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An Apocalyptic Foreign Policy

April 30, 2002

A few days ago I expressed my gratitude to the general good nature of American Protestants. I received a response that only confirmed my lifelong feeling about these decent, lovable people. Catholics and Jews also wrote to express their warm agreement.

Today, alas, I must write in a different vein. The unhappy fact is that these nice Protestants, for all their virtues, include a dangerous minority.

I’ve never been one to attack the Christian Right. On many questions I heartily agree with it. But it exerts a powerful influence within the Republican Party, and at the moment this is not entirely to the good.

Much of the Christian Right demands all-out U.S. support for Israel, not for reasons of national interest, but for allegedly Biblical reasons: they hope the battle of Armageddon, forecast in the Book of Revelation, will soon erupt in the Middle East, and they want the U.S. Government to help bring it about by backing Israeli aggression.

Of course they don’t consider anything Israel does, however violent, aggression. They contend that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews by divine right, and they approve of any claims Israel makes and any measures it takes to enforce its claims.

Let me lay my cards on the table. I believe in the Book of Revelation too — we Catholics call it the Apocalypse of St. John — but I distrust anyone who thinks he can decode its mysterious prophecies, especially for the purpose of deciding U.S. foreign policy in the explosive Middle East. And I think most devout Protestants would agree.

Nobody knows when the end of the world will come, and since the year 1000 many people, imagining that they have solved the enigmas of Revelation, have made the foolish mistake of predicting it prematurely. Various sects have not only confidently announced the date of the Apocalypse, but flourished even after they were proved wildly wrong. Like economists and sportswriters, theologians rarely pay for their erroneous predictions.

[Breaker quote: Blessed 
are the warmakers?]God will bring about the world’s end in his own good time, probably without the prodding of the U.S. Government. We must await the fulfillment of his plan in humble patience, without treating the Scriptures like astrological tables.

Meanwhile, the duties of Christians remain what they always are: to act in justice and mercy, and especially to love one another. But the Christian Right, while cheering Sharon on, evinces little concern for its Christian brethren in the Middle East — a scandalous fact, immensely distressing and baffling to the defenseless and suffering Arab Christians who cry for help, only to be ignored.

This is not to suggest that religion has no pertinence to politics. On the contrary, Christians should always apply their faith to worldly affairs. The question is how this is to be done. We must beware of facile and fanatical interpretations that wind up putting us at odds with the plainest of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Recently President Bush has looked like a weakling, unable to stand up to Sharon. But a more frightening possibility is that he secretly shares Sharon’s vision of an expansionist Israel, for the same dubiously Biblical reasons much of the Christian Right does. His father, the former President Bush, at least resisted pressure from the Israel government and its American lobby; his insistence on American secular interests (as he understood them) may have cost him the 1992 election. But the current President Bush has either less courage or different convictions.

Surely Bush knows that most Americans don’t want to see U.S. policy in the Middle East guided by what they regard as an eccentric reading of the Book of Revelation. He has never said — and would be unlikely to avow — that he agrees with such a reading. But he is under fierce pressure from people who do, and his gestures of moderation, if they are sincere, are notably ineffectual.

We are seeing the emergence of an odd alliance: a new “Judaeo-Christian” coalition of zealots who, for their different reasons, converge in support of a warlike Israel. Far from dreading war, they look forward to it. Unlike the conservatives of the America First era, they put Israel first. Let us pray that they will not lead us into a terrible disaster.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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