The (theo)politics of the Apocalypse

Image_Elyeser Szturm

By Benito Eduardo Maeso*

The elements of this Brazilian-style messianism have always been diffuse and latent in society and are manifested today in a state of permanent war in politics.

An event with the dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic makes it possible to better analyze a specific contrast of Brazilian society: if the statement that the construction of the figure of the leader in the social imaginary of a population follows a religious/salvationist dynamic may seem nowadays a terrain already explored, the emergence of a threat to the ways of life and the logic of organization of contemporary society – in which capitalism and religiosity are intertwined in the so-called Theology of Prosperity – triggered here a set of reactions that allows us to assess that such a theological process- political[1] entered a more explicit phase, which can be called (theo)politics[2] of the Apocalypse.

It is important, then, to mark clearly what is being said with Revelation in this context. Even though the Book of Revelations has accumulated an image of horror and fear over the centuries, and we know that books of prophecy and eschatology have one of their strong points in the hermeticism of their images – which makes possible the most diverse interpretations of the text – what interests us are two central factors in the text: the struggle between good and evil and the imbrication between the ideas of destruction and rebirth. The events revealed as signs of the end times are crucial and necessary conditions for the arrival of the reward to those who believe, whose souls will be forgiven and who will have the task of rebuilding the world (or being welcomed into a divine world already prepared to receive them). ).

The theological roots of Brazilian political culture – and, by extension, of social, intellectual and artistic productions – are especially visible in the conceptual-historical pair providentialism and messianism already skilfully unraveled by Chauí (1994): Brazil as a promised land, ahistorical and belonging to the kingdom of Nature (the “giant” and the “paradise”), whose ruler is the one chosen by the divinity to save the devout people. The ruler, appointed from Above, can be both the eagerly awaited redeemer and the final test before the great rapture. In cultural production, from Parnassian poetry to the academic production of the Humanities, it is shown, in different intensities, a background of the projection of (or the return to) an untouched era, to this myth of eden brasilis, to a telluric solution capable of reconfiguring the confused relations of a country in eternal identity crisis. As Paulo Leminski would say, “deep down, we would like to see our problems solved by decree” (2013, p. 195). An era in which time does not flow, trapped in an eternal Now, from Pero Vaz's letter to the slogan of being the country of “the future”.

But the pointer moved. The future has arrived, because the apocalypse, the time of the definitive battle between good and evil, is the here and now, at least for a population group that not only has the idea of ​​war “against everything and everyone” as a rhetoric: the adopted as a way of life.

It is necessary to remember that, in this nature-paradise called Brazil, there is not even the possibility of a social pact along Hobbesian lines, when politics is born as a child of fear. In this great “East” there is no society, only “people” and whom the Most High “chooses” to represent Him. There is, in this founding narrative of the Brazilian imaginary, both the providentialist component already described and the presence of an element of messianism in which our existences in the tropical country blessed by God and beautiful by nature are the waiting time for the “signs of the times”. According to Chaui,

The time of the end, prelude to the messianic era of the thousand years, is announced by signs – plague, famine, war, death, tyranny, scourges in general, misfortunes brought by the unjust ruler who figures the Antichrist – and by the coming of the one who will carry out the first combats and will create the community of the righteous and saints to receive the Christ in glory and majesty. (...) An essential element in this perspective of the millennium is the figure of the combatant who prepares the way of Christ: receiving various names, such as Papa Angelico, Emperor of the Last Days, the Hidden One, the Enchanted One (names given, for example, to D. Sebastião and resumed by Antônio Conselheiro, among others), the pre-savior appears in the garments of the messianic leader in whom all and the last hopes are deposited. (1994, pg. 7-8)[3]

Now, if in the imagination of part of the Brazilian population its existence is the waiting time for Armageddon, the occurrence of these signs of the End occurs precisely during the lives of these individuals. Every crisis, every problem, every shortage (common and constant elements in the “eternal” crisis of Brazilian society) can be seen as the announcement of the final moment, the instant of the unraveling of the forces present in the last book of the New Testament (although not all and we are all Christians, such symbols, the cultural mix of this religion and this pre-apocalyptic state are constitutive elements of our understanding of the world). Deep down, we are a society – and we are individuals – always on the eve of this redemption, dealing daily with the dichotomy between total collapse and the salvation of the crop.

