*For those coming in here from the Newsweek story, please see my response here.
If there is anything that makes my brain hurt, cramp up, squirm wildly and otherwise want to fly out of my head to seek refuge under the nearest cool and heavy rock, it is the idea that what we are witnessing these days in Lebanon and Israel is the prelude to the "End Times"; a prerequisite to the Rapture; a preview of the Great Tribulation; a pre-party to the Second Coming. I've read the books, I've studied the Rapture culture, I've met and know people who believe in this eschatology, and for the life of me I still can't grasp the fascination and desire to see the world end. I still can't grasp that millions of people hope they are sitting in the front row seats to the end of history. They want to be on the winning side, they want to go to heaven. But instead of the usual individual Christian spiritual yearning for this promised land, this division between good and ill takes on a the flavor of a universal cosmic battle where all the wheat is separated from all the chaff in one cataclysmic go.
What spiritual malaise is this? What utter hopelessness in humanity? What arrogant attitude sees the same people who so often proclaim a "Culture of Life" hope for everything to perish from the earth?
What makes generally good people, and I feel most of them believe their itch for the end is a "hopeful" belief, want all of this to disappear?
There are many factors working on these people's minds, some even contradictory. First is the idea of an imminent return of Christ. This belief for many of these people is like a drug, a constant high that keeps them spiritually galvanized. Second to this hopefulness is a great fear that they or those they know will not be Raptured before the Great Tribulation, meaning they are energized even more to "save" themselves and unbelievers from the sinking ark before it's too late, spread the "Good News" and proselytize. The immediacy of the "imminent return" idea, this idea of "at any moment" the Rapture will occur also works to create a mass paranoia that only those who believe in this hold the ultimate truth. Religious leaders within this movement are often savvy about when to up the rhetoric and when to downplay it, often playing these people like an organ. How long that can last before a great disappointment that the End has not come is anyone's guess, but the past few years of terrorist attacks, massive natural disasters and continued unrest in the Middle East has only fueled and galvanized these "true believers" even more.
So what if people think the end of the world is coming sooner than later? They can believe what they want, right? Let them sell their books and have their movies, let them make money off fear and hopelessness, we don't believe this anyway, right?
The problems arise when the fantasies of real people are cynically manipulated by their leaders and those politicians who see it as beneficial for real political ends. The problems arise when these real people are manipulated by both their leaders and far-right Israelis for their own real political ends. A prime example of how far-right U.S. politicians and far-right Israelis see these people and how they use them can be seen in Zev Chafets's opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times this weekend, "I Want Falwell in My Foxhole." (registration required)
For millions of American evangelical voters, living right includes supporting Israel. Last week, Pentecostal televangelist Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio, one of the rising forces in American Christian Zionism, convened a meeting in Washington of Christians Unified for Israel. Hagee sees the newly formed group as an evangelical American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, dedicated to lobbying on Israel's behalf, especially in states where Jews are few and far between. Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas attended Hagee's rally. So did Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum (who is running for his political life). Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman was there. So was the Israeli ambassador, Daniel Ayalon.
Notice those names. These politicians from the U.S. and Israel rightly realize that believers in this eschatology are willing to stand behind Israel no matter what Israel does, because in this belief "God blesses those who bless the Jewish people." Now this phrase from Hagee doesn't say "God blesses those who bless the Israeli State" but "Jewish people." There's a big difference here, for you can't equate the State of Israel with all Jewish people around the world or vice versa. But this is a trick of generalizing rhetoric they like to play and too often get away with. Secondly and contradictorily, while proclaiming to be extremely pro-Israel and philo-Semitic (love and support for the Jewish people) the theology and eschatology of premillenial dispensationalists (Rapture believers) sees anything "Jewish" being wiped from the face of the earth in the end. In their end times scenarios they believe Jews must either convert to their form of Christianity of be wiped out. Genocide, in other words. Of course people like Chafets who use these believers to support right-wing Israeli policies such as continued settlement building in disputed territory don't believe in the End Times scenarios, so they dismiss the inherent anti-Semitism at the core of their beliefs, but accept their current time "love" with no qualms. It's funny that people like Chafets easily forget that recently "supporters of Israel" like Pat Robertson called the stroke Ariel Sharon retribution from God, or that writers on Tim LaHaye's website rebuked Sharon trading land for peace with off color anti-Semitic statements?
Love is certainly a wonderful thing.
But how much does this actually hurt Israel and Jewish people around the world? How much does it hurt the U.S. and the West and moderate Arab states in trying to battle Islamic fundamentalisms when Christian fundamentalists are seen as the most staunch backers of the of Israel? It certainly gives more credence to the exclamations of the Bin Laden's of the world that "Crusaders and Zionists" are holding back countries in the Islamic world. I don't believe that, but more and more people do every day in the Islamic world. That's not something the U.S. or Israel should want. It only fuels those fires of fundamentalism, both Christian and Islamic, the more. That's not in anyone's interest other than the purveyors of hate, hopelessness and destruction.
Israel has every right to defend itself against attack from Hezbollah. But does that give them the right to rain destruction across large swaths of Lebanon? Doesn't Lebanon have a right to defend itself?
Something I've found odd the past week is that the same people who so often bash the United Nations, which I'd agree desperately needs reform, are the first to hold up UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls for the abolition of Hezbollah. Yes, that would be a wonderful thing. But what about the U.N. Security Council Resolutions calling for Israel to halt settlements in occupied territory? Resolution 446? Resolution 452? Resolution 465? Wouldn't that be a wonderful step towards peace? How can the U.S. be an honest and impartial broker for peace in the Middle East with Christian doomsdayers who think there should be no peace until Jesus comes as the most fervent "supporters" of Israeli state transgressions? How can the U.S. be an honest broker of peace in the Middle East while at the same time accelerating its delivery of artillery shells to use in a battle we're working for a ceasefire on?
The U.S., in its current political state, cannot be an honest broker for peace in the Middle East. Wouldn't a true friend tell you when you've gone too far? Would a true friend embrace you and say they love you while yearning at the same time for your eventual destruction? That's exactly what the Rapturists, the self-proclaimed protectors of Israel, do with Israel.
Dinosaurs. They're like dinosaurs praying for that big old asteroid to strike and wipe them away. They're only friend is the end.