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Religious Fanatics and Apocolyptic Visions

by Hank Roth 

Every religion has its own concept and imagery of death and rebirth. Secular views also believe in death without the rebirth. It is all part of the universal mythology which evolved as we all did from fear and recognition of death as nothingness - unless we attach some kind of magic to it and through hope, which is what essentially religion is all about, those who do _believe_ in something supernatural and outside the realm of science which they call _their_ religion, by whatever name, and give some additional meaning to it. 

The Apocalyptic vision of Jewish and Christian doctrine and includes also Islam (which took parts of its philosophy from both) is different from each other in the details but each believe in a form of "re-creation" which when you think about it is a very extreme ideological stretch - which some "Enlightenment" philosophies were unwilling to take. 

The problem with Apocalytic visions is the violence which accompanies it and makes death and destruction in effect conceptionably acceptable. 

"Think of apocalyptic violence as a form of ultimate idealism, a quest for spiritual utopia. The word apocalypse derives from the Greek term for "revelation" or "uncovering." In Judaism and Christianity, the apocalyptic revelation came from God and concerned a powerful event. In Christianity especially, the event came to be understood as the end of the world itself, or as a prophecy of that end. What gives these visions their allure is that such an end, involving untold vistas of destruction, only foretold a new beginning. All-consuming violence in obliterating a hopelessly corrupt world was, in fact, required for the hopeful and lofty rebirth that was to follow." (Robert Jay Lifton, "In the Lord's Hands: America's apocalyptic mindset" - World Policy Journal; 9/22/2003) 

As for Muslims being at the root of all terrorism, we have had many of our own home grown terrorists, including white supremacist and militia outlaws who had apocalyptic visions of their own. Lifton describes one of them when he points out how Timmothy McVeigh took his Christian-white fanatism to the extreme: 

"Examples of apocalyptic violence are everywhere in the world, though not always recognized as such when they come from our part of it. For instance, we think of Timothy McVeigh as a lone fanatic who in 1995 blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, because he was enraged at his government. Such a characterization, however, neglects the apocalyptic dimensions of his act. He felt himself to be one of many believers dedicated to bringing a new world into being. His fervent hope was that in destroying a government building he would set off a chain reaction. Others, inspired by him, would do the same throughout the country, starting a vastly destructive "revolutionary" process that would lead to the rebirth of our country as a purified white Aryan nation." 

"He saw himself as part of a vast secular crusade that had already begun, for he was devoted to what may be the most apocalyptically murderous volume ever written, a novel by the American neo-Nazi leader William Pierce called The Turner Diaries. (Assigning it to students for a class of mine felt like assigning them Hitler's Mein Kampf updated with nuclear weapons.) McVeigh carried this novel with him everywhere, gave it to people as a gift, sold it at gun shows, and was said to have slept with it under his pillow. The novel's protagonist, Earl Turner, is part of a successful revolution of "white patriots" against the American government, which has come under the evil influence of Jews and blacks and is taking guns away from whites in order to subject them to defiled races. The revolutionaries not only succeed in taking over the government but then employ nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons to systematically annihilate all Jews and all nonwhites throughout the world." (ibid) 

"Turner becomes a great revolutionary "martyr" by crashing a plane armed with a nuclear weapon into the Pentagon, a fantasy of Pierce's that eerily anticipated the 9/11 attack. It has frequently been pointed out that McVeigh found in The Turner Diaries instructions for making and using the fertilizer bomb he would employ to such murderous effect in Oklahoma City. More instructive for him, however, was Turner's apocalyptic, if fictional, martyrdom and the novel's overall vision of world destruction in the service of the political/spiritual perfection of a "New Era."" (ibid) 

Israel has many fanatics, one of which, Yigal Amir, assassinated the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who I had the great pleasure of meeting many years ago when I escorted him to a Pan-American convention, and it never entered my mind that it would be a right-wing religious Jew who killed him because he wanted to make concessions with the Arabs which would result in giving up land for peace. 

Muslims in the Middle East have their own fanaticism to deal with. Radical Muslims want to purify the Middle East of the crusader-Christians. George W. Bush used the stupid phrase "Crusade" to declare war against Osama bin Laden and Muslims the world over were even more enflamed and insulted by Bush's insensitivity. 