This set of ideas worked effectively as a tool for social pacification for a considerable time, as for an elite this narrative served as a justification for their privileges “in life” (since we would live in a paradise outside of time, there is no ethical or moral conflict in receiving all benefits, milk and honey, the eternal reward as an eternal instant of the present – ​​despite the existence, in the same population, of the underprivileged waiting for their day to be graced by Providence) and for the rest of the population the logic of “how much the greater the tribulation, the greater the subsequent reward” underpinned each of his actions. Who has never heard with pride the story that Brazilians always had their “way” in the crisis? That is, did he get rid of Evil?

But Brazilian populist messianism – a political mode present in our social reality, for example, in Canudos, Contestado and in the legacy of Sebastianism, which deals with the arrival of the time of liberation and crystallizes the prophet as the Herald of the End who will lead his people in security – begins to function in war mode thanks to a combination of factors that ended up precipitating the collapse of the pacifying character of this mentality. Are they:

a) the rise and spread of a peculiar vision (to say the least) of Christianity, based on the ideas of establishing a commercial relationship with the divinity, in which Grace is received according to the offering given, and of a permanent conflict between the chosen people and the secular world[4].

b) The emergence of social tensions that were masked by the narrative of perpetual peace among Brazilian citizens, notably the arc of opportunities for certain segments of society and the reduction of socioeconomic inequality, which caused in another social segment the feeling of losing their place of “right” in paradise.

c) The crisis of representative politics, culminating in the 2016 coup, which was boosted by the establishment of a “good X evil” narrative and resulted in a vacuum in the place and role traditionally occupied by the Chosen One. The immense effort made – and unsuccessful – in an attempt to restore the “order” in which the appointed from Above automatically belonged to the “owning” classes of the eden brasilis paved the way for a new kind of “savior,” one who rules by the sword, not peace. An “inverted” Messiah with two faces, with interchangeable identities that guarantee its external coherence even though its exponents may be dissociated, simultaneously Jewish and Christian who leads the Combat and presides over the Judgment [5]. Even apparently dissociated in certain situations, or amalgamated in a confrontation of leaderships, their matrix is ​​identical: the union between the wait/arrival of the Chosen One – and his arrival being the seal of a set of prejudices and social judgments on the part of its components.

Thus, the Brazilian prophecy seems to have taken decisive steps towards its final stage: the confrontation on the plains of Har Meggido. The elements of this Brazilian-style messianism have always been diffuse and latent in society: the power in personal relationships exercised as guardianship over the Other and the clientelism derived from this, the power without mediations crystallized in the Chosen One, the satanization or deification of the leading figure and the imbrication between family structure and political-social structure, maintaining parental power, permeated by the founding myth of a paradisiacal society and outside of History. The radicalization of this picture – the materialization of Morobolsonarism – is the galvanization, in an object, of this set of factors tensioned by the confrontation of political, social, psychological and economic forces. Answering questions such as why Morobolsonarism – a political system in a state of permanent war, tensioning the social fabric to the point of almost constant rupture – is gaining ground among the lower classes involves understanding that the perception generated by this type of leader relationship -people (where the leader is seen both as transcendent to the people and as one among equals, giving the feeling that the people are now the Chosen One) is that the moment of redemption has arrived. The greater the social, economic, environmental, political crisis, etc., the greater the narrative, fueled by neoliberalizing neo-Pentecostalism and by a very effective propaganda machine, that the reward time is at hand.

