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Armageddon and the Apocalyptic "Holocaust"

by Peter Burger Monday, Aug. 21, 2006 at 4:15 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

Originally Chriistianity was community opposing the idols of war and wealth. In the 20th century, Chrisitanity in the US was corrupted to a prosperity religion. To end-time fundamentalists, the worse it becomes the better.

ARMAGEDDON AND THE APOCALYPTIC “HOLOCAUST”

A vicious anti-Judaism is behind the “pro-Israeli” stance of evangelical end-time Christians in the US

By Peter Burger

[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis, 8/12/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.telepolis.de/r4/artikel/23/23322/1.html.]




People speak flippantly and sometimes enthusiastically about the third or fourth world war not only in the “neo-conservative” think tanks of the US. Among evangelical end-time Christians, all heralds of a new great war are welcomed. The final battle that will end this corrupt world is expected very soon. These heralds pretend to be “pro-Israeli” since an “Israel in biblical borders” will be the scene of the end time battle between good and evil. From his encounters with the Armageddon lobby, does Israel’s US ambassador Daniel Ayalon really know about the prospects given by Christian fundamentalists to those Jews who do not acknowledge the “true Messiah Jesus Christ” on the last day?

The psychotic delusions of end-time Christians have played an important role in the political life and mass culture of the US for decades [1]. Central themes of apocalyptic theology are exported worldwide in the millions through books, films and computer games.

Some preachers from evangelical churches can hardly contain their joy over the Lebanon war [2]. “What is now happening with Israel and its neighbors was already prophesied in the Bible” (pastor Margaret Stratton). In these circles, people believe the great adversary, the “Anti-Christ” or Satan, will disguise himself as a peacemaker for the Middle East and sabotage the fulfillment of the prophecies on the last battle.

IGNORANCE ABOUT CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM IS DANGEROUS

Unfortunately only a few politically responsible persons in Europe see the necessity of being thoroughly informed about the conceptual world of Christian apocalypticists. This is very negligent given the great influence of US end-time prophets. Since the time of Reaganism, Latin American liberation theologians have warned about the dangerous ideas of many evangelical mass seducers in the United States. Franz J. Hinkelammert wrote about them in 1989:

“The worse it is, the better. That is fundamentalist apocalyptic thinking. In our present world, fundamentalism is the most important thought-form that ascribes a positive meaning to destruction. The worse it becomes, the better since every catastrophe is a sign of the times announcing Christ’s return. Fundamentalism is the only ideology moving many people that gives a meaning to nuclear war. Even a nuclear Armageddon is accepted as a sign of hope form the vantage point of the future. Where everything is destroyed, everything is good.”

The great effect of “Christian” end-time extremists who have functioned as political megaphones of fundamentalist circles in the US since the success of the “Moral Majority” founded in 1979 cannot be underestimated. Their historical prophesy aims at a “final battle for God’s reign” and requires a world conspiracy, alternatively by communists, secular humanists, peace activists, the “perverse” (especially homosexuals), liberal Christians, Catholics, the UN, Europe or currently in first place Islam. For fundamentalist Christians [2]

The United Nations is the favorite place of activity of the Anti-Christ since Revelation 17,12 teaches that the kings of the earth will hand over their power and authority to the beast.” The pope, an opponent of war, is stylized as the “whore of Babylon” because Babylon enthroned on “seven mountains” according to Revelation 17,9 reflects Rome resting on seven hills. All Europe is made into an instrument of the devil since the European Union owes its existence to a Roman treaty.

JESUS AS RAMBO AND THE NEW CHOSEN PEOPLE

Boundless capitalism, militarism – including the use of nuclear weapons – and US hegemony or super-nationalism are evangelical salvation strategies on the way to the “end of all days.” To Christian apocalypticists, global cultural dialogue, inter-religious encounter, world ecumene, the World Council of Churches and the international legal order are works of the devil. Their alleged literal Biblicism joins them with interpretation systems that arbitrarily annul the social ethos and the peace order of the Christian gospel. Under the hand of these “prophets of today,” the Bible becomes an “ammunition depot for chauvinism, rearmament and war,” Meinrad Scherer-Emunds warns. The picture of the Redeemer is assimilated to the Rambo-complex. “The man (Jesus) who lived on this earth was a man with muscles […] Christ was a Macho!” (Jerry Falwell). According to some missionaries, Jesus was explicitly a capitalist.

