America Born Again?

10.21.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | National Affairs | 8 Comments
I exist at the juncture of several religions. My mother was born Protestant, converted to Catholicism as a child to avoid further beatings from the nuns at school (to no avail) and later became a new-age mystic long before the term “New Age” had been coined. My father grew up in a strict kosher household and worked at the shul as a boy, then lost his devotion after World War II. My ever-present aunt (actually a family friend) was born Mormon.

In college, I became enamored of Eastern traditions that, unlike Western ones, do not proclaim themselves the sole path to godliness.

When asked what I am, I always say Jewish, because I had a bris and was consecrated into a holy covenant as a Jew by that ritual. Strangers sometimes tell me that because my mother isn’t Jewish, I’m not. I tell them to go define themselves, or some other word with an f in it.

Thus situated, I have a distinct view of religion. I take believers very seriously without taking what they believe in very seriously at all.

Not much myth stands up to scrutiny. The latest scholarship suggests that Moses was an Egyptian who was kicked out of the country with a band of followers, none of whom had been slaves. I’ve never quite understood how the solid gold original Book of Mormon got misplaced (did they look behind the couch?). And don’t get me started on the notion that Yehoshua of Nazareth was the Jewish messiah, whose name was prophesized to be, um, Emmanuel.

(But “He” was the Son of Man, which is what Emmanuel means, so the prophecy was perfectly fulfilled, I’m told. OK: Next time you send me to the station to pick up someone named Renee, I’ll return with someone named, oh, Bambi. But she’ll be a born-again, which is what Renee means, so I’ll have fulfilled my station pickup mission perfectly, right? Right?)

All this would be folks’ private comfort and/or superstition if not for the influence of religion upon the current rightist regime now occupying the White House.

Bill Moyers, in a recent speech, made me aware of something called the Rapture Index. Apparently, in this nation of enlightened citizens, some number of us (that can accommodate seven zeros) believes in a form of biblical prophecy that comes not so much from the Bible, as from evangelists.

Here’s his summary of what most of the tens of millions who read the Left Behind series of novels believe:

“According to this narrative, Jesus will return to Earth only when certain conditions are met. When Israel has been established as a state. When Israel then occupies the rest of the biblical lands. When the Third Temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, and then when legions of the Anti-Christ (read Muslims) attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon, during which all the Jews who have not been converted will be burned. That’s when the Messiah returns to Earth.

“The rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to Heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation which follow.”

Some say that the president and many of his closest associates believe in this otherwise comical fairy story. Certainly legions of the president’s followers do. A look at U.S. foreign policy since the last election suggests the president’s certainty and inability to acknowledge error are all of one piece: He knows he’s fulfilling prophecy, so the details and problems along the way cannot be significant. At the least, his refusal to admit mistakes or adjust course seem to stem from his born-again beliefs.

Because if the end is known, and the president knows the future, he doesn’t have to worry about the present — otherwise known as reality.

Voting yet?



That's a wonderful theory there except that it has as much to do with the reality of Bush's "mistakes" (by which I assume you mean some facet of or the totality of his Iraqi policy), as you seem to be saying religious"myth" has to do with reality.

Take away all your mumbo jumbo from all the religious mumbo jumbo and what we are left with is you don't like Bushs' policies either that got us into Iraq, or in Iraq. That's fine, but why not say so, so we can argue the matter on fact.

I just don't happen to think that American, English, French, Russsian, German, Israeli, and several other Intel Agencies all said that Saddam had WMD in order to fulfill Bushs' vision of The Rapture, do you? Add to that the Duelfer report, while stating that Saddam had no WMD but was champing at the bit to begin developing them once sanctions ended, and you've got something to talk about.

It was Sherlock Holmes who said,when you can't find what you're looking for it's probably right under your nose (or something like that).
10.21.2004 | M. Margolies
What M. Margolies is looking for comes from Poe's "The Purloined Letter" and it is Dupin's observation. Sherlock Holmes said nothing of the sort.