Likewise, explaining the suicidal impulse on the part of an upper and middle class, accurately described by Safatle (2020), requires us to put on screen the concepts of Redemption and Grace (the liberation of the human race by Christ and the gift given by God to men who enables them to attain salvation[6], as in Psalm 130, where the Lord comes to deliver Israel – and everyone who believes – from all their guilt for wrongdoing). In the imaginary that permeates the construction of Brazilian society, pious and sinful, syncretic and faithful, living in paradise (or on the margins of the great Babylon) allows us to cross the line from time to time, because forgiveness is the horizon of expectation for the truly faithful. Therefore, every transgression is justified by the larger plan, opening space for the discrepancy between the moralizing discourse and the amoral and/or unethical practice, since the action is the object of reflection only on its means, not on its ends.

A key element of fascism, then, has always been present in Brazilian political theology: the coincidence between the leader's desire and the desire from Above, whatever that may be. Submitting to the Power gives the believer the expectation of being a part of it. According to Adorno, in his study of the 1950s on the Authoritarian Personality, such a drive mechanism and the satisfaction of explicit or implicit desires is easily recognizable both in the blind worship of a leader and in the micropowers of bureaucratic structures.

a man who reports that the most inspiring experience for him would have been "shaking the president's hand" probably finds his gratification not just in submission, but in the idea that some of the great man's power, as it were, imbued him, so that he is a more important person for having "shaken his hand" or for "having known him" or for having "been there". The same standard of gratification can be achieved by acting in the role of “lieutenant” or by playing a role in an intermediate position in some clearly structured hierarchy, in which there is always someone above and someone below. (Adorno, 2019, p. 153)

The conviction that Covid will not reach protesters in the motorcades – or that they will survive the pandemic, which authorizes them to the paradox of calling for an end to social isolation at events in which they maintain the minimum distance recommended by the WHO and use personal protective equipment – does not just have the folkloric contempt for the poor or the alleged safety of their cars and access to private hospital beds as an explanation: the key to this behavior is the idea of ​​redemption contained in the promise that those fallen in the final battle are resurrected directly in Paradise , alongside the angels, after the victory against evil – in this case, against everything that threatens the salvationist apocalyptic narrative.

It is always the “suicide of the other”, in the end. Death as an element of separation between those who deserve salvation by “right” and those who did not “make enough effort” for this. Here is a key to how the economic discourse – work, meritocracy, the “preservation” of the economy and jobs, etc. – is the ideological mask of the death and resurrection drive at work in this picture. To die in the final battle is to be reborn in Paradise.

Bolsonarism has now assumed all the characteristics of a sect whose members are willing to follow their leader unconditionally, until death. This cult of death is becoming more and more evident in Bolsonaristas' demonstrations. A coffin is happily carried; in the middle of a pandemic, he exposes himself and others to the danger of contagion and shouts to himself: “Covid-19 can come. We are ready to die for the captain.” As with all religious cults, contradictions are ignored. (Lichterbeck, 15/04/2020)

The Mack case, analyzed by Adorno, can provide an interesting key in this regard. In addition to the already known search for similarity and alignment with leadership figures that would characterize authoritarian submission, “it is in his admiration for power and in his willingness to submit to it, and not in any desire to be an aggressive leader, that lies his readiness for fascism” (Adorno, 2019, p. 226). That is to say, strength is the object of admiration and fascination in itself, without the need for this to be a demonstration of a hidden desire to oppress (although this also exists). And can any admiration, fascination, and love be greater, to him that believes, than those who are turned to the Object of his faith, and to the herald chosen by Him in whom he believes?

The trigger that increases the speed of these processes in Brazilian theopolitics is the arrival of a threat that knows no borders, classes or barriers, which fulfills another step in the Brazilian apocalyptic ritual: the Plague. In the politics of the apocalypse, we have the War against enemies of all stripes (the Left, Pabllo Vittar, gender ideology, science, vaccines) and Hunger (as a result of programmed neglect and the absence of public policies for the defense of the most needy, unemployment and the destruction of previous economic models by savage neoliberalism). Now it is the turn of the Plague, before the arrival of Death and the Thousand Year Kingdom. Winning the Plague is more than taking care of your health, it is being an active part in the divide between the just and the damned. It is to confirm your position within the chosen people. But if many are called and few are chosen, only the one who most faithfully fulfills the desires of the Messiah will reach heaven, and each enemy – competitor, poor, minority, etc. – that stays along the way facilitates this “choice” on the part of the leader. After all, only contempt is devoted to Evil (the Other) and no one wants to be chosen last to play for the school team.

