The lunatic fringe has many mansions, too, and an American president may be tempted (as he views what he thinks is the electorate) to visit or move in.

But I was sorry to learn this week that a whole gang of church leaders meeting in Washington felt obliged to sound off on the president's fondness for gabbling about Armageddon. I'm glad they did, but sorry they needed to. Of course our national enthusiasms come and go -- hula hoops, Monopoly, Airedales -- so we should never be startled by any trend of the day. Still, nobody bothered to tell me we are now revving up for Armageddon or Doomsday or the End of the World.

Naturally, any president may commit a slight error of prudence, and with our incumbent who's counting? It's curious, all the same, to read that a rabbi has tallied the commander in chief's references to Armageddon at nine occasions.

It is assumed, quite wrongly, that everybody knows what Armageddon is, and wants to hear more of it. I think not. But since it's in the news, and since some people seem to think it's the same as the Big Bang or Go tterda mmerung, I should say what it is.

Armageddon is simply a geographical site in Israel, about which the author of the Book of Revelations in the Bible had a vision. In this vision he saw the world destroyed with a considerable number of sinners -- divorced people, I suppose, and people like that -- tossed into flames. A lot of good people, on the other hand, were seen in this vision to enter into bliss.

Now my mother, on whom be peace, used to read the Bible aloud when I was a tot and like most sensible women, I suspect, she never really took to Revelations very much, preferring the Gospels, the Psalms, Genesis, and Proverbs, especially that part about the price of a good woman being above rubies, a passage that has prepared many a boy for the expense of adult life.

The only part of Revelations she returned to, in her efforts to turn her small monster into a fine fellow, was the lyrical burst in which the writer sees a new Jerusalem descending from the heavens "prepared like a bride adorned." That much mysticism she could take, especially since the Psalms spoke so well of the Holy City. But her favorite passage was this:

"These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.

"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."

It depends, I imagine, what the circumstances are in which you first encounter a masterpiece, and whether or not you are a natural simpleton, since no matter how great a book may be, if you associate it only with dark things you will not comprehend it, and if one happens to be a gilt-edged imbecile he will never get it straight but will bog down somewhere on a preposition, a metaphor or an odd word somewhere.

But the point of Revelations is simple enough:

Regardless of disasters, despite suffering, in spite of the seeming victories of the gross, there is a power in righteousness that will prevail. By divine fiat. All else will fall away.

The book can hardly be clearer on this point, but whether it is actually true I am not here to argue, simply that this is the point of Revelations. It is clear to the simplest reader, unless he deliberately wishes to misunderstand.

The author of the book, I admit, is quite free with mountains vanishing and dragons appearing, and all manner of weird imagery unfortunately likely to galvanize those already predisposed to dragons and stars and messages in the Pyramids and in fillings of the teeth (transmitted from Mars). But his argument is heaven is entered by the righteous who are not necessarily those who drool most over dragons or the sad fate of the Whore of Babylon.

It is an infirmity to paw through Revelations for hints and clues on the likely date of Doomsday, or Armageddon as it is called in the book, when the point of the work is not the date and certainly not the vanishing of the mountains, but the urgent need to straighten up.

If an official of the state starts speculating on the Book of Revelations, it may mean he is fascinated with the reward promised the saintly, and not a minute too soon. Or it may mean only that he thinks he can safely flirt with the soft-core set. But the book was hardly written to encourage nitwits or, if one may say so without offense to the Divine Majesty or the Republican candidate either one, to encourage politicians to see how many nuts can be heated in one pan.