Many Bible literalists for whom the US has long had the role of the chosen people hide behind an instrumental pro-Israel stance. For example, Falwell and Reagan believed: “No other nation on the whole earth was blessed by God the Almighty like the people of the United States.” Citing the biblical “Apocalypse” or Revelation of John in this context is obviously absurd. This scripture in its origin was a challenge to all worldly imperialism and reflected the feelings of hatred of Asia Minor Christians toward the world power Rome that threw its weight around as the ruler of the whole earth. In the last book of the Christian Bible, the divine vengeance on the oppressor, the Roman Empire, is desired in a very unchristian way. Jews and Christians were united at least in rejecting the contemporary superpower.

The context in which the future questions of human civilization are now considered 2000 years later by rightwing Christians in the US is the unavoidable and welcomed promised catastrophe. God in the nuclear age has lost the monopoly over the “end of the world” and humans now possess the instruments for a total destruction possible at any time. This destruction is regarded as a good sign. In complete harmony with the Last Judgment of the Gospel of Matthew (25,31-46), Immanuel Kant only wanted to see the “last things” as an emergency of the present. Can a person see other persons and humanity as equals? [3] Such self-restraint is completely remote from the eccentricity of US fundamentalism. This fundamentalism requires the death penalty without delay for so-called mortal sins as a global execution according to the manner of the psychopath in David Fischer’s film “Seven” (US, 1995).

EXCURSUS: “POST-MILLENIALISTS’ AND ‘PRE-MILLENIALISTS’

While followers of visions of the “thousand-year reign” are called “millenialists,” a distinction should be made according to Meinrad Scherer-Emunds. The original-religious or secular-“millennialism” of the American founding fathers started from a progress of civilization and saw the United States in the light of divine Providence with a special role for the peace millennium. The US was the Promised Land, the peacemaker and bringer of freedom for the whole world. The discovery of philosophy of history in the 18th century was the context.

The “post-millenialists” of the 18th and 19th centuries expected Christ’s return after a progressive Christianization and improvement of the world. They found willing students in US presidents like Woodrow Wilson and J.F. Kennedy. The “end of history” proclaimed with satisfaction by Francis Fukuyama in 1989 – unlike the “clash of civilizations” conjured by Samuel P. Huntington in 1993 – stands in a post-millenialist tradition.

The supporters of “pre-millenialism” who are very dominant today follow these end-time optimists. They see an inevitably advancing depravity in the present – before the longed-for reign of God. The “bang” or “flare-up” occurring in the world is described as a sign of the imminent Last Judgment. For these impatient and intolerant pre-millenialists, the world is a “sinking ship.” One cannot really speak of a cultural- or civilization-related pessimism since the believer sure of salvation regularly thanks God for bad world news.

The political explosiveness of this religious fatalism is manifest. Ronald Reagan’s first director of the Environmental Protection Agency James Watt believed the Last Judgment was near and therefore reject3ed all pollution control. In a similar self-satisfied, smug way, many politicians in the US today are very indifferent toward prognoses on climate change. While the Christian world ecumene sees the real possibility of a self-destruction of humanity as a sin that should not and may not be committed, fundamentalist US apocalypticists welcome potential nuclear destruction or other global threats as fulfillment of a prophecy and speak explicitly of a “moral duty to use nuclear bombs.”

The majority of humanity takes no pleasure in this serious play with fire. However the fatalist apocalypticism of “pre-millenialism” has long spread in the mass culture in “spiritual” psychoses, conjurations of the devil and militantly staged world shipwreck. Post-apocalypses are shown in catastrophe movies, not preventive strategies and models enabling humanity to escape a threatening downfall.

The catastrophe on the globe is already regarded as a fact. “Everything has already happened” was said explicitly in the time journey film “Twelve Monkeys” (US, 1995). The tagline to that film announces, “The future is history.” Military and technological powers for global disaster are not subject to any serious criticism. Everything must first be ruined. Then one of the elect can ponder a new beginning. The ordering mission in the midst of the post-nuclear wilderness is put in the hands of new pioneers. Under these presuppositions, Hollywood succeeds again and again in exploiting the curiosity about a dreadful future in blockbusters without horrifying us about what we are doing today to those not yet born.