*Benito Eduardo Maeso is a professor at the Federal Institute of Paraná (IFPR).


ADORNO, Theodor. Authoritarian personality studies. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2019

BIBLE ONLINE, disp. in Accessed on Apr 22, 2020 17:57

CHAUÍ, Marilena de Souza. Spinoza: A Philosophy of Liberty. São Paulo: Moderna, 2003

______, Theological roots of populism in Brazil: theocracy of the dominant, messianism of the dominated. In: DAGNINO, E. (org.) 90s: Politics and Society in Brazil. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1994.

LEMINSKI, Paul. all poetry. 3rd edition. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013

LICHTERBECK, Philip. The sect that threatens to drag Brazil into the abyss. Published on 15/04/2020. Disp. Accessed on Apr 17, 2020 14:56

SAFATLE, Vladimir. Welcome to the suicidal state. Sao Paulo : n-1, 2020

______, Prepare for war. Article. El País, 20/04/2020. Disp. in Accessed on Apr 20, 2020 12:50


[1] This expression, taken from Espinosa, is approached by the Hispanic-Dutch author with the intention of explaining the inconsistency of the construction of political structures, from Modernity, with fundamentals that reproduce religious elements. As explained by CHAUÍ (2003), theology – interpretation of the Scriptures or sacred books – is, in its matrix, created to be an exercise of power by establishing a previous concept of Truth. There is no theology that is not political. However, based on the practical separation between religion as a private life and politics as a public life, it is aberrant and violent that theology exists as a constitutive element of power structures. For Spinoza, the Hebrew theocratic state is located in time and cannot be replicated in any other historical moment. If the Christian religion – characterized by interiority – is linked with politics, as in the case of kings anointed by the pope, it ceases to be Christianity. A republic worthy of the name – that is, a social organization in which religion is an intimate matter – cannot have such elements in its constitution. In Brazil, this association was never completely broken – as well as in other American countries. Therefore, we were never a complete republic.

[2] An amalgamation between the theological roots of Brazilian politics, according to the study by CHAUÍ (1994) and its echo in the influence of neo-Pentecostal churches and the Theology-Ideology of Prosperity in the contemporary Brazilian social fabric, accompanied by the character of identification between totalitarian leaders (or messiahs) ) and latent prejudices in the population that follow them (cf. ADORNO, 2019)

[3] The numbering of the pages of this text by Chauí will follow that of the original file shared by the thinker with the author of the text, since the edition of the book where the text originally came out has been out of print for decades.

[4] Even though the capacity for adaptation and operation of this “chosen people” to the world of men is extremely effective: from Arraial Gospel to the capillarity of social networks, the “Christianization” of the secular world – an element of Dominion Theology – is reinforced by the apocalyptic posture inspired by in the Old Testament assumed by pastors and leaders of these communities. The messianism professed by such leaders simultaneously echoes elements of Judaism (where the Savior HAS NOT YET come) and Christianity (with the promise of his return). Thus, the figure of the messiah is twofold. Such themes will be developed later.

[5] It is good to remember that the symbolism of the Kingdom of Israel and its conversion to Christianity in preparation for the Great Judgment of the World is extremely powerful within the most active Christian denominations in this process of sociocultural domination, both where it originated (USA) and in Brazil. The “Temple of Solomon” is not just a figure of speech. It is also important to remember that several exponents of Operation Lava-Jato promoted, in lectures, sermons and cults, the narrative of being the bearers of the sword of Justice against the materialization of Evil (Lula, left, PT, etc.). Morobolsonarista lavajatismo fills both categories raised above.

[6] It is worth noting that this salvationist stance is not necessarily desired only by believers in the Judeo-Christian divinity. The idea of ​​seeking in extra-world elements, in the supernatural, the keys to life in this society and that through such elements our factual reality would be redeemed at some level is indeed seductive. We are talking here about a personal and cultural disposition, or a ethos, which has a salvationist element in it.

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