I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Evangelical desires for the Rapture and Bush's Middle East wars

One of the issues which does not get discussed very much at all is the extent to which people who compose the President's "base" -- and even the President himself -- are so obsessed with the Glorious War of Civilizations because they see it as a religious war between Islam and Christianity. Reporters have always been reluctant to ask the President about his religious beliefs -- such as the influence, if any, of end-of-the-world "Rapture" doctrines on his political decisions -- but the issue is pressing given that many evangelicals believe the Rapture is what is driving (and justifying) not just our current, but also future, conflicts in the Middle East:

Christian minister Jerry Falwell announced that the beginning of the end of the world as we know it likely has begun and that Christians should “proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and prepare for his imminent return.”

If the televangelist’s prediction is accurate, thousands of Sacramentans soon may experience what evangelical Christians call the Rapture: Believers will spontaneously disappear from their homes and workplaces and be carried to heaven, while the remaining population will be left behind to endure trauma and hardships never before experienced by mankind. . . .

Falwell’s ominous prophecy is based primarily on the current conflicts in the Middle East--mainly the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah--which parallel Evangelical beliefs about the final battle between good and evil. Tarr explained that Evangelicals believe that a consortium of forces will attempt to demolish the state of Israel and that that battle will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will come to the aid of the Jews.

Is fighting in order to bring about the Rapture -- whereby "believers will spontaneously disappear from their homes and workplaces and be carried to heaven" -- really all that different from 72 virgins awaiting martyrs in heaven? And much of that language is how the President publicly describes his view of the Middle East. There is just no question that Rapture doctrine is what causes very large numbers of the President's supporters (and the President himself?) to believe that fighting against enemies of Israel in the Middle East is a moral and theological imperative:

“He will fight, and his forces will fight against those who want to annihilate the Jewish people,” he said. The significance of the Second Coming will not be missed by the Jews, Tarr said. “Christ comes back and protects the Jewish nation. For the first time, the Jewish nation is going to recognize that he was the Messiah that came before, and they’re going to accept him as their Messiah.”

Although Falwell implied that the prophesized anti-Israel coalition now can beidentified and consists of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, Tarr isn’t so sure. “For people to name the countries, 'It is going to be Iran and Iraq and Syria, and Russia and China,’ or whatever, I don’t know.

During his small, intimate sitdown with "reporters" such as Fred Barnes, Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne last week, the President repeatedly emphasized the good-vs-evil and religious aspects of his political beliefs in the War on Terror. As Lowry put it: "Bush’s faith in the rightness of his strategy in the broader war is deep-seated — it is, indeed, a product of faith." Bush also spoke of a religious revival -- the Third Awakening -- which he claims is sweeping the United States:

I’m not giving you a definitive statement — it seems like to me there’s a Third Awakening with a cultural change. And it would be interesting to get your observations if that is accurate or not accurate. It feels like it. I’m just giving you a reference point, if this is something you’re interested in looking at. It feels like it to me. I don’t have people coming in the rope line saying, ‘I’d like a new bridge, or how about some more highway money.’ They’re coming to say, ‘I’m coming to tell you, Mr. President, I’m praying for you.’ It’s pretty remarkable.

All of that is by way of highlighting the context for the following ABC report concerning an upcoming documentary on evangelical movements and how they are inculcating American youths -- by mixing evangelical doctrine and political beliefs. It's hard to watch this and not be alarmed -- and the worship session with George Bush's photograph is hardly surprising to any observer of our political discussions. How common is this mindset, and what influence does it play on the decisions -- both past and for the next two years -- of the Bush White House with regard to the wars we fight against Muslims?

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