Communism was viewed as pure evil among believers.
That apocalyptic element demands attention, as it is virtually never mentioned in secular accounts of the anti-Communist era. Although the Church never officially made such a declaration, many ordinary believers simply viewed Stalin as the Antichrist. In 1949, Catholic diocesan newspapers published a syndicated cartoon that initially seems a characteristic warning against complacency in the face of Red expansionism. An American sleeps peacefully despite all the headlines on newspapers lying around him, which read “Communism sweeps Europe,” “Pope calls for militant action,” and “Antichrist Gains in USA.”
By the late 1940s, the secular news media were full of images which fitted extraordinarily well with supernatural and even mystical theories: the confrontation with absolute evil, the rise of an anti-Christian superstate, and the development of nuclear weapons (“hell-bombs”) capable of vast fiery destruction. All these grim aspects of the modern world appeared to be fulfilling the requirements for the disasters outlined in the Book of Revelation, and the vast body of written work erected upon that foundation. With the approach of the Holy Year of 1950, and the endless retellings of the Fátima story, Catholic papers found themselves responding to countless requests from readers for explanations of apocalyptic themes.
This point was elegantly made in a syndicated cartoon published shortly after the Bikini test in March 1954, in which the US exploded its 15-megaton fission/fusion bomb. Showing a map of the United States targeted by hell-bombs, the paper shows the location of the “only safe state,” namely “a state of grace.” The individual believer faced a straightforward choice between heaven or hell, Light or Darkness, Stalin or the Pope.
For ordinary believers, Communism was not merely a political challenge, but an utter evil opposed to everything good and holy. Anti-Communism was as basic a component of the emerging civic religion of the period as it was of the political consensus. Historians who do not know their Book of Revelation have no business discussing the mainstream politics of the McCarthy era.
Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.
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