The long-standing support of Israel among American fundamentalist Christians
is curdling in some quarters into an unthinking religious romanticism that moons
for a general Middle East war, and the bigger the better.
And that has disturbing implications for the politics of U.S. foreign policy.
As many fundamentalists read the Bible, the creation of the state of Israel
was the necessary step in animating a scenario that will lead to the second coming
of Jesus and the triumph of heaven in the struggle against evil.
The return of Jews to their historic land will, in this prophetic vision, incite
Armageddon, the end-days war that will install the reign of the messiah.
Hence the uncritical support of Israel on the religious right, cheering, for
instance, the election of the hard-line Ariel Sharon, for all the wrong reasons,
after the Palestinians turned their suicide bombers loose to blow off the generous
peace plan offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Ironically if not just plain cruelly the ultimate victims in
this drama will be the Jews the fundamentalists are now championing. The script
calls for Jews either to convert at the last minute to Christianity or be doomed
to the eternal torments of the resulting hell on Earth.
You could argue that the fundamentalists who carry matters to that extreme
have invented a historic novelty: anti-Semitic support of Israel.
Plainly, not all religiously conservative, or even all fundamentalist, Christians
buy into the keenness for the last battle, much less wish to egg it on. But doomsday-and-redemption
novels and movies are big money-makers these days in religious right circles and
numerous preachers tout the prospect from their pulpits.
One result is a cavalier, let's-you-and-him-fight attitude toward Mideast confrontation,
in which incendiary speech is freed from the ordinary restraints of civility.
If Armageddon is good well, let's get it on!
So the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Jerry
Vines, called Mohammed a "demon-possessed pedophile." TV preacher Pat Robertson
cast Mohammed as a "robber, a brigand ... a killer." The Rev. Franklin Graham
called Islam "evil."
And the Rev. Jerry Falwell recently dismissed Mohammed as a "terrorist."
Falwell has since apologized but not before his comments sparked a riot
in the Indian city of Solapur in which eight died. And not before they helped
to tilt Pakistan's parliamentary elections to fundamentalist Islamic parties.
Well beyond the notice of much foreign-affairs reporting but notorious throughout
the Muslim world, this yearning for Armageddon and its concurrent contempt for
Islam and antagonism to peace-making are cutting off U.S. policy options and undercutting
They are also building a constituency within the United States that threatens
to punish office-holders who question any Israeli undertaking and, although only
at the margins, they thus embolden the most confrontational Israelis.
It's a fair surmise that even most conservative Christians who accept the end-days
story in theory are in no hurry to act it out. Their support of Israel is proportioned
to reality. But a disturbing minority, including several popular preachers, is
literally playing with fire.
Copyright 2002, The Daily Camera