The Bush war against Afghanistan and against "secular" Iraq has done more harm to U.S. relations with Islam and former Muslim and non-Muslim allies than any president in recent history. 

Bush, a born-again Christian, also has an Apolocolyptic vision of the world and he is attempting to influence the world in that image. Lifton refers to "parallel currents" which exist in the terrorism of the Middle-East - and among fanatic Christian extremism. 

Just as there is different imagery for apocolyptic "death and rebirth" there are also various different conceptionalizations of peace. George W. Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "man of peace" and while Sharon was a warrior and "man of war" who defended Israel in every conflict, Bush was a National Guardsman who missed an entire year of duty and joined the Guard to keep from going to war. 

Ronald Goetz writing in The Christian Century, 12/13/2003, in a book reviews of books, by Marc Ellis and by Gary M. Burge, about the first Gulf War Burge says: 

"What followed that "just war" was the death of nearly 250,000 Iraqis, a destroyed Iraq infrastructure and, as an aftermath, the death of as many as 500 Iraqi children per day under UN sanctions. In the light of these horrors, Burge was driven to ask, "Was my commitment to eschatology greater than my commitment to these people whom God surely loved?" He now saw his task to be that of opening the eyes of his fellow evangelicals to the suffering of Arab people, Muslim and Christian." 

Ronald Goetz writes: 

"Burge, who teaches New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, underwent a radical theological conversion on the way to writing Whose Land? Whose Promise? In 1991, buying into the apocalyptic speculations of Hal Lindsey and others, Burge, together with many other evangelicals, was enthusiastic at the outset of the Persian Gulf war. Victory by the U.S. and its coalition, they thought, would Jesus awaited the total restoration of the nation of Israel. further the interests of Israel. And the Second Coming of Thus, "if war means that the second coming of Jesus is approaching, then let the fighting begin! If war means that the eschatological clock will tick a little faster, so be it." 

"Burge considers the scriptural basis for Zionism. Didn't God give the land to the Jews? How, Christian Zionists have argued, can one be faithful to scripture and not side with the Zionist takeover of Palestine? As one Christian Zionist has claimed: "God is a biblical Zionist."" (Ronald Goetz) 

"Burge fully acknowledges that God has granted Israel the gift of the land. However, citing a number of proof texts, he argues that the gift is conditional on Israel's righteousness, one vital test of which is Israel's treatment of non-Israelites living in the promised land. "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.... you shall love the alien as yourself" (Lev: 19: 33-34). Further, in the ultimate sense of ownership Israel is a tenant, not an owner: "The land is mine--with me you are but aliens and tenants" 
(Lev. 25:23). Behind the blessing of the land there is the grave warning that without righteousness "the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you" (Lev. 
18:28)." (Ronald Goetz) 

The problem is exactly the so-called "prophetic voice" of the God of the Jews and Christians: "Israelis have a right to the land because it says so in the bible." And it is more than just the oil; George W. Bush is the "crusader" president who intends to bring about the Apocolypse - the prophetic end and the new beginning for Israel and the entire Middle-East. AND, is there any wonder why they - the Muslims - hate Americans and Jews so much? Is there any wonder that there is such a great divide between left secularists and the right religious Christians and Jews? How do you argue with those who hear these prophetic voices telling them that death is all right because they are fighting for what God has promised the Christians and the Jews. 

"THERE ARE distressing parallels between the conquest of the Indians by Euro-American settlers and the conquest of Palestine by Zionism. Both the Euro-Americans and the Zionists had "good" reasons, from their points of view, for engaging in such a conquest. Perhaps it is true that a people's "right to their land is in part a function of their ability to hold it against the inevitable intrusion of other peoples."" 
(Ronald Goetz) 

"Euro-Americans came from an often repressive, impoverished Europe, and felt that they deserved something better. With millions of them and far fewer Indians, it seemed, if nothing else, wasteful to leave a vast continent to a few hunters and gatherers. So also with the Jews. Given Jewish suffering even before the Holocaust, Zionists felt that their need for a homeland self-evidently trumped the rights of the underdeveloped Arabs. After all, virtually no people on earth has possessed its lands from the beginning of time. The peoples of every nation are descendants of conquerors." (Ronald Goetz) 

Hank Roth

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