We are living through a time of significant political change. I have in the past written about globalisation – its benefits and dangers. But now we are in the Trump-Brexit era which seems to be moving away from globalisation. How are we to understand what is going on relative to biblical predictions about the End Times? Does it mean that world trends are no longer moving in a direction which could ultimately facilitate the rise of the Antichrist as a global leader?

We are seeing how easy it is for extremists to gain power

In fact, the current reaction against globalisation shows how easy it is for extremists to come to power. I am aware that many US Evangelicals support Donald Trump. One of the main reasons is that, unlike Hilary Clinton, Trump takes a conservative line on abortion. Abortion is a big deal in the US but isn’t in the UK. I myself am conservative over abortion and many years ago mounted a local campaign against liberal views of abortion. But we need to realise that there are other very important moral issues as well as abortion and similar matters of personal morality. Trump may be conservative over abortion but many of us think that in other ways he is an extremist:

  • He is very self-promoting
  • He rubbishes anyone who disagrees with him (including the press)
  • He regards any news he disagrees with as “fake news.”
  • He says people who protest against him are being paid to do so
  • He claims that he alone represents the people against “the elite”
  • He thrives on divisiveness and claims his opponents are un-American.
  • He bullies, threatens and holds grudges
  • He acts hastily on important issues such as global warming and other international threats (e.g. N Korea, use of chemical weapons in Syria).

The Pope recently reminded people of what happened in Germany in 1933 and warned: “A people that was immersed in a crisis that looked for its identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened.” This shows how a charismatic, extremist can gain power and go on to become a dictator.

Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN deputy general secretary, expressed deep concern about “the growing cult of the strong man.” He said: “In a range of countries there are very strong leaders, not always that respectful of the rules of the game.” He instanced the current leaders of China, India, Turkey together with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. They are a very powerful group on the G20 which is a major factor in globalisation. Malloch-Brown said that “democracy is being replaced by a generation of Caesars.”

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, said: “Putin has, at the cost of diplomatic isolation and the suppression of democratic rights, restored growth, order and national pride. Now all over the world there are mini-Putins.”

Tony Blair stated: “In a world of uncertainty, people want strength in their leaders. It’s our job to make sure that that does not bleed across into authoritarianism.”

A recent survey for The Independent discovered a fear of global fascism amongst British people. Contributory factors were the appointment of Trump, Brexit and the danger of far-right wing leaders coming to power in Europe. 53% of Britons said global fascism is growing. 46% said it was growing in Britain and 48% that it is growing in Europe.

Globalisation, one trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as a global leader, may be partly in reverse in some places. But the trend towards the emergence of extreme world leaders, another trend relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist, is obvious.

Trump has a policy of rubbishing people who disagree with him. He does this with the media who, for all their faults, are crucial to freedom of speech and democracy. He is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and human rights. Human Rights Watch warned about the emergence of leaders who magnify their own authority. They “directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality.” They are “seeking to overturn the concept of human rights protections.”

Until recently it was assumed that the political extremes – left or right – would not be able to take over. That assumption has been shattered recently. Extremists can come to power and take over and that is just as relevant to the eventual rise of Antichrist as globalisation.

Appreciation of the benefits of globalisation will return

Globalisation has brought about increasing interdependency and interaction between nations. It seems that nations are returning to protectionism and restrictions on overseas workers and refugees. Some think the apparent reaction against globalisation is merely a reaction against the inequalities caused by multinationalism which will ultimately lead to a fairer globalisation. Many feel that globalisation has to re-orientate in order to cope with inequalities and global warming.

Stephen Hawking argued for the importance of globalisation: “For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.”

In any case we live in an electronic global village. That cannot be reversed. It is a world dominated by the internet and social media. One very important factor in the move towards globalisation is technological change. Goods can easily be ordered across national boundaries if they are more suitable to the consumer. Politicians have little control over this.

Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organisation stated recently that tit-for-tat protectionism in the Great Depression of the 1930s led to world trade shrinking by two-thirds in three years. He added that if this were to happen today it “would be a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”

Globalisation promotes peace

Many people are already beginning to see the dangers in the reaction to globalisation. Take Donald Trump, for example. He has spoken of a nuclear arms race and has made aggressive statements about how America will deal with N Korea (a very dangerous nuclear power). He has also been provocative towards China including through his irresponsible tweets. However globalisation has been a movement towards world peace. The United Nations, NATO and the European Union which Trump tends to treat with contempt, have been powerful forces for peace. It is likely therefore that eventually people will react against the views propounded by Trump in favour of a fairer globalisation.

