If an apocalyptic event happened that causes our civilization to fall, religious communities will almost certainly try to take over. If they don’t succeed outright, they’ll still be the dominant socio-political force in the land.
Under normal conditions, people of faith are just like ordinary Americans. They hold very strong beliefs and political views on a few major subjects, but hold many of the same values as modern liberals when it comes to the majority of our laws and common social etiquette. Individually, they aren’t too dissimilar to Agnostics and Atheists either. It’s the greatness of our nation’s justice system and the availability of information, which maintains this harmony.
However, that respect for thy neighbor will disappear once the centralized government is gone. Things will start getting bad once rural communities are forced to come together as a group. There won’t be reliable sources of media to provide news and information to the shocked and stunned survivors. You’ll be amazed at how quickly people will ignore rational thought and start believing any story or rumor. It only takes one person of authority and influence to turn a good Christian community bad.
Let’s consider the ingredients that can make such a terrifying dystopian nightmare happen.
- The location where most conservative Christians live.
- Lack of centralized oversight and control, coupled with a newfound ability to abuse power.
Location, location, location!
The United States has a “Bible Belt” across the southern and rural states, where conservative Christians tend to live. This “belt” stretches as far north-east as Virginia, then goes down to Florida’s panhandle. You can feel the spirit in the vast middle-of-nowhere regions of Texas, and the belt snakes up to Salt Lake City. There are other pockets of isolated religious communities everywhere in the country, but the “belt” is where they seem to be concentrated in the United States.
Aside from a few scattered minuteman missile facilities and silos, there’s virtually nothing of strategic importance in these rural areas. Nobody’s going to waste a nuke on a small town or village out in the middle of nowhere, like Lufkin, Texas. Heck, I doubt anyone would try targeting our missile facilities since they’ll be empty by the time the attack hits them.
It stands to reason that small towns and rural communities will be safe from the attack, but accidents and mistakes in targeting can happen… Barring any bad luck, these communities will rise from the ashes of our civilization.
They were once meek, but will seek to inherit the earth if left unopposed.
A Shocked & Stunned Population
The apocalypse just happened! People are going to be assaulted by a cocktail of extreme and stressful emotions. They will be shocked that the world as they know it has ended. They grew up in a society with computers everywhere, even in their pockets. They grew up knowing that information and entertainment can be had at any time of the day. Now they can’t even turn on a TV, and the only radio they own is in the car that probably doesn’t work anymore. Emergency services were available at the touch of 3-buttons on a phone, but now the phones don’t work.
Yes, the occasional natural disaster caused all of us to suffer some time without our technological tools and toys, but everything returned to normal within a few days. Nothing is going to be “normal” again, and people are going to be brought to a mental breaking point once that realization sets in.
Ordinary people will recoil in horror at the knowledge of their, and their loved ones mortality. People will start dying of treatable chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. People will start dying from easily curable diseases and infections too.
And what do you do with the body of your most cherished loved one? In the past, you’d call 911 and the paramedics would declare the death and take the body away to be processed by professionals. All you needed to do was arrange for memorial services, and then pay for it.
Now, it’s all up to you. You have to accept the responsibility and summon the energy to: dig a hole, drag or carry your loved one to it, and bury the body of the person you loved. You’ll be so focused on surviving, that a proper memorial service may be impossible. You may even wake up the next day to the horrific realization that you didn’t properly dispose of the body, and animals dug up and desecrated your beloved family member.
It will take people a couple weeks to fully realize and accept that things will never be normal again. That sort of paradigm shift can shatter a person’s psyche, and make them more susceptible to radical influences and manipulation. This can happen to the best and most rational of us.
And, this is happening to people all across the country.
The Rise of Religious Communities
The secular government won’t be around to keep these communities in-check anymore, and ambitious religious leaders will use this disaster as a perfect opportunity to seize control and spread their dogmatic ideals. It’ll be easy, and will probably happen several hundred times across the country.
The majority of these survivors are already inclined to believe in immaterial forces based on faith alone. The apocalypse may be the only proof necessary to make them loyal followers of a religious leader. Then you have the remaining population of shocked and stunned survivors who, ordinarily, wouldn’t believe in superstitions and things of a spiritual nature. But some will latch onto any idea, or person of authority which claims to provide salvation, answers, and hope.
