“Separation of church and state is a myth,” claims one evangelical talking head in Waiting for Armageddon—a theologically trifurcated glimpse at the socio-political implications of end-times rhetoric—and therein might lie the documentary’s most eloquent observation. For devout Christians, theocracy is not an ideal to aspire to or a tradition to ruthlessly guard, but a categorical fact leading, as with all other facets of the born-again life, to the fulfilled prophecy of Christ’s second coming. In an effort to dissect the revelatory nuance (and crucial discrepancies between) the triad of Abrahamic end-of-days interpretations, the documentary—directed by TV veterans Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi—features copious interviews with ordinary believers as well as archival clips depicting national leaders (e.g. Ronald Reagan) unabashedly attempting to defend their foreign policies with good book absurdism.
But while it wisely eschews the polarizing path to Christian crazy town that Bill Maher embarked on in the uneven Religulous, the putative objectivity of Armageddon isn’t quite politically savvy enough to strike its realpolitik target. The merciless God-and-state clusterfuck of the West Bank is effectively presented as a kind of Tribulation zone in and of itself, but the film’s goal is to shock us with the number of Americans who feel the vicinity should be wiped clean of both Arabs and Jews rather than to attempt untangling the natty strands of volatile hate in Jerusalem’s core. Furthermore, the film’s politicized content is eventually devoured by interjections of indoctrinating Christian home life that only offer a portrait of evangelical domesticism as incisive as the putrid melting pot family from Todd Solondz’s Palindromes; we see a father preparing his preteens for the rapture with Latin phrases and New Testament quotes while his meekly off-kilter wife flippantly bemoans the fact that her daughter will likely not learn to drive before Jesus returns.
Ultimately, while observing how these kookily God-fearing individuals behave in their natural habitat is alternately amusing and alarming, it’s far more crucial for non-fundamentalists to empathize—however cautiously—with the decision to swap logic for vague cosmic security, and the ripple effects of that choice on social policy. The most intimidating sequences in Armageddon approach the seemingly benign sublimity of discipledom while honestly depicting the hostile ignorance required to give one’s life to Christ. We wince when one pseudo-intellectual Bible scholar counters the “decadence” of Derrida’s postmodern skepticism with the ethical superiority of literal Old Testament readings, though our embarrassment melts to pitiful consternation beneath the heat of the lecturer’s throng of triumphalist pendants. And it’s hard not to laugh at writer Wayne House as he tours the Holy Land with a group of students, blithely committing sacred faux pas by praying to the holy trinity in the antechamber of the Al-Aqsa Mosque—yet the buffoonery here possesses a sharp foreboding, as the Abrahamic Armageddon (any of them) could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We shiver as we imagine the world ending not with a bang or a whimper, but with a pocket New Testament in one hand and a crushed water bottle shoved into loose-fitting cargo shorts.