False Profits and Anti-Christs™

Still from Messiah (Netflix).

[Planet Earth] is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have the recipe again
Oh, no

– Richard “Abraham” Harris, “MacArthur Park”

It doesn’t take many viewing minutes into Messiah, the new Netflix series, to make an old postmodernist like myself wonder what the fuck I’m wasting what’s left of my time with this stuff for. El-Masih, the YouKnowWho (played, this time, by Mehdi Debhi), shows up in “Palestine” out of nowhere to announce that it’s Armageddon Time, accompanied by the first of many signs: Just as Damascus is about to have a bad hair day with artillery fired on them by ISIS from mysteriously unguarded heights not far away, a locust-like sandstorm engulfs Assad-abad. Insh’allah intervenes, it seems, but on whose behalf I can’t tell.

Meanwhile, Eva knocks back a would-be CIA officer, when he fails the Truth detector: The schmuck thinks Truth is murky and depends on stuff. Eva, a field officer inexplicably moonlighting as a CIA human resources interviewer, tells the brainy relativist that Truth is anything but gray, and he frowns, not used to rejection, as her eyes light up, and she mouths a variation of the CIA motto: You shall know the Truth, and it shall set you free. In case, he still doesn’t get it, she adds: “The CIA is like a holy order. It’s a doctrine that you live by.” So, here we have it: the CIA (this time, played by Michelle Monaghan) talking stoical Knight Templar blatherscheissen to a guy who just wanted a job.

During the interview, Eva has been eyeing a pop-up video on her laptop depicting El-Masih leading a growing throng of Palestinians toward the Israeli border. She’s been messaged details about the ominous Damascus event. El-Masih is arrested at the Israeli border and brought in for interrogation by Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service. El-Masih and Shin Bet (this time, played by Tomer Sisley) take turns reading each other, each pressing the other’s presumed delusions, which visibly shakes Shin Bet officer Aviram, who’s not sure what to make of the pacific charismatic leader. Placed in a cell watched over by camera, El-Masih miraculously escapes. End of episode 1.

Miracles, omens, charmers talkin’ Truth in the post-Truth era, apocalyptic storms, and immigration snafus — it’s a lot to take in, in 43 minutes, and I find myself with an immediate ponderment: Biblically speaking, if el-Masih is the Messiah, then he is the Second Coming, and things are going to get Ugly in this series. Beasts with many eyes, terrible swift swords, four riders of the Apocalypse (even the word sounds horrific, like Jezebel discovered her herpes simplex (original sin) had gone Guernica complex on her overnight). No unguent for that.

None of this should matter, this Messiah stuff, any more, I tell myself, having gone from devout (and confirmed Catholic) in one lifetime to radical atheist towards the end of my days. I’ve tried to sneak away on tippy-toe from religion for a long time. What’s the old saying? I was a child, then I had to grow up, and sell my toys on eBay to the highest bidder, including a lot of my ideals, and become a man. A demolished man, a little too much on the paranoid-telepathic side for my own good. I try to slip away, but I keep getting pulled back.

It’s in the news, all the time, religious stuff, I long forgot. A couple of days ago, Donald Trump Jr. was in the splash because he “posed” with an AR-15 on Instagram. It became “newsworthy” because the AR-15 had a Crusader helmet design near the trigger, with a Jerusalem Cross emblazoned on it. (The AR-15 also featured a depiction of Hillary “locked up,” so it’s difficult to know which crusade is sanctioned here by the trigger-finger that belongs to the gun.) But Christian Daddy Trump’s been blowing Semites to Kingdom Come lately (Idlib and Bagdad) and tempting End Days with more threatened wars with ancient middle kingdoms, and so the MSM, eager to ransom Trump to the Devil, was all over that.

