By: Michael Zivick
About the size of the roof of an SUV, a granite monument to the Ten Commandments was hung in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court by Justice Roy Moore. At about 550 pounds per commandment, the adornment must have dominated the court. A scrape over the separation of church and state quickly engulfed the ponderous dos and don’ts. The Justice’s lawyers tried to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Big Nine said forget it. Moore was ordered to nix the rock. But the judge’s attempt to establish religion as an adjunct to the state appears to be A-OK with a lot of people, to judge from the numbers of Bible-Belters who flocked to Montgomery, where they hoped to block removal of the stone tablet. Many of them seem to have accepted Jesus as not only their savior, but as yours too. Still, even for people who prefer to not taint God with the state, or to sanctify the state with God, Moore’s faith-based monolith might amount to no big deal. Another integration of church and state is perhaps far more worrisome. The potential threat is written off by most of us, with the same idea we use to consider God: impossible. But all it really takes for God to exist is believers. Wherever two or more are gathered… is there doom? Perhaps.
The facts are unbelievable. The beliefs are unreasonable. It’s no wonder people are happy to laugh at End of the World scenarios wherein the reckless pursuit of divine order rains upon creation all-consuming fire from the heavens. In the age of the Escalade, who takes four horsemen seriously? There is an answer to that question, of course, and it’s coming. But first, an explanation.
Although the baddest-assed of all scientists—nuclear weapons designers—play a vital (if almost invisible) role in this story, it mostly concerns religion. As with precepts of religion, maybe those of this story beg ignorance even as they command attention. (Hence the laughter, eh?) Maybe the confluence of political, military and religious extremisms have us no closer to Armageddon than ever. Perhaps the concept of The End is simply more compelling than the reality. (Sounds like politics, war and religion to me.)
But if you’ve ever fallen asleep on a beach, to be awakened by a splash of incoming tide, you’ll appreciate the wisdom of a look-see every now and then. For there is the other all-too possibility—which is to say, just because the sun came up today doesn’t mean tens of thousands of them won’t burn the sky tomorrow.
This seems like a propitious place to answer the above question regarding faith in the white, red, black and pale riders.
Time Magazine heralded Independence Day 2002 with an interesting poll: 17% of Americans believed that the world would come to an end in their lifetime. Since then, US troops have invaded Iraq, North Korea has begun to flex nuclear muscle and fissile material has continued to evaporate from various global hot spots, including the Middle East. It would hardly be a surprise to learn that Time’s number is up. In any event (or in none at all), like the geopolitics by which it is moderated, that figure is highly volatile. How, for instance, is it skewed by the numbers of negatively positive respondents who have died since the poll was taken? Rather than speculate on the effect of time’s fallout on Time’s figure, perhaps the level-headed thing to do is stick with its 17% today.
It seems like a low number. Ape Time and poll your friends. Ask them what they think the number is. Few will guess less than 20%. Most will think 17% is measly. Even waiters are unimpressed by 17%. But when you consider what it is that some people are waiting for, all percentage points tend to look not so equal. What percent of the Holy Bible is The Book of Revelations, or even the Four Gospels? Uh-huh. (Any fraction of the infinite is infinite to some, you might say.)
So, under the right circumstances 17% can be quite a lot. Take a closer look at Time’s. In it are many of the folks you might envision—those who own trailer homes and gap-toothed dogs, or those with already half-rancid provisions stinking up bunkers, and a few with tin-foiled windows and altars of small animal bones and slips of scribbled-on paper arranged with obsessive reverence inside a broken microwave oven.
But there are eerier members of the demo. While death seems to have proven President Reagan to have been deluded (Alzheimer’s notwithstanding), he nevertheless continues to serve as both a good indicator and a zany alarm. Reagan actually went on record with his belief that we are the “generation that would see Armageddon.” Other current and former law and policy makers at the highest levels of government subscribe to the same End Time beliefs held by The Gripless Gipper. They all share a reverent love for the evangelist Billy Graham. As if in his emotional, resonant, dignified Southern drawl, I am reminded that Graham is considered a powerful mentor by today’s President Bush.