A small minority of strong-willed or intellectual people will be left who won’t “see the light” and “come into the fold”. This minority can grow as more people realize what is happening and shake the religious influence, but I doubt this will happen. Humans like things to be easy, so the minority will probably shrink as ever-growing desperation or blatant threats of violence forces them to conform.
There are several things a leader will do to rise to power and solidify their authority. He will start with speeches, then perform “good” deeds, and scapegoat others to maintain his hold on power.
Speech and Preach
The religious leader will first claim their connection to divinity by reminding community members that they have been warning us this was coming for years. Expect speeches like the following:
The leader will start the speech in a modest and self-deprecating manner.
“In his divine wisdom, God chose to share his vision with me. Me, a poor wretched soul…”
Pause for dramatic effect before continuing with a scolding tone.
“He instructed me to spread his warning that a day of judgement will come. That our society will be punished for its sins of pride, lust, and greed. You didn’t heed those warnings then, but now you remember…”
The leader may dust off a few of the “Armageddon” chapters and verses to claim it was further ordained in Revelations.
The leader will close the speech in a way that solidifies his power and influence by instilling the belief that their community was spared from the apocalypse because they are the chosen, righteous, people. The speech will change to have a powerful and inspirational tone.
“God chose me to be here to help guide you through this time of great turmoil. You, his most devout followers are his chosen people. God’s wrath struck down the heathens and sinners, but he chose to spare you from his divine judgement. Us chosen few were spared to carry out his will, and we must work to rebuild this nation in His image!”
The speech might be slightly different, but it should carry the same meaning. You’ll be amazed and disappointed at how many people will be influenced by such a speech.
I hope I didn’t just write a future theocratic dictator’s speech.
Speeches alone won’t be enough to persuade some people to follow and remain loyal to a leader. The leader will have to perform deeds to entice more to join as followers. They will establish the church as a bountiful provider by pooling the resources of the community and distributing supplies to those in need.
If the church hasn’t wrested control from a secular community, it will passively proselytize in the sidelines by providing “care packages” to the poor and needy. This simple deed makes their church look good and gives them a chance to speak and engage with potential converts. Alternatively, if the church already has a firm grasp on power and control over resources, the leader will distribute rations during church services. They’ll organize communal housing and dining for the homeless. They will preach during meals and before bedtime in an effort to indoctrinate those benefitting from the services being provided.
All of these tactics ensure the followers become and remain dependent on the church for their survival. Their continued safety and well being is linked to obedience to the community’s dogma, and violators will be punished by withholding supplies or being exiled from the community.
Being self-sufficient may not protect you either. Depending on how insecure (or evil) the leader is, he may see your independence from his church as a challenge to his authority. You’ve proven that you can support yourself, and can be a highly valuable member of society. He can’t have you showing his flock that it’s possible to live outside of his influence. He needs to get rid of this challenge by either converting you into a productive follower, or eliminating the threat to his authority.
He’ll send his followers out to convince you of the error of your ways. They will use words and incentives to entice you to convert, and if that doesn’t work… threats. They will force you into the fold by terrorizing you and your family. And if all else fails, they will eliminate your family to serve as an example to others.
Things won’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time. The actions of the leader may cause misfortune to fall upon the community, but you’ll never hear that. No. The infallible leader will do everything in his power to distract the followers attention away from his ineptitude, and onto scapegoats. You’ll hear things like:
“Yes, the Smith family is suffering from hard times, but they brought this upon themselves when they chose to ignore the abomination living in their home! God is punishing them for not casting out that sinful harlot of a lesbian daughter!”
“God wants us to love thy neighbor and to give alms to the poor, but he is angry at us for aiding heretics.”
The leader may use this as an opportunity to get rid of competition or those who have spoken against him. In this type of situation, the guards may drag out a few of sinners or Satan-worshipers, who conveniently have had their tongues cut out so they can’t sway the community with their evil words (or defend themselves).
“I have sad news to report. We’ve discovered that Satan has been filling our ears with vile lies, and has seduced some of our most respected community members to do his bidding. These sinners have poisoned our well water with disease and they must be punished.”