Boris Johnson commented: “We should never forget the old truism that when goods and services no longer cross borders then troops and tanks do instead. By rebelling against globalisation we endanger as system that has been associated with 70 years of post-war peace and prosperity and that has allowed billions to lift themselves out of penury by toil and enterprise.”

However Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, said that the world is on the brink of a ‘post-Western age’ with European and American influence declining allowing other states, including Russia, to shape a new global order.  He asked: “Will this new era again be marked by greater tensions and, possibly, even outright conflict between the world’s major powers, not least between China and the US? Is this a post-order world in which the elements of the liberal international order are fading away because no one is there to protect them? The world is about to find out.”

Globalisation promotes free speech and human rights

We have noted that Trump is effectively supporting those who reject free speech and this is true of other extremists who have come to power. There will be a growing reaction against this and an appreciation of the support for free speech and human rights which globalisation provides.

The dangers of Surveillance

Since November 2016 the UK has had what is being called the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. Like the CIA, MI5 will be able to spy on citizens through their smart TVs, cars and cell phones. Silkie Carlo, policy officer at Liberty, said: “Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.”

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.” Lord Strasburger commented: “We do have to worry about a UK Donald Trump. If we do end up with one, and that is not impossible, we have created the tools for repression.

GCHQ has warned the leaders of Britain’s political parties of the threat Russian hacking poses to democracy. They said: “This is not just about the network security of political parties’ own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals’ email accounts.”

It seems clear that globalisation will continue. But there is also the worrying emergence of extremist, authoritarian leaders and of very pervasive surveillance. All of these trends have relevance to the biblical predictions of the End Times about the ultimate rise of Antichrist etc.

 

The NT predicts that the “last days” will be characterised by what Jesus called an “increase of wickedness” including selfishness, materialism, arrogance, rebellion, resentment, slander, self-indulgence, violence and treachery. So we should be alert to a decline in standards in society.

Reduced trust

Only 30% of British citizens believe “most people can be trusted” and 70% say you “need to be very careful” about trusting strangers, according to a recent World Values Survey. Trust has declined remarkably in the UK over the years. In the 1950s almost 60% believed strangers could be trusted and in the 1980s the trust level was 40%. The UK lags behind Germany (44%) Australia (57%) Norway (73%) and Sweden (65%).

Priority of Mammon

David Halpern, a senior government adviser, has warned the government that this decline in trust could be very damaging. This concern for society sounds encouraging until it becomes clear that Halpern is worried about the damage to prosperity and economic growth. He said: “Social trust seems to be a powerful predictor of economic growth and a lack of trust can stunt national economic growth rates. This really is super important.” So, Mammon wins again.

Armando Iannucci, writing in The Guardian, said “Politics was once about beliefs and society. Now it’s a worship of money.” He continued: “For the first 70 years or so of the 20th century, politics debated the power and limits of the state: the manifestos of the parties reflected how much or how little each party felt the government should involve itself in the lives of the individual. Everyone accepted there was such a thing as society, and we were given regular chances to define it. Politics was about passion, and imagination, and foresight. Now it’s just accountancy … Education became all about getting us ready for jobs … Health became a mysterious and un-debated obsession to turn our hospitals into market economies.”

In July 2014 the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that many MPs show little interest in the principles drawn up in 1995 after sleaze scandals when John Major was prime minister. It recommended that MPs take an induction course on the seven principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Reduced importance for Human Rights

Human rights are no longer a top priority for the British government according to Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. He said that “the need to concentrate on Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia has supplanted it to an extent.”

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee responded: “This is particularly disappointing after the progress made under the previous Foreign Secretaries, including William Hague who promised in 2011 that there would be “no downgrading of human rights”, as “it is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests”. We wholeheartedly share the concerns of NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, whose UK director, David Mepham, commented: “This unwillingness to fully champion rights and fundamental freedoms runs counter to the best traditions in this country’s history and weakens the UK’s global standing and influence.”

Allan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs at Amnesty International, commented: “When much of the Middle East is in flames and a refugee crisis is engulfing Europe, Sir Simon’s comments are as astonishing as they are alarming.”

Association with oppressive regimes

It is interesting that McDonald’s comments came on day 4 of the visit to the UK by Xi Jinping, the president of China.

It has come to light that Britain made a secret deal with Saudi Arabia to ensure that both countries were elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Yet Saudi Arabia has a bad human rights record. It has allowed over 100 beheadings in recent months. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, commented: “Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights.”

Jon Snow interviewed David Cameron on Channel 4 about this deal with Saudi Arabia but Cameron tried to avoid the question. Eventually he said: “We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia and if you want to know why I’ll tell you why. It is because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe.”