Like the ideas of officials who direct this country’s aims and actions, Time’s results are strongly influenced by Graham’s vision of time. Graham’s view rises in turn from that of Cyrus Scofield. In the 19th Century, Scofield wrote into the Bible his interpretation of history, and the future. Today, his Scofield Bible is the most popular of all the reference bibles. According to Scofield, Graham et al, war in the Middle East will essentially escalate to hell on earth, after which Christ will return, rule over Utopia for a thousand years, and finally it’s off to Heaven He and the righteous will go. Tens of Millions of idiots have their bags all packed. At the heart of the poll response given by this segment of Time’s 17% burns the desire to be a witness to (if not a participant in) God’s glory, the fulfillment of scripture and, who knows, maybe if their shelters are deep enough, to rise from them and shake hands with the returned Christ over a pile of rubble. (Hey, if you’re going to fantasize…)
Of course, Christian Zionism is a lot older than the Babbling Bush; it’s older even than Billy Graham. In fact, one could argue—as many have—that during its very inception (if not entirely) Zionism was of keener interest to Christians than to Jews. Many such absurd turns of fate surround the State of Israel. Early 20th Century Christian powers embraced and enabled Zionism for political reasons while presenting religious, spiritual and humane concerns to the masses. About that Western Christian support, it is worth noting that in July, 1944, Jewish leaders pleaded with the Allies to bomb Auschwitz and/or the railroad lines leading to the death camp. The Jewish Agency hoped to stall the slaughter, at least for a little while, perhaps buying time for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. There were told, however, that such a bombing campaign was impossible; Allied bombers could not reach that far into German territory. This was a lie, and a fairly obvious one, as Allied bombers routinely attacked the I. G. Farben plant, located a few miles from Auschwitz. Planes even flew over Auschwitz on the way to supply the doomed revolt of the Polish Home Army in August 1944. It might be a good idea to keep in mind that sort of disregard for truth, decency and life.
Today, political and economic interests are obvious, while the ultimate conclusion of Christian Zionism is denied (to a growing din of crowing cocks) or danced around (to a beat of wicked tap music that might end in a refrain of Taps for us all).
Jesus Himself bears some of the guilt—rim shot—for the ability of nonsense to attach itself to the link between Judaism and Christianity. One can only wonder what Rood Boy Jerry Falwell would make of the connection had Christianity not dumped Jesus’ contention that in order to become a Christian, one must first be a Jew. He’d probably think the same thing Nixon said. “Fuck the Jews.”
The Reverend might actually speak those words too, because Christian Zionism isn’t about Jewish people. It isn’t even about Israel. They’re in the mix in a bloody big way (or a big bloody way), but it’s not about them. For Christian Zionists the name of the game is The End of The Line. Pre-Millennialism, the Rapture, Armageddon—a rose by any other name, The End is all the rage. If you can stomach it, watch Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on TV; count the millions of dollars that support their views. Even among non-believers, novels set in the “left behind” world are best sellers. As for believers, one of the concerns about them is that it’s hard to be sure who believes what, exactly. The End has a few variations on the following theme. After a third Jewish temple is built in Jerusalem, Israel will become involved in a nuclear war with Russia via the Arab world. The US will step in and destroy Israel’s enemies. Christ returns and there is a second, worse global nuclear shoot-out in which Christ will dust the anti-Christ. In some scenarios, true Christians sit out the first war, in the clouds with Jesus, who brings them back to earth after the all-clear signal. The second war they miss by being raptured again, this time straight to heaven. This is why Christian Zionists seem to view Armageddon with little dread. What Jewish Zionists ignore is that all the End Time Tales have one thing in common: two-thirds of the Jews in the world will die horrible deaths, and the other third will abandon their faith and accept Christ. This is the Israel of Christian Zionists.