RONALD REAGAN AS A THEOLOGIAN

Radical apocalypticists are not representative for the whole fundamentalist spectrum. However they play a central role in politicizing the diverse fundamentalist scene to help republicans or “neo-conservatives.” Most leaders of the Christian rightwing admit to end-time speculations of the Armageddon type. The pre-history should have been taken seriously two decades ago.

In a famous 1983 speech, president Ronald Reagan delighted his evangelical audience by identifying the Soviet Union as the “evil empire.” The Frankfurter Rundschau reported this on 10/31/1983 under the heading “The Influence of the Prophets”:

“According to a Washington lobbyist, US president Ronald Reagan regards it as possible that the world according to the Revelation of John approaches the Last Judgment and the decisive battle of Armageddon between good and evil. Thomas Dine, chairman of a committee campaigning for good relations between the US and Israel said over the weekend the president told him on October 18 that he, Reagan, spoke the night before with the parents of a US marine infantryman killed in Beirut. The president said: “As you know, I go back again and again to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and to the signs announcing Armageddon. I ask myself whether we are the generation that will experience this. I don’t know whether you heard one of these prophecies recently. But, believe me, they certainly describe the time that we now experience.”

Today more than half of Americans are convinced in a literal (!) sense that the Revelation of John will be fulfilled. For more than two decades, the “electronic TV churches” and books like Hal Lindsey’s bestseller “The Last Great Planet Earth” (1970) spread the end-time ideas of influential fanatics. A quarter of the US population buys apocalyptic books of this kind and more than a third regularly think about the end of the world according to a Times survey. For a rather long time, secular and explicitly “Christian” war games on the computer have taken up the decisive battle between light and darkness. The 14-volume novel series “Left Behind” about the last years of humanity already has a great mass appeal with a circulation of 40 million (!). Now and then the material and spiritual war against the Anti-Christ is staged in computer games [4]. Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz describes this literary-political issue as follows (Publik-Forum, 6/27/2003):

“The end-time begins with the `rapture’ of the saints (according to 1 Thess 4,17). People are suddenly gone […]. They are the elect whom God graciously raptures to himself `above’ to escape the terrors of the end time. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the two authors of this “novel,” describe the end-time conflict as an escalating war between Christ’s soldiers who come mostly from the “United North American states” (!) and the rest of humanity led by the Anti-Christ […]. That this `world ruler’ was a former General secretary of the United Nations casts a light on the deep contempt with which this institution is seen in many parts of pious America! Ecological catastrophes are part of the scenario of terror. Everything leads to the `Final Solution’ in the battle of Armageddon where the giant armies of the world meet one another in a dreadful bloodbath in the middle of Israel until Christ defeats all enemies and establishes his thousand-year reign.”

How would you explain what is happening here within a religious framework?

It is self-defense [by Israel], which is cause for just war. Israel is the spear against what you would call the Islam-o-fascism that is threatening all of the free loving people of the western world. There is no question that Hezbollah is the proxy for the Iranians.

Is there a message from god that is being played out here? Do you put it in those terms?

The Jews are God’s chosen people. Israel is a special nation that has a special place in God’s heart. He will defend this nation. So Evangelical Christians stand with Israel. That is one of the reasons I am here…

Do you worry that we could be on the verge of some of the apocalyptic visions that are portrayed in the scriptures?

There was a prophet Ezekiel in the time of the Bible who wrote that in the last days there would be an invasion of Israel by a coalition that would include Iran, Russia, Turkey and the Sudan and Libya. God himself is going to defeat that great army that had come against his people. That is a prophecy of one of the Jewish prophets that has yet to be fulfilled. It said that it would be in the later days when Israel has been brought from the nations of the earth and are living in peace in their land.

Are we on the verge of this apocalyptic vision?

Could be.

Pat Robertson, the fundamentalist television preacher in an interview [5] on 8/9/2006 during his visit in Israel

WHY EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS ARE “FOR ISRAEL”

In this context, one can now understand that some theologians of the apocalyptic scene envision the “Anti-Christ” appealing to the biblical book of Daniel (9,27) as a peacemaker in the Middle East. Escalation in the sense of the described timetable is desired and may not be stopped. Spreading peace before Christ’s return is explicitly termed a heresy according to James Robinson.