We have also been supplying arms to Saudi Arabia which it is using in a very destructive war in Yemen. A recent editorial in The Independent said: “Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia is a disgrace. It makes a mockery of our claims to have an ethical approach to bilateral relations with other countries, and it betrays a lickspittle way of dealing with autocratic regimes, which should be a source of embarrassment to people of any political persuasion.” The paper allows that the Saudi regime may be the lesser of two evils because of who might replace them. But it adds that does not mean we should give it “our patronising pat on the head.” Rather we should be holding it to account.

Cuts in welfare payments and inequality

Back in February 2014 the Bishops issued a statement criticising Government welfare reforms: “We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions … We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must ‘heat or eat’ each winter…”

In January 2016 a government Briefing Paper outlined that long-term unemployed people will either be required to attend the job centre every day for three months (which is ludicrous for those who don’t live near a job centre) or 30 hours voluntary work a week for six months. Those who don’t comply will face sanctions – losing their Job Seeker Allowance for four weeks in the first instance and for thirteen weeks in the second instance.

A report published by the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the United Reformed church, as well as Church Action on Poverty said the government is more concerned with cutting benefits than helping people back to work, resulting in greater poverty and reliance on foodbanks. Over one million unemployed were subject to sanctions in 2014 – benefits being stopped for a few weeks up to three years. Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, said “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.” Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty commented: “Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

In July 2015 the Chancellor wanted to cut tax credits linked to a national living wage, claiming 90% of families would be better off. The Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it was “arithmetically impossible” for the increase in minimum wage to compensate for the loss in tax credits. The proposal was debated in the House of Lords and Baroness Hollis of Heigham said: “We can be supportive of the Government and give them what they did not ask for – financial privilege – or we can be supportive instead of those three million families facing letters at Christmas telling them that on average they will lose up to around £1,300 a year, a letter that will take away 10 per cent of their income on average. That is our choice.” The House of Lords defeated the proposal.

The danger is that in seeking to curb abuse of the benefits system (or simply to save money) genuinely needy people will be penalised. The government should ensure these people are catered for even if it risks others being able to abuse the system.

Inadequate response to the refugee situation

At the beginning of 2016 28 aid agencies and charities wrote to the prime minister: “Last year’s announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step, but given the numbers of people searching for safety across the globe, this response is clearly inadequate: it is too slow, too low and too narrow. The UK can and should be doing much more to ensure that refugees are not compelled to take life-threatening journeys or forced into smugglers’ hands.”

The letter demands safe and legal ways for refugees to reach the EU and travel across it, noting that in 2015 3,770 people died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. It added that refugees should have “access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection.”

It welcomed UK aid to Syria, Greece and the Balkans and agreed that tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis remains a priority. But it continues: “However, in the absence of peace, people will continue to flee. We must provide them with safe, well-managed escape routes and refuge.”

The letter concluded: “Over 64 years ago, soon after the horrors of the second world war, European governments adopted the refugee convention, an instrument of international law which British lawyers helped to draft. As a nation, we made a promise: that never again would refugees be left out in the cold to fend for themselves; that this country would protect them; that here, they would find safe haven.”

At the same time 123 economic experts, including former diplomats and Whitehall officials, wrote to David Cameron saying: “The costs in human wellbeing of the refugee crisis … are so extremely high that it is morally unacceptable for the UK not to play a fuller part in taking in refugees.” One of them, Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, said: “Integrating refugees into our society and labour market will be, as it has been in the past, challenging. But we have done it before – with enormous benefits, both economic and social, to the UK – and there is absolutely no reason we cannot do it again.”

Conclusion

So in Britain we live in a society where trust has declined significantly, money has become a god, human rights have been somewhat devalued, oppressive regimes have been inappropriately supported, support for the poor has been significantly undermined and care for refugees has been seriously reduced.

It is obscene that 62 of the world’s richest people own as much as the poorest half of humanity combined, according to Oxfam. So, as the head of Oxfam said, one bus load of people have as much money as the poorest 3.6 billion people.

The wealth of the poorest half of the world’s people has fallen by $1 trillion since 2010 whilst the wealth of the richest bus load has increased by half a trillion dollars.

It is true that some of the bus load, such as Bill Gates, may be very generous, but many of them concentrate on avoiding tax by using tax havens. So some pay only 2-3% in tax.

Maybe the selfish rich should reflect on the eternal destination of the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus in Jesus’ story.

Matt 3:7-12 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? … ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”

John the Baptist prophetically summarises that Jesus’ ministry will be characterised by him baptising people in the Holy Spirit and judging the impenitent. We need to stress both of those aspects of his ministry not just the more acceptable message about baptism in the Spirit. The baptising in the Spirit is partly to empower believers to live holy (and penitent) lives in order to avoid judgment. How often do we hear that message?