This sort of theological blitzkrieg doesn’t fly under the radar of all Israelis. Gershom Gorenberg, born in the US, has lived in Israel for more than two decades. He contributes to Ha’arets and Ma’ariv, as well as to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times; he is associate editor of the Jerusalem Report and is an Associate of the Center for Millennial Studies. Gorenberg’s latest book is The End of Days. Part of its theme, he says, “is the fascination with stories and with the stories people tell about history and tell about the future and how those stories have immense power to affect our lives.” For many Fundamentalist Christians in the US and elsewhere, a place like the Temple Mount is “crucial to the fulfillment of prophecy and the end of history. So you get this religious triangle, where all three faiths, or at least elements of all three faiths, see this spot as essential to their dreams—and are obsessed with it. One of the things that does is create a situation where any small action by one person reverberates incredibly…”
As for the Christian Zionist place in the triangle, Gorenberg says, “The scenario states that before the Second Coming, the Jews will all either die or convert to Christianity. This is not a very Jew-friendly scenario in the long run, so there’s a tremendous irony built in here that this support for hard-line Israeli positions is actually based on a theology which negates Judaism.”
Gorenberg’s view is a somewhat muted echo of one given by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, a former president of the President’s Conference: “When the Anti-Defamation League offers its platform to Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network to speak about Jerusalem, it is madness—and suicide.”
What gets most of the attention, however, are comments like one from the late Nathan Perlmutter, a Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Confronting moderate-to-progressive Israelis who were concerned about their country’s growing ties to the Christian Right, Perlmutter told them, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”
The Israeli welcome of right-wing Christian Zionist support is often used to deny the legitimacy of fears about the control of US foreign policy by people like Rep. Tom De Lay and President Bush. If the Israelis believe sanity will prevail in the end, there’s no cause for alarm, or even worry. But Gorenberg is not so sure. “Usually when people have talked or written about a threat, or that the Temple Mount might set off some kind of conflict, they’ve written about it in terms of kooks or psychiatric cases. This place has immense symbolic importance and attraction to people who are quite sane, and sometimes to people who are part of the mainstream. That actually makes the spot much more of a potential catalyst for a conflict.”
The US is a wonderful place. One American formerly employed as an exterminator later became one of the world’s most notorious junkies and queers. Another became the House Majority Leader. The late William S. Burroughs could have hallucinated whatever he wished about the end of the world and God’s plans for it; his trip would’ve stood no chance of dragging you and me along for the ride. Tom De Lay, on the other hand, is one of the most powerful men in the US Government. His pestilent vision could result in the proverbial survival of none but the cockroach. On April 2, 2003 De Lay, leader of the majority, spoke at a gathering of Ralph Reed’s Stand for Israel, a politically powerful Christian Zionist organization. “Israel is not the problem,” De Lay told the Reedheads. “Israel is the solution.” De Lay recently visited Israel, where he, “[d]idn’t see any occupied territory—what I saw was Israel.”
Even by moderate Israeli standards, that statement reveals a remarkable quality of vision, one that begs the question, How does the idea of mushroom clouds look to the erstwhile Texas bug killer? For a possible answer, consider the Bible’s position—and, by default, De Lay’s—that untold suffering is part of God’s plan for Israel. While the mass media keeps relatively mum about the plight of Palestinians, no one on the hard Christian Right believes that the untold suffering ends there. A bit of a digression here, as this is not the story of Israelis vs. Palestinians, but according to Christian Zionist theology, peace in the Middle East is not God’s will. Attempts to establish it amount to sin.
In fact, according to a Washington Report on Middle East affairs, “Every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God, and should be condoned, supported and even praised by the rest of us.”
Presumably, that would include the use of nuclear weapons. Whether hundreds of thousand of people die from conventional means over many years (as has already happened), or whether millions perish in an instant of fission, what difference could that possibly make to God?
It must be said that no influential Christian Zionists, including De Lay, Pat Robertson or George Bush, have called for nuclear war as an act of righteousness (at least not in public, on record). However, any sane person has to take seriously a simple question: if a person’s belief is that nuclear war might be part of God’s plan, how concerned would they be to avoid it? How would they view policies and actions that might tend to “bring it on?”
In the very early days of Zionism, not all Jews were behind the push for a Jewish Homeland. In 1897, a European organization of Rabbis condemned Zionism. They saw a political effort to lead Jews out of exile as an attempt to “force the end.” Zionism created, as they saw it, an artificial replacement for God and true redemption. “The War of the Evil Urge,” is how those Rabbis described Zionism. Mind you, Einstein was just a frosh at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich then.