People in Israel can hardly gain confidence from these ideas. Still the ideas of the supposed friends from Christianity sound entirely “pro-Israel.” On an evangelical website Word of the Cross [6], pastor Fritz May lists “25 reasons motivating Christians for Israel” including the following:

· Because the land of Israel including the “West Bank” (Samaria and Judea) was, is and will be the scene of God’s world- and salvation history.

· Because Israel as a whole will come to living faith in Jesus Christ as its Messiah with Jesus Christ’s return (Romans 11,25.26 and others).

· Because Israel has a great future in assuming the intellectual and spiritual leadership in the world in the messianic reign of Jesus Christ (Zechariah 8,20-23; Isaiah 2,2.3 and others).

· Because we affirm Zionism (=return of Jews and the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel) since it is divinely ordained (Ezekiel 11,17 and others). Therefore we support Israel’s existence within secure and biblically promised borders.

· Because all Jerusalem must be and remain Israel’s eternal capitol and never shared again since “Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord”

‘ISLAM AS THE INSTRUMENT OF THE DEVIL”

In the theology of end-time Christians, Islam is regarded as the “instrument of the devil” that must be fought with all means and covered with insults. In 1999, the Islam scholar and Kurdologist Tanja Duncker sifted through terrifying German-language reports [7] from evangelical pamphlets. According to these pamphlets, there is no connection of the three religions going back to Abraham. The many Moslem migrants in countries of “western culture” are part of an evil strategy. The “demonic system of Islam” is considered the second great attempt to wrest Jerusalem from the Jews and frustrate the fervently longed-for end-time spectacle in the Holy Land.

Peace talks with the Palestinians or other boundaries of Israel than the “biblical” boundaries are rejected. There can never be negotiation over Jerusalem. “Jesus will return in Jewish territory, not in Palestinian territory.”

JESUS AS THE GREAT PURIFIER AND DESTROYER

In a theological regard, the apocalyptic of fundamentalists must be judged as a regression to a primitive dualism. The longing for purity is perverted into a dangerous hygiene program with which – as Petra Bahr describes – everything “impure” should be eliminated. Humanity will be clearly separated into the redeemed and unredeemed, born again and damned, elect and rejected. This corresponds to a “conspiracy theory of cosmic proportions” (Scherer-Edmunds) according to which God and Satan, absolute good and absolute evil, wage war with one another. Projected religious metaphorical statements integrated allegorically in the ancient church and illumined in depth psychology today are understood “literally” as the timetable of external history.

In this connection, Christ’s arrival is expected as that of a warlord who will inflict an unparalleled mass bloodbath on earth among the depraved! Scherer-Emunds’ incredible quotations about the deep dissatisfaction of fundamentalists with Christ’s first coming could be mentioned here:

“In his first coming on this earth, Jesus Christ was born in a stable, relatively unnoticed by the world […] in a time of relative peace […]. Christ’s second coming will not be a tranquil manger scene. It will be the most dramatic and most shaking event in the whole history of the universe […]. All the wicked hosts will be destroyed […]. Cities will literally collapse, islands will sink and mountains disappear […]. Rulers and armies that resist Christ’s return will be annihilated in a mass bloodbath.”

John F. and John E. Walvoord

“He came as the lamb of God […]. When Jesus returns the second time, he will come as a lion […]. His coming will be accompanied by a violent judgment.”

Hal Lindsey

Fundamentalists regard the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11/2001 as signs that these events are not far away any more, not as God’s punishment for moral degeneracy. Among born-again Christians, over 70 percent agree with the statement “I believe we are seeing the beginnings of that war that leads to the Anti-Christ and Armageddon.” The apocalyptic-dualistic retribution propaganda between “good and evil” or light and darkness” in the speeches of president George W. Bush Junior led the way. He announced the mission of the United States on September 14, 2001 at the National Cathedral in Washington:

“Our responsibility before history is clear: react to these attacks and liberate the world from evil.”

As a confessed “born again,” the president uncovered an “axis of evil” of Iran-Iraq-North Korea that accidentally correlated with “neo-conservative” strategy documents. The provocative phrase was applauded because the underlying picture of the world was unquestionably correct and “true” for many hearers.

