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April 25, 2004 - The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You













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The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You - Be afraid, be very afraid...

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I don’t get religion.  I’m just your basic born-and-raised-a-Congregationalist, married once to a lapsed Baptist, then to an odd woman who dragged me off to a High Episcopal church kind of guy - and now an atheist.  Probably always was.  No, certain I always was.  I don’t get it. 

But I like having religion explained to me.  And George Monbiot does that here, and explains how religion drives our actions as a nation.  It’s quite curious. 

See Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power
US Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush's Middle East policy
George Monbiot, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday April 20, 2004

Actually this is an account of last month’s Texas Republican Party conventions, particularly the one in Harris County – and that would be Houston, Texas. 

Monbiot ticks off the expected - homosexuality is contrary to the truths ordained by God; "any mechanism to process, license, record, register or monitor the ownership of guns" should be repealed; income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax should be abolished; and immigrants should be deterred by electric fences. 

Yep.  Not much news here.  Then they got to the matter of Israel. 

After much compromise, keeping the radical stuff out, they came down to this: the motion they adopted stated that Israel has an undivided claim to Jerusalem and the West Bank, that Arab states should be "pressured" to absorb refugees from Palestine, and that Israel should do whatever it wishes in seeking to eliminate terrorism. 

Not quite where Bush put us last week, but close. 

The question Monbiot asks is why these folks in one small part of Texas think they need a position on Israel in their party position papers – why is this a local “party plank” at all? 

Here’s his take:

 

In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an extraordinary delusion.  In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to Earth when certain preconditions have been met.  The first of these was the establishment of a state of Israel.  The next involves Israel's occupation of the rest of its "biblical lands" (most of the Middle East), and the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.  The legions of the antichrist will then be deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.  The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity, and the Messiah will return to Earth. 

 

Ah, I see.  They simply want good things to happen.  Jesus returns.  And I hear he was a good guy - full of love and peace and understanding and all that. 

But there is the darker side:

 

What makes the story so appealing to Christian fundamentalists is that before the big battle begins, all "true believers" (i.e. those who believe what they believe) will be lifted out of their clothes and wafted up to heaven during an event called the Rapture.  Not only do the worthy get to sit at the right hand of God, but they will be able to watch, from the best seats, their political and religious opponents being devoured by boils, sores, locusts and frogs, during the seven years of Tribulation which follow. 

 

Yep, some folks win, some folks lose. 

I guess the question is whether this is harmless fantasy.  This fellow explains to his British readers perhaps this all is not so harmless:

 

The true believers are now seeking to bring all this about.  This means staging confrontations at the old temple site (in 2000, three US Christians were deported for trying to blow up the mosques there), sponsoring Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, demanding ever more US support for Israel, and seeking to provoke a final battle with the Muslim world/Axis of Evil/United Nations/ European Union/France or whoever the legions of the antichrist turn out to be. 

 

Let’s get this straight.  Texas Christians traveling to Jerusalem to blow up mosques, to make sure Jesus will return as predicted?  Well, that doesn’t seem harmless, unless you believe in the greater good, in Jesus returning.  Then it might be okay, one supposes.  And Texas Christians are sponsoring Jewish settlements in the middle of Palestinian lands?  What, just to tick them off?  No, again, this is for the greater good.  This is part of what must happen if Jesus is to return, so one does it.  But it does seem odd.  The idea, of course, is to bring about the final battle that clears everything up.  It seems that is a desirable goal.  Heck, everyone believes “closure” is important. 

Yes, these folks convinced that they will “soon” be rewarded for their efforts.  Keep an eye out for the antichrist, of course, as he/she/it returning signals these are the hoped for end days.  Monbiot reports these folks cannot decide just who the antichrist is, precisely - Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Yasser Arafat “or, more plausibly, Silvio Berlusconi.”

Yeah, right. 

Monbiot does mention the Rapture of course – and provides a link to www.raptureready.com where you can get some idea how close we are to the end of everything: the “Rapture Index” is at 144 today and you can go see that this is pretty close to the apocalypse threshold.  Getting close…

So is this just a silly fringe – just a few folks with odd beliefs?  No, fully one third of Republicans believe this stuff.  Monbiot runs the numbers, then cheers us up with a mention of the key people who believe this stuff. 

 

And among them are some of the most powerful men in America.  John Ashcroft, the attorney general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay.  Mr DeLay (who is also the co-author of the marvellously named DeLay-Doolittle Amendment, postponing campaign finance reforms) travelled to Israel last year to tell the Knesset that "there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking".

 

This does seem to be, as Monbiot suggests, a major political constituency - representing much of the current president's core vote - in the most powerful nation on Earth, which is actively seeking to provoke a new world war. 

And he points out these people see the invasion of Iraq “as a warm-up act,” as Revelation (9:14-15) maintains that four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be released "to slay the third part of men". 

And there is the matter of our support of Israel in this whole construct - when Bush asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, he received one hundred thousand angry emails from Christian fundamentalists, and never mentioned the matter again.  He knows. 

Here’s how this plays out in the next election. 

 

The electoral calculation, crazy as it appears, works like this.  Governments stand or fall on domestic issues.  For 85% of the US electorate, the Middle East is a foreign issue, and therefore of secondary interest when they enter the polling booth.  For 15% of the electorate, the Middle East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at the right hand of God.  Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it.  He would be mad to listen to these people.  He would also be mad not to. 

 

I don’t like the math.  But I have not accepted Jesus Christ as my personal redeemer.  So I don’t get it, and I guess I can’t get it.  My problem.  And for all the times I’ve been to Texas, I don’t like the place. 

But Bush has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.  He gets it - and if not as wrapped up in apocalyptic thought as these folks are, perhaps, he knows these folks do vote.  And they want a new world war, a last war, “a war to end all wars,” even if Woodrow Wilson had something else in mind when he used those particular words. 

Well, we’re working on this final war, reading events one way, or, to be a bit more optimistic, Bush is just humoring these people to win some critical votes.  I wonder which it is.  And I really don’t know. 















 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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