Or the leader will rally his followers against an external threat. The threat could be another community that will not follow his dogmatic belief system. This tactic serves to blame the external threat for all of the community’s problems, and he gets rid of the challenge to his authority.
“Our crops are being sabotaged by those who hate our devotion to God. These nonbelievers revile in our misfortune and will do anything to make us turn our backs to God’s loving arms. We must root out this evil! We must fight the infidels!”
If there’s a rival crack-pot religious upstart who wrongfully thinks he’s the Second Coming of Christ, substitute the last sentence with:
“We must slay the false prophet!”
Scapegoating doesn’t have to be limited to times of hardship, it can be done during the good times too.
Birth defects are going to happen, especially after radiation or chemical exposure mutates our genes. Unfortunately, most of the survivors aren’t going to have much scientific knowledge and will probably believe the defects are of supernatural origin. Meaning, birth defects are going to become marks of Satan or signs that God is punishing a family for some misdeed.
What can we do if faced with such a nightmare?
In short, hope and pray I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. Barring a cynical thoughts & prayers approach, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of survival when a totalitarian religion, or religious figure takes over. You can either speak out, blend in, or hide; but you should always be prepared to defend yourself.
Let’s say you live in a community of people with moderate values, and only a few devoted Christians. People start holding town meetings after the dusts settles, but the church leader and his followers start proposing some radical changes to the town’s laws. You should speak out early on to nip the religious movement in the bud before the vile takes root. There are others who share your reasonable point of view, and fear your community will repeat history by persecuting anyone who is different. They only need someone to voice that first objection.
The bad thing is, if you push too hard against bigotry, you run the risk of becoming a target yourself. These religious types always have henchmen who do their master’s bidding and respond to his suggestions. The henchmen will attack or kill those who threaten their rise to power. You’ll need to make sure your closest neighbors are on your side, or generally like you for being a good person. They’ll be there to warn you when the attack comes, and may even jump to your defense.
Maybe you stayed in your basement a little too long and found out the religious fanatics took over while you were sheltering. You climbed out of your basement and emerged into a nightmare. That first time you traveled to City Hall, you saw people hanging from trees with signs showing their sins. You know you can’t fight the establishment, so you need to hide what you are and blend in.
Enter the community with the knowledge that every single person is watching you, so be careful with what you say, how you say it, and how you act. They will watch you for any weakness or sign that you aren’t a true believer. Do not volunteer much information about yourself.
With that said, you mustn’t isolate yourself from the community either. Being seen in the community has its benefits. The more people that see you, the less they’ll suspect that you’re hiding a secret. You’ll need to attend community meetings and remain in contact with your neighbors to make sure you know what’s happening. Being aware of what’s happening will help you get ready to defend yourself should you find that you’re part of a group being targeted for persecution.
Another good way to blend in is to display historic symbols of conservatism and hate. If you can find a Confederate flag, hang it outside where the locals can see it as they pass your home. This will help to convince the hillbilly survivors you’re one of them, and definitely don’t hold any liberal values.
Having a cross on your property can help ward off fanatics too.
If you own a large wooded property that’s hard to access, you could try hiding. This depends entirely on how self-sufficient you can make yourself. You need to be able to grow your food, purify or distill your water, and scavenge from nature. You also need to scare trespassers away to make sure nobody knows what you have hidden away. Firing a warning shot at a trespasser should do the trick, but if it doesn’t, you may have to resort to more drastic measures.
Just know that if too many people go missing in or around your property, the community will unite and converge upon your home in a mob.
What if there’s an emergency and you need to travel into town to trade for supplies? This is very risky. It’s a religious leader’s job to know everyone in their flock. It’s how they empathize and gain the trust and devotion of their followers. If you come out of hiding for any reason, you run the risk of being seen as an outsider. The leader may have you followed back home. If it’s found out you live within walking distance to the town, they’ll never leave you alone.
Always be Prepared to Fight
Fanatics are irrational and will turn on you in a heartbeat if they think it will make them look more devoted to a religion or leader.
Always be prepared to defend yourself in town.
