Remediating the apocalypse

American Civil Religion

In their recent book, Captain America and the crusade against evil, Jewett and Lawrence argue that the post September 11 environment has been shaped both by the apocalyptic tradition of “zealous warfare” which has religious roots shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims and an American “civil religion” which has its roots in stories of comic and film “superheroes.” They point specifically to the long line of superheroes from the Lone Ranger to Captain America to Spider Man, who not only run a one man crusade against evil but who do this outside the existing structures of law and justice. In an article written just prior to the invasion of Iraq they outlined the intricate connections between the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic tradition and American popular culture:

Religion, in fact, particularly America's dominant Judeo-Christian tradition, has everything to do with the Captain America complex. Redemptive violence has an important place in the Bible's narratives of conquest, national security, and moral purification...

Of particular importance for the American civil religion has been the Book of Revelation, which stands triumphantly at the end of the New Testament canon, giving its hearers a grandiose flood of zealous images and ideas that negate Jesus' teaching about coexistence even with adversaries. It pictures the plot of world history as a battle between God and God's demonic enemies. Over and over again it promises total victory to the saints. It urges them to keep pure and undefiled while God annihilates their opponents, whom it stereotypes as bestial and irredeemable. Perhaps the most insidious impact on later generations lies in Revelation's fusion of the humane tradition of the fatherhood of God with the zealous tradition of the annihilation of enemies....

It is widely recognized that the Book of Revelation played a crucial role in the Puritanism that shaped the early stages of American Civil religion. This violent legacy is apparent in the supremely popular "Battle Hymn of the Republic" where the Prince of Peace becomes the warrior who "hath loosed the lighting of his terrible, swift sword." The verses of this hymn became the favored marching song of the Union forces during the Civil War. Its Revelation-inspired imagery expresses the belief that the destruction of enemies would finally produce lasting peace.

This web project is an evolving space exploring contemporary manifestations of the apocalyptic in current affairs and popular culture. It is being developed in association with my Ph.D. research and is both a research method and a presentation of that research. In exploring the apocalyptic I am particularly interested in mapping a series of multimodal mythic clusters that are evolving through a process of remediation which I identify as a key cultural logic for an age in which electracy is the new literacy of nomadic subjects. This hypertextual presentation foregrounds affiliational logic and although I hope the project accumulates meaning it does not seek to present a single, formal, linear argument. I have presented some of these ideas in more traditional academic formats in other places. Although the navigational choices are the user's own these tips may be useful. Feedback is very welcome.

Marcus O'Donnell 2005-2006