Israel and Iran: War Religion and Politics

Israel’s apparent desire to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities can’t help but draw Americans in to a very confusing drama. For many reasons Israel is important to Americans. For some American Christians the Jews represent spiritual kin. Still, other Christians, such as Christian Zionists, emphasize the division between Christians and Jews.

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is every bit as complex as the relations between Christians and Jews. In both cases conflicting opinions about Jewish destiny muddy the waters. For example, it has been argued that Israel acts as the United States’ peacekeeper in the Middle East. This contrasts with the claim that the U.S. is Israel’s pawn. Some believe the “ruling class” in the U.S. wants to limit Israel’s territory–not an easy argument to follow, in part because there is disagreement about whether the ruling class is represented by Democrats or Republicans. It is clear, however, that the pro-Israel lobbies in Washington have taken the stance that Israel can do no wrong. They tend to encourage territorial expansion of the State of Israel. The pro-Israel lobbies are perhaps the most troubling part of this troubling story. Israel’s recent threats to Iran may serve to bring the lobbies into focus. This, in turn, may shed some light on various other mystifying events, such as the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War.

At the center of the storm is the Christian Zionist movement. Many elements of this movement have been called heretical. The main influence behind Christian Zionism is Christian Dispensationalism, which has been influential in the U.S. for about 150 years. The majority of Christian Dispensationalists are Evangelical Christians and tend to favor a Middle Eastern War, believing that war is necessary for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Also included are most of the Southern Baptist churches, as well as fundamentalist sects. However, many Christians are opposed to this movement, including Christians in Palestine. When Jesus returns, the Dispensationalists say, he will rule over the Jews in the earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and also over Christians, who will reside in Heaven, directly above Jerusalem. But I can’t imagine that they have made it clear to the Jews who immigrate to Palestine that they expect the majority of them to perish during the coming “tribulation”.

“Crucial to the dispensationalist reading of biblical prophecy is the conviction that the period of tribulation is imminent along with the secret rapture of the Church and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in place of, or along side, the Dome of the Rock. This will signal the return of the Lord to restore the Kingdom to Israel centered on Jerusalem. This pivotal event is also seen as the trigger for the start of the war of Armageddon in which most of the world’s population together with large numbers of Jews will suffer and die.

“Convinced that a nuclear Armageddon is an inevitable event within the divine scheme of things, many evangelical dispensationalists have committed themselves to a course for Israel that by their own admission, will lead directly to a holocaust indescribably more savage and widespread than any vision of carnage that could have been generated in Adolf Hitler’s criminal mind….”

Again, according to Dispensationalists such as author Hal Lindsey, these events are desirable, as they will merely hasten the return of Jesus Christ as King of the Jews, who will rule over the nations from the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem. This doctrine actually depends on Islamic resistance, envisioning that it will lead to a nuclear holocaust centered on Jerusalem, “with the 200 mile valley from the Sea of Galilee to Eilat flowing with irradiated blood several feet deep.”((http://christianchat.com/bible-discussion-forum/31794-christian-zionism-dispensationalism-roots-sectarian-theology.html title=”Christian Zionism: Dispensationalism and the Roots of Sectarian Theology”))

Religious believers, together with certain members of Congress (who may or may not think this is simply a political issue) represent the War Party. Fear-mongering is an important tool in the War Party’s arsenal. Presently Iran is being held up as the next great threat to the Middle East and the world. However, a new U.S. intelligence report concerning Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program was released November 8, 2011 and it agrees with the last report, which states that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.Unfortunately, that may not be the end of it. In NPR’s eerie coverage of the latest intelligence report the part about the lack of evidence was presented in a rather mealy-mouthed fashion, toward the end of the segment. Worse, it was alleged that regardless of the lack of hard evidence, secret activities may still be taking place.

There are several foci in this for our American conversation. One focus has been provided by Mark M. Hanna, Ph.D., a Dispensationalist working against Christian Zionism. Hanna argues among other things, that when the Bible refers to Israel as a nation it means ‘a people’, not a territory or state.This is an important point.

When I wrote [intlink id=”226″ type=”post”]The Community of Ancient Israel[/intlink] I wanted to explore how people in the 21st century who are isolated, alienated and solitary, might begin to forge the bonds of kinship necessary for a true community. This seemed crucial because traditionally holiness, or sanctity, was manifest at the center of human communities. Unfortunately, war has always worked to tear societies apart, leaving individuals open to the lure of centralized authority and universal religious systems.

In this light, it is interesting to remember that the Jews who first developed the universal ideals held today by Christianity no longer had a unified, coherent social structure. This was the result of conquest, the Babylonian exile and Hellenization. Yet they seem to have had no illusions about returning to a simpler, bygone age. It might be interesting to reexamine their vision for starters, as it has never really been tried–Christianity had its own unique, non-Jewish character from the beginning.

Although Christianity has always had a universal tendency, individual churches and sects provide a sense of community and family, which could never be provided by nations or empires. However, this function is not limited to Christian churches. The lodges of the Freemasons fulfilled the same function for members. It almost seems that sects with divergent beliefs call into question the meaning of universalism and nationalism. A case in point: Christian Dispensationalists don’t represent the entire population, but the sect has political clout and a universal agenda. Currently, there are more than 120 pro-Israel organizations and lobbies influential in Washington D.C. with the proven ability to influence national policy.

Regardless of religious claims of bloody inevitability, I insist that we can still decide to forgo the War Party’s dreadful scenario. This blog has been the attempt to build. War does the opposite–it tears down. It is not possible to build and tear down at the same time. Now the alternative comes clearly into focus. The alternative is, go to war for the sake of a virtual tribe that is plotting secretly for their religious agenda. Then perhaps those who survive after everyone else has been killed will go to live in the sky with Jesus. There they will hover over the earthly city of Jerusalem and gaze down at the little remnant of Jews who somehow manage to escape the blood bath and nuclear holocaust.

In our society, one is free to chose religious beliefs. History has shown it is also easy to deny responsibility for the consequences of one’s religious and political beliefs. However, some of America’s enemies have already said they hold the American people responsible for the actions of their government. If Dispensationalism is the reason that so many Americans supported the Iraq War, I’m afraid I can’t argue with them. Religious beliefs are no excuse for an unjust war–one freely chooses such beliefs. Dire predictions and drastic scenarios carry an obligation to get the facts straight. Here is food for thought:

1. Dispensationalist teachings say that only the Jews who believe in Jesus Christ will survive the holocaust. However, in the early days of the Church Jews were not allowed to live in Jerusalem, not even those who had converted to Christianity.
2. The Dispensationalists’ claimed that Saddam Hussein was re-building Babylon. It wasn’t true, although this was part of the rhetoric leading up to the Iraq War.
3. Christianity did not have to go in this direction. The idea of a divine messiah who glories in the end of human history is a Zoroastrian idea. In other words, this state of affairs can’t be blamed on a Hebrew named Jesus.

Dispensationalism is currently being disseminated to the rest of the world through the work of the Dallas Theological Seminary. The Seminary was founded in 1924 by Lewis Sperry Chafer. Chafer was a student of Cyrus I. Scofield who began a Comprehensive Bible correspondence Course in 1890 (later taken over by the Moody Bible Institute). During the 1890s Scofield was also the principal of the Southwestern School of the Bible which became the Dallas Theological Seminary.

One Comment

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