Always be prepared to defend your home.
Always have an escape plan when the mob turns against you, because you can’t fight them all.
Is there no hope for the future after they take over?
You should always hold tight to a small kernel of hope. Even in a community full of devout fanatical followers, there will always be moderates or generally good people who don’t approve of the crimes being committed by the leader and his followers. They’ll be hard to find because they’re hiding their true beliefs, just like you are. You might not know who they are until they discretely approach you. The identities of these people may surprise you, because they may be better pretending to be a fanatic than you are (or they’re spies).
Just know that you are not alone. One day the leader will screw up so badly the closet-liberals will rise up against him. You need to stay alert to these opportunities and be ready to speak out. It only takes one voice to encourage others to speak up. And don’t forget that accidents can happen too. The leader is merely mortal and will probably die from disease. The organization is most vulnerable during the transition between one ruler to his heir.
Just know there are risks involved with opposing the leader and his followers. If you are caught helping persecuted people escape, you’ll probably suffer the same fate as them. If you stage a revolt, you must be prepared for the probability that you may die in the act. And if the revolt fails, leaders of this type tend to make examples of entire families. Things truly must be horrible enough for you to risk it all, for the chance your family can have a better life afterward.
Another thing to remember is that this nightmare won’t last forever, and you may be able to wait it out.
What’s left of the country’s military and political leadership is still battling for its survival against an external enemy. Once that enemy has been neutralized, they will focus on reestablishing control over the country.
There’s also the possibility that we’ll lose the external war and be conquered. In either case, the religious nut-job will lose his totalitarian power. I’ll finish under the assumption our country will successfully fight off the external threat and will work to reestablish control over our country.
The problem with religions is that they tend to divide more than they unite. Even religions that follow the same core belief system, further divide themselves based on how they worship or which texts they decide to prioritize. Some even create their own lore or origin story, setting themselves further apart from the other religions. And the largest dividing factor of all is the belief that each of them is the true and correct religion, and the others are wrong or blasphemous.
This divisiveness will be further compounded by the lack of communication. The various religious leaders will be so entrenched and drunk with their own power, they’ll react violently when a slightly different religion or sect is encountered. Unless they give up their belief system and conform, the opposing religious community is an immediate threat to the leader’s authority and connection to divinity. Both leaders are going to have this mindset, and if the threat isn’t removed, it will undermine the leader’s authority in perpetuity.
If any semblance of a federal government is ever reestablished, the conflict between religious communities or the inherent lack of cooperation will help ensure that no single religion has the upper hand in a nation-wide political system.
 “He” – The majority of religious leaders will almost certainly be male. Most radical religions are patriarchal by nature, and fanatics are more willing to follow a strong man.
 Armageddon – I think the majority of the end-of-days verses are in the “Book of Revelations”, but I haven’t read a Bible since I was in elementary school.
 Indoctrination Services – We already see this type of passive recruiting with the homeless who rely on church-based charities for shelter and daily meals.
 Lesbian Daughter – I do not condone hate speech. This statement is used to describe the possible method by which an evil person may victimize others to achieve their agenda.
 Fanatical Speech – Don’t fool yourself into thinking this can’t happen here in the US-of-A. We have fringe groups that are arguably the Christian version of Al Qaeda, who think every single Muslim is trying to eradicate people of Christian faith. The same people think it’s okay to punish Jewish people for the treachery of Jesus Christ.
 Birth Defects – This has been happening to people with albinism in Africa for centuries. Even today, albinos are hunted down for their body parts because, according to witchcraft rituals, they can promote wealth, power, and sexual vigor.
 Symbols of Conservatism and Hate – I do not condone hate-speech or the proliferation of paraphernalia intended to intimidate or make any group of people feel uncomfortable or in danger. The survival strategies are designed to maximize the chances of surviving in this hypothetical nightmare-scenario.
 Opportunities – Religious leaders can get overconfident in their selection of people to victimize. They will focus on easy targets like: homosexuals, other religions, and probably other races. You’ll be surprised at how many people will accept this. But their faith in the leader will be shaken if he targets someone who’s obviously innocent like a child, or possibly a mentally disabled person. You should speak out when they target people like these.