Whatever the Rabbis thought, the Christian Western powers were at odds—and eventually at war—with the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine at the time. The British had their own empire, and therefore plenty of reasons to support the idea of a Jewish Homeland, if only to screw the Sultanate. In the midst of World War One, the British announced that support with the Balfour Declaration. It was about as vague and non-committal as a declaration can be, but over the next several decades it would be re-interpreted and added to with a series of letters and “white papers.” The Balfour Declaration stands as a terrific example of what happens if you offer someone a hamburger when you don’t actually own the cow that will have to be killed to make it.
In those days, one practical problem to a Jewish Homeland in Palestine was the fact that very few Jews wanted to move there, for a variety of economic and social reasons. Forget well-off Western Jews; even the tenements of the New World were better than a patch of Near-East dirt. However, there was one, ages-old and foul practice capable of driving migration: persecution. Still, most Jews chased out of Eastern Europe preferred Western Europe or the US as a destination. In 1928, more Jews emigrated from Palestine than immigrated to it. Between World Wars One and Two, American Jews provided fifteen times more financial aid to European Jews than to those in Palestine. The point is, without considerable political and economic support from Christian powers, there would be no modern Israel.
Of course, for James Balfour, David Lloyd-George, Ramsay MacDonald, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson and others of that era, establishing a Jewish Homeland was about splitting hairs, and Arab land. Splitting atoms was a world—or a world war—away. Still, the Scofield Bible had already whetted many a Christian appetite for the Holy Land, and for the gloriously destructive intentions of God. Maybe it’s only a coincidence that the instant Armageddon was within our grasp plans for a Jewish “Homeland” were ditched and replaced by a drive to create the State of Israel. On the other hand, “coincidence” is the term used by nuclear weapons engineers to describe the moment when all of a nuke’s components come together to whip up a chain reaction. Should I, against Tom De Lay’s convictions, make it to heaven and find Carl Jung there, I plan to give him a good dope-slap.
But let us not dream of death too soon, and instead toss and turn over what we know.
High political office holders may not be on record with holy nuclear views, but there is nevertheless a record to consult, the record of actions. One of the all-time superstars on that stage is still Ollie North. While Ollie is so 1984, guess where many of his cronies from those days are now. Yep, the White House. They’re the men behind the man, again. One treason North committed in his Iran/Contra gig was the violation of US policy, by which he favored Israeli policy in favor if Iran. Many books and articles have been written to explain or excuse North’s actions, and they all make Jews for Jesus look about as convoluted as a line in the sand. Then again, North makes a corkscrew look like a nail. He’s a Born-Again Christian, a Christian Zionist and, according to one Israeli general, “He is more Israeli than we Israelis.” As a reward for his faith, North was blessed with the ability to elude and evade, during congressional hearings, questions about his motives for involving a nuclear power in a war between two other states (Iran and Iraq), both of whom the US had armed with other weapons of mass destruction.
A great deal of wealth has been amassed through the policy of creating chaos with one hand while offering stability with the other. It’s a time-honored way to secure what are today called “strategic interests”, meaning control of markets in general and of oil in particular. But Michael Ortiz Hill suggests that Machiavelli’s ruler has been replaced by The Beast Formerly Known As The Prince. I’ll give you six guesses what his symbol is. Ortiz Hill, the author of Dreaming the End of the World and Gathering In the Names, writes, “That Bush would attack on so many fronts, from foreign policy to the environment, may seem confusing from the point of view of realpolitik, but becomes transparent in terms of the apocalyptic worldview to which he ascribes.”
Despite falling approval ratings, Bush is far from alone in his End Time views. 17% of the population is nearly 45 million people, but Bush is part of an even larger group than that. The 17% said they believed the world would end in their lifetime. Lacking the confidence of those folks, 59% said that prophecies in the Book of Revelations will come true, sometime.