It reminded some of us of the Bush administration, of Methodist George talking about the long war ahead on Terrorism being “a Crusade,” which Americans, despite their shock and awe at the audacity of the Saudi hijackers on 9/11, overwhelming wanted justice to be served up to the right Evil guys. So, we helped Saudis flee America the day after, we blew the shit out of Iraq with our weapons of mass destruction, and knock knock knocked on Tora Bora’s door — for nothin’. Meanwhile, Bush’s false earnestness about Crusades made the Europeans jittery; they didn’t care for that kind of jive. They’d been down Clash of Civilization Road many times before.

When you watch Sam Huntington explain his thesis in a nutshell on YouTube, his arrogant ignorance can disarm you if you’re not careful. It’s an imperialist’s thesis: colonization and its many and myriad terra nulliuses, PNAC and its unfolding promises of Pax Americana (think: Absolute Spirit) at the end of all the triadic dialectical flourishes of history; and, arguably, where all power hunger games began: The Crusades and that Jerusalem Cross, aka, Crusader Cross, the emblem of the very first Crusade to the Holy Land in 1099 by Godfrey de Bouillon (who refused to be anointed King of the newly conquered Jerusalem) in search of that Prelude to Lohengrin feeling, sacred booty, local loot and assorted wampum to bring back to Paris, Glastonbury and Turin.

Back in the world of Messiah, with the introduction of Aviral, the conflicted Israeli security officer, Netflix has put into play The Three Abes — Christianity (Eva), Judaism (Aviral) and el-Masih (Islam). The three hostile “moral” forces that the agnostic world has been trying to calm the fuck down for 2000 years. Sometimes they’ve seemed like The Three Stooges — Moe (C), Larry (I) and Curly (J) — such as during the Crusades, when they beat the snot out of one another. Other times, they’re like the happy-go-lucky Three Amigos, thrusting in the general direction of the Holy Land, like some seasonal solution to a never-ending Problem. And yet other times, all the Les Mis of our common uncivil humanity — greed and war and pettiness –is on display, and you think The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

In episode 4, El-Masih, who was last seen disappearing from an old Jerusalem cell, reappears, by private jet, in Texas (not that far from Waco, it turns out). There’s a mother-of-all-tornadoes dervishly whirling, and young Rebecca, a pastor’s teenage daughter, toxically bored with dead-end Texas, seems to offer herself up as a sacrifice to the storm. El-Masih is johnny-on-the-spot to rescue her. After the twister has lifted, an openly unhappy Felix, the father, and secretly miserable Melinda, the mother, come rushing at the miracle pair, and together they pan the rubbled town and note one lone structure standing: the pastor’s church. News spreads, the church becomes a stop on the Pilgrimage Tour. But Aviral and Eva are not far behind. Then El-Masih gets picked up for immigration violations — entering the US through Mexico.

The evangelical Bob Dylan once sang that “sometimes Satan comes as a man of Peace,” and now here comes El-Masih in a country that practically mass-produces false prophets and charismatic enigmas — Dylan himself, Charlie Manson, Jim Jones (literally, they drank the Kool-Aid), David Korash, and some people even say Wilhelm never quite delivered the goods with a Reich we could all have gotten behind. It really starts to get evil in episode 4.

The Three Abes, all tangled up in blue interrogation scenes and courtroom messianic hijinks that the MSM plays up, start to lose the plot. Eva has a miscarriage (“not my first,” she grimly tells a sympathetic nurse); Aviral’s young daughter, Ellie, is evilly ill, testing his faith; and then, when you’re thinking it can’t get more evil than that, El-Masih knocks up Rebecca, who gets an abortion, which destroys the pastor’s family, although the church is still left standing. So that’s something. Oh, and Ellie survives in a coma long enough to speak in tongues.

Like Dylan said.

It’s all cheap dimestore stuff, but you’re sucked in. Eva, having recovered her equanimity, sits at a cafe, following the teachings of El-Masri on i-Phone, and advises a short order cook who she converses with in the closing time dimness, who has a paper due on Sam Huntington’s Clash the next morning,

The only thing you have to remember is that he was right. Huntington predicted that the primary axis of world conflict after the Cold War would be along cultural and religious lines. It’s exactly what’s happening in world politics today, so just center your paper around that argument.

