apostle John describes this person and gives us clues to identifying him when he shows up. First, he comes out of the earth. This could mean he comes up from the pit of hell with all the demonic powers of hell at his command. It could also mean he comes from lowly circumstances, secret and unknown until he bursts on the world stage at the right hand of the Antichrist. He is depicted as having horns like a lamb, while speaking like a dragon. The horns on lambs are merely small bumps on their heads until the lamb grows into a ram. Rather than having the Antichrist’s multiplicity of heads and horns, showing his power and might and fierceness, the false prophet comes like a lamb, winsomely, with persuasive words that elicit sympathy and good will from others. He may be an extraordinary preacher or orator whose demonically empowered words will deceive the multitudes. But he speaks like a dragon, which means his message is the message of a dragon. Revelation 12:9 identifies the dragon as the devil and Satan.
The key point here is that this False Prophet is a leader on the world stage
(significantly this is the exact phrase employed by Napolitano). He is a messenger of the Antichrist, appearing at his "right hand." Napolitano leaves it to the imagination whom this Antichrist might be, but for a good number of Republicans it is in fact President Barack Obama.
This is the dog-whistle about Pope Francis now being transmitted by the Republican Party to its Evangelical base. The right-wing Washington Times and Newsmax, neither of which I will link to, have also laid the "F" word at the Pontiff's feet this week, using the same terminology. The coordination among the right's media organs reflects the degree of fear occasioned by the Pope's embrace of what they consider "leftist" positions on climate change and immigration, two of the GOP's most sacred cows. The first, climate change, goes directly to the source of their funding, the fossil fuel industry, the most visible personages being Charles and David Koch. In terms of sheer political clout in the Republican Party nothing approaches fossil fuel conglomerates and their desire for deregulation permitting them to drill, dig and pollute at will. There is a reason that every single GOP's Presidential hopeful either denies outright or claims insufficient knowledge of climate science. It is a required policy position demanded by their donors. Those same donors have the most to fear from a marked shift in public opinion regarding the reality of climate change. That is why this Pope must be marginalized at all costs. Napolitano, who is Catholic, attacks the Pope on changing Catholic policy towards annulments and abortion, but the core of his message--and the message of other prominent voices on the right--is to paint Francis as an anti-capitalist demon. The "central planning" shibboleth waved by Napolitano and his ilk--a clear allusion to Marxism--is a reference to any government regulation of corporate interests, most importantly those of the fossil fuel industry.
The second issue striking fear into the heart of the GOP is the Pope's inclusive message on immigration. Anti-immigrant hatred is the only glue that holds the Republican coalition together, as has become glaringly obvious in the candidacy of Donald Trump and the scrambling by the rest of the GOP field to keep up or even outdo him with anti-Latino and Hispanic positions. Without this glue the entire Republican structure begins to fall apart, and the interests of the Kochs and others like them are imperiled.
It's bad enough that the Republican Party tries to manipulate the genuine religiosity of its base supporters to preserve its own wealth and power. In trying to foment fear and hatred of this Pope through such dog-whistle rhetoric, the Republican Party has succeeded in debasing itself even more than it has already done with its ignorant policies.