Surely, if so many people—including so may “important” ones—subscribe to that perspective, it must be worth something. It is… a few laughs. Prepare to bust a gut—or four—over the flame-shaded heifer, as we offer this brief hoo-hoo interlude after so much doom and gloom (and the story’s only half over).
Part of the End Time mythos that has been unwound from the Bible is the prophecy of the red cow. Here are a few of the details. It must be born in Israel. It has to be all red, all the time. At least one red cow has been discovered, but before reaching sacrificial age a few white hairs sprouted and the beast was deep-sixed. The lucky heifer that meets all the conditions will be slaughtered and burnt. There will be some sort of priestly ritual of purification using the cow’s ashes. The temple will be consecrated and then… The End.
But wait, there’s more.
US tax dollars support efforts to locate, breed or engineer a red heifer for Israel. NPR even reported a few years back on special clearances for flights of livestock from Texas to Tel Aviv. Most of the federal fiscal aid is indirect, inasmuch as a hefty chunk of Israel’s budget is in one way or another made possible by appropriations from the US. Yes, lunacies like the scarlet moo-er can be jolly good entertainment, but after you’ve enjoyed a chuckle, look and see who’s not laughing. Check out who’s serious about this comic madness.
The conclusion becomes harder not to reach with every passing day and each new way for the Pentagon or the White House to say they intend to fight a nuclear war. One year after Time’s poll, a not-quite-as-secret-as-had-been-hoped-for conference took place at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The topic was, How to Fight a Nuclear War, With What Weapons, and How to Add Them to the Arsenal. These new nukes are billed as “mini”, implying that you could use one to take out the coat-stand in the corner without disturbing the potted plant by the window. That idea ignores two things. The first is the truth. These mini-nukes are many times more powerful than the ones that destroyed two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of people in a flash. The second is reality. Other nuclear powers don’t have mini-nukes, and to what they do have we will likely respond with still bigger nukes. It’s called escalation. Mutually Assured Destruction is not an old appliance you can simply unplug when you say you’re finished with it.
Reuven Pedatzur, writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, noted the “ironic” timing of the conference at Offutt, begun on the 58th anniversary of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima. Pedatzur sees Dr. Strangelove as the model for policymakers in the Bush Administration, as they apply pressure on the President to pursue the unthinkable. “The problem is that at this stage their assessment shows the need to use nuclear weapons… [The] administration is… saying that… there is no difference between… conventional explosives and… a nuclear bomb…”
While the new crop of Strangeloves were at Offutt, the Mayor of Hiroshima marked the date by saying, “The Bush Administration worships nuclear weapons like a god.” Others say it’s the Almighty Dollar before which Washington bows, but that seems unlikely, considering how many of them the US has given to Israel—about 135 billion so far, counting interest.
An imp is a devilish creature, a demon—an evil spirit. Jack Van Impe is “the Walking Bible”, or something like that. You can look it up on his web site. He’s also been called a “doomsayer.” A mega-preacher from Michigan, Van Impe influences the ideas and actions of millions of people with his fiery belief in our immanent fiery end. One of those people is… hell, I’ll let Jack tell you. “I was contacted by the Office of Public Liaison for the White House and by Condoleezza Rice to make an outline. I’ve spent hours preparing it. I will release this information to the public in September, but it’s in President Bush’s hands. He will know what is going to happen in the Middle East and what part he will have under the leading of the Holy Spirit of God.” The “outline” is Van Impe’s view of world events. Before you scoff, remember, he “spent hours preparing it.” Dinner, especially if it’s one’s last supper, is something one spends hours preparing. But I guess the world is easy to grasp if all you have to do is parrot God.
