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
“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).
is so exciting.”
have been having rapture dreams and I can’t believe that this
is really it! We are on the edge of eternity!”
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.”
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!”
that dancing feeling on the inside of me” (multiple exclamation
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.
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
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.
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
, 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.
Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates (PRA) near
Boston. The views are his own and not necessarily those of PRA.