Evangelicals’ dream of an apocalypse in the Middle East. This dream is as dark as it gets. They insist it is based in the Bible, but it serves irrelligious neoconservatives and oilmen who want to use religion as a battle ax, so how biblical can it be?
Unfortunately, the blame doesn’t belong entirely to religious leaders and politicians. The fact that this group of voters can be inspired by such a dark worldview reveals much about their own spiritual state, not to mention their understanding of religion in general.
While the Book of Isaiah does call King Cyrus the Lord’s annointed, it says many other things that can be understood to contradict the conservative agenda for Jerusalem. In other words, the rush to war in the Middle East is a choice, biblically speaking. For example, the Book of Isaiah also tells us that states are ephemeral things to God.
“Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?
With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” (Isaiah 40: 13-17)
Apocalypse means ‘an uncovering; a disclosure of knowledge or revelation’. The claim that it refers only to physical destruction is a matter of interpretation–and certainly not in the name of territorial conquest. But in any case, if you really believe the Bible it shouldn’t matter if you agree on any particular meaning. We should be able to agree that God must reveal its meaning.
If we want to continue to trace a new course based on this book as an alternative to the dark vision of the neocons, we would need to decide whether Isaiah’s words have meaning for us today. I think it is reasonable to take Isaiah’s words as encouragement, not only for Western Civilization but, through Western civilization, for the entire world. However the concept of Western Civilization has become so muddled that it will require an effort to make it so. The important question then would be, do we choose to make it so?
In the last 70 years or so, we have lost the concept of Western Civilization and when we think we have recovered it, we discover it has become a partisan concept. Not that Western Civilization has managed to fulfill its promise, but is it possible that we can build something new using this concept as a foundation?
Western Civilization is a partisan concept in relation to countries and peoples that don’t consider themseves part of the West. It may also be a partisan concept in relation to the Jews. There is a quote from Eric Voegelin that illustrates this problem:
“Western civilization, as it emerges from the Middle Ages, rests on the unique and precarious balance between the elements of ancient civilizations that were merged in it: Hellenic rationalism, Israelite spiritualism, and the Roman jurisdictional order governing the private wills and public offices.”
This quote sounds straight forward until you remember the West’s long history of discrimination against the Jews. The following is a quote from SYLVIE COURTINE-DENAMY’s article in Voegelinview.
“One can see how Voegelin ends up in a somewhat paradoxical situation since while taking for his basis and point of departure the Revelation to Israel, nevertheless gives a negative appraisal of Isarel’s fate, supplanted as it is by the universal revelation of God in Christ…”
But again, partisanship can be found everywhere, even within the Christian Church. Our goal, if we decide the concept of Western Civilization is helpful to what we are trying to accomplish in this conversation, would be to identify the mistaken thinking that brought us to this point. Our reward would be the ability to read the Book of Isaiah as the encouraging message that he intended it to be.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
“Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40: 1-3)
It can be argued from our own tradition that Isaiah is not necessarily talking about a physical place or race of people. He is talking about a civilization. However, the time has passed when it made sense to think of Western Civilization as simply the West. We need alliances. We need cooperation from everyone if we are going to survive into the next century. In that case the next task would be to work out the logic of including peoples that are not normally considered to be a part of Western civilization. The United States may be the most logical place in the world for this understanding to arise, if we so choose.