Like Senator James Inhofe. In March 2002 Inhofe addressed the Senate, to explain why Israel should get the West Bank: “Because God said so.” Inhofe even joined Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in saying 9/11 was the work of God in retribution for America’s shortcomings in its support of Israel. (A brief side-note on Jerry Falwell, to elaborate on the earlier statement regarding absurd twists of fate. Falwell and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were fast friends. Begin awarded Falwell the Jabotinsky Award for outstanding service to the State of Israel. If you’re unfamiliar with Menachem Begin, you may not know Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, an early Zionist from Eastern Europe. He founded a paramilitary movement called Betar. It’s members wore brown shirts and marched in torchlight parades in Latvia, just like the Nazis did elsewhere. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, called Jabotinsky “Vladimir Hitler”. But then, Ben-Gurion wrote to his son, on October 5, 1937, “We must expel the Arabs and take their places… And if we have to use force… then we have force at our disposal.” All of this “might makes right” history must have sat well with Falwell. You can read more about it in Robert Friedman’s book, Zealots For Zion. Friedman also writes, “The alliance between Jewish and Christian fundamentalists is perhaps the ultimate marriage of convenience, with two groups united to bring on the Messiah, and each side convinced the Messiah will be its own.)
Because God said so.
Inhofe may be a relatively minor player in the Senate, so let’s return to the White House. In addition to Billy Graham, George Bush has a close relationship with Dr. Tom Evans, another big-time preacher, from Dallas, and founder of the Promise Keepers. According to S.R. Shearer at Antipas Ministries, “Most leaders of the Promise Keepers embrace a doctrine of ‘end time’ known as ‘dominionism.’” Dominionism is an aspect of one of those End Time Tales already mentioned. It calls for the seizure of worldly power by “people of God.” Shearer continues, “It is the eschatology [the formal name for an End Time Tale] that Bush has imbibed; an eschatology through which he has gradually (and easily) come to see himself as an agent of God who has been called by Him to ‘restore the earth’ to God’s control, a ‘chosen vessel’, so to speak, to bring in the Restoration of All Things.” Shearer doesn’t stop at “eschatology.” He even has a name for Bush’s apparent delusion: “Messianic Leadership.”
Back to Dr. Promise Keeper… his assistant pastor, Dr. Martin Hawkins, reports that Evans has taught Bush “how the world should be seen from a divine viewpoint.” Add to that what Francine Kiefer reports in the Christian Science Monitor. “Bush’s religious beliefs are emerging as a central influence to his policies and politics,” and the sum seems to equal the assessment by Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today. “He is the most recklessly religious President we’ve seen. He’s on a religious mission, and you can’t separate religion from his militarism. He believes in fighting a religious war.”
Proof of the linkage Gaylor sees can be found in yet another coincidence, a new Bush-Reagan association. Cheryl Reagan (would it really matter if I said, “No relation”?) is a wealthy Christian Fundamentalist. She owns Grace Digital Media, whose website proclaims that GDM is “dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God’s presence in the world today.” George Bush has dedicated Grace to the task of producing the news programming for the new broadcast media the US is building for the mostly Muslim Middle East. I’m sure you don’t want to know how much GDM is getting paid, even if I could find out without having to spend the next six months with a urine-soaked pillowcase over my head.
From the feigned impotence of Allied Bombers to the arming of death squads and jihads alike, from Bush’s words right after 9/11, “I have never felt more comfortable in my life,” to searching for Osama in a code supposedly hidden in a Hebrew text of the Old Testament (raising eyebrows even at The New York Times), from one twist to another turn, Christian Zionists have a record of actions. It gives many people the jitters, especially when they look at George Bush.
As a senior analyst for Political Research Associates, Chip Berlet has become an expert on the religious right. He says Bush “seems to buy into the worldview that there is a giant struggle between good and evil culminating in a final confrontation. People with that kind of worldview often take risks that are inappropriate and scary because they see it as carrying out God’s will.”
It all sounds so crazy, it makes me want to run right over the Council on Foreign Relations for a bit of button-down reassurance. I know that Walter Russell Mead, a Senior Fellow on the council, will have a proper grasp of the situation. He’s seen it all before. “What’s different now is that apocalypse anxiety has moved into the mainstream of American politics and culture. In a worst case, but not unlikely scenario, Biblical prophecies of Armageddon could become self-fulfilling.”
Oh, what does he know?
This may all boil down to nothing more than the trappings of good old economic imperialism maintained by political force and military might, intended to last a long, long time. Evidence of belief, or even of intention, is as ephemeral as the concept of god, no matter how suggestive it might be. Maybe politicians only pander to The End for money.
Somehow, though, even that has an apocalyptic ring to it.