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Lebanon and the Christian Zionist Apocalypse
W hen Israel began bombing Lebanon this summer, participants of the Rapture Ready web message forum welcomed the conflagration as a sign of the apocalyptic End Times anticipated by some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in the United States:
- “This is so exciting.”
- “I have been having rapture dreams and I can’t believe that this is really it! We are on the edge of eternity!”
- “Praise God! We are chosen to be in these times and also watch and spread the word. Something inside me is exploding to get out, and I don’t know what it is. It’s kind of like I want to do cartwheels around the neighborhood.”
- “Gosh! Things are happening at break neck speed it seems! Here we are making plans to move to the east coast and we might not even have to move after all. I say, come quickly Lord!”
- “Got that dancing feeling on the inside of me” (multiple exclamation points deleted).
“This is so exciting.”
“I have been having rapture dreams and I can’t believe that this is really it! We are on the edge of eternity!”
“Praise God! We are chosen to be in these times and also watch and spread the word. Something inside me is exploding to get out, and I don’t know what it is. It’s kind of like I want to do cartwheels around the neighborhood.”
“Gosh! Things are happening at break neck speed it seems! Here we are making plans to move to the east coast and we might not even have to move after all. I say, come quickly Lord!”
“Got that dancing feeling on the inside of me” (multiple exclamation points deleted).
This exchange was first posted on the Left Business Observer listserve and prompted a flurry of shocked comments as it spread across the Internet. Why are they celebrating? Why are so many conservative Christian evangelicals—a group historically not known for its love affair with Jews or Judaism— such unrestrained fans of the state of Israel and the hard-line and violent militaristic policies of the current Israeli government? Why are they helping raise tens of millions of dollars per year to send to Israel?
Something is happening to shape the political attitudes of what is an increasingly well-educated, upwardly mobile, suburbanite crowd of people who think President George W. Bush is a godsend…literally.
The last book of the Christian New Testament is “Revelation,” written by John of Patmos. It was originally thought to have been written by the same John who was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Alas, no, not the same John.
John of Patmos was a hermit who lived in a cave on an island off the coast of what is now Turkey. He had visions and wrote them down. Standard stuff for prophets. The Catholic and Orthodox churches urge their followers to read “Revelation” as a metaphor, as do most “mainline” Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians.
I n a trend that started among Pro -testants in the late 1800s, called “premillennial dispensationalism,” many Christians in the U.S. began to read “Revelation” as a timetable and script for the End Times—a period that ushers in the Battle of Armageddon and a cataclysmic battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan for control of the planet.
How (you may ask) does this relate to contemporary politics in the Middle East? Armageddon refers to a valley near Mount Megiddo in Israel. More on this later.
Many contemporary Christian fundamentalists read the book of “Revelation” as a story about a conspiracy of government and religious leaders to trick faithful Christians into renouncing Jesus just before Satan launches a full-scale war. Satan’s chief agent in this plot is the Antichrist—portrayed as a global political figure attempting to build a one-world collectivist government. For years this was thought to be a plan of the communist Soviet Union working through the United Nations.
These days the UN is still considered to be part of the conspiracy, but global Islam is now the puppet master—which is handy because another part of this reading of “Revelation” is that Satan’s false prophet will spread a one-world religion in the End Times. There is a seven-year period of “Tribulations” in the End Times, with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse making an appearance, along with seven trumpets, seven scrolls with seven seals, seven bowls, seven angels, and a scary beast with seven heads—ever wonder where “lucky seven” comes from?
If you believe in the Rapture, according to Tim LaHaye and others, as a true Christian you are swept up in the safety of a heavenly embrace of God while the Tribulations rage below with all sorts of torture, murder, and mayhem that make the Terminator films seem like Disney flicks. At some point (just when is a subject of debate) Jesus returns in his Second Coming to vanquish Satan and the forces of evil and establish God’s kingdom on earth for a millennium of true peace and prosperity. Maybe longer, maybe shorter, it depends on who you ask.
A nyway, the catch is that many Christian fundamentalists believe that for Jesus Christ to return, he has to land on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Jews have to have rebuilt the Temple of Solomon. Problem. Muslims call this place Haram al Sharif and it is currently the site of several important Islamic shrines and a mosque.
Christian Zionists support Israel for a variety of reasons, but to an alarming degree it involves this idea of Jews returning to Israel as prophesied in the Bible, controlling Jerusalem, smashing the Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount, rebuilding the Temple of Solomon, and triggering the return of Jesus. If you believe that the central tenet of your religion requires Jews to control the Holy Land in the Middle East, and you suspect Islam is the false global religion of the Antichrist, then this justifies support for hard-line policies by the governments of Israel and the United States.
As the End Times wrap up, God punishes the sinful and unbelievers with his “terrible swift sword,” while some 144,000 Jews convert to Christianity. The rest of the Jews, and everyone else not cleared by God, are cast into the sulphurous fires of Hell or maybe crushed like grapes (which is where we get the line about the grapes of wrath), with their blood flowing as a river down past Megiddo. Thus Armageddon. Harsh.
Many Christians do not buy into this precise scenario—but millions, perhaps tens of millions, take seriously the possibility that the End Times are near and that the battles raging in the Middle East might be part of the war between good and evil that's prophesied in the book of “Revelation.”
It’s easy to poke fun at this type of religious belief and this article admittedly has been glib. But if all you are doing is smirking, ponder the following. You are reading Z Magazine …proud, but small. Midnight Call , the periodical of choice for many apocalyptic Christians, is “published in 12 languages and read in over 144 countries.” They outnumber us and they have consistently out-organized us. They have far more influence over U.S. foreign and domestic policy than we do. If you want to learn more about how Christian Zionism works as an element of the Christian Right, visit www.publiceye.org/christian _right/zionism/coalition.
Chip Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates (PRA) near Boston. The views are his own and not necessarily those of PRA.
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