Thus Spake the Knight Templar, if only they wouldn’t resist. Huntington singles out Islam. And Islam singles out Judaism. And Judaism singles out the other two. You can’t help but wonder sometimes how the world might be “a kinder, gentler” without all the Abrahamic vaudeville.

You try to push this pulp fiction away, then, like Trump’s kid showing off his Jerusalem Cross, the MSM brings some more. While they don’t seem to mind neo-liberal/con policies that amount to a global Crusade, there they are to take the piss Christ out of Trump. Recently, they put out the scary notion that Evangelicals everywhere see Trump as some kind of Christian version of Elijah Muhammed, sayin’ it like it ain’t. And what’s more distressing in the current climate of impeachment is that, were Trump actually in danger of being removed from office, Mike Pence, who some have called a theocrat, would be taking over.

I remember that 20 years ago Francis Fukuyama was all the rage with his Reader’s Digest version of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which he titled The End of History and the Last Man, and worked as a kind of manifesto for humanitarian interventionism and global expansion for the neoliberals. It was a little too airy-fairy for the neo-cons, so they went with the no bullshit empire-building suggested in the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), an approach John Bolton and Hillary prefer. Iran has always been high on the list of take-outs. Fukuyama blinked, and admitted, in a further bestselling book, that maybe we weren’t out of triadic dialectics just yet. Another false profit.

If American (Christians) seem keen on reaching history’s end to reach their own vision of a New Jerusalem at any cost, they are not alone among the Three Abes. You get the feeling that if the right Arabs got hold of a nuke, they wouldn’t waste any time annihilating Israel. In the past the Iranian Defense Minister, Hossein Dehghan, has warned:

Enemies may want to impose a war on us based on false calculations and only taking into consideration their material capabilities. If such a war were to occur, it would mean the destruction of the Zionist regime [Israel]…and will engulf the whole region and could lead to a world war.

This sounds extreme and one-sided until you watch the excellent Israeli film, The Gatekeepers, and realize that Israeli Zionists have been caught in the past plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock — for the specific purpose of bringing about Armageddon.

Meanwhile, there are hints to El-Masih’s identity — he was “originally Jewish” and has “an accent from Iran.” In a Texas interview with Avirum he refers to himself as The Word. He brings with him “the end of history.” Eva discovers his “true” identity, his previous admission to a mental ward with “a messiah complex.” Still, there’s something about him. Something Americans want to believe in him; even the President accepts and endorses his messaging (making you think of Pence again). But a John Bolton type character blows the whistle on the Second Coming, leaking classified documents to a reporter. It’s all a hoax! But wait, what rock through yon window breaks? There’ll be a season 2.

Messiah hedges its bets. It’s highly reminiscent, maybe even derivative, of a previous NBC series called Revelations. This series begins with a jet flight, while Messiah ends that way. Same chit chat between intelligence officials, pastoral types and the messianic figure, same hold on the MSM; girls are possessed by the Spirit; but while we still don’t know what’s up with El-Masri in the end, in Revelations we are definitely dealing with a malignant Anti-Christ figure. God doesn’t seem to be much better. in an astonishing comic book scene that depicts God’s utter malevolence, a totally innocent girl has a Nabokovian “(picnic, lightning)” moment for the ages, then in the next moment lightning strikes again, like a double-tap, and evicts her senseless body from the branches of the tree she’d just landed in. Frankly, from what I’ve seen, Revelations seems to provide more verisimilitude. You can believe that’s His attitude.

We’re heading for something awful; we know it; we can feel it now. We’ve tried to put a positive spin on it, but it’s not working. If Climate Change doesn’t wipe us out wholesale, force us to live in fissures in the ground, like Morlocks, with no internet, then we will perish by a pandemic that affects our consciousness, addicted to the internet, our minds scalloped out to make room for fascist programming — fait accompli AI simulacra, controlled by the grumpy old God of Abraham thumbing through Facebook timelines for sinners. All this play G.O.D (God On Demand) when we should be saving the planet.

Fuck it.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.