In much the same way none of the Intelligence Agencies listed ever stated that Iraq had WMDs. Including Israel's. Yes they all listed that there was unaccounted for material, and thus a probability that there could be WMDs but there a greater probability that M. Margolies has them at home. This becomes doubly clear in that Scott Ridder, a weapons inspector, has stated, innumerable times, that it was unlikely that Iraq had WMDs.

In fact there is a great deal of evidence suggesting a certain Mechanism surrounding Bush, and his advisors.

Still not to belabour the point, I demand that M. Margolies house be bombed repeatedly until proof is provided of disarmament. It would be un-American to ask otherwise.
10.21.2004 | Constantine Constantus
oopsy I meant Messianism but I still remain worried about a rouge Margolies
10.21.2004 | Constantine Constantus
You lose credibility by making unfounded generalizations about what Christians believe, making me think you really don't know what you're talking about. George W. Bush is a Methodist, and as such, is part of a denomination that does not affirm Tim LaHaye's ridiculous "Left Behind" version of future history (though admittedly it is possible that some of its members might). In fact, most denominations disagree with LaHaye, including the one I'm a member of. I can laugh at the "Left Behind" books and the "Iraq-is-Babylon" speeches on TV along with the rest of you. Get a clue: just because someone is a Christian doesn't mean that they believe LaHaye's far-fetched dispensationalist rubbish. It doesn't even mean they're Republican.

I take my Christianity very seriously, and it greatly influences the way I live - and yes, even how I vote. Pro-life? Check. Anti-Gay-Marriage? Check. But Let's-Invade-Iraq-Because-We're-Gonna-Cause-The-Rapture? Oh gosh, no...
10.22.2004 | Jon
The left is too hung up on "acknowledgment" of mistakes. Of course there were mistakes! There are in every single war by every single country! We are human beings, not omnipotent beings! Get over it for Christ's sake! We can not alter or repair the past! We can only strive to do better in the future!

You and all the other leftists ignore that Saddam thumbed his nose at the US and the U.N. for 12 years! 12 years! and he played the same game to laugh at the toothless tiger (U.N.)
At the time of the 911 horror....most of the public was fed up with all this crap of Saddam making us look like idiots and demended action! We had had enough!
WMD? Screw that! Saddam had WMD's....he USED them on Iran! It was easy to bury anything out in the thousands of miles of desert never to be found again. So get the hell off George Bush's back about it. When we got there we found many things as bad or worse! This was a very evil regime! I mean SATAN evil!
Your religious talk lost meaning after the first paragraph ...sorry. You are obviously searching for some kind of lost reason to hate Bush.
10.24.2004 | Alan
I believe the comment of "Alan" contains at least one valid point.

Just as a man who gets humiliated at work may get drunk on the way home and beat up his kid or his wife, because that's who he can get away with abusing, so the United States government found Saddam Hussein a tempting target after the humiliation of the 9/11 attacks. That doesn't make the war in Iraq good policy. Alan's acknowledgment that our attack on Iraq came out of frustration is, I believe, accurate.

As far as "Satan evil" dictators, they exist in Africa, Asia, all over. Getting rid of any one of them would make someone feel good. That doesn't make such a war good policy, as each arbitrary application of U.S. military power (and the war in Iraq is arbitrary in the extreme!) opens our nation to new enemies with more allies, while those relieved to be free of this dictator or that offer us little in the way of tactical assistance in the global war the president is starting.

I am certain I do not know what is in the president's heart or mind. As far as I can tell, both are easily influenced by others. If "Jon" does not believe in the "Left Behind" scenario, that means zero to me in terms of understanding the president. What I'm concerned with is Mr. Bush's pathological inability to admit error. It is impossible to learn from mistakes if one ignores them. The exclamation points used by "Alan" in his first paragraph suggest he does not understand that.

The popular religious scenario that has taken hold among so many American evangelicals provides one possible explanation for Mr. Bush's mystical certainty in favor of demonstrably failed policies.
10.24.2004 | David L Steinhardt
I find your parody of an anti-Christian bigot to be less amusing than your parodies of uptight liberals.
10.25.2004 | norman normal
Please excuse my son's graffiti, above, that he likes to tag on this author's columns.
10.26.2004 | Abby Normal

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