AN “APOCALYPTIC HORIZON” OR WHAT END-TIME CHRISTIANS HIDE

The credo of these evangelicals consists in one verse from the Gospel of John (3,18) repeated like a prayer wheel:

“He who believes in him (Jesus Christ) is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

As the “born again” in evangelical communities of the US, little children learn that the Savior bled on the cross for their sinfulness and that everyone who does not accept this and confess with his mouth is abandoned to ruin. A few days ago, an evangelical street missionary refused to recognize me as a fellow-Christian at a Hiroshima memorial event. To his question what opens up heaven, I answered “longing for goodness.” In his view, the only correct and possible answer was the word confession “Jesus Christ is my Redeemer.”

The distinction to mainstream theology taught at evangelical and catholic universities is in dealing with the Bible. Evangelicals reject a scholarly, historical-critical or symbolic approach. Jewish visions as in the reading of the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) are considered antiquated. In contrast, all catholic and evangelical professors during my study defended the following statement: A Christian theologian who really wants to understand the Jew Jesus of Nazareth must study Jewish theology.

According to official church teaching, no catholic for example can claim that only Jews converting to Christianity were on a path of salvation and would be saved by God. This is very different with the “pro-Israeli” evangelicals. Many of their followers were not well intentioned toward Jews and were hardly isolated within Christendom. In 1981, Baily Smith, chairperson of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared: “God does not hear the prayers of a Jew.” [4]

In fundamentalist theology of history, the historical “holocaust” – as the “plan of the devil” – is only part of a great machinery that runs somehow by necessity. The “time of need for Jacob” was already announced in the prophetic book of Jeremiah (30,7). There is much cynical commentary by millenialists on the mass murder of six million Jews during German fascism. According to one preacher’s information, the Nazis were simply God’s instruments. “By driving back the surviving people in the preserved land, Hitler who did not believe in the Bible and mocked God’s word helped fulfill the most excellent biblical prophesy.” [5]

Unlike the world ecumene, pre-millenialist theology does not know any abiding independent value of Judaism. “Strengthening the state of Israel” is only temporarily important as fulfillment of the apocalyptic timetable. At the end of all days, according to their system, only those Jews who convert to Jesus Christ and then evangelize others will be saved. The number of these elect who “make up for Israel’s apostasy […]” is estimated at 144,000. The rest will fall to eternal damnation. On the basis of one Bible verse, director H.L. Wilmington from the evangelical “Liberty Home Bible Institute” calculates that two-thirds of all Jews, approximately sixteen million will be killed “in the framework of the divine salvation plan in the second half of the (end-time) great tribulation.” [6] According to one’s taste, a great apocalyptic fiery oven or a bloody massacre is expected.

Thus the “pro-Israeli” change of the Christian rightwing by no means follows a “pro-Jewish” turn. Nowhere else in today’s Christendom is there a greater gulf between Judaism and Christianity than with the end-time US evangelicals. However all who stand outside this religious camp should worry about the sudden craving for the last days in the US.



[1] Cf. Peter Burger, Kino der Angst – Terror, Krieg und Staatskunst aus Hollywood, Stuttgart 2005, p.153-166 and p.355-388/Meinrad Scherer-Emunds. Die letzte Schlacht um Gottes Reich. Political Salvation Strategies of American Fundamentalism. Munster 1989/ and the articles by Petra Bahr, Christoph Auffarth and others in: Frolich. Middel/ Visarius’ (ed): Nach dem Ende – Auflosung und Untergange im Kino an der Jahrtausendwende, Marburg 2001.

[2] Hans Hoyng/ Gerhard Sporl: Krieg aus Nachstenliebe. With the attack on Baghdad, US president George W. Bush wants to fulfill a divine commission. In” Der Spiegel Nr 8/2003, p.98.

[3] Cf. the explanations of Petra Bahr (footnote 1) who refers explicitly to Kant’s worldly “counter-thesis” to apocalyptic language (categorical imperative, theory of justice, tract on eternal peace). The only end-time criterion of judgment in Matthew 25,35f is: “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.” According to this blueprint, a human standard consists in a verifiable humanliness in all relations that is explicitly credible for Kant in a universal context.

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