Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Troubled Middle East & Apocalyptic Christians

Unless you've been living in a cave, you're aware of the military operations conducted by Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah throughout Lebanon. I hesitate to call this a war because Hezbollah and Hamas operate in small cells and hide among the civilian population. It's asymmetrical warfare rather than traditional warfare with two armies facing off against each other.

A friend and I were discussing the unfolding conflict last night. She thinks Israel is a racist and illegal regime. I think it's less racism and more religious bigotry on both sides of the conflict. I also think it's questionable to claim that Israeli occupation of Palestine is any better or worse than the British occupation that preceded it with many atrocities being committed on both sides.

From my perspective, Israel is just a small (barely habitable) stretch of desert. There are plenty of places to live in the world that are lush and inviting. It's religious fervor that drives all of these groups to fight to control the holy land. Of course, the Christians in this country are adding fuel to the fire because of their apocalyptic visions.

Louis Sahagun wrote in the LA Times on June 22, 2006 that:
For Christians, the future of Israel is the key to any end-times scenario, and various groups are reaching out to Jews --— or proselytizing among them -- to advance the Second Coming.

A growing number of fundamentalist Christians in mostly Southern states are adopting Jewish religious practices to align themselves with prophecies saying that Gentiles will stand as one with Jews when the end is near.|LA Times|
I ran across a discussion on Frontline that indicates that the US has long been the destination of choice for people fleeing religious persecution for their unusual beliefs.
[O]ne of the global functions of the American experiment is to serve as a safety valve for the release of pressures that, in other times and places, might have produced millennial movements...I once asked [a European] about the current state of millennial expectations in European society. His reply was: "We don't have these people in Europe, or not so many of them, because we sent them to America." ...

Imagine a cosmic hand reaching down and shaking the European continent, jarring loose all of the misfits and oddballs and folks who are dissatisfied with the religious/political status that they, or their children, drift westward, coming to America to work or to join religious groups and voluntary associations, sometimes to ponder the prophecies and invent new religions--such as Mormonism, a quintessentially American religious group. (The westward drift still holds; I live in California, which seems to be the last stop and end-of-the-line for many of these folks.) It seems to me that we have focused a lot on the notion of apocalyptic time in our study of millennialism, but that in understanding American movements of this ilk, we need to pay attention as well to apocalyptic space, or millennial geography...because of the simple fact that we, uniquely among Western cultures, had the room to expand (once the natives were killed off or subjugated) and places for these groups to set themselves up without disturbance.|Frontline|(emphasis added)

The apocalyptic Christians (along with the Israeli lobby) ensure that America's destiny is tied to Israel's future and therefore we fund and defend their military regime. I think there is little hope for changing this fact in the current political climate.

These problems in the Middle East are long-standing and appear intractable. Previously I'd held the niave belief that if we could just get people to overcome their religious bigotry, that we could resolve some of these problems. But I've recently come to realize that religious freedom is a fundamental human right and that religion addresses central questions of the meaning of life and defines the good life for most people. These beliefs are the most deeply held values for most people and messing with them is playing with fire.

I no longer think there are any easy answers. I think we just have to watch this play out and hope for the best.

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