Monday, August 11, 2003

Apocalypse now. No, really. Now!
As if we didn't already have enough to worry about with this administration, this is the current question of the week and answer on the website of Jack Van Impe's Ministries International (Thanks To Atrios for pointing this out).
Do you think that President Bush, apparently a Christian man, believes and knows he is involved in prophetic events concerning the Middle East and final battle between good and evil?
--James Beaubien

I believe he is a wonderful man. They say he is a prayer warrior. He was born again through Billy Graham's visit a few years ago when he was having problems with alcohol, and today he's proud to claim these verses in John 3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," verse 3. Verse 7, "You must be born again." He said I have been born again. My life has been changed.
I am not sure whether he knows all of the prophecies and how deep of a student he has been in God's Word, but I was contacted a few weeks ago by the Office of Public Liaison for the White House and by the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to make an outline. And I’ve spent hours preparing it. I will release this information to the public in September, but it’s in his hands.
He will know exactly what is going to happen in the Middle East and what part he will have under the leading of the Holy Spirit of God. So, it's a tremendous time to be alive.
It is great to have a President who believes in God — a President who's living a godly life and not playing with sin, for the Bible says in Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."

In every generation, some people look around, notice that there are wars and rumors of wars, that the weather is bad, that young people don't respect their elders as much as the elders think they deserve, and they know that this has never, ever happened before in the entire history of the world!! Ergo, these must be the end times. Normally this isn't a dangerous belief. Many people file it away under "nothing I can do anything about" and go on with their lives. Some watch the news alternating between anxiety and disappointment. Occasionally, such people present a danger to themselves and to their families if their belief leads them to give away their belongings, dress the family in sackcloth and ashes, and go sit a hilltop waiting for God. Most never do that and most never become violent.

Occasionally a charismatic personality can convince large crowds of people that not only is the millennium at hand, but that they can help it along by destroying the old order. The Reformation featured a few of these characters and some of them managed to lay waste to entire provinces before they were stopped (and usually executed in the most horrible manner imaginable by people with pretty horrible imaginations). There is a whole library of literature on millennial movements and millennial disappointment (if you’re interested, the classic work and usual starting point is Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium).

Millennial movements are usually opposed to the existing order of things. Millennialists in power are rare and those that survive to write interesting memoirs, even rarer. While some millennialists may function no worse in a position of authority than any other person with sincere religious or spiritual beliefs, it is possible that a belief in the imminent end of the world can create some dangerous conflicts of interest. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, is said to have believed that there was no need for conservation or environmental protection because we only needed to use this world for a few more years. God would literally create a fresh, well-stocked world for us after the second coming. I have no idea if he really believed such a thing, but at the time I believed he believed it.

Suppose Bush actually believes in the literal truth of Van Impe’s narrative of the future? He knows what the president must do at each step to fulfill God’s plan. If Van Impe’s narrative says the Israeli’s must expel the Palestinians, destroy the al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques to make way for the third temple, and trigger a global holocaust, then he must use his power to carry out this plan. This is called Christian Zionism. It is the heartfelt belief of a large portion Fundamentalist Protestantism that this narrative must be carried out. The Jews must all be gathered into Israel to trigger the final battle (in which most of the Jews die) so that the second coming will occur. This is the reason so many Fundamentalists are so fervent in their support of Israel.

I hope to write more about this in the future, but for now let me refer you to the excellent material at Political Research Associates.

So, is Bush sitting, with his finger on the button, waiting for Van Impe to tell him the magic day when God wants him to push it? Or is Van Impe exaggerating his own importance in front of his flock? Much has been written about Bush’s religiosity over the last four years. He speaks the language of Fundamentalist Protestantism fluently, but what does that mean? There are lots of varieties of Fundamentalism. Loving the Bible and believing he has a special mission is not the same as champing at the bit to hurry the millennium, and in some varieties of Fundamentalism, believing you can know God’s plan and affect it is itself a sin. What is in his mind and heart?

As we radical agnostics say: I don’t know, and neither do you.

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